WordPress may be free to use, but a lot of the plugins and themes that make it such a popular Content Management System (CMS) aren’t. That begs the question, is it possible to build a successful blog using a free theme or do you need to spend money on a premium option?
The short answer to that question is yes. You can grow and run an excellent blog using a free theme. However, premium options often come with a lot of perks and features that can make life easier.
In this article, we’ll talk about the main differences between free and premium WordPress themes. Then I’ll help you decide which type of theme is the best option for you, so you can start blogging right away!
What’s the Difference Between Free and Premium WordPress Themes?
A quick look at WordPress.org shows there are almost 7,000 free themes available on the platform. However, that’s just a fraction of the WordPress free and premium themes you can find if you look around the web. Since there are so many free options available, you might think it doesn’t make much sense to shell out for a premium theme, mainly when they can be so expensive.
The thing is, free and premium themes are very different beasts nowadays. To illustrate that fact, let’s take a quick look at one of the most popular free themes around, called Astra:
Astra is a lightweight theme – as in it doesn’t use that many resources – but it packs a lot of functionality. It comes with several pre-built templates you can use to kick-start your designs. It also has a built-in theme customizer and it was built to play nice with a lot of additional plugins:
Compared with the default WordPress themes, that’s plenty of functionality. Now, let’s check out a premium theme to see how it compares. One of my favorites is called Divi, and a yearly license for it goes for $89:
As far as premium themes go, Divi is somewhat expensive. However, it packs a ridiculous amount of functionality. First off, it comes with a custom page builder that’s better than what a lot of third-party platforms offer:
The theme also includes dozens of ready-to-go templates, and it enables you to customize every element on your site, with dozens of settings in each case:
Your Divi subscription also gives you access to a lot of plugins and other themes from the same developer.
When you start looking at different popular premium themes, you’ll notice a trend. In most cases, they pack so many features they almost feel like entirely new platforms built on top of WordPress. Using Divi, for example, feels entirely different than working with a regular WordPress installation.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Premium themes like that one can enable you to build amazing websites even if you have zero development and design experience. That’s the primary difference between free and premium themes. The latter often include a lot of functionality to make your life easier.
Niche vs. Multipurpose (The Two Main Types of WordPress Themes
When you start looking around for WordPress themes, you’ll notice they mainly fall into two categories:
- Niche themes. These are built with a specific niche in mind, for which they target their design and functionality.
- Multipurpose themes. These types of themes are made to target as many kinds of websites as possible so that you can use them for multiple projects.
The distinction is crucial because it plays a significant part in deciding whether to use free or premium themes. Generally speaking, the most popular premium themes for WordPress tend to be multipurpose options.
That’s a conscious decision because it means they can target as many users as possible. The WordPress theme landscape is highly competitive. This means premium themes fight to include as many features as they can and make themselves more attractive.
Free themes, on the other hand, are more likely to be niche options. Developers often don’t make any money from them, so they’re free to explore the design and functionality they want.
Do You Need a Premium WordPress Theme for Your Blog?
You don’t need to use a premium WordPress theme to run a successful blog, or any kind of website, for that matter. The question of whether to go free vs. premium ultimately comes down to four points:
- Do you have the budget for it?
- Do you want to have access to extras such as page builders?
- Are you going to need frequent support from the developers?
- Do you want to use a multipurpose theme?
In most cases, you should be able to find a free theme that packs all the functionality you need. For the rest, you can add to WordPress by using plugins or tweaking the CMS manually.
Personally, use premium WordPress themes. However, I do so because I’ve come to appreciate multipurpose themes that include all the features I need in a neat package. It’s important to note that learning the ins and outs of WordPress beforehand is what made it possible for me to figure out what functionality I needed.
If you’re new to WordPress and you’re starting your first blog (kudos on that, by the way!), a multipurpose theme can be overkill. The cheapest ones, in my experience, will set you back at least $15-30, and that’s money you don’t need to spend.
Plus, when you throw a premium theme into the mix, you’ll be learning how to build a blog with that theme only. That means you won’t really understand how WordPress works and you’ll be tied to that theme for the foreseeable future.
At the very least, if you’re considering buying a premium theme, check out if there’s a free lite version of it available. Test it to see if it feels like a good fit for what you need before committing to it!
These days, the most popular WordPress themes almost feel like standalone platforms. They pack so many features and extras that changing themes can be a bit like using a different version of WordPress. However, ‘plain old’ WordPress isn’t anything to scoff at, and it offers all the functionality you need to run a fantastic blog.
The real question is whether all the extra features that premium themes often offer do make that much of a difference. In some cases, they can. However, I recommend you stick to free themes until you get the hang of using WordPress. Then you can consider whether you need all the extras that premium themes offer.
Do you think premium themes are a good option for people new to blogging with WordPress? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
Image credit: Pixabay.
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