One of the great things about WordPress is that you can create a professional website without investing a ton of money. Beyond the cost of hosting and a domain name, you can build a site pretty much for free.
This makes WordPress a very attractive and affordable option for users who want to validate the success of their site before they start investing a ton of money.
However, the WordPress free library is massive, and not every theme is worth installing on your site.
Sometimes, a low-quality theme can end up doing more damage than good, and lead to poor website performance and even leave you open to security risks. Still, you can avoid these risks by educating yourself on the steps you can take to find a high-quality free theme.
Below we dive deep into how you can find the absolute best free WordPress theme for your needs, the risks you need to look out for, and how you can install and start customizing your shiny new theme.
Free vs Premium WordPress Themes: What’s the Difference, and Does It Matter?
The focus of this post is on free WordPress themes, but it’s still important to understand how the premium theme marketplace works and the main differences between free and premium themes.
Free themes are easy to understand. They’re an entirely free WordPress theme that you can install on your site and start customizing. Usually, they aren’t as feature-rich as a premium theme, but they can get the job done if you don’t require an extensive set of features.
Premium themes typically have a higher-quality design, and a much larger feature set. You’ll also get access to a premium support team to help walk you through any website issues, and you get access to premium theme updates.
Free themes are a great starting place for the majority of website owners. They’re often easier to set up and give you the chance to experiment with WordPress without putting any money down.
WordPress Security Tips: What Are the Risks Involved With a Free Theme?
Free themes are a great way to get started with WordPress for no money down. But, not all free themes are created equal. Sometimes using a free theme is more hassle than it’s worth.
Here are the biggest risks that come with using a free WordPress theme:
1. Bad Code
One of the biggest downsides to a free theme is the code might not be high-quality. This means your site will be less secure, might not function properly, and it could leave you open to hacking.
Other issues with bad code include not being able to optimize your site for SEO, and it can be hard to customize. It can also lead to conflicts with other WordPress plugins and even the WordPress core itself. Issues like these can end up taking your site offline.
2. Lack of Theme Support
Lack of a dedicated support team can be an issue for some website owners. If you run into an issue with your site and don’t have technical support to rely on, it can be difficult to fix your site.
Instead, you’ll have to turn to Google and try to troubleshoot the issue yourself.
Beyond dedicated support, there also might be an issue with theme updates. Themes are updated regularly to patch for security holes, add new features, and ensure it stays compatible with the WordPress core.
Over time, your theme might become outdated and unable to function with the current version of WordPress.
3. Waste of Time/Money
If you run into a bunch of issues with your theme like having to fix things yourself, or even recover from a hack, then you’re going to be investing a lot of time and money into your site.
All of this could have been avoided by using a premium WordPress theme, or a free theme that has higher quality standards.
4. Avoid Pirated Themes
Sometimes you’ll find websites that allow you to download free versions of a premium theme. You must avoid these sites like the plague.
It might seem like you’re getting a great deal, but these themes are often infected with malware, ads, spammy links, and redirects.
These can cause a ton of damage to your website and even your online reputation. If something seems like it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
How to Find a Safe Free WordPress Theme
Even with the risks mentioned above, using a free theme might still be a great choice for a lot of website owners. If you can get around the issue of not having a premium support team behind you, you can mitigate the other risks highlighted above.
Here are two steps you should take before you install a free WordPress theme on your site:
1. Verify Your Theme Before Installing
Before you install a free theme you’ll want to make sure that installing the theme won’t harm your site. Below we cover a handful of vendors that are known for producing quality themes, but if you’ve already downloaded a free theme, then this section is for you.
There are all kinds of tools you can run your theme through that will check the legitimacy of the theme. These include:
Themecheck is an online tool that will scan your theme for any security issues and issues with code quality. It’ll run your theme through a series of checks to see if there are any problems with the code, or if there are any elements that shouldn’t be there.
To use this tool, you’ll need to upload the zip file of the theme, and the tool will get to work. Once it’s done scanning your theme you’ll get a detailed report, along with warnings of any problems that it’s found.
2. Exploit Scanner
Exploit Scanner is a WordPress plugin that will check for any malicious code. Once you install and activate this plugin it’ll scan through your entire site, including any themes that you have installed.
This plugin is very useful, beyond checking for any theme security risks, as it’ll also search through your WordPress databases, posts, comments, and more.
3. Theme Check
Theme Check is another WordPress plugin that’ll scan through any themes you have installed on your site. It’ll run through a series of checks to make sure that your theme is up to the latest WordPress standards.
