Everyone likes getting something for nothing and free WordPress themes are no exception. When new users start out on the content management system, they encounter unexpected expenses. Domain registration, hosting, installation or set-up costs and purchasing a theme.
With a litany of upfront expenses, it’s no wonder that many new site owners choose free designs instead of buying premium ones. But the old cliche rings true–there’s no such thing as a free lunch–which often comes into play.
Free WordPress Themes Pros and Cons
The most obvious pro about free themes is, self explanatory: they don’t cost a cent. Free is usually a good thing. Not only do they save the cost of having a theme designed by a professional, they also save time configuring your site. Free designs typically come with certain features which allow for a bit of quick customization. Then, there’s the support if something breaks. What’s more, many free themes come updated or are compatible with the latest version of the platform.
Another pro of using a free designs an excellent chance others are running it. That means there’s likely user feedback or a ratings system which demonstrate how user friendly the theme is. Potential users can also search the theme’s name and/or the designers name to find out more information.
[Do] not blindly trust theme authors when they say their theme is SEO friendly. ‘SEO friendly’ is just a label they put on their theme and since most of their customers don’t know what to look for to see if it’s actually true, yet know that it’s important, it helps ‘sell’ themes. —Joost de Valk
While it’s great to stumble upon free builds, it’s not great to discover the truth about many of them. Most theme designers don’t put out free creations to be better citizens. They do it because of ulterior motives. As mentioned, you might get support if something breaks, but the support is limited, if available at all. However, this is not the biggest con of free WordPress themes.
Why Some Free WordPress Themes Hurt SEO
Free WordPress themes can actually be harmful to search engine optimization. Here are some examples of how that’s possible:
- Themes might not be original. If and when you do find a perfect free theme, you won’t be the only one using it; and, that can put a bit of a negative on your site SEO.
- Themes may contain hidden code. Users should be very careful. Some designers insert what is known as “base64 code.” This obscured code may be a conduit to make the site send traffic elsewhere. That is generally considered black hat and your site will be penalized.
- Themes could be “locked”. Free theme owners might not only find nefarious code, they may not be able to get rid of it without wrecking their site. If the designer is deviously clever enough, they won’t let users remove that code without essentially breaking the site.
- Themes could contain backlinks. These include links to sites that are completely irrelevant to the owner’s content. Not only will it be a nuisance, it will drive down a site’s optimization. Sites which link to other sites which are completely irrelevant to one another will be penalized by index robots.
- Themes may limit functionality. Of course, you may not know that until after you’ve taken the time to upload it. Certain features which make the theme so attractive may be a pay to play scenario.
The bottom line is, always do a bit of research to learn about the designers and about each theme you’re considering using. You’ll be smart to do so and avoid harming your own marketing efforts.