Free WordPress Theme vs. Premium WordPress Theme

Selecting a WordPress theme is always a challenging task.

This is especially true when there are so many free WordPress themes and premium WordPress themes available on the market.

How do you know which one to choose?

Furthermore, should you choose a free WordPress theme, or buy a premium theme?

Free or Premium WordPress Themes
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We often talk about WordPress themes on SML, probably because this is the first need of any blogger who wants to start a WordPress blog.

Most new WordPress bloggers use free themes, not fully understanding why they should pay for a premium WordPress theme.

When I started with WordPress, I was using the Arthemia free theme for the first six months. Only later did I settle down with the premium Genesis WordPress theme.

When I started with WordPress, I thought:

  • Why pay money when I can get something for free?

Like most people, I found a pretty nice free WordPress theme.

Later on, I realized my mistake…

Now, I personally believe that free themes are amazing only because they are free.

May 2020 update: In free category, Astra is one theme that I highly recommend. The free one is as good as premium one. Read this detailed Astra theme review to learn more about it.

4 Reasons To Opt for Premium Themes Over Free WordPress Themes

First of all, let me say that free themes are not bad. 

You can find many good free themes in the WordPress theme directory.

But the majority of problems come with updates. Most theme developers release a base version on free theme directories and later use this to make a sale of the “pro” version.

I would recommend that instead of wasting your time on technical know-how and trying to fix problems when WP updates screw up your theme, it’s better to opt for a premium theme and focus on making quality content.

Here are some reasons that will make you want to ditch your free theme and buy a premium theme.

1. Support and updates

WordPress is constantly updating its technology and every few months, there’s a major update in WordPress.

  • Your themes (and plugins) need to be compatible with the latest version of WordPress.

When you are using paid themes, it’s the responsibility of the framework company to release an updated and compatible version of the theme.

However, free theme creators use their theme as a side project, and you may need to wait for months before you see an update.

Furthermore, all premium theme authors offer free support, whereas in free themes, you can’t expect any kind of support.

Also, if you have a premium theme framework like Genesis, you will find tons of tutorials on the web.

This doesn’t happen often with free WP themes.

2. SEO

WordPress themes play a major role in the overall SEO of your site.

In free themes, you will find many structural bugs and moreover, hardly any of them offer any inbuilt SEO options.

In particular, it’s very important to have a site which is not only SEO optimized but also offers clean code for faster loading.

Themes like Genesis offer lightning fast loading, but, of course, they are not free.

In terms of faster loading, using a premium theme also helps you in lowering down the amount of resource-hogging plugins.

3. Features

Premium theme development is a competitive marketplace. In order to survive, theme developers need to offer the latest features and seamless web integration.

Free themes have a limited number of features. Most developers are not willing to update their free themes with anything too fancy.

If you want to see a particular feature in a free theme, you will either have to find a plugin, or find a different theme.

4. Encrypted links

This is the one thing I hate the most about free WordPress themes.

Most free theme developers encrypt the footer and sell those links.

This has a very bad impact on the overall SEO of your blog. If you want to create a customized footer, this is not possible. (FYI: A nice footer has a great SEO advantage if you use it wisely.)

Since the Google Penguin update, such encrypted links are seen as spammy links. (Legit sites like WPMU were penalized due this reason.)

While outbound links have some SEO advantage, such kinds of linking should be avoided at all costs.

Free Themes vs. Premium Themes

If you don’t have $50 to spend on a quality premium theme, getting a free theme is definitely the way to go.

But once your blog starts getting momentum, I would highly advise you to switch over to a good paid theme.

What are your opinions on free vs. paid WordPress themes? Let us know in the comments!

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Authored By
A Blogger, Author and a speaker! Harsh Agrawal is recognized as a leader in digital marketing and FinTech space. Fountainhead of ShoutMeLoud, and a Speaker at ASW, Hero Mindmine, Inorbit, IBM, India blockchain summit. Also, an award-winning blogger.

32 thoughts on “Free WordPress Theme vs. Premium WordPress Theme”

  1. Yups, I think that it realistic for newbie like me to use free themes, then when i have a little bit money it’s great to upgrade to premium. I just make a wish list of premium themes I want to use.

    Its great to make a plan to buy premium themes. I think its just a time, cause I use free blog, getting money then buy my host and using free themes. After that money comes, business must improve i buy premium themes I admire πŸ˜€

    Using premium themes is just about process…

  2. I do agree..I suffered from the pro of encrypted link @ footer which was inserting ads and u advised me to remove it..But i should also say for some free themes are is enough support and guidelines given by the author itself:)

  3. Blake @ Props Blog Reviews

    This feels like a pretty bias discussion comparing free themes vs. premium themes. Currently, I’m using a free theme, but I definitely will end up switching to Thesis at some point for the SEO benefits.
    Some paid themes like the ones in theme forest are not highly customizable and once you’re setup, there isn’t much changing you can do.
    Other themes like thesis are very powerful, but unless your good with graphic design, you’ll probably end up having to pay more to get someone to custmize it for you.
    On advantage of using free themes is you can try out a few different looks for free and they usually are fairly complete graphically. After you’ve started to establish yourself, you can easily just switch over to a more perminate paid theme that suites your needs.
    In the end, premium is always better, but I don’t think most beginning bloggers can make the most of the theme without dumping a ton of money into it.

