Free vs Paid Themes for Your Blog | Food Bloggers of Canada

There's no question that when you have a blog, blog design is always on your mind.  Hiring a designer can seem expensive when there are so many theme options out there - both free and premium.  But which should you choose?

If you’re new to blogging and you’ve browsed through the seemingly endless choice of free themes available, you might think the answer is obvious: why pay when there are so many free options? But if you’ve ever started a blog and played with the options of a theme, even just a little, you may be convinced premium (or paid) themes are the only way to go. What gives?

My clients often ask me whether they should buy a theme or just use a free one. For a business, the answer is obvious: premium is the way to go because the look, stability, and longevity of their website or blog is key. For a blogger, though, the decision may be harder to make. First, premium themes require an out-of-pocket that many hobby bloggers don’t want to cover; second, some bloggers just want a simple platform to publish their content, and they don’t want or need a fully customized site.

There are key differences between free and premium themes. To help you see the big picture better, here’s a list of pros and cons for each:

Free Blog Themes: Pros

  • They are free (obviously): You can try as many as you want before you commit to the theme of your choice;
  • They can be easier to use: Because they offer less options and features, free themes can be easier to use. They are meant to be used out-of-the-box, with little customization work needed.
  • They are used by many: Even though most free themes don’t come with support, a simple search will allow you to find lots of free online resources, forum discussions, and documentation about the most popular ones, which will help you install, debug, or customize your blog.

Free Blog Themes: Cons

  • They can make you vulnerable: Themes come in zipped packages, which can easily hide viruses or malware. Some free themes even incorporate unwanted spam into your posts! To avoid unpleasant surprises, you should always download free themes from reputable sources.
  • They offer no support: There’s little or no support and documentation for free themes, and finding an answer in community forums can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack, so running into a major bug can quickly turn your blog adventure into a nightmare.
  • They tend to be updated less often: The frequent platform and plugin updates mean you could run into compatibility issues if the theme you choose is not updated regularly.
  • They are hard to modify: It can be hard (or even impossible) to make changes to a theme outside of the customization options offered, even for savvy web developers.
  • They are more common: Free themes are more downloaded and used because they’re free. Because they also offer less customization options, you can end up with a blog that looks like everybody else’s.

Premium Blog Themes: Pros

  • They come with support and documentation: Premium theme developers usually care about their users because it’s their livelihood. If you go premium, you should look for themes that offer email support, online forums, and thorough documentation.
  • They are current: Premium themes are updated on a regular basis to stay current and compatible with frequent platform and plugin updates. Most are also SEO ready, which means they offer integrated tools that will help your site perform better in search rankings.
  • They are better designed, inside and out: Developers who make premium themes want to stand out in the vast offer so they usually spend a lot more time designing and testing, making their themes more beautiful, up-to-date, compatible, and secure.
  • They are flexible: Premium themes offer lots of customization options often allowing you to change every last graphic and usability detail. They are the backbone on which you can build a personalized website, rather than a cookie-cutter template.
  • They are more unique: Not interested in completely customizing the look of your blog? Premium themes are still a good choice because they are generally used less often, making your site more unique, even if you use the theme out of the box.
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Premium Blog Themes: Cons

  • They cost money (obviously): You may not want to cover the costs if your blog does not bring in any revenue.
  • They offer lots (and lots!) of features and options: All those customization options can be great, but they can also be cumbersome. Some premium themes offer so many features they become hard to use for the average user.

So the balance tips on the side of premium themes, but it should be noted that there are highly customizable, stable, and well-designed free themes. A simple online search will help you find the best free themes for your platform; because they are few in between, they are well known and easy to find. If you’re not ready to commit to a premium theme yet, look for renowned developers that offer basic versions of their themes for free, allowing you to buy the premium version later if you like it.

Whichever theme you choose, it all boils down to this: make sure the one you choose is stable and secure. I’ve seen way too many companies and bloggers (including myself) lose hours of work because of a theme bug or compatibility issue. Also make sure you backup your blog, always!

For more tips about choosing a theme, check out How to Choose the Right WordPress Theme. The advice provided in the article also applies to any blogging platform where you have the ability to choose a theme or a blog skin. Happy blogging!

Finding Themes

Some great places to look for themes:

Choosing a Blog Theme: Should You Go Free or Premium? was written by Marie Asselin, a French-Canadian graphic designer, translator, and blogger who has lost sleep over customizing themes for her own websites or her clients’. She is the author of the food and travel blog Food Nouveau. She lives in Quebec City, QC.  Twitter: @foodnouveau


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