WordPress tempts you with the Free Theme Bonanza
Getting started with WordPress couldn’t be easier. One-click installation, directions to set up each part of the website via the WordPress installation online guides, add your logo and you’re there – a shiny new website.
That generic look has got to go, though.
Next you go to the Appearances, Theme page, and look at that! A select-o-rama! Select the elements you’d like to have – colors, columns – and WordPress shows you a gazillion themes that fit your choices. Scroll through the options, pick one, upload, activate, and boom! You have a whole new look. Done!
Not so fast. There are other issues to consider.
Themes Need to Work with Your Plugins
Moving along with your new WordPress website, you find you need some specific plugins – a call-to-action plugin, Twitter–Facebook–Linked In plugin, a plugin for a sidebar list of your latest posts, and an author profile plugin for your posts.
There is an endless number of plugins, but how will they affect your theme? Or did you even consider that? It’s not usually something you need to think about. If your theme is coded correctly, and the plugin developer is also following correct coding, the new plugin will work fine.
What happens when you install that new plugin you like in a your free (not quite correctly coded) theme? There’s a good possibility that your website with go away, blow up, give you incomprehensible dialog boxes explaining that nothing is working and it can’t show you your website anymore. Yes! It could and it does happen.
Here’s WordPress expert Judith Kallos‘ excellent post on what happens and how to fix it: How to Troubleshoot and Recover Your Broken WordPress Site
The Story of the Plugin that Broke the Website
This organization wanted to keep their website simple, but in the end, they became more and more fascinated with plugins. Ads plugins of several types, coming soon plugin, rotating banners, and several more on inside pages. Now the theme is looking a little messy, but it’s still doing working fine.
Then, one of the Board members wanted the website to show social media links. There are a boatload of social media plugins, but the one they picked was the one that broke the website. Whether it was a conflict with the other plugins or this free theme, or a combination of both, we did find that removing that final plugin brought the website back. (See my post on too many plugins here.)
This scenario also could occur when you update WordPress itself. I know. It happened to me. Several years ago I used a free theme I found on WordPress.org, shown as one of the popular themes. But, when it came to a WordPress update about a year later, some of my plugins ceased working. Luckily for me the site did not crash.
What did we do wrong? Why is this happening?
Free Themes Are Not Perfect
The problem lies in the free theme.
I love that I can try all kinds of looks for my website with just a click of a button. You quickly get an idea of what you like and what you want your website to do with these quick looks. TAKEAWAY: To be safe, use free themes only for getting ideas of what you like in a theme.
I once installed a free theme and worked getting it set up just as I wanted. But one part would not work right. I tried contacting the theme developer, but he was not very responsive to helping me get his theme and its widget working right. Why? He was giving away the theme, yes, but he had no time and no incentive to keep it working.
Free themes on the WordPress.org website must follow WordPress guidelines before they can be listed. And, these themes did comply when they were first listed. But WordPress keeps evolving, and theme developers are informed of changes. Do developers update themes they listed on WordPress.org many moons ago? What do you think?
Have you found yourself going down this road? SOLUTION: Avoid the potential problem of conflicts by choosing reputable themes and plugins. The headache of putting the website back together after the blow out is nothing you want to do, ever, if you can avoid it.
Here’s Leo Babauata of A-List Blogging, making my point.
One of the problems with free WordPress themes is that WP is continually evolving, and every so often, an upgrade version appears. Because WP is an open source project, any developer can design a theme. What can happen is that the developer of the free theme you’ve chosen doesn’t change the theme in order to make it work with the new WP version. If that happens to you, you’re left with a mess. Your theme isn’t compatible with the newest WP version and you need to find a new one.
All Free Themes Are Not Created Equal
There is another category of free themes: premium theme company free themes. These themes are supported by these companies with the intention of showing you how great their themes are and how well the companies handle support. And, it works, too. Confidently, you start exploring their site for a new premium theme.
- For another perspective, see Why You Should Never Search for WordPress Themes by WPMU.org’s Siobhan McKeown.
- For more information on troubleshooting your WordPress site, see Your Complete Guide to Troubleshooting WordPress, also by WPMU.org’s Siobhan McKeown.
Next Step: Selecting the right theme for your business. See “Theme Selection that Works.”
[quote]What are your thoughts on free themes? Have you had good or bad experiences? Tell us about it in the Comments below.[/quote]