When starting a new project on WordPress, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to opt for a free or premium theme. While premium themes are often considered the superior choice, this isn’t always the case. In this article, we’ll compare free and premium themes based on criteria such as price, support, security and updates, usability, and quality. We’ll also explore the benefits of choosing a freemium theme.
Value for Money
Price is the most obvious difference between free and premium WordPress themes. If you’re just starting out, you may be hesitant to pay for a new theme when you’re not sure if your project will be successful. However, while free themes are initially “free,” they often lack extensive features that you’ll need to create a professional or lucrative website. This means that you may end up spending more money on premium plugins to update your website than you would have spent on a premium theme in the first place.
Premium themes often come with hidden extras that make them great value for money. For example, some premium themes come with premium plugins already incorporated, such as Visual Composer and Slider Revolution. Additionally, many premium themes offer free theme updates for life. ThemeForest also offers deals on hosting and domains if you purchase one of their premium themes. Joining a theme club like WPMU DEV can give you access to a range of extras like plugins, support, security, and more.
Top Tip: Research what’s included with a theme before downloading it to avoid disappointment and extra expense.
Support From Developers
One of the most significant differences between free and premium themes is the level of support available. Free theme developers often have limited budgets, which can result in them being unable to deliver immediate high-quality support. While help is usually available, 24/7 assistance is not a service that free themes generally offer.
Premium themes, on the other hand, often have larger teams of developers, better support systems in place, or a combination of both. They usually offer extensive video tutorials and documentation, forums, and email support. Many also provide round-the-clock assistance. If you’re running an online business or don’t have extensive WordPress experience, a premium theme with top support may be the way to go.
Top Tip: Always check how a theme is supported before making a final decision.
Website Security and Updates
It’s often assumed that premium themes are more secure than free themes, but this isn’t always the case. Free WordPress themes in the WordPress repository go through a rigorous review process to ensure that they meet high standards, with security elements being a significant part of the criteria.
Premium themes can be more of a mixed bag with security, as anyone can create a premium theme and sell it. However, if you purchase your theme from reputable developers or a well-known theme shop (such as Themeforest, StudioPress, Anariel Design, Elegant Themes, etc.), you should be able to rest easy. Premium themes from renowned developers are typically the most secure themes available, as these companies have large budgets and numerous developers dedicated to security. Bugs are found and fixed quickly, as any security breaches could seriously impact future sales of the theme.
Premium themes are also typically updated more regularly in response to WordPress core changes and the most recent security vulnerabilities. The update cycle tends to not be as regular or consistent with free themes, meaning that the older the theme becomes, the more open it is to security breaches.
Top Tip: Always purchase premium themes from reputable sources and free themes from the WordPress repository to ensure a high-quality, secure theme.
Quality of Theme Design and Functionality
The quality of design can differ greatly between a free or premium WordPress theme. On the whole, popular premium themes offer a higher level of quality. They often feature professional layouts and aesthetics, advanced features and functionality, and a focus on usability.
However, some premium themes go too far, including heaps of functionality that is better served by plugins. This can cause theme bloat, slowing your site down and affecting its performance. Additionally, if you decide to switch themes in the future, migrating your content won’t be an easy process.
When choosing between a free or premium WordPress theme, it’s also important to consider whether you actually need many of the functionalities that premium themes provide. If you opt for a lightweight free theme, you can easily install a few WordPress plugins to make some impressive improvements. By investing in page builder and other advanced plugins, you can quickly upgrade the look of your site as well as add the extra features that you may need.
Top Tip: Read theme reviews to get a good understanding of a theme’s quality and overall performance.
The usability of a WordPress theme is an essential factor to consider when selecting a new theme for your WordPress website. Unfortunately, the usability for site creators and for site users can be somewhat lacking with a free theme. However, if you have limited experience using WordPress, this may work in your favor. The simplicity of free themes and lack of features often make them quick and easy to set up.
Premium theme developers tend to focus on designing themes with impressive usability, both on the front and back end. Premium back-end usability will save you much time and effort when you are working your site. And importantly it will enable you to enjoy the customization process. An effective and successful user experience for your visitors will also increase user time on-site and improve your site conversions.
Top Tip: Check out theme demos to get a feel for visitor user experience.
Final Thoughts on a Free or Premium WordPress Theme
Still unsure about paying out for a premium theme from the get-go? Then a freemium theme might be a good choice for you. A freemium theme is a free theme that can be upgraded at any time. This means that if at some point in the future, you decide that you need the advanced features and functionalities of a premium theme, you can easily swap to the premium version without having to actually migrate to a new theme.
Whether you choose a free or premium WordPress theme, it’s essential to do your research and download your theme from a reputable source. By considering factors such as price, support, security and updates, usability, and quality, you’ll be able to make an informed decision that best suits your needs.