Beware the high cost of a free theme.

Free is great. It’s hard to pass up getting something for nothing. But when it comes to a free theme to build your WordPress Website, proceed with caution. A theme is the heart of your Website. While a free theme saves money on one end, you may find yourself losing money on time and trouble. I will share the top reasons I’ve found a free theme might not be the right choice, especially if you have a tight budget.

Free Theme? Maybe not so free.

In addition to this post, learn more with one of my videos about WordPress Themes or reading my other post about WordPress theme selection. If you haven’t, you may want to go there after reading this short post about potential issues when you choose a free theme.

Common WordPress “free theme” issues:

The problems that come up with themes fall into three categories. They are:

  1. Support:  With free themes, support may be slow, spotty, or non-existent. Sometimes support only comes by upgrading (for a fee)
  2. Reliability:  If the theme doesn’t remain current with WordPress or other plugins after any upgrades, it may not function. That could bring your site down completely
  3. Engineering (development):  If the free theme isn’t engineered properly, some functions on your WordPress site may not be available. Add the need to work with popular plugins, and theme-builders stretched for time may not do a lot of testing.  You may discover conflicts that can break your site. Don’t be a guinea pig ‘beta tester’ for a free theme creator.

While any theme can present problems, it’s good to know why there are free themes.

Why are some themes free?

Free themes provide a way for a new or growing developer or theme-building company to get into the market. Some developers produce a ‘light’ version of a theme for free, and a premium version. They hope to upsell those who download a free version to the premium option. The company in a related line of business, like plugins or graphics, may offer a free theme as a loss leader in order to build their email list. And a new developer may want to share a free theme so they grow a base of downloads and build their reputation.

Engineering and support of a free theme is limited by the developer’s skill, time and resources. The developer could be one person, or a round-the-globe team.  When you use a free theme, this is something you won’t know without doing some digging.

What to do before using a free theme:

I understand sometimes budgets are non-existent, or your needs seem simple. It’s true — beautifully-engineered free themes can be found out there. But using a free theme on a WordPress site could leave you dealing with a lot of time in repair and troubleshooting. You’ll be vulnerable unless you have resources with the time and skills to fix things.

Take these practical steps to decide whether to use a free theme to build a WordPress Website:

  1. Research the theme’s history: What version of the theme is the latest? It’s better to have a theme that has been around a while and refined since its first release.
  2. Review the theme’s update log and Website: Avoid themes that have not been updated lately, and find out how to get support.  Themes that have not been recently updated may not work with the most current WordPress version.
  3. Research the creator’s history: On the WordPress Theme homepage, you will usually have links to see what other themes this developer offers. More themes usually means more experience. It tells you how much the developers are committed to building themes.
  4. Know your comfort level for site downtime.  If the theme you need is for a personal site, it might not be a big deal if the site goes down. But if this free theme drives your company’s main Website, can you afford for your site to be down very long? Site downtime impacts money and reputation, no matter what business you are in.
  5. Budget for launch troubleshooting and beyond:  Whether you have a large team, or are a one-person operation, pulling someone away from money-making work to fix your website costs money. Prepare for it by using a budget. Plan some margin hours and spending for site repair in advance. A Website’s free theme doesn’t work until someone puts it to work.
  6. Have a backup for your free theme: There is no one single perfect theme for your website. So look at others, compare their features, and select the best of them. You’ll have others as fallbacks in case your initial theme selection falls short of expectations once you start working with it.
  7. Consider paid-for themes, too:  What if you found another theme that has the features you want, the history you can have confidence in, and the support you need? And what if it is affordable?  You may find a theme that’s not free, but saves trouble later on.

Vetting, not fretting

After taking these steps, you’ll have better information to make decisions about the theme you’ll use for your WordPress Website. Carfully researching any theme you are considering is one of the best things you can do before building a Website. If the free theme you are considering has what you are looking for and has a history of reliability, you can proceed with a lot more comfort. And a lot less to worry about.

What’s the biggest worry you have about launching your new Website? Share in the comments below!

I'm a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.

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