If the theme you want to use fails any of the checks offered by the tools above, then it’s a good idea to choose a different theme. The WordPress theme marketplace is so large you’re guaranteed to find a high-quality and secure theme with similar features.
2. Download a Theme From a Reputable Source
One of the easiest ways to ensure you’re installing a quality theme is to download it from a reputable source. The origins of your theme are incredibly important.
When you download a theme from a reputable vendor you can ensure that it’s up to the latest quality standards, doesn’t have issues with malicious code, and will support you in your website creation goals.
Here are some trusted websites for finding free WordPress themes:
Here you’ll find the largest collection of free WordPress themes. You can filter the themes by certain features, and every theme listed here has been tested by their internal team, so you’ll know your theme is up to the latest WordPress standards.
Elegant Themes offers two high-quality WordPress themes. The flagship theme Divi is one of the most flexible themes on the market today and can be used to build virtually any kind of website.
StudioPress is the company behind the Genesis framework. You’ll also find a huge library of niche-specific child themes. They have a very strong reputation throughout the WordPress space.
iThemes is another WordPress theme and plugin development company. They have a wide range of themes that can be used for virtually every niche and are all very high-quality.
If you’re in the market for a free theme, then the WordPress Theme Directory will probably be your best bet. While, if you’re looking for a premium theme, then any of the options mentioned above are great choices.
What About the Free Theme That Come Installed With WordPress?
On a fresh installation of WordPress, you’ll find a free theme that’s already installed. This default theme is created by the company Automattic, who is the company behind WordPress.
Depending on when you installed WordPress, the theme should be called Twenty Nineteen or Twenty Twenty.
Twenty Twenty is a very high-quality theme and uses the WordPress block editor to allow you to create custom website pages and layouts.
If all you require is a basic WordPress blogging theme, then this can be a great theme to start with. Most people will opt to go with a different theme, but it’s high-quality and can support your site if you like the overall design.
If you love using the Gutenberg block editor, check out these 10 Free Gutenberg-Ready WordPress Themes.
Finding the Best Free Theme for Your Industry
When you begin your search for the best free theme you’ll probably be overwhelmed with options. Keep in mind that there really isn’t a “best” theme, but instead, it’s the “best theme for your needs”.
Even if you’re in the same industry as another website owner, you could have different overarching goals for your website.
One great place to start in your theme search is Google. Just type in “[your niche] WordPress theme” and you’ll be able to find a series of post roundups that break down the best themes in the niche. We have many of these on the HostGator blog, including:
You can also use the filters in the WordPress Theme Repository to find a list of industry-specific themes.
A lot of themes are very flexible and can be heavily customized to suit any niche. So, often the niche of the theme isn’t as important as liking to overall design and layout.
How to Install a Free Theme on WordPress
By now you’re well equipped to find the best free theme for your new website. If you’re not using one of the default themes that come pre-installed on WordPress, then this section is for you.
Here are two ways you can install a new WordPress theme on your site.
Before you move forward with the methods below you’ll need to be logged into the backend of your WordPress site:
1. Upload a Theme
Once you’re logged into your WordPress dashboard navigate to Appearance>Themes.
Then on the next screen click the ‘Add New’ button at the top of the page. Then, on the next page click ‘Upload Theme’.
A box will drop down and here you can drag and drop your theme’s .zip file, or you can search and upload from your computer.
Note that you’ll need to have your theme downloaded previously to upload your theme in this way.
2. Install from the WordPress Marketplace
If you don’t already have a free theme downloaded. Then this is the approach you’ll want to take.
You’ll follow the same steps to the section above by navigating to Appearance>Themes, then select ‘Add New’.
On this screen, you’ll be able to access the entire WordPress Theme Repository. You can search for themes if you’re looking for a certain theme name. Or, you can browse by most popular or the newest themes. Finally, you can use the feature filter to search by specific features.
Once you’ve found a theme that you like hover over it and click ‘Install’ then ‘Activate’.
With the theme activated you can now start customizing the design of your WordPress site, adding pages, and content.
Hopefully, you have a better understanding of how you can find the perfect theme for your new WordPress site. Free WordPress themes can be a great way to build out your website without investing any money into the design.
A lot of website owners start their online journeys with free themes and upgrade to a premium theme once they require more features, or are generating revenue to cover the cost.
By following the tips above you’ll be able to find the perfect free WordPress theme for your website, and avoid any pitfalls that are commonly associated with other free themes.