Best Free WordPress Themes and Why Use Them
The WordPress Themes Directory is a truly fantastic resource, offering thousands of themes for download at no cost. This in-depth article also sheds a light on all the qualities that mark a great (or bad) WordPress theme.
Add to that a generous serving of useful examples, practical tutorials, tips & tricks, and further reading materials.
By the time you’re done reading, this article might just end up being your open sesame to any obstacles or doubts in your search for the perfect WordPress theme. So dive in, bookmark, comment, and ask away, or skip straight forward to specific parts of the article if the need calls for it.
We’ll be going over:
- Customizability and Flexibility
- Proficiency and Ease of Use
- Functionality and Features
- Loading Speed
- Pricing and Pricing Options
- Premium Options
So, let’s begin!
Customizability and Flexibility
Can I change those buttons to green? No? Oh, snap!
Has this ever happened to you? You stumbled upon a great theme, downloaded it, and started working on your website only to realize that you can’t change the color of the call to action button or that you can’t move the logo to the center of the menu. Then you deleted the theme and went searching for another one – only to find out you can’t easily remove the footer credits in this one. Rinse, repeat, and the cycle continues.
This means those themes were not customizable enough for your needs.
So, what does it mean if a theme is customizable?
Basically, it means you can change the looks of your website by using built-in theme options. In short, a WordPress theme is customizable if it gives its users a lot of options for editing any elements on their website. Customizability is probably the most important feature of a theme for most beginner to intermediate users who want tons of options without the need for coding.
More often than not, you will stumble upon a theme that looks great at first only to realize that you can’t change everything you want. This is mostly the case with free themes that have their own premium versions. Buying the theme gets you more customization options.
For more advanced users there are themes and plugins which allow changes to the CSS styles of certain elements.
IMPORTANT: Remember to NEVER directly edit theme files. Good practice suggests using child themes instead.
What makes a theme flexible?
A theme is flexible if it can be used for multiple purposes. Flexibility is critical to developers who build many websites per year. If a theme is flexible enough they can re-use it many times, which saves both time and money.
A high-quality, flexible, theme has various different layouts to work with and is highly customizable. “Do you need two columns? Three? Sidebar or no sidebar? Horizontal or vertical menu? Great, we can do all that”, says the flexible theme.
This is the reason why creative designers/developers who choose a flexible theme can use the same theme to make a website for a sales landing page, a restaurant, sports club, school or pretty much anything else.
Here is a good list of some of the most flexible and customizable themes out there.
More serious developers work with frameworks for optimal performance and maximal customizability. Some of the most loved frameworks in our community are Genesis, Underscores, and Sage.
Proficiency and Ease of Use
How quickly can I get my site up and running?
In today’s world, the quicker and easier things are done the better. Building websites is no exception. WordPress is famous for its ease of use (user-friendliness) and proficiency – beginning from the famous 5 minutes WordPress install to set up web pages in a matter of hours.
Ease of use or user-friendliness is a relative term, as no two users are the same. It all comes down to how intuitive the user interface and user experience are. Much of it comes down to preference as well, but there are some features that objectively make some WordPress themes easier to use and more proficient than others:
Demo Content and Pre-designed Layouts
If you want to create a website in a matter of hours, you should definitively look for a theme that comes with pre-designed layouts. Just a few clicks and your whole page is set up!
How does that work? Let’s say you’re creating a landing page. If a theme has pre-defined layouts you will surely find one for a landing page and simply import it from the library with one click. You will instantly get a demo landing page filled with dummy content that you can replace with your own.
Page builders are drag and drop block editors that can REALLY speed things up immensely. Most page builders nowadays come with WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) live composers as well.
I remember the time when you couldn’t simply create a page using custom layouts. Let’s say you wanted your page to have a header in one row, then a list of services distributed in three columns, followed by a two-column layout for some products and their descriptions, and a four-column footer in the end.
It’s a basic design, right? Not back then! To do so you had to download a special plugin and then use the shortcodes and text editor to create even the simplest page layout. And we didn’t even come to the elements part, like sliders, portfolios, or menus for example. These all required their own plugins to run.
Luckily, those days are far behind us. The market is full of powerful page builders that will make your web designing process a breeze. No coding is required! The best thing about them is that they come with a library of pre-designed layouts and elements.
You can download some of these builders separately or you can buy one of the many themes that include a drag and drop page builder.
IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that page builders are heavy and will slow down your site. Installing speed optimization plugins like Hummingbird helps immensely.
With the release of WordPress v5, the Gutenberg page builder will become a standard part of WordPress, so better get used to dragging and dropping things!
With great power comes great responsibility
Some themes come with a bundle of additional plugins. Although your first reaction might be “great, more options, more STUFF”, that can be a double-edged sword. After all, every superhero knows that with more plugins comes greater responsibility!
Naturally, there is also a greater risk of conflict between plugins you’ve installed with the theme and plugins you’ve installed separately. Lastly, all those plugins will require constant updates.
Let me give you an example from personal experience. A couple of years ago, I created a simple website for a client using a theme that came with tons of required premium plugins. The client only paid for a one-time web design and was satisfied with the result. However, just a year later, some of the plugins started breaking the site. They required an update and subscription renewal. The cost of renewing all those plugins was greater than what the client had paid for the website in the first place! You guessed it, the client was furious.
Don’t let this happen to you. As a general rule of thumb, I would go with lightweight themes that don’t require any additional plugins to run.
Community, Support, and Documentation
Help, somebody! HELP!
In times of need, it’s very useful to have a large community, helpful and timely support, and comprehensive documentation behind your themes and plugins.
A large community indicates that a lot of people are using a certain theme, which means more tutorials, more pre-made elements, more specialized plugins, and in short – more solutions to potential problems.
When you’re stuck, you should always be able to contact support, and if they’re worth anything, they will answer in under 48 hours.
In your bold quest for the right WordPress theme make sure you check the reviews in the theme repository. Are there any issues experienced by multiple users? Are those issues resolved promptly? If the answers to these questions are unsatisfactory – run away! Check this comprehensive guide on how to pick a theme for more details.
Functionality and Features
The things you want and the things you must have
When choosing a WordPress theme you should probably start by figuring out what your needs are. Planning ahead and drawing a layout of your website by hand would help you a lot to determine what kind of basic features you require from your WordPress theme.
Note that when building a niche website it’s probably a smart idea to choose a niche theme, simply by searching in Google “best WordPress themes for + my niche”. Niche themes will often include functionalities that you would otherwise have to pay for separately.
For example, if you’re building a website for a local restaurant, choose a restaurant WordPress theme that comes with pre-built reservations, menus or online ordering system.
Here are some other functionalities that every decent WordPress theme MUST have:
- SEO Friendliness
- Responsiveness/Mobile ready design
- Translation ready
- Cross browser support
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In the simplest possible terms, SEO is the way to get your site on the first page of Google without paying for ads.
For more specific SEO for WordPress information, take a look at these smart suggestions:
- Your Startup Guide to SEO: A WordPress SEO Tutorial
- 7 WordPress SEO Plugins to Get Your Site on Google’s Front Page
- WordPress SEO Tools for Every Budget
- SEO Checklist to Get Your WordPress Site Ranking Higher
- What You Need to Know to Conduct an SEO Audit in WordPress
Show beauty in all shapes and sizes
Responsiveness is not even an option anymore because Google started to rank websites based on Mobile performance first. Thankfully, most WordPress themes are responsive nowadays.
To learn all you need to know about Mobile SEO and Mobile-index first I highly recommend this Mobile SEO guide by Brian Dean at Backlinko.
In short, your theme MUST be responsive. Make sure it works on all devices (tablets tend to be forgotten and many websites look just awful on the tablet screens).
To preview how your site looks on different devices use this quirky tool:
Did you know that 40% of web users abandon websites that take more than 3 seconds to load? 1, 2, 3 – that’s it! Gone! If your page didn’t load, congratulations – you just lost four out of ten potential visitors.
Almost 80% of shoppers won’t buy from nor return to your site if its performance is lacking. Speed is also a major factor in Google rankings and Facebook Newsfeed rankings.
For more cool information on page loading speed, I recommend you check this infographic by KISSmetrics on Neil Patel’s site.
Page loading time is an essential metrics for any website. Creating a fast website is usually a very daunting task. Therefore, choose your WordPress theme wisely.
Is my WordPress theme fast? What is considered a fast site?
There are specific tools that measure site performance, such as Pingdom and Google PageSpeed Insights. Both are free and easy to use. Simply input the URL of the site you want to check and these tools will measure your site’s performance on both desktop and mobile devices. The website is considered fast if it scores above 85.
How to measure the speed of a WordPress theme (not site)?
