WordPress is the preferred content management system for many personal and business websites. Besides being free, its modest server requirements, the ease with which it can be installed or updated and the amount of support available from the community makes it an automatic choice. WordPress along with its vast repository of free themes and plugins gives you the necessary ingredients for a low-cost website. Does it then make sense to pay for a premium theme?
A free theme is good enough for starting off a blog, testing an idea or publishing a small personal website. For anything more serious, it is better to use a premium theme. For commercial purposes, you need more than just a pretty looking website that makes it easy for you to publish content. There are other important factors such as security, support and performance that can make a huge difference.
In the WordPress community, any theme that is not free is called a premium theme. A premium theme, therefore, does not automatically imply premium quality. When we discuss premium themes here, we are talking about themes developed by professional web developers and web design companies who have been in the business for a long time and enjoy an excellent reputation in the market. Anything less than that may be premium in name only and may not be worth paying for. With a premium theme, you get several benefits.
1. Superior quality and performance
Unlike most free themes, premium themes are usually maintained and supported by a team of expert developers. With premium themes, you can expect superior design, clean coding, rigorous testing, adherence to standards, better SEO and excellent performance. You will also get plenty of features that you can use to offer better user experience.
Many free themes are developed by individuals and come only with the bare minimum features. These developers may not have the expertise, resources or time to produce high-quality themes. Lack of resources and expertise often translates into inefficient design and coding, which can lead to SEO and performance problems. Free themes may not confirm to standards and this could result in compatibility issues with plugins and new WordPress releases.
A serious website should stand out from the crowd and this is hard to achieve with a free theme. Popular free themes are downloaded thousands of times and if you use them, your website will be like a penguin in Antarctica. It will be one among thousands sharing the same look and feel unless you do major customization. Compared to free themes, premium themes are used on fewer websites and they can also be easily customized.
3. Reliable support
Premium themes come with good support provided by dedicated support teams. You can raise a support ticket and expect quick response and resolution. When you are running a busy site, the availability of reliable support is reassuring and gives you peace of mind.
If you run into a problem with a free theme, your options are limited. Most free themes have little or no support. Support is usually provided by the user community in online forums. You can also report problems or ask questions on the theme’s page on the WordPress site. Although many developers respond to the queries to keep their theme rankings high, they are under no obligation to do so.
4. More flexibility and easy customization
Premium themes offer numerous customization options. A lot of customization can be done by using the theme’s settings. Most premium theme providers offer some level of free support for customization.
Free themes offer only minimal customization options. You can’t make major changes to the design without the help of a web developer who has experience in customizing WordPress themes. You may be able to make minor changes with the help of information posted in support forums and online guides. However, this type of unreliable support is not good enough for a commercial website.
5. Better security
With a premium theme your site will be more secure. Free themes available on the internet may be unsafe. The theme creator can intentionally create security holes in the theme leaving your site vulnerable to malware and hackers. Poorly coded free themes may also have security loopholes. Themes downloaded from the themes repository on the WordPress site are generally safe.
Some free themes include hidden encrypted links. These links are not visible on a casual examination. The idea is to use your website to create spammy backlinks to other websites. While these links may not be visible to you or your visitors, they are visible to the search engines and will adversely affect your rankings. Google is already cracking down on sites having such links.
6. Quick updates and compatibility with future WordPress releases
Every year, WordPress rolls out several major and minor releases. Updates to WordPress, especially major updates, come with the risk of previously compatible themes becoming incompatible. When you buy a Premium theme, the developers test it with newer versions of WordPress before they are officially released to the wider community. With many free themes, this is just an afterthought.
Compatibility problems with free themes may become evident only after you upgrade to a newer WordPress version. For a busy commercial site, this can result in downtime or functionality problems. Solutions may not be quickly available because the developer may not be able to investigate and fix the issues quickly. If you can’t wait for the fix or it doesn’t materialize, you have to either change your theme or go back to the previous WordPress version by restoring the entire website from a backup. Both these options are not ideal, especially if you have spent a lot of time or money customizing the free theme.
7. Gives more credibility to your site
Premium themes come without the branding of the theme provider or if it does, you have the option to remove it. Free themes usually come with footer text and links to give credit to the developer and advertise the theme. This looks unprofessional on a business website and it will have an adverse impact on your website’s credibility. Some free themes allow you to remove branding requirements by paying a fee, but it makes more sense to pay a little more for a premium theme and enjoy all the other benefits as well.
Use a premium WordPress theme for serious business or commercial websites. Many premium theme developers offer free themes in the hope that you will upgrade to a premium theme at a later stage. They are good options if you currently don’t have the budget for a premium theme. Although limited in features and support, they come with many of the advantages of premium themes. It will also be easier to upgrade to one of their premium themes at a later stage.
Want to know what Premium Themes we use at Media in Bloom?
We’ve used a lot of themes over the years, and several have emerged as our go-t0 choices for most web projects. Because most of our websites are custom designs, we tend towards minimal Theme Frameworks and build out the design from there. The one we use depends on a lot of factors including compatibility with plugins we know we’ll need, who will maintain the website and their level of technical skill, how frequently page layouts will need to be changed, etc.
We use the Genesis Theme as our first choice for most current projects. It is arguably the best in the industry for performance and stability, and is well supported. We create custom child themes to be used with Genesis, though Studio Press and other vendors offer some great pre-designed child themes that will get you going quickly. Genesis can be a bit daunting for newbie users so this may not be your first choice if you’re DIYing your site and need it in a hurry.
Prior to using Genesis, Canvas by WooThemes was a favorite. Canvas has a really comprehensive control panel that allows you to design your site without having to touch code. We found that we could implement about 80-90% of our custom designs through control panel settings, then would make up the remainder with CSS code in a child theme. Canvas or any theme by Woo is a good choice if you’re going to be using WooCommerce, as the themes are already optimized for it. Plus a paid theme by Woo will qualify you to get email support for WooCommerce. Always a good thing to have when dealing with money.
Our third theme of choice is Divi by Elegant Themes. Divi is a drag and drop page builder that is very easy to learn. It is great for small, conversion oriented websites because it includes many drop-in modules for opt-in forms, calls-to-action, and more. We use Divi for small sites – typically consultants and entrepreneurs, who are likely to change their site layouts and structure frequently. It’s great when you need a lot of flexibility, but it does come at the expense of performance. For that reason, we don’t recommend it for large or high-traffic websites.