Paid VS Free Themes and Plugins

Marketers and businesses chose WordPress, a free blogging platform, as their website creation tool of choice a few years after it began in 2003. Why? Why would an open source blogging platform transform itself into one of the most popular pieces of website development software?

The simple answer is price. The complicated answer is still price, but with different reasons depending on who you are and why you want a website.

It’s probably a good start to quickly define the types of users and the different types of uses. From here, we should be able to appreciate the different reasons why people want to keep the price down.


  • Individual with little/no website experience.
  • Individual with website experience (or tech savvy).
  • Company with little/no website experience.
  • Company with website experience (or tech savvy).
  • Personal Blog – No form of making money
  • Website that has some form of monetisation, but does not represent a company
  • Company Main Site – Usually lists services and has some Call-To-Action that can lead to sales.
  • Company Blog – Purely a blog that supports an existing website (normally associated with bigger companies).


Generally, we can attribute the individual user (novice or experienced) with one of the first two uses – a personal blog or a website built in an attempt to earn some money from this here internet thing. Likewise, we can attribute the company to the third and fourth uses. Each user will have a reason for keeping the cost down.

The Reasons

The individual who wants to develop a personal blog will want the cost to be as near to zero as possible as there is no income generated. They may be prepared to spend a limited amount of money, but purely for vanity reasons.

The individual who wants to generate some money will be prepared to spend a little on themes and plugins in the hope that any outlay is recouped from the money earned. The more experienced a user is the more likely they are to pay more for a specific theme or plugin that increases their chance of making money.

The company in need of a website will have to weigh up the cost of a custom coded website VS a WordPress website. Sometimes, a WordPress site just won’t do the job. ( For example, it may need to integrate with certain software, deliver certain types of content, perform certain tasks, etc.) But assuming WordPress can do what the company wants, the company will be prepared to spend a little bit more on the themes and plugins knowing that it is cheaper than a custom coded website.

The company in need of a website purely as a blog to complement their existing website will be prepared to spend a little more on a theme and plugins to bring it’s look into line with the main site. The bigger the company, the more important it will be for consistency in the branding – think Coca Cola, Ford, etc. For this type of company, the budget available will be considerably more. For a local business, the budget will be considerably less bordering on free.

There are exceptions to all of the above, but as a general rule the above scenarios are true.

How Do We Choose Whether to Pay for Something or Use a Free Option?

Well, this is the checklist I use (and in this order) when making that choice myself:

  1. Reputation of the coder
  2. Security
  3. Immediate support
  4. Future support
  5. Options of the theme/plugin
  6. Amount of time I save
  7. How many websites can I use the theme/plugin on
  8. Initial financial outlay
  9. Ongoing financial outlay
The more money you pay, the more you benefit

The more money you pay, the more you benefit

As a generalisation, it would seem that if you pay for a theme/plugin (and possibly the more you pay for them) the more you benefit and the more of the above check list should be “checked”.  If I get something free, I shouldn’t be overly surprised if they don’t offer ongoing support , or don’t have time to update their theme/plugin when WordPress has a new update.  I would like to think they can program, and that their product is secure, but again, when it's free, I can’t really complain if it isn’t.

There are some fantastic free themes and plugins out there, and if they meet most of the criteria, you’d be daft not to use them. In a recent Q&A session with Smartdog Digital, I listed Yoast's SEO Plugin as the one plugin I couldn’t do without. And you’ve guessed it: it’s free. But, I do know that Yoast's plugin is coded properly. He knows his stuff. The plugin is updated regularly, and I’ll be brutally honest: If Yoast decided one day to charge for it, I’d happily get my credit card out!

What Are the Costs Involved – Financial and Other?

Free Themes & Plugins

The initial financial cost is zero. WordPress comes with three free themes : Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven and Twenty Twelve. (I assume that a fourth one will appear sometime this year called Twenty Thirteen.) Each has a different look and feel. Choose the one you like, activate it and away you go.

If these three aren’t to your liking, has over 1700 free themes on its site This alone gives you an unbelievable starting point.

Still nothing there that you like? Type “free wordpress themes” into your favourite search engine and you will be presented with a bewildering number of results (over 96 million on Google).

Wow. Get the coffee machine cranked up. That’s a lot of themes to go through to find the one you want.

Getting to the plugins (and again, we have a large number to go at). There is a sprinkling of free plugins in the initial install, but you can also head over to, which lists over 24,000 plugins.  Google lists over 24 million!

But, it isn’t just the initial cost you should be concerned about. You have to weigh up what it will cost you in time and frustration. This goes back to what type of user you are and what your use is.

Paid For Themes & Plugins

Check out the author and the theme/plugin with a few selected Google searches. Just because somebody charges for a product, doesn’t mean it’s good/perfect. Try and use reputable companies or marketplaces.

Have a quick calculation as to what it costs VS the time it would take you to do something manually. For instance, how long would it take you to design a theme and code it compared with the $50 - $100 to buy it? How long would it take to write code for an image slider (or time spent trying to figure out how to configure a free one because the documentation was poor/non-existent !) If it would take you 10 hours, and the plugin costs $10.00, then you are valuing your time at $1.00 an hour. Just fork out and get on with your work is my philosophy.

I hope this post gives you some thought into free vs paid. There's no magic formula for making the right choice. Sometimes, you have to go with your gut instinct. Sometimes, you’ll get it wrong, but you will gain experience that will help you make the right decision next time.

What I will say is do your homework, even if you’ve used a particular author's product in the past and they bring out a new one. Do a search for “Plugin/Theme name + troubleshooting” or “Plugin/Theme name + issue” or “Plugin/Theme name + security” etc. Find out what the support is like and what other people have to say about it. Do Your Due Diligence !!!