To check if a WordPress theme is fast enough, you can try running a page speed test on its demo site. This isn’t a very accurate method because various demo sites have different page sizes and numbers of requests. Notably, some demo sites use caching to improve their page loading speed while others don’t, which also makes a big difference. Lastly, there is a considerable variation in page loading speed if you’re testing the same site from New York or London for example.
If you’ve already purchased a theme, or if you’re going with a free WordPress theme, you can run a speed test on a clean WordPress install (no content, no plugins, just the theme). That way you will get more accurate results. If your site still loads slowly, even on a vanilla WordPress, that probably means you have a terrible hosting service.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Choosing a fast WordPress theme is important, but the most important performance factor, according to the official WordPress speed optimization guide, is hosting.
More info on the subject of speed optimization for more advanced users can be found here.
Usain Bolts in the world of WordPress themes
For those interested in free themes, here is a solid comparison of fastest free WordPress themes by Gijs Hovens.
Many lists of fast WordPress themes floating around the web turn out to be utterly useless, as their authors have tested only their demo sites, which is comparing apples and oranges.
Price and Pricing
Finally, there is the ka-ching element. A theme mayfly and do backflips but if it costs 1000$ per site you probably wouldn’t buy it.
On the other hand, a premium theme will often have “that special thing” that a free theme doesn’t provide.
Nowadays, the common practice for theme designers is to make a free or lite and Pro (paid) version of the same theme. For this reason, we have many high-quality free themes to choose from that come with limited customizability and fewer features. Usually, a free version of a theme is “good enough” for simple websites but if you want more serious functionality you will have to pay for it.
Personally, I prefer to look at the value for money ratio. This is where a good pricing plan comes in place. In my experience, if you find a great multipurpose theme that you know you’re going to use more than once, the best bargain is to get a lifetime license for unlimited websites. Paying a little more for unlimited lifetime use of a WordPress theme can be smarter than getting yearly subscriptions as it saves you money in the long run. This is especially true if you’re getting the site up for a long-term client.
When finding a theme, the sheer volume of themes contributes to the repository’s less user-friendly side. Of those thousands of themes, many will not be up to the standard you require. And with somewhat limited search and filtering tools, it can be extremely difficult to find the right theme for your WordPress website.
Fortunately, that’s where this resource comes in. We’ve taken the time (a long time!) to trawl through the directory and carefully selected what we consider to be some of the best free WordPress themes available.
So rather than settling in for the long haul on WordPress.org, take a few minutes out of your day to peruse the best free themes you’ll find right here.
Of course, this list is completely subjective. We’ve followed the criteria in our own guide to free WordPress themes for selecting these themes.
If you’ve come across a theme that hasn’t been included, do let us know in the comments.
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We will never take money to promote others, everything you read is genuine. Learn more.
Some of the Best 39 Free WordPress Themes Ever
- Sampression Lite
- Iconic One
- MH Magazine Lite
- BoldR Lite
- The Box
- Catch Flames
- Alhena Lite
- Food Recipes
- Catch Kathmandu
Looking for a WordPress theme that offers beautiful designs and flexible features? Then check out Total from Hash Themes…it may be just what you need! Total theme lets you create any website you require with user-friendly designs and highly customizable options.
- Multiple Homepage Layouts
- Compatible Elementor Page Builder
- Highly Customizable Header Options
- Multiple Footer Layouts
Hemingway allows personal bloggers to showcase their best content in a minimalist manner, with just enough power to make your message felt.Features:
- Sharp typography and crisp images
- Supports multiple post formats
- Custom header image
- Multiple color schemes
Sampression Lite offers a unique masonry-style layout, which allows you to present your content in a very fun and friendly format.
- Retina ready
- Displays beautifully across all devices
- Masonry style layout
- Warm and inviting color scheme
Accelerate is a highly functional and very flexible theme. Its clean lines, images support, and swift slider allows you to highlight the most important aspects of your business.
- Has a premium look
- Integrated slider
- Multipurpose and very flexible
- Clean quote styling on pages and posts
Simple, clean, responsive, and retina ready. if your company demands a crisp and elegant design to showcase your best work then look no further than Interface.
- Retina ready
- Supports multiple layouts
- Highly customizable
- Supports most popular WordPress plugins
If B2B business blogging is a core aspect of your business, then let Iconic One take your publishing efforts to the next level.
