Premium Theme vs. Free Theme
Today’s Tools of the Trade Tuesday, I cover reasons why buy a premium WordPress theme has advantages over free themes. Since starting with my first website online in the summer of 2009, I’ve used a number of themes for my various websites and blogs. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly!
If you’ve been using WordPress for any length of time, you most likely had to do a bit of theme tweaking yourself. Maybe you’re experienced enough to poke around with the CSS in the style sheet and change a few colors or fonts.
Or perhaps you’ve added your own header to the pages or changed the width of your sidebar. These are all fairly simple changes you can make when you’re working with a free theme. But to customize your theme further often require that you directly edit the core files themselves.
After you put in all that work, the next thing you realize is WordPress just released its latest update. So you upgrade to the latest version and then notice problems with your site because of you theme, or discover your free theme no longer works at all! What do you do?
What is consider to be a ‘premium’ WordPress theme?
By definition, a premium WordPress theme is simply a theme that costs money. If it isn’t free, then it’s premium. However, that doesn’t take into consideration any design standards or certification that designates a theme as being premium. Anyone can build a WordPress theme, claim it to be premium, and offer it for sale.
But what I am talking about here when I say, ‘premium theme’ is a theme that has been created by proven professional web designers willing to backup their work, who have a specific purpose in mind that caters to a market who is willing to pay more for a superior product.
What advantages do premium themes have over free ones?
There are 5 areas of concern I will be addressing when comparing premium to free themes. I am not saying that all free themes are bad and should be avoided. Besides, there are reputable web designers who offer free quality themes in hopes that you will eventually buy one of their premium theme options.
There are also a number of free themes riddled with embedded code that can do anything from mischievous things to malicious intentions that you might not be aware of. Even the coding of the theme itself may have errors or poor quality coding that doesn’t meet W3C standards for an open web platform.
The areas of concern I’ll be looking at are: overall quality, functionality, security, keeping current, and customer support. Let’s get started.
Themes overall quality
With a premium theme, you can expect to have superior quality over free themes. What does that mean in non-technical terms? First, you will have a theme that is more unique.
With the best free themes, they’ve been downloaded tens of thousands of times, meaning your site is about as unique as a leaf on a tree.
Premium themes are designed by professional programmers with top-notch coding skills. This means you can expect compliance and responsive capabilities. With the possibility that your site will be accessed by people using different devices, it important that your site can adjust accordingly.
Themes functionality or features
As mentioned before, premium themes offer responsive design and dozens of ‘hands-on’ customization options vs. very little customization abilities with free themes.
Just attempting to make minor adjustments with a free theme can become a nightmare. It requires that you have at least an intermediate knowledge of PHP, CSS, and HTML to make them. And anytime there is an update, you’ll lose those custom settings.
Not so with premium themes. They are designed with intuitive user interfaces in mind which allow you to make changes in design and formatting either by drag and drop or a click of a button.
Premium themes also include advanced features like sliders, e-commerce platforms, styling options, and custom widgets, among other things.
Many free WordPress themes are slapped together by amateurs with poor coding skills, which can leave your site open to security loop-holes that hackers can easily exploit.
Also free themes are well known for being a channel for malicious code, spammy links and link injection for malware or even worse! (FYI: Google and other top search engines have cracked down on sites containing spammy and encrypted links)
Premium themes provide you with a peace of mind knowing that the theme is clean with effective coding and optimized that helps make your site perform at its best.
If you do decide to use a free theme, I highly recommend that you only use those themes listed on the WordPress codex free themes repository.
Theme updates with new WordPress releases
WordPress is always being updated. Because of that, it is important that your theme remain compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
Premium themes are kept up to date on a regular basis to match the latest version of WordPress.
The same cannot be said of free themes. You may end up waiting months for an upgrade if one is even done at all. In fact, there are free themes right now in the WordPress theme repository that are over two years old.
When you run into a problem where your theme is no longer compatible with the latest WordPress release, you have two options available:
Revert back to the last version of WordPress when the theme worked – this can expose your site to security breaches amount other issues.
Start over by selecting another working theme – which means taking the time to set up your site’s look and feel all over again once you find a replacement.
Theme support from the vendor
When it comes to free themes, they often don’t have any customer support, let alone technical support. They have no obligation to help you. If you run into an issue with the theme, you are on your own.
Premium themes offer timely support from knowledgeable support representatives. Many times issues are solved quickly and easily.
Beware of free themes. If you do decide to use a free theme, make sure to get one from the WordPress free theme repository that meets the basic requirements.
Also be aware that just because a theme cost money, making it a ‘‘premium’ theme by definition, doesn’t automatically make it a quality theme. Some premium themes can be just as bad as free ones.
The best premium themes come from reputable theme shops that have been in business for some time. If you stick with these vendors, you won’t go wrong. My recommendation is to start with Thrive Themes who focus on creating conversion based themes and plugins.
Do you use free themes or do you use some sort of premium theme? What issues or horror stories have you experienced with WordPress themes? Let me know by leaving a comment below! 🙂