The Best WordPress Themes - Default, Free and Paid
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Themes have come a long way in WordPress. For those new to WordPress, a WordPress theme is a template which defines how your WordPress site displays to your users.
When I installed WordPress for the first time, K2 was the default theme. K2 was a bare-bones theme and if you wanted anything extra it meant firing up an editor and writing code.
My last WordPress project I installed a theme, configured it, set up fonts and all the customizations without having to write a single line of code. Yes sir, themes in WordPress have come a long way.
A lot of people ask me, what are the best themes for WordPress? Like so many things in tech, the answer to that question is a resounding “It depends”. It really depends on what type of site you are setting up. WordPress now have great themes for:
- … And just about any category of site you can think of.
So there is no best free WordPress theme, or best paid WordPress theme, the only two things that matter are what you want to do and how much you want to pay.
In this article, I’m going to look at the default WordPress theme, good solid free themes for most business purposes, and my personal favorite themes that you should purchase if you are going to use (but are totally worth it)
The Default WordPress Theme
First let’s look at what comes with WordPress. Right now, the current default theme is Twenty Twenty-one. That will change soon, but the basics of the theme probably won’t change much.
Once you activate Twenty Twenty-One you can view your site right. In our case, we can see the default SiteGround post displayed in the Twenty Twenty-One theme.
So far, so good.
Twenty Twenty-One Main Features:
So what does all this give us?
Appearance & Customize Menus
Well, we now get the “Appearance” menu and most importantly, the “Customize” option under it.
This menu opens up a whole new world to us. A world that used to be reserved for designers and developers and those who could “sling code”.
Some of the options available in the Customizer are also available elsewhere. Like your new site’s title and tagline.
The difference is that when you change things in the Theme Customizer you can preview the results immediately instead of having to save and then refresh the site in another tab.
The Customizer also gives us access to things like the menus.
Again, something that you can also do from the admin menu but with the Customizer you get the benefit of being able to see a live preview and discarding your changes if you decide you don’t like them.
While I am showing you examples of these changes using the Twenty Twenty-One theme, all modern themes support these basic options. So if you prefer to go one step beyond and look for other advanced options rather than just using the default theme, there are other free and paid themes that are totally worth checking out. Let’s have a look at the best ones below!
The Best Free WordPress Theme
Neve stands out to me because it offers a good featureset to it’s free users while still being worth the upgrade price. This model is called “freemium” and it is one of the best ways to try out a new theme before you commit your hard earned money to it.
Neve is fast, and it’s highly customizable. Unlike some themes, it’s not for a specific type of installation or industry, it is a general purpose theme that can be used in a variety of situations.
Let’s now look at the home screen to see how it looks.
Now, understand that Neve is designed for business and not necessarily blogs. If you are writing a blog, you may want to look at some of the other themes. But Neve is a good choice if you are setting up a WordPress install for your business.
Neve Theme Main Features
Let’s play with some of its main options. If you go back to your Admin screen and then select “Appearance” and “Customize”, you will see that we’ve got more options than we did with Twenty Twenty-One.
For now, let’s ignore the first one, the “Pro” options. Neve has a paid version as well as the free version.
Neve also gives us a few options that Twenty Twenty-One doesn’t give us. My favorite one is the Typography options.
As you can see, you can have access to all the standard Google Web Fonts automatically installed and ready for you to use. You can now customize your site and make it look different from any other WordPress site out there.
Now here is my standard disclaimer that I always give when I show people how to set fonts. “With great power…”, well, you get the idea. Yes, fonts can make your site stand out. It can do that in a good way or a bad way. Use this feature sparingly, and not like I do in this demo.
So, let’s run a test! Let’s change the H1 fonts to Comic Sans… because we can and this is a demo site. Let´s also change the text to Courier since I’m a developer and we like Mono-spaced fonts.
Yeah, see, not all decisions are good. Still, because of the Theme Customizer, we can preview the changes and discard them if we want.
New Header and Footer Builders
One of the things I absolutely love about Neve, and it’s available in other themes as well, is the new header and footer builders.
Back in the day, a custom header meant custom code. Now it is a matter of just dragging some of the standard elements into the right place. For example, I always like to have search in the header. Up to this point, it’s been a matter of hoping your chosen theme supports it, or creating a child theme and putting it there yourself.
Now it’s a matter of dragging “Search” into the proper place and boom!, there it is. Now all you have to do is click the “Publish” button and your header bar has search on it. Honestly, this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in WordPress since the advent of the wp-cli. Neve includes this feature in its free version and that is real nice of them.
One of the other things that we can do with the customizer in modern themes like Neve is change the colors of things. The customizer gives us the option to change the color of many of the options.
As you can see, colors are like fonts. They should be used responsibly. Even though we’ve changed the color to “institution green”, since we’ve not clicked “Publish” our site isn’t yet causing potential customers to move on to another vendor. If we click the “X” to the left of the “Publish” button, we can toss this set of changes without ever having affected our site.
Advanced Publishing changes options
While we are talking about publishing changes in the customizer, we also have other options.
You can publish a set of changes, or if you click the gear icon next to “Publish”, you get other options.
- Save as Draft
If you are unsure of your changes, you can save them as a draft, and then come back later and finish them. Of course this green with Comic Sans and Courier are probably going to be discarded. Again, I’m showing you this feature using the free WordPress theme Neve, but this is a core WordPress feature so it’s available in all themes.
Neve Theme Paid Version
Neve gives us a lot of other options for free but if you are going to use it, you may want to go ahead and upgrade to one of their paid plans. The cheapest one is $59/year, which is a decent price for what you get. Still, the reason I listed it as the best free theme is because even without payment, it’s a solid choice.