There are so many WordPress themes out there to choose from. Some are free, some come with a one time cost, and others come with a yearly cost.
After my little story below, I’ll go over the pluses and minuses of free vs premium WordPress themes.
Four years ago it was really hard to get by with a free theme because responsive design was still fairly new and free themes weren’t written responsive. That’s an issue when a large percentage of visitors will probably come from a mobile device.
Times have changed since 2011 and responsive themes aren’t as hard to find when your budget is free. That’s great news for free seekers, but you’re still getting what you paid for.
Here’s a break-down of free, single cost, and subscription themes. These are the three models of free vs. paid WordPress themes at this time.
As with most things free, there’s often a cost that goes with it. I recently used the free Storefront theme from WooThemes and while it’s an excellent theme, it has taken a long time customizing to get it looking good and unique.
Even with free themes there’s often an incentive to get money from the theme. With WooThemes and Storefront, there are plugins that you can buy for the theme to further customize it, including features that are almost necessary.
I am fortunate enough to have enough CSS and HTML abilities to change the template enough for my liking, but I’d still like to customize it further which would need some investment.
Free: You can’t beat the price. Your investment to get started on WordPress is more reasonable and you can still have a very nice looking website.
Low Barriers: You aren’t stuck with once theme even if you find you’re not happy with it a few months down the road. The only thing you’ll lose is some customizations of the theme but that’s lower than also losing the money you paid for it.
Support: If you ever run into an issue or an incompatibility with the theme then you’re out of luck. You’re not likely to get much support, and if you do then it’s going to be slow.
Hidden Fees: To get features you need there is often an extra fee for those. Sometimes those fees aren’t represented because it seems they are part of the free theme but you later find out they’re a paid upgrade.
Premium Subscription Themes
This seems to be the most popular way to offer premium WordPress themes today. As with many other things going the subscription route these days, developers of themes want to get you invested in their environment.
With the subscription theme websites, you pay around $79 per year and get access to an entire library of premium themes. You can change your theme as much as you like and get updates to the themes as long as you subscribe.
It’s a great deal if you can’t make up your mind or money isn’t an object but considering the lifespan of a normal theme, it might not be the best deal for most.
Premium Support: if you’re paying for a service then you better get good support. With subscription theme services you’ll most likely get great support, hopefully within a day your question will be answered.
Unlimited Themes: As long as you pay your yearly fee, you can choose your theme and change it as often as you’d like. Great for the person who’s constantly re-imagining their website and how they’re presented to the world.
Theme Updates: Your themes will always be updated with the most recent security updates and fixes to bugs with certain browsers.
Theme Updates: Yes, this is a plus and a minus because if you stop paying your yearly fee then the updates also stop coming. You may end up with an outdated theme that has a security issue and exposes your WordPress to hackers.
Continuously Pay: Yes another subscription fee that you have to pay every year. If you want to keep up with updates and get a new theme, you have to keep paying. If you want to keep your theme up-to-date then you have to keep paying, and keeping your theme up-to-date is extremely important.
Updateaholicism: OK so I invented that word, but it sounds like it could be a thing (I update my iPhone obsessively). I recommend not updating themes too often either because visitors get used to your website. I haven’t changed mine since 2012 but I do keep making minor tweaks to it.
Premium One-Time Fee Themes
This is the best option for me, and probably for you too. You can plan on getting at least 3 years life out of your theme, so with a subscription service that would cost you about $237 for one theme. Most premium one-time fee themes cost from $35 to $79. While the $35 level themes may leave you wanting more, they’re still better than a free option.
So, with that said, even with the most expensive premium theme you save about $158 over the span of 3 years, or $53 pear year. That’s pretty awesome! Kind of a no-brainer, the only problem being that one-time fee themes are becoming harder to find by the day.
I purchased my theme from WPZoom which has some awesome premium options and they’re all one-time fee themes. I recommend WPZoom themes in my course and I continue to like my WPZoom theme the most out of all them I’ve used, even my most recent purchase from LifeHacker which was a bundle of themes for only $10 (was definitely worth $10 though!)
Premium Support: You still get that great support, and for some it may be the lifetime of the theme which is great. Others may only give you premium support for the first year, but for a theme the first year is usually all that’s needed.
Theme Updates: You get unlimited updates to the theme as long as the developer maintains it. I have received updates on my theme years after it was developed so its lifespan is much longer.
Pay One Time: You can purchase any theme in the WPZoom library for $75 and get it for a lifetime. WPZoom says you get updates for 1 year but in my case I’ve received them well after that year.
Theme Updates: Some theme developers may not update their themes past a year, if that even. It’s a must to purchase your theme from a reputable developer so you don’t get stuck with something that’s a security risk after 6 months.
Potential Catches: If you don’t purchase your theme from a reputable place then there may be some catches. Updates may end within your year and the developer is a stickler for rules. There could be a major security release just outside your update window and the developer could leave you high and dry.
What’s Best For You?
Everyone is going to have unique needs so the best I can do is to point out some of the pluses and minuses. In the end for me I found the one-time fee was the best option. Time has told that it was the right decision because I have paid a lot less over time than a subscription model.
If your HTML and CSS skills are premium, then a free theme may serve you well. With a free theme you may spend more in your time though but with a premium theme you are trading your money for their time. Even with my paid themes though I have done some customizing, it’s almost necessary to make it yours, but much less is spent with a premium theme.
Hopefully this guide has provided you some good guidance for making a choice. I’d love to hear from you if you have any suggestions or other points to look for when choosing a theme.
What’s your favorite, free or premium WordPress themes?