When choosing to have a self-hosted website, you literally have thousands of themes to choose from. On top of that monumental decision, you also have to decide if you should get a paid or free theme. Not an easy choice when first starting a business, especially with a tight budget. So, how to choose a WordPress theme? Let’s go over the pros and cons of paid vs. free WordPress themes.
Before we dive in to how to choose a WordPress theme, if you are still unsure whether you should choose a Self-Hosted website or a Website Builder (or don’t know the difference), take a peek at the Website Builders vs. Self-Hosted post.
If you’ve chosen Self-Hosted and need help getting signed up and installing the WordPress software so you can build your website, watch the How to Setup a Self-Hosted Website video.
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Once you are setup and ready to roll with WordPress, you will need to choose a theme. In the world of themes you have two options: paid (premium) or free. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each:
How to choose a WordPress theme: Free Themes
◊The biggest pro is that it’s Free – ’nuff said.
◊Easy to add/download – these themes can be accessed directly from your WordPress dashboard, so they are very easy to download. Simply click on “Appearance” from the menu, then click “Themes”. Once there you’ll see an “Add New Theme” square
⇐ that looks like this. Once you find a theme you like, you simply click the blue “Install” button to add that theme to your WordPress website ⇒
◊Free themes are carefully reviewed before they are added to the WordPress library, so they are held to a high standard. You can learn about this process HERE. Basically, themes have to prove they have clean coding (no errors), have specific documentation (directions for you so you know how to use the theme), are accessible, have the WordPress core features, and a lot more.
What this means to you is more confidence when going with a free theme (no worries about hack jobs).
◊Usually have limited features and options. The designers are not necessarily doing their dream themes for free – typically they are creating them to build a name for themselves or to grow in their coding skills (using the review process as a report card). Once they’ve perfected their craft, they will switch to paid themes. That’s not to say free=bad, that’s just saying it’s usually more limited than a paid theme.
◊Less support. Free themes don’t typically have a robust support system in place, they usually just have a link to the WordPress forum where you can ask questions. Unfortunately, they don’t always respond (or take their sweet time responding).
◊Dime-a-dozen. They tend to be very similar to each other, so you are not always left with a unique site – though you can customize them with your own photos/widgets/plugins thereby making it seem unique.
◊Don’t always update their themes (or may only update once in a while). This can be problematic if WordPress releases an update your theme is not compatible with.
◊No guarantees. If you have trouble with your theme, they don’t usually have any guarantees so you may be up a creek without a paddle.
How to choose a WordPress theme: Paid (Premium) Themes
◊Usually have more features and options. Premium themes tend to offer a lot more bells and whistles in the form of more widget areas (areas that can be customized), more integrations (such as adding a store or displaying your Instagram feed), and more user friendly ways of customizing your site (drag & drop, visual building, etc).
◊Typically more unique. Paid themes are less likely to be duplicated, though it’s not impossible. You have to remember, however, that anyone can download or buy the same theme as you so this ultimately doesn’t matter that much.
◊More support and assistance. Paid themes typically have warranties and support systems in place to make sure you are happy with their product. Items such as Documentation (the guide for setting up your website using their theme), customer support centers, and regular updates.
◊Can be better built…if you choose a reputable company. There can be those charging for a premium theme but provide a horrible product. Since paid themes aren’t monitored the way free themes are, there can be a lot of scams. However, if you choose a reputable company, they offer much stronger coding of the website.
What this means to you is a website with better functionality for your customers, better optimization for the search engines, and a better interface for you to build with. Check the reviews to make sure you are getting a good company – I recommend using StudioPress or ElegantThemes to start. I personally use and recommend StudioPress since they have the top reputation for premium themes (as of this writing).
◊You have to pay for them. I’ve seen prices ranging from about $25-$150 for a paid theme – which isn’t terribly expensive, but can be a pain if you are on a tight budget.
◊If you choose a bad company, you can get stuck with horrible coding. This means terrible functionality for your customers, bad search engine optimization, or problems using the theme on the back end. Always check the reputability of the paid company you choose.
In the end, when considering how to choose a WordPress theme, either choice will be perfectly fine as long as the theme has the look, feel, and features you want (and, if paid, is a reputable company).
I recommend taking some time to think through what you want your website to look and feel like and what you want it to do (what bells and whistles do you want it to have?). Make a list of the features you want and have an idea of how you’d like your site to flow. Once you have a strong idea of what you want, then take a look at the free and paid options available. You can then compare and decide which option is best for you.
If you need help building your site or downloading a paid theme, stay tuned for my next video series on building your website from scratch. Add your information below to be notified (via email) once the videos are posted.
As always, if you have questions, please add to comments below and I’ll be in touch as soon as possible.
Best of luck!