Last Updated: June 2018
I’ve added information in the section about Framework things about a WordPress Plugin — and its available free themes — you might find as viable customized layout solution since you can use the plugin with any WordPress theme. See below.
As soon as I teach a small business owner about WordPress, I get two questions. WordPress is really free? Once I explain about the altruistic and collaborative model of doing business, I get the next question…
Where can I get a good WordPress theme?
And naturally, everyone asks me about free WordPress themes. There are a number of good, free WordPress themes — but beware of the source!
What a lot of people don’t know is that malicious code can be embedded in a WordPress theme to do things like steal your site traffic, your pay per clicks, your affiliate sales commissions, your subscribers and much more. This is especially true if you don’t know how to read the code and don’t tend to take your themes apart and play around with them like some people do. (You wouldn’t be talking about yourself, would you, Carolyn?)
Now I’m not going to go into how these dirty, rotten slime buckets; these festering, maggot-ridden canker sores on the heels of humanity; these cretinous pieces of feces… uhm, where was I? Oh, yes. I’m not going to go into detail about the malicious code that can be embedded (because some of these bits of human garbage may read and apply these tricks), but I am going to warn you about being careful what you put on your server and site.
There’s only one place you should get your free WordPress Themes and that’s at http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/.
You should be extra suspicious of people offering pirated commercial themes for free. Seriously. You already know these guys are pirates. And what’s the pirate motto? Take all you can, give nothing back.
But what if you can’t find a WordPress theme you like or want a theme that has incredibly professional features?
Well, now you either have to spend a lot of time customizing a theme (coding, coding, coding). Or you can hire someone to develop you a custom theme (money, money, money). (Although there are some wonderful people I can recommend who are very reasonable for the quality of work you are getting.) Or you can purchase a commercial theme with or without customization support.
Professional themes can improve your site’s results as well.
There are many professional, commercial WordPress themes available. Most professional themes today offer SEO optimization, social media promotion support and much more included in the theme design. There are many that even target a specific niche like portfolios or real estate or even e-commerce. Obviously, the snazzier the features, the greater the customization, the greater the price. It becomes a balance between cost versus getting exactly what you want. It’s important to look at your product (even if that product is a non-profit service) and your target audience.
If you are selling items that are cheap and bought in bulk by people looking for a discount, your audience doesn’t expect state-of-the-art. On the other hand, if you are asking someone to trust you with something of great value — their investment, their reputation, their health, for example — you need a professional looking site.
Here are commercial (also called Premium) WordPress Theme sources I have used successfully and recommend:
First, let me point out that I do have an affiliate relationship with Elegant Themes. (I get a referral fee if someone makes a purchase by clicking on my links). I have an affiliate relationship with Elegant Themes because I use them — and have used them for nearly a decade. I currently use the Divi theme, which offers onscreen editing and What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get design like WIX and Squarespace with a few extras. I’ve used these folks before; I’m using one of them right now; and I’ll be using them in the future. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
(Disclosure: It’s not only what we use on several sites but these are affiliate links for Elegant Themes.)
ElegantThemes (*Affiliate Link) has a unique pricing policy. It’s an annual subscription that gives you access to all the themes and upgrades for that year. The themes are beautiful and new ones are added regularly. The most recent ElegantThemes designs include state-of-the-art AJAX features such as slideshows or feature highlights. And each theme has several color palettes and highly professional graphics. There are themes — and Divi Child Themes and Modules— for various types of sites and you can modify the graphics to your heart’s content (although you will rarely want to since these themes are so beautiful). As is standard with premium (i.e., commercial) themes, your subscription includes access to the support community.
I’ve installed and worked with a half dozen of the themes from ElegantThemes and they have all been a treat. The options administration is very easy and the support (when I’ve had questions from clients who have wild whims) has been excellent.