  4. Totally agree with you Harsh, right now I am using a free theme and going to change it from some premium WordPress theme like Thesis. Since thesis is customizable in every area.
    In starting days of my blogging I too think that theme has nothing to with SEO, but I change my perspective after seen one of my blog doing well with thesis in terms of SEO.
    Also it is advisable by all the SEO experts to build a website that rich in theme because search engines are more interested in themes.

  5. Anterpreet Singh

    My friend has purchased thesis theme and I have also used this theme on local server, it is the best theme I have ever seen. But i have one question can I use the same thesis on my blog or is there any risk of using a theme on multiple blogs?

    1. well, you cannot use thesis theme on multiple blogs until you own a devolper license. You should avoid using on your blog until you own a license of thesis either personal one or developer one.

  6. This is something more people should think about. Personally I do not recommend people to rush out and buy things when they are on their way to start making money online, but a premium theme is actually a great idea. Therefore I usually recommend people to start out with a simple free theme and then upgrade when they have made enough money to afford it.

  7. Ashutosh Mishra

    Nice post. I had the same why-pay-when-you-can-get-one-for-free mentality when I moved to WordPress 3 months ago. Now I’ve realised the importance of a good and flexible theme (like Thesis) and would like to get it for my blog soon. But my current problem in not with themes, but with myself. Howsoever I try, I’m not getting myself to blog regularly and sincerely (and themes can’t write posts for you!). I read all those great posts in larger blogs and get depressed about the way I write. Hopefully I’ll get over it, and once my blog is up and running smoothly, I’ll definitely go get the Thesis theme.

  8. I think… that caring for a Premium theme against a free theme in the very starting stage of your blog is not important. Instead if the content of your blog is appealing.. it will automatically get ranked in the serch engines in a better way.

    Once your blog is able to earn for you on the back of your comment then you can always think of upgrading to a premium theme thus, adding to your blog’s success. Worrying about your theme and not posting good content or not posting at all, will be of no help…

    1. Suanlian Tangpua

      “Worrying about your theme and not posting good content or not posting at all, will be of no help…”

      Exectly, You are right Mandeep Singh.

  9. Obviously Premium themes are much much better than free themes. but for newbies free themes is the best option πŸ™‚

  10. I’m constantly changing my template (which isn’t a good thing…I know). It’s difficult to find any blogger themes comparable to the ones WordPress has to offer. Just recently I was looking at some of the premium themes ElegantThemes for WordPress has to offer. They are awesome. Thesis is another favorite of mine. I’m sure I’ll probably move my blogger blog to wordpress.

  11. George Serradinho

    When I first started out, I used a free theme. I have not got much against free theme, besides that support is sometimes slow or non-existent. Some theme developers do help out where needed and we are very thankful to them.

    Premium themes are just better for me. The support features are sometimes way more although I have noticed some free themes starting to catch up to the trends of premium themes. It makes it exciting as the developers will eventually push each other to the max.

  12. Web Hosting Blog

    “Encrypted links” Many of the free WordPress themes do have some sort of links built into the theme,some of the more elaborate theme creators have embedded the links to a point that if you try to remove it, your entire site will fail.
    Atimes the free wordpress theme just won’t support the widget or plugin that you need, thats where support comes in, designers of premium themes are most times available to a dedicated web forum or some other avenue to their customers.

  13. I’ve been using free wordpress themes and finally I’ve found this blog that talks about free vs premium themes. I think I really need to take this blogging to the next level and that is buying a premium theme with seo friendly.

    I would like to hear more feedbacks about Thesis theme.

  14. I am using free theme in my blog and it is awesome. But ofcourse the value of premium theme can’t be ignored.

  15. Nice article:-) I’m actually using a free theme for my new blog I’m quite concern for the theme . Its already off for business and I don’t see incoming search term in my blog. Hope you could help me with this

  16. Sashwato Chatterjee

    Thank You Harsh for providing this information. I was thinking of switching to WordPress now with a free template/theme since I am new to this world. I believe that luck mattered the most that I came across this article. Now definitely I am going for a paid theme because ultimately we would need a support handle for any errors or updates. Can you give your suggestion regarding which paid themes we should go with as a newbie? Just a brief idea would be appreciated!

  17. I am using free theme but after this article i am thinking of changing to paid theme. because my theme does not following W3C validator rules.

  18. I was confused, till I read your Article. I am facing same situation. Its been around six months and I am using a free theme. I have decided to move to Genesis theme ( generate Pro). Now my doubts are regarding loss of my all work, if I move to my new paid theme. I have very little knowledge of web building. Thank you.

    1. You wont loose any info…just theme can be changed, along with some required customization…hope you have already done the same.

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