Think a free WordPress theme is too good to be true? It probably is.

Every new owner of a WordPress.org website is giddy with excitement. The thrill of a new business, a new blog, a redesign or refresh is palpable. And it all seems so easy and cheap – just get your discount hosting, install WordPress with a couple of clicks, grab a free theme and BLAMMO! Instant website!

Until… Uh oh.

You can’t figure out how to change the font colour on your site. You ask a developer and they charge you an arm and a leg, saying that your theme code is all over the place. You try to update WordPress and everything goes haywire. You can’t ask the theme developer for help, because why would they bother supporting a free theme?

You are totally excited when your website gets to page one in Google, but for some reason there is a spammy meta description being used, rather than the one you spend hours handcrafting while watching SEO tutorials. Then your site gets hacked and you lose months of blog posts before you pack it all in and go back to your day job.

Ok, maybe I got a little carried away with the doomsday scenario there! You would have to be pretty unlucky to have all of that happen to you. But I have seen every one of these. Would you want just one to happen to you?

I didn’t think so.

But why be so wary of free themes?

  1. They may contain malicious code, such as spammy links, that is impossible to remove. I’ve put this at the top of the list because really it should be the only reason you need. Even if you can’t see anything dodgy on your site, can you really be sure? Is your knowledge of PHP, HTML and CSS so solid that you wouldn’t let anything untoward slip by?
  2. They will have only minimal support from the theme developer. If you were a developer and you created various paid and free themes, who would you rather spend time helping? The customers who purchased a theme, or the ones who downloaded one for free?
  3. They will usually have minimal features. See point 2. If you were going to spend time adding extra features to a theme, would it be one that you can charge money for, or one that you’re giving away for free?

So where is a good place to find a theme?

I’m not saying that ALL free WordPress themes are inherently bad.

You can generally find good, safe free themes on the WordPress.org theme repository, although the selection of designs can be quite limited. Some reputable theme shops release a selection of free themes, however they will not normally support these to the same extent as their premium counterparts. But if you like a free theme from one of these places, by all means try it out to get the hang of it before making a commitment.

The best way to get around the potential problems of free themes is to purchase a ‘premium’ WordPress theme from a reputable theme shop like StudioPress or WooThemes (there are many others, but these are the ones I’ve used and recommend). You should expect these themes to cost around $50-$80. I understand, sometimes this feels like a lot of upfront outlay for a fledgling business. But I promise, it will be worth it in the long term!

Have you had any bad (or good!) experiences with free themes?