If you are just starting out using WordPress, the idea of themes and the plethora of themes available can be quite overwhelming. If you Google “WordPress Themes” you will get an endless string of results from large theme sellers, to blogs that try to be useful by listing endless themes with an affiliate link and more. Sorting your way through this madness is what I aim to help you with here today!
What Is A Theme
First off, let’s start at the beginning. A WordPress theme is a set of files that determine how your installation of WordPress looks, functions and interacts with your visitors. Themes can be very simple and change only the fonts, colors, and make a few layout adjustments or they can be incredibly complex and add a large amount of functionality, features, and interaction to your WordPress install.
All themes though, are files put on top of your WordPress installation, they do not replace it. At its core, WordPress is a program that interacts with a database to store and retrieve data, a theme merely changes what your visitors see (and can add more database interaction).
This is one of the key features of WordPress that make it so attractive. I have explained WordPress themes in the past as a set of clothes. The clothes can change your appearance, add functionality (such as a tool belt) and be changed all without affecting the actual person.
Types Of Themes
WordPress themes can be categorized in a couple of different ways. The two main ways to categorize them are by their functionality and their availability. By availability I mean whether they free, paid or custom-built by a developer. By functionality – are they made for a band, realtor, service business, blogger and so on. I won’t be discussing the functionality of themes specifically here, as that is far too big of a topic.
Free themes are themes available online that anyone can download and use with their website. You can find these themes just about anywhere. They are typically rather basic and do not offer extended functionality of WordPress.
For many people, picking a free WordPress theme is a great way to get started. You don’t know if you will love blogging, so keeping your costs down is a good idea. You can always install a new theme at a later time.
Free themes have pros and cons that both need to be examined.
- A free theme typically offers little if any support by its author, which should be expected. So any issues you have, you will have to deal with.
- Free themes can be dangerous. If you use a free theme you need to make sure it is from a reputable source, don’t trust any free theme you find. WordPress.org is a great place to download trusted themes.
- Free themes offer little functionality. In my experience, most free themes are relatively basic. They offer different looks to WordPress’ functionality and that is about it.
- Free themes are used by many people, your site won’t be unique.
- They are Free!
Premium Themes are usually a step up from free themes. These are usually the themes sold by companies that only make WordPress themes. On average (I’m not saying always!) these companies are able to put in more time, effort and offer more support on a premium theme since they are being paid for the theme. These themes typically cost anywhere from $25 – $199 for a single site license (meaning you can use the theme on one site).
Premium themes can offer all kinds of functionality, wonderful design, beautiful code and more. Often times you can get a premium theme that is every bit as good as a custom theme. Be careful though, just because you are paying for a theme does not mean the theme is good. There are many bad premium themes out there and bad companies that do not support their themes well.
One of the big selling points of premium themes is also one of their biggest issues. Premium themes often offer too many features and thus become bloated themes that are not exceptionally fast. If a theme maker wants to sell many copies of their theme, they need to make it appeal to a wide audience, so they put in as many features, short codes and options as possible. This can bloat the theme making it slower and also complicate the setup of the theme making it hard to use.
- Typically offer better designs.
- Offer more functionality.
- Offer better support from their maker.
- Allow for easier customization.
- Your theme is still not unique. 100′s or even 1,000′s of other site may be using the same theme.
- Just because you paid for it does not guarantee it is well-built.
- Can be bloated and slow.
- If you choose to go with a premium theme, find a reputable seller, check the themes feedback, read reviews and try to find a theme that offers very close to the functionality that you are looking for.</em
Personally, I typically recommend that bloggers and very small business go with a premium theme. If needed you can hire a developer to help customize the theme and get close to what you are looking for.
Custom themes are when you hire a designer and/or a developer to make a custom WordPress theme just for you. This way is definitely the most expensive, but you will have a 100% custom website that no one else has.
I can’t speak for everyone (but this is how many work), but when I work with a client to make a custom theme we sit down and discuss the exact needs of their business. This includes what do they want to accomplish with their website, how do they plan on marketing, what (if any) social media will they be using, how often will they be updating and how tech savvy are they?
A custom-built site will have a solution built exactly for your needs that integrates with your business and with whoever will be running it. But not having extra functionality that is not needed and built 100% for the client, they end up with a lightning fast website and a look all their own.
- 100% custom site, no one else has it.
- 100% custom-built to fit you and your needs.
- Typically very fast, no bloat!!
- Much more expensive. Speaking just for me, sites typically cost $750-$3,000.
- One note here about custom sites. I say they are “typically” faster and “typically” built better with clean code, but this is not always true. I have seen many people with “custom” built sites that are quite terrible. So the truth is, do your homework and check out who you’re working with, or you may get hosed!