If you’re a first-time blogger or your small business is about to move its first online steps, then it makes sense to think about using a free WordPress theme to build your website.
Everybody is happy to grab free stuff, however a nagging thought might still lurk in the recesses of our mind: where’s the catch?
After all, the universe doesn’t offer free meals. Or, does it?
When it comes to WordPress, it’s my view that free isn’t equal to cheap. Here’s why.
Spread the Love: Sharing With The Right License
Some designers and developers create free templates, themes and plugins to build up their portfolio, to sharpen their skills and experiment, or because they embrace the open source philosophy.
This doesn’t mean that their work is totally out in the wild and anybody is free to do anything with it. The general rule is that a kind of license is still in place that details what can and cannot be done with the licensed work. Here are the most used among these licenses.
The GNU General Public License is a free, copyleft license for software and other kinds of works.
Copyleft means that
… derived works can only be distributed under the same license terms. – Wikipedia.org
Anybody receiving a copy of the licensed work has to have access to the license’s terms and conditions, and by adhering to the latter, anyone may modify the work, as well as copy and redistribute the work or any derivative version .
The freedom upheld by this license is not the same as free of charge, but simply means that the licensed work may be redistributed, modified, etc., either at a price or free of charge.
WordPress software is licensed under the GPL and all themes available from the WordPress Themes Repository are also required to be 100 per cent GPL-licensed, or use a GPL-compatible license. This includes all PHP, HTML, stylesheets, images, fonts, icons and everything else.
Creative Commons Licenses
The Creative Commons Licenses are another type of public license that allows for free distribution, modification, etc., of a piece of software, a photo, a web template, etc., under different conditions specified by the different kinds of Creative Commons licenses.
The work’s creator can choose whether or not to be publicly credited, or whether to allow for commercial use of his/her work, whether others may build on the work producing derivative products. Also, the work’s creator decides if others are bound to make his/her work available under the same license terms (ShareAlike).
Free doesn’t mean Do what you want. Read the license terms every time you use a free product on the Internet.
What Are the Pros of Using a Free WP Theme?
Here are a few
- Being free! All WP themes in the WordPress themes repository are free and, at least the majority of them, of high quality. In fact, they follow WP coding guidelines and standards and must be approved by an expert team of brilliant volunteers;
- If a web designer uses the theme to build a client’s website, as it’s advisable in a number of cases, then he/she won’t have to start working from scratch or top up the bill with the cost of a premium theme. This will positively result in a reduced bill for the client;
- Widespread community support can easily be found on the web for anyone who’s not afraid to learn some light coding skills to perform easy customization tasks. The WordPress.org forums are a great place to start;
- Changing your mind about a free theme you’ve downloaded, or getting worried about messing it up with your customization experiments, won’t be a problem. No money has been lost and a fresh theme can be downloaded in no time.
Are there any Cons?
Using free themes doesn’t come without some disadvantages, especially for the novice user. Here are a few … very few, in my view.
- Poor coding practices and/or malicious code and encrypted links could be found in a free WP theme. This can happen if the theme is not downloaded from reputable websites, such as WordPress.org, WooThemes (that offers a few free themes), Themify (also offering a few free themes), etc.;
- Regular ugrades might be lacking if the theme’s author stops supporting the product;
- Some would include few theme’s features among the disadvantages, especially if compared with premium themes. However, in my view few but well coded and relevant features is a positive, not a negative side of free WP themes. Some users get confused by countless theme’s options. Furthermore, themes deal with appearance, while functionality should be left to plugins.
- Lack of or inadequate personal user’s support. If the theme’s user is not proficient at customizing and setting up a website with the free theme, it’s possible that getting help from the theme’s designer is not a sure thing. However, all this means is that a free theme doesn’t necessarily have to mean a free website, and hiring a professional to customize a free theme can be a small price to pay for an awesome and business-generating website.
To Sum Up
I’m all for using good quality free WordPress themes downloaded from reputable websites when it comes to building a personal blog or a small business website.
If you’re familiar with HTML, CSS, and a little PHP, are knowledgeable of best coding standards and practices, and are clear on the features you’d like to have on your new website, then go ahead and pick a free WP theme and customize it to your liking. If you’re not sure what a HTML tag looks like or what a hexadecimal color value even means, consulting with a professional on the choice and customization of a free theme can be a small investment towards the success of your website.