When I was a WordPress newbie in 2007, I did as most novices do. I googled “free WordPress theme” and picked one I liked. But that was then, and I’ve wised up. Here’s why picking a free theme can be penny wise and pound foolish.
1) Malicious Code This is the worst case, where the theme designer purposely inserts malware or other malicious code into your blog. You can avoid this by only getting themes from reputable designers. Another helpful tool is the Theme Authenticity Checker plugin that searches the source files of every installed theme for signs of malicious code.
2) Hidden Advertising Hidden, spammy advertising links can be hard to remove. Some might be as straightforward as a footer text link to the developer, and others might be as obscure as inserting ad links into your posts. Either way, yuck!
3) Lack of Support The level of support offered by developers for free themes runs the gamut from excellent to non-existent. One way to test the support water is to submit a question BEFORE you try the theme, and see how responsive the developer is.
4) Poorly Coded and Slow Free themes are often created by novice developers who just don’t know any better. A poorly coded theme can make your website sluggish, which is not good for your visitors, and certainly not good for your Google rankings. Blech! Find out what Google thinks of your site speed by using this free tool: Google Page Speed Insights.
5) Poor SEO Again, this problem is largely due to novice developers not knowing any better, but the structure and code of your site is another important SEO signal. Don’t risk handicapping yourself before you’ve even begun!
6) Rarely Updated Free themes are rarely updated, and thus are more susceptible to hacks and security weaknesses.
So, after all this you may think that all free themes are bad. But that’s not so. For one thing, they’re free! Here are my recommendations on 7 Reliable Sources of Free WordPress Themes.
P.S. So what premium themes do I use? This site is built on the Genesis Framework, using the Metro Pro child theme. Using a framework and child theme makes creating and maintaining my 55+ sites so much easier. But that’s a topic for another day.