10 Warning Signs Your Free WordPress Theme is Hurting Your Blog

Starting a serious blog is not always a walk in the park. From sketching an idea to researching about the competition and even setting goals, a lot of work is needed which can sometimes cost lots of money. So, it comes as no surprise for beginner bloggers to consider free WordPress themes to save costs.

For the record, there is nothing wrong with attempting to cut costs. After all, as an entrepreneur, looking for ways to reduce expenses should be a part of your business strategy. However, themes are not the best place to compromise, not when blogging with WordPress.

There are a number of areas of WordPress blogging that you can consider when cutting costs. But your theme is what holds your WordPress blog together. Compromising your theme is like shooting yourself in the foot. I know what you are thinking. You have been using a free WordPress theme and it seems to work just fine.

While it might appear to be “fine,” behind the scenes, free themes are a parasite that could be the reason your blog is not performing to its full potential. The following are 10 common ways a free WordPress theme can sabotage your blog:

1. Your site takes ages to load

google adsense

We’re not saying that free themes are the sole cause of slow load times. But the way most free themes are designed, your website is almost guaranteed to load rather slowly. Many free themes load a ton of crazy Javascript that results in slow loading.

Additionally, a majority of free theme developers are usually in so much of a hurry that they forget to use optimized images. So, they end up with overly heavy images that take forever to load.

Not only that, slow load times in free themes can be a result of poor server support. Since you’re not paying them (directly), the guys providing these themes may not worry too much about keeping their servers in shape for faster loading.

Slow load times can cost you traffic, leads, and even sales. When visitors click on your site on Google result pages and it is taking too long to open, they will click away from it before loads. Studies show that if your site takes more than five seconds to load, you’ll lose approximately 75% of traffic.

2. Support is very poor, or non-existent


There is nothing more agonizing than running into a problem with your theme, only to discover that the theme developers are nowhere to help. It makes a blog owner’s life miserable because let’s be honest, you’ll always have problems along the way. If you can’t fix these issues in time, you may miss out on sales or even lose customers.

Unfortunately, free theme providers are known to have the worst customer support. In some cases, they just don’t provide customer service at all. What happens if a certain feature stops working and all your efforts to troubleshoot has come to nothing?

Perhaps it’s the navigation bar that is not responding. Or, maybe your forms aren’t displaying correctly. In these situations, you will certainly need technical support.

With premium themes, to ensure user satisfaction, developers always have tech support on standby to help. But if you’re a free theme user, you may be left with no alternative but to dig through forums after sending multiple support tickets without any response.

3. No updates


Free WordPress themes also don’t come with updates.

This might sound a non-issue until you discover that lack of updates makes your site easier to hack. Think about operating systems such as Windows and Android. They are always updated at least a few times every year, so do virus programs.

The reason we need these updates is that threats evolve with time. The threats we faced yesterday are not the ones we will face today. If an update against a certain virus is made available, the bad guys will pick up steam and work on a new virus that is even more lethal.

Your themes need to adjust to these threats appropriately and updates are the only way for theme developers to react to these situations. Other than that, developers also use updates to provide fixes or patches to potential loopholes or bugs in the theme. In the case of a weak area in the code that hackers can easily exploit, developers can fix these issues via updates. With a free theme, you will be left vulnerable and prone to attacks.

4. You can’t place opt-in forms where you most need them


The main goal of any blogger is to expand their reader base. A larger base gives you access to more potential customers. Also, it’s only when you have a lot of readers that you’ll be able to convince those high-paying businesses to advertise on your blog. The problem is – free themes deny you access to one of the most important tools necessary in growing your reader base – opt-in forms.

Opt-in-forms are used to collect contact information from people who download your e-books and webinars. On a standard blog, a simple opt-in form is always on the right sidebar. Most free WordPress themes support this. Unfortunately, few users bother to check this right sidebar because it’s notorious for ads.

To capture more visitors, have a form above the fold and below your posts. Too bad a majority of free themes don’t support this! It means sticking to that free theme could be costing you not only traffic but also leads.

5. Navigation links and sidebar on your landing pages

landing pages

Landing pages are supposed to be just that; special pages on your site where users come to convert. If all along you’ve been working on getting a regular visitor to at least consider opting into your email list, the landing page is where the final conversion happens.

The idea of landing pages stems from the fact that normal website pages tend to be too crowded and busy which makes it easy for potential customers to be distracted. Landing pages eliminate or minimize chances of distraction by providing clean pages where the customers can concentrate solely on the conversion process.

To make landing pages even more effective, these special pages aren’t supposed to have navigation links or side bars. These two have the potential to distract a user which can lead to a missed conversion.

Unfortunately, most free WordPress themes don’t come with the capability to disable these navigation links and sidebars on landing pages. This means that again you could be leaking leads without knowing just because of that free theme.

6. Unauthorised promotions

Unauthorised promotions

As they say, nothing is ever completely free. This is very true when speaking of WordPress themes. Those themes that you use for free are just free on the front end. Behind the scenes, the developers have complex strategies that they actively use to make money from these themes.

