Free WordPress themes are available all over the internet. But if you’re hesitant about roaming the net to find a good theme, you don’t even have to leave the admin area of your site. The WordPress Theme repository holds thousands of themes ready to install with a few clicks.

If you’re willing to spend a bit of money on your site and would like to invest in a premium theme, there are even more options available to you outside of the WordPress dashboard. But because the WordPress theme development industry seems like an impenetrable wilderness to those creating their first website, most beginners tend to back away from purchasing a theme and instead use the available free themes.

In this post, I’m going to talk about the differences between free WordPress themes and paid WordPress themes.

For many people who start out with their first website, the tendency is to create a free WordPress site (with “.wordpress.com” in the URL). The decision on whether to choose a free or a paid theme is difficult, there are an overwhelming number of options to choose from, the pros and cons aren’t exactly obvious, and beginners don’t know if a premium theme is entirely necessary to be able to create a functioning and professional-looking site.

So, what usually happens is that beginners choose a theme they like the look of without researching the functionality, the theme developer/company, or the potential pitfalls of the theme. They then begin to add content to the theme and could be disappointed by the limitations they face.

Costs of Free WordPress themes vs Paid WordPress Themes

Obviously, free WordPress themes are free, and paid WordPress themes are bought from marketplaces or directly from theme developers.

Free themes are readily available in the WordPress theme repository. You can install it freely, build your site with it and start making money from your website. There are no hidden costs, which means you can get a website started with a very limited budget.

Paid themes are available from marketplaces or directly from the theme developer’s site. A marketplace is an online shop that sells a large variety of different themes built by many developers. Buying from a theme marketplace has a few advantages: You can rest assured that the theme has been quality checked by the marketplace admin team, the theme follows best practices as it is required to abide by the marketplace’s guidelines, and you can be quite certain that the theme will generally be bug-free.

Pricing tiers

WordPress themes cost varying amounts of money.

I have seen beautiful ones that cost anywhere from $20 to $175.

Examples:
(You can click on any of these themes to be taken to the marketplace to find out more or to purchase them)

Powered by Creative Market

Powered by Creative Market

Powered by Creative Market

Powered by Creative Market

Powered by Creative Market

Powered by Creative Market

When dipping your toes into the paid theme market, I suggest starting with a more budget-friendly theme so that you can test it and determine if the extra functionality inherent in a paid theme would be worth it for you.

The general assumption is that the higher the price point of the theme, the more functionality and freedom it allows you when creating your website. This is increasingly important for growing businesses as the website becomes larger and requires more advanced features. So while I don’t recommend that anyone spend $100 on a theme in the first month that their website is online, you may find that you outgrow your free theme after a year or two.

Free WordPress Themes: Pros

They’re free. This is excellent for new website owners and those using WordPress for the first time. It removes the barrier to entry and gives you some space to experiment and test out different themes before making a commitment with your dollars. A free theme removes the risk of potentially choosing something you don’t like, as you can freely change between themes with a few clicks of your mouse. Another benefit is that you can change up the look of your website every few months if you’re the kind of person who loves to try out new things.

The free WordPress themes that are listed on the official theme directory have been quality checked and approved. The developers have had to comply with the strict guidelines and quality control processes before the WordPress admin team adds the theme to the directory. This assures that you can use the theme on your site without concerns about it crashing or not working for you.

Free WordPress themes are mostly tailored to beginner users and are therefore easy to use. These themes are generally free of overly complicated menus and the user isn’t given endless options to choose from, which makes the process of setting up your site quicker and less confusing.

Free WordPress Themes: Cons

Many of the free themes on the market don’t provide support from the developers. This means that if you happen to run into an error or have a strange malfunction on the site, you don’t really have access to the developers to ask them a question. What happens in this case is that you run to Google to try to search for a solution to your problem. More often than not, the solution is a technical one, and usually above the abilities of a beginner user. This presents a problem as you now have no way to solve your website concerns other than paying someone to do it for you – not budget-friendly for the new website owner.

Very basic features and limited customisation options. Free themes are limited in the features that are included, which means that you can create a very basic site with a free theme, but not much else. If you know your way around the HTML and CSS of a website, then you’re able to customise the look and feel of the site, but this is limited as well. If you would like more advanced features added to the site, like an online shop or if you would like to sell event tickets through your site, then a free option isn’t what I’d recommend.

Your site looks similar to others using the same theme. As mentioned, there is limited opportunity for customisation within a free theme. Thus, your site can very quickly look exactly the same as somebody else’s. This isn’t ideal when trying to differentiate your brand in your marketplace. If you run a blog, this is slightly less of an issue. However, if you are creating a website for your business, I’d avoid using a free theme.

Paid WordPress Themes: Pros

The support team or developer is usually readily available to answer questions and to help you resolve issues. Product development teams rely on users to report bugs and issues as it provides them with useful feedback on how to improve their theme. Purchases of a theme allow the development team to continue to fund development of the product and to pay for support teams to assist customers.

More detailed documentation and instructions on how to use the theme. Paid themes usually include instructional videos, tutorials and/or step-by-step guides on how to accomplish a certain task. This is excellent as it helps new users to adopt the theme quickly and makes the learning curve less steep.

You can buy a license for more than one site and install the same theme on all the sites you run. This allows you to create more than one site quickly and easily. Using a paid theme also gives you the freedom to make each site look different and you’re assured of the site working exactly as you expect it to across all of your site installations.

Paid WordPress Themes: Cons

You can’t return your theme to the seller, so if you don’t like it, you’re stuck with something that you potentially can’t use. Theme developers and marketplaces don’t accept requests for refunds because themes are digital products and not something that you can technically return. This means that you should be careful and be certain of your choice when purchasing a theme. Newer WordPress users can be put off by this.

Paid themes can potentially provide too many options for newer users. The sheer amount of customisation can be overwhelming and intimidating for someone who is starting out with WordPress for the first time. However, once you have learned to make your way around your theme, the freedom you have is well worth it.

Closing Thoughts

Whether you choose to use free WordPress themes or premium WordPress themes depends entirely on what you’d like to achieve with your site, and whether you’d like more options to design the look and feel thereof.

I’d highly recommend a more budget-friendly paid theme so that you can get an idea of how a free WordPress theme differs from a paid theme with little financial risk on your part.

If you’d like to find out why I recommend WordPress, please visit The Fempreneur Collective’s blog post I wrote on the topic.

melissa de klerk

Melissa De Klerk

Writer, Web Designer, Digital Media Strategist, Typophile, Inspiration Junkie, Yogi

Melissa is the owner and creative brain behind Fox & Owl Media. She loves creating content strategies and has considerable experience with Website Design and Brand Management.

You can contact her here, and find her on social media by clicking the links below.

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