Since I haven’t been teaching lately, I haven’t been keeping up with some of the newer plug-ins, but recently I was doing some work on a new site and had this gem recommended to me. For those folks wanting to be able to do a completely custom layout, including embedding Wordpress widgets in places other than sidebars, this is an amazing addition to your site. The learning curve is not quite as high as something like Pagelines, but provides the same sort of drop-and-drag layout design of ElegantThemes’ Diva theme but in a plugin that works with any WordPress theme. SiteOrigin also offers a selection of impressive, free WordPress themes, so if your budget is on the couch-surfing scale, this might be your best solution. Obviously, free plugins and themes mean I have no affiliation, but I will strongly, let me repeat, STRONGLY urge you donate to the developer if you do use either the plugin or the themes or both. Have fun!
Thesis is the theme I’ve used from time to time for this site. If you have used any of the WordPress defaults, like TwentyTwelve, you’ve been using a theme by the Thesis designer. He knows WordPress inside and out! Your site will always be optimized and within WordPress spec.
After spending two entire days hacking another base theme only to have it crash when activated, I realized that it was penny-wise but pound-foolish to waste time when the Thesis theme was available. There are oodles of options for everything from the overall site navigation and layout to actual posts. Included are the SEO optimization fields making another plugin unnecessary (one less potential conflict and upgrade to worry about).
The DIY Thesis theme community is huge and the support forum is active and friendly (a little geeky at times, but very friendly). Thesis theme has become so popular there are even professional “skins” available for purchase. (Imagine a professional theme for a professional theme framework!)
But mainly Thesis is about easy, do-it-yourself customization. Perfect for those of us who like “moving the furniture” from time to time without doing our own heavy lifting. And with Thesis 2 the furniture moving got much easier and the extra features much more useful out of the box!
You can change everything with a custom CSS stylesheet (and there are instructions included and on the DIY Thesis site on how to do this) and the Thesis theme options that become part of your WordPress administration. I haven’t even begun to play with the theme. Just you wait and see what’s coming!
Think of Thesis as having that 64-pack of Crayolas and a brand new pad of paper.
Thesis has two pricing structures: one for individuals wanting to use it on a single site and one for “developer’s” wanting to use it on more than one site (there is a limit to how many sites before you have buy extended licenses). The price includes upgrades and access to the support community.
These are WordPress Themes that will make you site look like you have Big-time Venture Capital investment! StudioPress.com build their custom themes on their Genesis framework theme. This allows for detailed customization and quick development and provide a wide variety of high-end features such as slideshows, product-placement styling, built-in advertising placement and SEO optimization. No mistaking these sites for no-nothing hicks offering Walmart prices on overstock products!
A StudioPress.com theme can instantly upgrade your image. A small bed and breakfast reported a 300% increase in bookings within a month of switching to a StudioPress.com Lifestyle theme from their WordPress freebie. Anyone on a tight budget who wants to project quality and reach a higher value target audience should seriously look at the Studio Press themes. Put your money in getting high-quality photographs and your AdWords campaigns, while a StudioPress.comWordpress theme handles making your web site shine!
I was facing a deadline and needed to a custom home page with a series of featured content which meant some serious hacking of hooks or code in most themes, when someone recommended Pagelines. For folks who don’t want to do any code hacking, Pagelines offers a drag-and-drop solution for the ultimate in customization — or you can purchase a third-party template to overlay onto the Pagelines framework. The Pagelines options are very extensive and there are a number of third-party custom plugins available, some for free to Pagelines customers. And if you do want to hack a little actual theme code, the code is similar enough to the standard WordPress theme, you can quickly identify the necessary code or CSS to change. No steep learning curve for hooks or hidden frameworks, but you have to put some time into mastering all of the options for the drop-and-drag features.
I still love my other professional themes and will use them in other projects and with clients as needed, but for a high-speed website development with a lot of visual bang and just enough options, I lead with Pagelines.
I run a number of my sites using the WordPress default themes, but I also use professional themes from the sources above for a number of my sites as well as client sites. The choices is entirely yours, but please make certain you get your themes from safe, reliable sources.