- Easy theme setup
- Beautiful fonts
- Engineered for fast loading
- Upload your own logo
MH Magazine Lite
MH Magazine Lite allows you to create your dream magazine in minutes. Let this theme help take your online magazine from a dream to reality.
- Over 12 widget locations
- Flexslider 2 support
- Integrated ad placement
Sparkling allows you to use the power of flat design to convey your message in a stylish manner, all while elegantly displaying your content.
- Built using Bootstrap 3
- Integrated full-screen slider
- Very flexible layout
- Multiple color options
Radiate blends a brilliant parallax header with streamlined content presentation to truly showcase the beauty and work of your creative agency.
- Parallax header
- Retina ready
- Multiple language availability
- Integrates custom background
Take corporate blogging to new heights with Minimaze. Clean, simple and clear, so you can get back to work.
- 10 widgetized areas
- Retina ready
- Easy to customize the framework
- Full-width slider
Catch Kathmandu is lightweight and perfect for travel-related businesses or websites. Catch Kathmandu will support you no matter where you go.
- Easy to customize
- Beautiful text/image balance
- Full-width content slider
- Great for anything travel-related
Of course, free is great! However, we would be doing a disservice if we didn’t include some premium options to consider. Here are some that have our attention…
Page builders on this list are all amazing products that make building WordPress websites much, MUCH easier. It pretty much comes down to personal preference when choosing between them.
- Free version available
- Excellent integration with the 3rd-party plugins and themes
- Most features and modules
- WooCommerce integration
- Best Mobile customization
- Customizable shape dividers – I absolutely LOVE this feature
- No lifetime subscription
Divi is another web builder that is well known and extremely popular. Creating stunning websites quickly and easily. Plus, you can purchase a lifetime membership, making Divi and budget-friendly option.
- Huge community with great quality resources
- Live support
- A/B split testing
- Copy and Extend module styles
- Backend and frontend editor
- In-line editing in Divi visual builder
- Requires no additional plugins to run
- Unique pricing: Great value for money on lifetime ET subscription
- One of the best opt-in plugins: Bloom
- No Multisite support
- Some pages are not easily customizable, like Archive pages or WooCommerce products
- ET – shortcodes can be very problematic when uninstalling Divi
The themes on this list are well coded, multi-purpose, highly customizable, easy to use, fast to set up, and fast to load. In short, they check all the boxes.
- More than 100k active installs
- Almost pure 5-star user rating!
- Top-notch support
- Astra is extremely lightweight which makes it one of the fastest themes you can find
- It’s super easy and fast to set up because it comes with pre-built free demo layouts (you have to install Astra Starter Sites plugin first)
- It’s super compatible with Elementor and Beaver page builders. In fact, the demo layouts are made with Elementor and Beaver builder
- Simple, clean modern design
- Great pricing plan for the premium version. The price of the Mini Agency Bundle is $169 annually and 499$ for a lifetime plan. That is great because it comes with the Ultimate Addons for Elementor or Beaver builder (your choice) for unlimited websites. In comparison, Elementor builder for unlimited sites costs $199 per year. You do the math!
Who is it good for?
Astra is best for users who want to set up a website very fast and on a budget. It’s recommended to use Astra with Elementor or Beaver page builder.
- 100,000+ active installs
- Almost perfect 5-star rating!
- Performance focused theme – speed, security, and usability
- Fast and diligent support
- Less than 30kb install! Extremely fast theme
- Premium version offers importable demos built with Beaver or Elementor page builders
- Hook element type for adding custom code
- Great value for money: 49.95$ per year for unlimited websites, with 40% renewal discount
Who is it good for?
- For more experienced implementers and developers who want a clean and fast theme to build their designs on.
Why Ocean WP?
- Active Installs: 200,000+
- Almost perfect 5-star rating!
- Great customer support
- Another very fast and easy to set-up WordPress theme
- 13 free and 21 premium demo sites available for import with Ocean Demo Import plugin
- Built with e-commerce webshops in mind. Some useful unique features: Native cart popup, floating add to cart top bar, off-canvas filter for advanced search through your shop.
- Good pricing plan ranging from 39$ for one site annually to 519$ for the lifetime unlimited sites
Who is it good for?
- Ocean WP is amazing for just about anyone, but it’s the perfect choice for online shops.
Just as almost every round-up post is incomplete, there were some beautiful themes that didn’t quite make the cut. You’ve got to draw a line somewhere, right? However, any of the themes highlighted above would make a great choice for your own website.Tags: