After a user decides that they want or need a WordPress based website, they quickly find out that they also require a WordPress theme.

Themes are essentially the design of your site, but they also includes ways to organize and manage your content, and may even include special functionality.

The next step after committing to starting a WordPress site is to decide what type of WordPress theme you want to use. There are free options available, premium themes, or you could have one built. Today, I thought we’d look at pros and cons to each type of WordPress theme, as well as look at when each type of theme might be a good fit.

Free Themes

Pros

  1. It’s free!
  2. There are some really nice free themes, such as those made by Automattic, which are better than a lot of premium themes. Also, Modern Themes has a lot of awesome free WordPress themes with paid upgrades.
  3. You can download free themes through your WordPress install, which makes it a bit easier to install.

Cons

  1. A lot of free themes are either old or ugly.
  2. If you get a free theme from an unreliable source, it could contain viruses or have serious problems. By the way, don’t download those bootlegged premium themes as they will have malicious code in them.
  3. Free themes are also widely used, meaning if you manage to find a good, free theme, there are probably thousands of other sites that also use that theme and look exactly like yours.
  4. Many free themes are just “lite” versions of paid themes, meaning you eventually end up paying anyways so that you can use all the features.
  5. A lot of free themes are not very robust, meaning they lack features you might need down the road or they aren’t very customizable.

A free theme would be a good choice for: very few people. 

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The only people I really think free themes are a good option for are those that are putting up a new, simple site for personal use, and they don’t need advanced functionality or care about the design of their site.  There are some really good free themes out there, but I find that they all end up not being all that customizable (unless you know how to code them) and they usually end up not meeting user needs in terms of functionality. Free themes are also great for those SEOs out there building mini-sites for SEO purposes. Those are essentially sites meant for search engines, not people.

Premium Themes

Pros

  1. A lot of premium theme developers constantly are updating their themes, meaning your theme will always work with the latest WordPress and plugin updates, and it will get better and better. Not only does it work, it also is likely secure.
  2. Many premium themes developers spend a whole year or more creating their themes, which means that when you purchase a copy for under $100, you are getting a great value. That same theme developed just for you would probably run tens of thousands of dollars.
  3. The quality of premium themes is usually much better than free themes. Many having advanced functionality.
  4. A lot of premium themes are now multi-purpose and highly customizable, so even if you run the same theme as someone else, you might have entirely different looking sites. That flexibility also means that if you later decide to change or add functionality, it isn’t a big deal to do so.

Cons

  1. If you pick a popular theme, there may be a few thousand or just a few hundred other sites using the same theme. If you are running the theme in close to original state or looking like a specific demo, there are probably other sites that look just like yours. If you use Themeforest, they tell you how many times the theme has been purchased.
  2. Some premium themes have so much bloat to them that they are slow. You’ll want to go with something you know is tried, tested, works, and comes from a reputable seller.
  3. A lot of premium themes have so many options, they can be a bit tricky to learn how to use, and especially to setup.
  4. I suppose you could consider price a con if you are comparing to free themes.

A premium theme would be a good choice for: pretty much anyone. 

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I’m starting to think that premium themes are really the best option for most people, including most of my clients. There are so many options out there now days that, if you look in the right places, you can find a theme that fits your needs perfectly. A lot of premium themes are now so customizable via page builders, that two sites using the same theme can look completely different.

By purchasing a premium theme, depending on who you buy it from, a lot of the time it is a bit like paying a very small fee to get a developer or agency to build an amazing theme and to continue to work on it and improve it continuously for the next year or more. Conversely, if you get someone to build you a custom theme, they are probably going to build it once (at a much higher price) and then be done developing it unless you hire them again to work on it some more.

Basically, I think using a premium theme is the best value.

Custom Themes

Pros

  1. It will be your design to your specifications, within your budget and the designer and developers skills.
  2. You will have a one of a kind website.

Cons

  1. Price. Having a custom theme built means one developer needs to work to build the theme just for you. You then are absorbing all of the cost. Most developers work off a base theme to save some time, and they only include absolutely necessary features. This makes your theme a bit on the light side in terms of features and ability to customize it down the road.
  2. Time. It takes time to have a theme developed and customized, possibly months.
  3. No updates. The only way your theme will get updated is if you hire the developer to do that.

A premium theme would be a good choice for: only businesses or organizations willing to put a lot of time and money into development, or those that need a really simple site that is custom for their use only. 

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Having a custom theme developed is really still a good option, especially if you are really specific about the design you want, you just should be aware that it will be more expensive, take more time, and you’ll have to put a lot more effort in. You’ll also need to have more work done in the future to get it updated or add more functionality. If you only need a simple 1-5 page static website, having a custom theme designed might still be a good idea as you get exactly what you want and it might take less time than finding the perfect theme. You should just be aware that the theme won’t be as easy to change or add to in the future.

I hope this article helps you decide what type of WordPress theme option is best for you. I think any of the three options can work, but usually finding a premium WordPress theme and a developer to work on it is the best option.