Let’s talk WordPress website themes. The usual criterion to compare is free of charge vs. paid, but both types can be useful. So much depends on what you need in a site layout, and how much you are willing to “fiddle” with things.
Free sounds good! Yes, but do look at the details first. A free theme may be an excellent starting point for a new small business or personal blogging site. Or it could be a nightmare to work with or seriously slow down your site’s loading time to the point that visitors leave before they see how wonderful you are!
Fortunately, WordPress is giving all themes the opportunity to use its Customize feature, which makes setting up the “boxes” of your site layout and filling in the initial content easier to do. So, free themes that take more advantage of Customize are going to be easier to work with. And WordPress may make Customize mandatory for website developers to use.
One of the biggest problems I saw when I first started working with WordPress was the sheer number of free themes. It took so much time to go through them! Some might look good in the demo, for example, and then have either virtually no options (you mean I can’t even change the link colors?) or so many options that I wanted to quit.
Geek warning: I also noticed that a good number of the free themes had overly complex or disorganized style sheets. I could be wrong, but inefficient code likely makes a site slower to load, and it also makes it harder for me to customize the style sheet since it’s so hard to find the parts of the site the styles apply to.
When Free is Good
But Free can be good. You just have to try them out or go to reviews to narrow your search. I do have a couple of free themes I’ve used that seem to work well and are not overcomplicated:
- Catch Themes (particularly Catch Everest—scroll to the bottom for the free ones)
- OnePress from Fame Themes, which I used as a teaching tool in a webinar for book indexers, some of whom desperately needed to update their sites from . . . 1999.
Also, the default WordPress themes named by year are kept nicely up to date. Some people might decide that they don’t want to use the theme everyone else might be using, but the layouts are clean, and for a simple blogging site, up to the task. You will find that options for changing layouts or adding blocks of information in different places are very limited.
Premium (paid-for) Themes
So, when is a premium theme worth the investment? Probably when you want to make a business or creative art visible to the public. No point in paying for one theme or a collection of themes if you aren’t going to get a return on the investment in either money or recognition.
So, yeah, there are lots of premium theme providers, too. And many of the free themes come from developers who make premium versions. In this case, though, I’m looking at the overall provider of the themes and not just individual ones, so there aren’t quite so many choices.
Code Still Matters
Clean code, for making the website work and for setting the layout style, turned out to be an important factor for me. I’ve saved a lot of time working with themes that belong to a framework where style sheets are structured similarly and elements are organized in a logical way.
When Premium Is Worth It
It’s not buggy, saves time, and gives you options that make sense without overwhelming you with lots of stuff that doesn’t. The theme is the developer’s vision. If you really don’t like the layout, or find you have to change a million things, pick another one that’s closer and easier to customize.
That’s why I like choosing a theme developer and purchasing a framework and a group of child themes (modifications based on the framework). Then I can choose one that’s close to what I want and not have to change everything to make it work for me.
In my case, I chose the Genesis Framework and themes from StudioPress. I like their minimalist philosophy, which goes into their clean code and clean layouts. Yes, it cost more than $300USD to get access to all the child themes and updates forever, but it’s already paid for itself several times over.
Bottom Line for Themes
Go for Free if you have a single, simple resume site or personal blog site and keep it simple for yourself. There are good themes out there. You can try one of the ones I listed above.
Go for Premium if you have multiple crafts or freelance businesses to run and want some variety without having to re-invent with a new framework every time. Or you and I can work together to create a professional site that looks great for you. 🙂
If you have any questions about themes, let me know in the comments. There’s a lot more to the theme thing than I could fit into one post, so I will return to the subject, and your questions can be great prompts for me to do research and write up some answers. Thanks!