WordPress is free. So why use premium WordPress themes and plugins? It’s a good question, and we’ve got lots of answers.
In this guide, we’ll explain the differences between free and premium WordPress plugins and themes, along with a few reasons why using premium WordPress themes and plugins is a good investment. Let’s dive in!
Free vs. Premium WordPress Themes and Plugins: What’s the Difference?
First and foremost, what’s the difference between free and premium WordPress themes and plugins? Free themes and plugins are, well, free. You can grab them right now, no strings attached, no money down. For premium themes and plugins, you have to pay.
Why are some WordPress themes and plugins free? There are a variety of reasons free themes and plugins exist. Having so many free theme and plugin options is one of the reasons WordPress is such a great content management system option—you can get started for nothing, and scale as your business or website becomes more profitable.
Just check out all of the free WordPress themes and free WordPress plugins available on the WordPress.org repository. As of today, there are almost 5,000 free WordPress themes and nearly 60,000 free WordPress plugins!
There are some truly awesome free themes and plugins. For example, we love Kadence Theme and Kadence Blocks. The free versions of this theme and page-builder plugin offer a ton of useful features for building websites on WordPress. We also have iThemes Security, our free WordPress security plugin, which allows you to add critical security layers to your WordPress site for free.
With free themes and plugins, there are a few risks. For starters, updates are infrequent and not guaranteed. The developer may not actively support or maintain their theme or plugin, due to the fact that they aren’t making enough money to support their time working on the product. A lack of active development on the product leaves you at risk for compatibility issues and even security issues.
One of the more common reasons that free WordPress plugins and themes exist is to upsell you to their Pro version. By showing you the value you get in the free version, you may be more likely to upgrade to Pro to add even more features and functionality. For this reason, many free themes and plugins lack features that are only available in their Pro version.
In contrast to free WordPress plugins and themes, premium themes and plugins usually come with support and updates. They often offer more features, along with active development. The code is actively maintained to ensure compatibility with WordPress core and to fix any bugs or WordPress vulnerabilities that may be disclosed in their product.
OK, so we’re iThemes, maker of premium WordPress themes and plugins. We kind of have a vested interest in getting people to use premium WordPress themes and plugins.
Yes, we’re a bit biased as to why you should invest in premium WordPress plugins and themes. But we do what we do because we love it, and we believe in it. We’re not some fly-by-night operation. iThemes was founded as one of the first premium theme and plugin companies in 2008. We have 20+ employees and roots in Oklahoma City. And we believe in premium WordPress themes and plugins because paying for something ensures long-term sustainability. We’re sticking around.
Our motto is to Make People’s Lives Awesome, which is a mutually beneficial arrangement. By paying for products, there’s a viable business model. Our employees get to eat. And as a paying customer, you get a better product you can rely on, now and into the future. Plus, you get guaranteed support and updates.
Yes, we’ve got a financial stake in this. But we’ve also got a stake in our customers. We’re here to do business, and doing it well means working in partnership with our customers. If it’s not worth it to you, it won’t be worth it to us.
Top Reasons For Why You Should Use Premium WordPress Plugins and Themes
So, why use premium WordPress themes and plugins? Let’s unpack the top reasons why premium WordPress plugins and themes are worth the investment.
One of the biggest reasons to go with premium themes and plugins is because most of them come with guaranteed support. You get help when you need it.
Some free themes offer help, but only when the developer isn’t busy. Assuming you’re willing to wait around. And if you can’t wait? Tough luck.
But premium themes and plugins usually come with robust support. You can get questions answered. You can figure out how to do something and get back to work.
2. Version Updates
You have to keep your software current. When WordPress rolls out an update, themes and plugins often have to be updated. Sometimes it’s minor stuff, but sometimes a WordPress update will introduce new features or break old ones. If no one is around to keep that old free theme or plugin updated, it could stop working. Or worse, it could become a security threat.
That’s why active development is so important: to release version updates. Yes, version updates may often seem like a hassle, but they mean someone is actively working on your theme and plugin to make it better.
