WordPress users can choose from an almost limitless selection of free themes, many of which look great and include all of the features a typical WordPress blog or business site needs. However, there is also a thriving market of premium themes with perhaps an even bigger selection. These cost money.
Buying the right premium theme can be challenging. The market for WordPress themes is lucrative, and some theme developers are more interested in making a quick buck than in creating an excellent product.
With a little care, it is possible to avoid paying good money for a bad theme. We’ll look at some of the red flags theme buyers should look out for. But first, why would a WordPress site owner need to buy a premium theme at all?
The Purpose of a Premium WordPress Theme
Free WordPress themes are an excellent option for simple blogs, business sites, and even eCommerce stores. There is no need to buy a premium theme if a free theme fits your needs, but many site owners find free themes limiting.
- Free themes tend to be less flexible than premium themes. Developers put a lot of work into building customizable and user-friendly themes. They are happy to give away far less capable themes to promote their business or to contribute to the community, but when a theme represents hundreds of hours of work, they expect to be paid.
- The best free themes are used on hundreds of thousands of WordPress sites. They are easily recognized and may not create an impression of originality and professionalism.
- Premium themes include support from the theme’s developer, who will help customers manage the theme and work with them to resolve issues. The developers of free themes may offer some support, but most of the time you’re on your own.
WordPress site owners who want the flexibility, customizability, and support of a premium theme have many to choose from, but how can they avoid buying a dud?
Assessing WordPress Theme Quality When You Can’t Code
Read the Reviews
Most theme marketplaces allow buyers to publish reviews of the WordPress themes they have bought, or at least to make comments and leave star ratings. ThemeForest, a popular theme marketplace, provides both. If you look at the ThemeForest page for the popular Avada theme, you will see that it scores 4.77 stars with almost 22,000 ratings.
Theme marketplaces don’t always provide a useful indication of theme quality, and it is difficult to be confident of the authenticity of star ratings and reviews when buying directly from the developer’s site. It may be helpful to Google for external reviews. There are independent sites that publish WordPress theme reviews, such as WPLift and WPMayor, and individual site owners often publish reviews about the more popular themes.
Can You Get Your Money Back?
Buying a WordPress theme is an act of trust. A site owner can’t be sure that a theme is suitable for their site until they have used it. A developer’s commitment to promptly responding to support requests isn’t clear until the buyer runs into trouble. Demo sites can be misleading; a lot of work goes into showing off a theme at its best and replicating the same look is rarely straightforward.
Before sending money to a developer, make sure they are willing to give it back if you aren’t happy with the theme.
Test the Theme Demo’s Performance
Tools available to audit a demo theme’s performance include:
- Google PageSpeed Insights
- Pingdom Tools
- Chrome’s built-in Lighthouse tool or the command line version of the same tool
With a poorly optimized theme, WordPress site owners can expect to fight against the theme’s code and architecture to achieve acceptable performance, especially on low-powered mobile devices and slow network connections. However, a well-optimized theme is a great foundation for a fast site.
Make Sure the Theme Is Actively Developed and Regularly Updated
WordPress themes are software, and software needs to be maintained. A theme that isn’t maintained may not take advantage of the newest WordPress features. Outdated themes are also more likely to contain security vulnerabilities. When a WordPress user pays for a premium theme, they should be able to rely on at least one year and preferably several years of updates.
It’s impossible to predict how a developer will behave in the future, but their track record of past updates is evidence of their commitment to maintaining a theme.
Theme pages on ThemeForest and other theme marketplaces include information about when the theme was last updated. The more recent the updates, the better. Avoid themes that have not been updated for many months.
Avoid Pirate Themes
If you Google for a particular WordPress premium theme, you may find sites and forum posts that offer the same theme for free. Installing these pirate or “nulled” themes is a bad idea. Nulled themes often contain malware such as backdoors. Criminals inject malicious code into a theme in the hope that a naive WordPress user will install it.
When they do, the criminal can take over the site and use it to infect visitors with malware, run crypto mining software in visitors’ browsers, inject SEO spam, or any number of other unpleasant attacks. To avoid malware infection, get premium themes direct from the developer or a reputable theme marketplace.
WordPress users who prefer not to pay for a premium theme should use one of the thousands of free themes in the WordPress theme repository, which has precautions in place to prevent malware distribution.
In this article, we have focused on what can go wrong when buying a WordPress theme and how to avoid the most common traps. Tens of thousands of people buy WordPress premium themes every year from responsible developers without any trouble, and if you follow the basic precautions we have outlined here, you will have a trouble-free experience with your premium theme too.