The skinny on WordPress themes

You’ve heard of WordPress themes before, but you’re not 100% sure what they are. What do they do? Why do you need one? What’s the difference between free, paid and custom themes? Why do people design from scratch? Let’s dive in and talk about the different options and when you’d want to use each one.

What are WordPress themes?

Before we jump in to free vs. paid vs. custom themes, let’s review!

A theme is a set of rules that controls the visual styling of your WordPress website. Your theme says things like, on this website, buttons are blue and header text is bold.

WordPress needs a theme to be able to display your content in a consistent, visually appealing way.

A child theme is a theme that has a corresponding parent theme. The parent theme contains all the base styles and layouts and the child theme contains any additional customizations.

When the parent theme is updated, customizations won’t be wiped out because they exist in the child theme.

Free Themes

The best place to find free WordPress themes is in the repository. You can search by featured themes, popular themes, latest themes OR use a filter to search by layouts, features or subjects.

Some themes in the repository are “lite” versions with limited functionality. If you’d like more features, you can upgrade for a fee through the theme creator.

Free themes are great, especially when you are working on a personal site or side project. If you like exactly the way the theme looks and won’t have a lot of additional tweaks and changes, free themes can be a good option.

Paid Themes

Paid themes generally contain more functionality and are more robust. Some come with support for a specified period of time, allowing you to contact the theme developer with questions or issues that you can’t fix by yourself.

There are TONS of places to buy paid themes.

Theme Shops

ThemeForest is a really popular place to buy themes, offering over 40,000 of them. You’ll find all-in-one themes like Avada, X Theme, Enfold, BeTheme and Bridge and themes for specific industries. (Don’t feel limited by industry though! You can use any theme for any industry.)

Many themes on ThemeForest are a one-time fee (including lifetime updates), but you can pay for additional support after your initial support period ends.

Some theme shops offer one-time fee packages where you can get all of the themes on their site.


Genesis is a theme framework to use as a parent theme. You can purchase child themes from StudioPress on a per theme basis ($60 for Genesis + $99-$129 per theme) or for a one-time fee ($500 for all). There is no yearly or additional fee for support.

People who use Genesis LOVE Genesis. It’s easy to work with and not bloated like many themes can be. There are also a lot of resources online about Genesis theme development.

Page Builders

I want to talk a bit about page builders because many have transcended from simply building pages to building entire themes. Many include pre-made page layouts for one page, one type of page or for an entire site.

Beaver Builder

Beaver Builder is a popular page builder that allows you to (you guessed it) build pages with a drag-and-drop interface.

The lite version is available in the repository and the paid version on their website. It’s currently $99/year for the builder and $199/year for the builder AND theme. Both are available on unlimited sites and also include a 40% discount on automatic renewals.

There’s also an add-on called Themer that allows you to customize the header and footer and create layouts for various pages. Themer is $147/year and BB offers 40% off on automatic renewals, too.


Elementor is another page builder that’s available in the repository. The free version is pretty robust.

Elementor Pro 2.0 is a more feature-rich version and includes the ability to create headers and footers as well as page templates. Elementor Pro is $49/year for one site and $199/year for unlimited sites. All packages include a 25% discount on renewals.

You still need your own theme with Elementor, but their FAQ states that you can use basically any theme, even a barebones one like this one on GitHub.


Divi is both a page builder and a theme made by Elegant Themes. It’s $89/year or a $249 one-time fee.

One limitation of Divi is that there’s currently no way to really customize the header and footer like with Beaver Themer and Elementor Pro. Divi Ultimate makes a Divi child theme where you can customize the header, footer and blog posts for a one-time fee of $89.

Custom Theme

All of the above give you a good starting point, but involve a learning curve and take time to implement.

If you decide that you don’t want to invest the time or you’d like a completely custom design for your business, hire a designer + developer.

They will sit down with you and learn about your business, then propose a design and functionality to showcase everything your business offers. They’ll assist with strategy and implementation, and many companies offer maintenance afterwards so that you don’t have to worry about updates, backups and downtime.

If you’re like me, you’ll want to research the options before making a decision. Hopefully the information on the above helps with your theme search. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

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