A simple strategy most of them use is placing ads on your site without your permission and against your will. To ensure that you don’t realize what’s going on, the developer could simply embed links to your posts so that anytime someone clicks on the post on search engines, the advertiser gets a few “clicks” as well even if you don’t visit their website.

The biggest problem with this is that you are not allowed to remove these ads even if you manage to discover them. If you tamper with the code, you will have breached the agreement with the developer which could lead to severe penalties.

On the other hand, if you don’t do something about it, these ads have the potential to further slow down your site. Users who suspect malice in your URLs might also choose never to visit your site again.

7. Encrypted links in the footer can hurt your ranking

Encrypted links

Speaking of promotions, the most annoying promos that you’ll find on free WordPress themes are those links located somewhere at the bottom of the site.

Just like with other ads and promos, developers usually do all within their powers to make sure that these links are not visible. But just scroll to the bottom of your site and you’ll most likely catch a few. They may be concealed under shades and often encrypted so, you and your readers wouldn’t know what they mean.

In essence, though, these are just extensions of ads that the designer might be promoting. If you can see shaded areas at the bottom of your site, hover your mouse over them and you will be able to see the codes. The encrypted links are harmful in two main ways.

  • They consume useful website real estate that you could have used to profit your blog. The footer is a nice area to provide additional information about your blog.
  • The links are a big enemy of Google and other search engines. Google hates it when a blog or website tries to hide links from their search bots.

As soon as they notice that you have these links on your blog, the blog will start receiving poor rankings.

8. Functionality issues

wp eCommerce

Functionality issues range from contact pages that are not loading to forms that do not capture visitor information. With free themes, two serious functionality issues make them costly for any blogging business;

  • Lack of e-commerce support
  • Poor third-party integration

The latest development in the digital world has been e-commerce integration which simply means being able to accept payment online. A majority of bloggers now have e-commerce carts on their blogs so that if a customer is interested in a product, they can make a purchase right there. Unfortunately, a majority of free WordPress themes do not support these carts and many other e-commerce features.

Third party integration is even more disturbing. For instance, you may want to integrate with QuickBooks to help you with accounting on a day to day basis. You may also want to integrate with a customer relationship management (CRM) solution to help you manage customer relations.

But again, many free themes do not support these integrations. From a business standpoint, these limitations can be so frustrating.

9. You depend on plug-ins to “plug” lots of holes


Faced with all these problems, users of free WordPress themes are often left with no choice but to download and install plug-ins to seal off loopholes. The only problem is that fixing a blog with plugins is like attempting to plug a leaky bucket. It only takes a few days for a new leak to show up or the old leak to start again.

Look at it this way. After a thorough analysis, you’ve discovered that your site has poor ranking, third-party compatibility issues, hidden ads, side bars that aren’t working, and on top of it all, the site has become slouch slow.

You’ll need separate plug-ins to fix each of these issues. What you may not have foreseen is that the best plug-ins also cost money; sometimes a lot. If you choose to use free untested plug-ins, you may introduce terribly bloated codes or even bugs which can cripple the entire site.

What makes it worse is that currently, there are more than 42,000 plug-ins available for WordPress sites. How do you know which WordPress plug-ins are right for your needs?

10. You change your themes more often than you’d like


Ultimately, after trying everything within your powers, you may be forced to part ways with your current theme and install a new one. It happens quite often among bloggers who opt for free themes.

And because it costs nothing to install a new one, you can just dump the old one and install a fresh-looking one. There are multiple disadvantages of this approach.

  • Whenever you change your theme, you will suffocate your SEO efforts, unless you keep all meta titles and descriptions safe. In WordPress, the theme plays a vital role in site optimization. Whenever you change it, your site structure will change. When this happens, Google engines will see your site differently which could result in lower ranking.
  • Changing your themes frequently may not go down well with your customers. The way the human brain was created, we tend to resist change especially if we were not expecting it. Even if your new theme is better aesthetically and structurally, the initial reaction from customers can be poor. If you change the themes too often, some customers may even grow tired of that of leave.
  • These frequent changes can cost you dearly in terms of time. Uninstalling one WordPress theme and installing another isn’t something that takes minutes. Moreover, after installing the new theme, you need to reinstall all the necessary plug-ins and third-party software. It’s a process that can take days to complete.

So, Why Are You Still Using Free WordPress Themes?

You can see clearly that a free theme can cost you in multiple ways. The time you spend installing plug-ins, the functionality issues, the hidden links – all these could be costing you customers and money.

If you want to break from those agonies, ditch that free WordPress theme and buy a premium WordPress theme to enjoy a far greater array of functionalities and features.

It will cost you $50 or even a little more, but you’ll not have to contend with nonexistent customer support and slow-loading pages that could cost you thousands of dollars every year.


Cameron Francis

Cameron Francis is the CoFounder & Managing Director of ETRAFFIC, Melbourne's #1 Creative & Digital Marketing Agency. For over a decade Cameron has been providing growth marketing and digital strategies for over 2,000 small businesses, start-ups & entrepreneurs around the country. Follow him on Twitter.

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