While using a free theme may sound like an efficient way to cut your site’s operating costs, this is an instance where the saying, “You get what you pay for,” rings true. Free themes don’t require any upfront monetary investment, but you should still avoid them for the following reasons.
1) Forced Advertising
Free WordPress themes often contain ads or links, which you may or may not be able to remove. Site-wide footer links, for instance, are a common element found in free themes. Every page displays these links, funneling some of its traffic to the linked site.
The developer sells the placement of these links to other webmasters, which is how some developers make money by creating free themes. Thankfully, forced ads such as this usually aren’t an issue with premium themes.
2) Incompatible with Mobile Devices
With more than half of the world’s internet traffic coming from smartphones and tablets, webmasters can no longer ignore mobile compatibility. If your site isn’t compatible with mobile devices, you’ll forfeit a substantial amount of traffic.
Unfortunately, many free WordPress themes aren’t mobile friendly. They may load and function fine when viewed on desktop computers. When attempting to access them on a smartphone or tablet, however, they’ll display hard-to-read text, confusing navigation, disproportionate images and broken elements.
3) Difficult to Optimize for Search Rankings
Using a free WordPress theme can make search engine optimization (SEO) more difficult. Because they often are poorly coded, themes which cost nothing can prevent or otherwise disrupt search engines from crawling the site. Furthermore, the forced ads and links within free themes can also hurt the site’s search ranking. If you want your site to rank high in Google, then spend the extra money on a premium theme.
4) Security Vulnerabilities
Security is paramount when developing a website. If a hacker gains access to your site, he or she could use it to deploy malware, advertisements, or redirect your traffic to other web properties. Free WordPress themes are particularly vulnerable to such attacks due to their poorly written code.
To make matters worse, security experts believe that some developers of free themes intentionally include vulnerabilities. A nefarious developer, for instance, may involve a backdoor vulnerability that allows him or her to take over the site on which it’s installed. Unless you’re willing to take that risk, you should err on the side of caution by avoiding free themes.
5) Slow Loading
How long does it take the average visitor to load your website? Statistics show that the average load time for a 3MB web page is approximately five seconds. If you install a free theme, it could be even longer. Free themes lack the clean, optimized code of their premium counterparts. As a result, visitors are forced to wait longer for the site to load.
6) Infrequent Updates
Developers often neglect to update their free themes. They may initially update it several times a year, only to stop and focus their attention on other projects. While this may not seem all that bad, lack of updates can cause serious issues. When your site’s WordPress files are updated to a new version, for instance, compatibility issues may arise, and if the developer doesn’t update the theme, you won’t be able to use it.
7) Poor Customer Support
If you run into a problem with your free theme, you may have trouble contacting the developer for support. Although there are certain exceptions, most developers of free themes offer little-to-no product support. Your best course of action is to hire a web developer with WordPress experience to fix your problem. Of course, you avoid this issue altogether by choosing a premium theme from a reputable, trusted developer.
8) Plugin Conflicts
Free WordPress themes often have conflicts with plugins, meaning either the theme or plugin won’t work when they are both activated. Some premium themes also suffer from this problem. With premium themes, however, you can notify the developer of the conflict, in which case he or she will likely fix it.
9) Not Unique
If you want your site to stand out, avoid using a free theme. First-time webmasters often choose them over premium themes. As a result, you can expect hundreds or even thousands of sites to mimic yours.
10) Limited Features
As a webmaster, you probably want full control over your site — and that’s not always possible with free themes. Free themes typically have limited features and functionality when compared to premium themes. You may not be able to add custom CSS, for instance, or perhaps it has a limited number of widgets. Regardless, this can prevent you from turning your vision of a perfect WordPress site into a reality.
Everyone enjoys getting stuff for free. But if you’re looking for a theme on which to build a WordPress website, you should avoid taking this route. Free themes come with numerous caveats that could end up costing you even more money.