Che Kohler July 22nd, 2020

Why You Should Avoid Free WordPress Themes

As a newbie to the world of websites, you’ve probably heard of WordPress, plenty of website owners and developers swear by it as the best content management system for building your website.

The problem with WordPress for many is also its greatest strength, the power of customisation. 

Creating your own site on WordPress is as simple as finding a theme you like and installing it on your site. There are thousands of themes to choose from, with many of them being affordable and provide you with a host of features any website owner would love, yet people still opt for free themes. 

Free themes are a great way to get used to WordPress and messing around, but as for building your actual site on a free theme, I would recommend against it. 

In case you think you’re cutting costs or being smart you need to realise that there is no free lunch, even with the internet having so much frees tuff available.  There are reasons developers are giving away stuff for free and its all part of a grand plan. 

If you want to know why you should avoid free themes, then check out our list below. 

1. No support or documentation

Most free WordPress themes aren’t worth a developers time to maintain, update or provide support and is an entry point for users to try out WordPress or see what the developer is capable of so they can upsell you into their premium themes.  

Many free themes are often abandoned, the developers don’t update them or the developers no longer in operation. Free themes also don’t always come with great documentation on how to use them so you won’t know if something is a feature or a bug, you simply have to figure it out on your own which can take hours.

Developers are also going to focus on what makes them money so while some do update their fee themes, they take more time to release than the Premium versions which are worth updating, so you need to wait for your updates, leaving you behind others.

2. Not SEO-optimised

Free WordPress themes are usually bare-bones and hardly offer any in-built SEO options and the coding will be unclear. A clean code, faster loading time, SEO compatible makes a theme SEO-optimised. If the point of your site is to get traffic from Google search, its better to have a platform that tailors to all Google’s needs from the beginning.

3. Lesser number of features

Free themes are normally not rich when it comes to features and is only there to give you an idea of how what a developer can do for you. Some will rely on plugins when these features could be built natively into themes and bloat your code when it wasn’t needed. 

Certain free themes also try to upsell you by recommending premium plugins instead, and once you get all the features you want, you probably paid more for all those plugins than a premium theme would have cost you.

A basic blog could possibly get away with using a free theme, but any business or eCommerce site should always opt to ship out for a paid theme if they are serious about building a website.

4. No theme options panel

Many bloggers who are starting a WordPress site may not have technical knowledge. Premium themes often gather various feature sets and place it into an easy to use GUI which is known as a theme panel, a benefit of using a premium theme. 

Most of the free WordPress themes do not come with a theme options panel, so you need to play with the codes to create any custom design or even edit the PHP file to add certain features, an option that many non-coders should try to avoid. 

If you’re a non-technical person and just want to be able to make changes while changing a range of presets. 

5. Mobile responsiveness

Having a site that is mobile-friendly is not enough in this competitive internet arena, and your site needs to provide an optimal mobile experience as it would on desktop. Google has actively split its mobile and desktop index to give better results for mobile users, and if you’re in a country with a high mobile use rate, it’s best you get a theme that can automatically respond to your changes and turn it into a mobile-friendly page.

Free themes may have some mobile-friendly aspects like 1 or 2 columns settings, but it may not allow you to do more customisation than a premium or paid theme would, limiting your ability to customise your site for mobile users.

6. Spam links

The one thing that sets me off about free WordPress themes is they often stuff links into the footer, sometimes it’s customisable other times its encrypted and cannot be removed. This may be seen as link spam by Google or if your site gathers a lot of traffic you’re sending the theme owner tonnes of free traffic via your efforts.

7. Hidden and malicious code

Unfortunately, the WordPress community aren’t all the noblest of developers, and open source code isn’t the most trustworthy. As a developer, you may be able to snatch code from online repositories and review it for insecurities before using it.

However, for non-technical grabbing random code off the internet, this provides a distinct risk as you could be installing backdoors into your website or devices, as well as hidden, malicious code within a theme. This hidden code can produce spam links, security exploits, and abuses on your WordPress site. Hackers install code in various places that run this type of malware.

If you don’t want to risk bad or malicious code, then stay away from free themes.

8. Plugins compatibility problems

Plugins are one of the main reasons any site owner opts for WordPress since they make it easier for non-coders to add features to their site. Free themes are often not the most well-checked code bases and plugins can sometimes break or corrupt your site as they are added. The incompatibility of your theme with plugins will mean one has to go and since the theme is the main code base, you will have to start deleting WordPress plugins to keep your site in working order.

In addition, a shoddy code base can also mean 3rd party code reduces the performance and actually needs to be refactored to work properly. 

If you feel that plugins for 3rd party tools and features are a must, then its best you stay away from free themes.

9. Endlessly searching for free themes

Free themes are a dime a dozen and reviewing themes, there features and which one has more of what you need can take a lot of time and to be completely honest, you won’t find a free theme with all the features you like and want. As you dive deeper down the rabbit hole of themes, you could end up downloading files that aren’t exactly the safest.

To find trustworthy themes, you should use approved WordPress theme resellers and try to find something in your price range. Remember this is only to get you started, once your site is up and running and making money you could purchase a more expensive theme and revamp your site with new features and a better look. 

10. Lack of continued development

WordPress software continues to improve with each new update. Two or three times a year, WordPress releases new software versions, adding new features, security patches, and numerous other updates. This is the code base of the actual WordPress CMS, not the theme or 3rd party software like plugins. 

As you can tell, there are a lot of moving parts, and with free themes not having support, as coding changes, you may see more and more erratic behaviour from your site. 

You will either be forced to remain on older versions of WordPress to remain compatible and miss out on new features, and security updates or you need to get a new theme or a developer to update your free theme, costing you more than it should have should you have bought a premium theme. 

Free can come at a cost 

I get it, it’s easy to get wrapped up in free offers but in some cases, free can cost you more than spending a few bucks for peace of mind. If you’re going to pick a theme, make sure you use trusted theme resellers and that you have direct content with the creator so you can always reach out to them should you have issues. 

Free WordPress themes have their place in the ecosystem, but should not be used if you’re going to be serious about building a website and want customers to interact with it.


Photo by Fikret tozak on Unsplash

Che Kohler

Che Kohler is the co-founder of nichemarket, a South African Business Directory and digital marketing agency. He is an avid blogger who specialises in writing about marketing tech and cryptocurrency.

3 comments

  1. What a great Article. It shifted me to rethink all i do. I will never use anything that is free, like Websites without paywalls. Thanks!

  2. How the author can claim that the free themes that are an integral part of the wordpress model have malicious code. Doesn’t he confuse free themes under GPL license and premium nulled themes?
    Free software doesn’t mean poor quality.

    1. I think the same. If we go by the author’s words, then all the free themes in the WordPress directory are not to be trusted.

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