3. Ongoing Development
Sometimes you get what you pay for when it comes to ongoing development. Free themes and plugins are notorious for being poorly coded or stingy on the features. But premium themes and plugins usually go the extra mile. People are paying for it, so the quality goes up a notch (or two or three).
If you want your site to work right all the time, then pay for it. Quality is worth the price.
Again: There are some incredible free themes and plugins out there. But in general, you get more power, more customization, more options, and more specialized features with premium themes and plugins.
4. More Power with Features
If you want to have the latest, greatest, craziest features, then it’s worth buying the Pro version of the theme or plugin. That’s why some of the most powerful plugins that really take WordPress to another level are going to cost you. And the latest WordPress features usually require the most current themes.
Those impressive features take a lot of smart coding to implement, they need a lot of good support to help people use them and they require updates to stay current and stable. That all costs money.
There are plenty of cool features available in free plugins—let’s not discount that. But for some of the biggest and baddest features—we’re talking ecommerce, backup, membership—the best plugins are premium.
Free themes and plugins, specifically those available outside of the WordPress theme directory and WordPress plugin directory, are notorious for being packed with malicious code. That’s why you should never, under any circumstances, use nulled WordPress plugins or themes. This issue has gotten better as WordPress has matured, but it’s still a very real threat. Hackers prey on people looking for free themes and plugins (especially “free” versions of premium WordPress plugins and themes) and then sabotage those themes and plugins with backdoors and other tricks they can exploit.
If you want to go the free route, make sure you only choose themes and plugins from the WordPress directory. If you really want to feel safe and secure, go premium. Rest easy knowing a reputable premium theme and plugin creator will stand by their work.
A big downside to free themes is that everybody uses the good ones. As you browse the web, you start to notice sites looking familiar. It’s not a big deal, but if you want to be unique and original, you’ll have to shell out some extra dollars for more customization options.
Many premium themes have customizable options that keep your site looking unique. Maybe you can’t afford a completely custom design, but if originality is important, it’s worth paying a little more for a premium theme and having a look that’s your own.
WordPress is a community. It’s an open source software project that exists because developers have been generous with their time and talents.
By going the premium route, you’re supporting the WordPress economy and helping this community grow. You’re helping some developers make a living. You’re supporting them so they continue to support you.
Even if you do go the free route, you should still support the community. Many free themes and plugins take donations to support their work. You can also find other ways to give back to WordPress.
WordPress is an incredible gift, and we’re thankful for it. But not everything can be free. Premium offerings push the community farther and faster.
8. Price (Yes, You Read That Right)
We’ve given a bunch of reasons why you should pay up for premium themes and plugins. We think it’s worth paying for the good stuff. But another helpful reason is simply to step back and get some perspective.
What do premium themes and plugins really cost in the grand scheme of things? Theme prices range from a few bucks to a few hundred, and most plugins are in the same range (higher prices are usually for high-end products or multi-site developer licenses). Even if you bought an entire pile of plugins and a really fancy theme, you’re walking away with a ridiculous amount of coding power for under $1,000.
That’s a bargain. If your business depends on your website, buying premium WordPress themes and plugins is a solid investment. Your plugins and themes help power your website, and you depend on your website to be up and running at all times.
You may end up spending more money (or worse, losing money) if you depend on a free WordPress plugin or theme that breaks, takes down your site, or stops being developed. You may have to hire someone else to fix your website or waste precious time rebuilding an entire site. Your site may even go down until the issue is resolved, which could literally cost you sales.
Wrapping Up: Premium WordPress Themes and Plugins are Worth the Investment
So why use premium WordPress themes and plugins? You get better quality and better service, for one. In addition, you’re investing in the people that build, maintain, and improve the themes and plugins you rely on to power your website.
All of these reasons for why you should use premium WordPress plugins and themes get to the heart of our business model: it really comes down to supporting the community and providing better products for our customers.
Kristen has been writing WordPress tutorials since 2011. Kristen also enjoys journaling, hiking and camping, step aerobics, cooking, and daily adventures with her family, hoping to live a more present life.