One of the many reasons why WordPress is so popular for blogging is because using it means it’s incredibly easy to change the look and functionality of your site. Anytime you feel like for a makeover, all you need to do is just upload a new theme, activate it, and voila, you have a sparkling new look with all your content and pictures right where you left them. It’s like a new pair of clothes with the same person inside it.
Changing the look of your site might be as easy as clicking a button, but choosing the right theme is not so easy. There are several thousands of free themes available on WordPress.org and many others. Many more are revealed with a simple Google or Yahoo search. And those are just the free themes. Paid – or premium – themes open up a whole new world of possibilities.
With premium themes meaning that you have to pay for it to use it on your blog, not only do you get a better quality, better coded theme, but they also come with support you won’t find in the free
versions. There are user forums, help desks, ticket systems and extensive documents detailing all parts of the premium theme landscape, whereas with free themes, you’re most likely on your own if you run into a problem.
Free themes have backlinks at the footer
With all the free themes available, it might be hard to imagine a situation in which you’d be willing to spend $25 or $50 or even $100 on a so-called premium theme. Certainly there are some beautifully designed free themes available, and with a little knowledge of CSS, even a beginner can tweak a theme to make it unique.
But are free themes really free or there is a catch to it. They all have a price tag; it just isn’t expressed in money. Instead, the price of a free theme is in a backlink at the bottom of the blog. Well I don’t know about you but I don’t want to link anyone like that for free.
Every website owner knows about the importance of backlinks. You depend on other sites linking to you to help raise you up in the search engine results page or SERPS, bring in more traffic to your site, and eventually more sales. You work hard to build your backlinks through social media, making constructive comments on other blogs, by guest blogging, article marketing, and so on along with the hundreds other tasks you perform every day. Without those backlinks, your pride, your site would be at the bottom of page 10 in the search results even worse. No one really visits after the 2 or 3 pages of the search results (unless you happen to be looking for your own site).
That’s why, when you see WordPress themes offered for free, they always contain links in the footer that you are required to keep according to the license. Web designers are looking ways to build their backlinks, their portfolio and drive traffic to their website. Hence they build themes and offer it for free, provided that you keep the link intact to their site. Sometimes they will even sell the link to another third party usually around $15-20 and have their own link alongside it.
But designers aren’t the only ones out there offering free themes. It didn’t take long for some ethically questionable site owners to catch on to this new way of building backlinks. Now it’s not uncommon for free WordPress themes to come with links to gambling, porn, or even prescription drug sites embedded in the footer.
If you really like a theme, you might be tempted to ignore those tiny links, but doing so might put your site at risk. Increasingly, search engines are taking note of which sites you link to, and by allowing links to these “bad neighborhoods” you could be hurting your own search rankings – even to the point of being delisted by Google and others. That’s a pretty hefty price to pay for a free theme.
Typically, the license that comes with the theme will require you to keep footer links intact, but even so, you might be tempted to simply remove them. Theme designers know this, and to combat it, have begun encrypting their files, making it impossible for you to remove links you don’t like without breaking your theme.
Beyond unwanted links, there is another price to be paid for free themes: poor design and support. While many free themes are created by good developers and designers, many are not. While it might not seem like a big deal as long as the theme works well and looks good, it can turn into a nightmare very quickly.
WordPress is constantly changing. Few months a new version is released. Sometimes the changes are minor, sometimes they are major, but they almost always include security updates that are a must have if you want to keep your site from becoming a target to hackers. Unfortunately, many free themes are never updated, meaning they may or may not continue to work once you upgrade WordPress.
Even worse, you might run into a plugin conflict with your free theme, and have nowhere to turn for help. It’s understandable that a developer who releases a theme at no charge won’t be able to provide much support, but unless you’re prepared to take on that task yourself, you might be better off sticking with the premium themes that do offer support, and that do get upgraded in response to changes from WordPress.