Sep 22

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of WordPress Themes

WordPress has grown to become one of the most popular CMS platforms with good reason. Over 60 million people have chosen WordPress to power their websites, which range from blogs, company sites, news sites, magazines, wedding galleries, portfolios etc. WordPress appeals to a large audience as it is easy to learn, quick to setup, and is supported by a remarkable community of theme and plugin developers.

A large part of what makes WordPress so accessible to both new and seasoned users are “themes”. A theme is a collection of files that work together and define the graphical interface of a site as well as many of the site’s unique functionality. Swopping a theme with a different theme can change the appearance and functionality of a site. When creating a WordPress site, developers install WordPress and activate a theme for that site.

At Grenade we have developed hundreds of WordPress sites, big and small for a variety of clients. While we offer custom designed themes built specifically according to our clients’ needs, there are three types of themes commonly used by WordPress users – Custom, Free and Premium.

The Good…

Custom Themes

Custom themes are themes that have been built by a designer and developer based on the needs of the client. Custom themes are mostly made by experienced freelancers or premium agencies. That’s what we do!

Not all custom themes are equal as they very much depend on the experience and ability of the theme developer. I can’t speak for everyone, however, at Grenade we develop elegant, tailored themes specific to our clients’ needs. They do exactly what is needed and are super easy to use. Our themes are built on our own code base, which we have refined and developed over many years. This ensures that all our WordPress projects are secure, fast, easy to use and scalable.

The quality of the deliverables is completely dependent on the quality of the service provided. Should you find an experienced, reputable agency or developer you should expect the following:


  • Based on unique, custom design
  • All functionality is tailored to your requirements and works exactly as intended
  • Lean, fast and scalable (no bloat)
  • Usually supported by original developers (e.g. we offer updates, backups, hosting, retainers etc)


  • More expensive than premium themes. That said, it is the deference between building a dream house and renting a caravan!

The potentially bad…

Free themes

WordPress is free to use. It is distributed under the General Public License (GPL) and can be downloaded from WordPress is also open source and maintained by a network of talented developers. As such there are a large number of developers that contribute to the community by releasing free themes. Premium theme companies will also release free themes as part of a marketing campaign.


  • Free!
  • Loads to choose from
  • Often they are fairly simple and omit all the bells and whistles (that’s a good thing, trust me)
  • Many themes are supported by large open source communities. As such they are mostly stable, well written, secure and well designed.
  • Many free themes also offer premium versions which include support and updates. This is a great way to test the waters before spending your money.


  • Quality can be questionable
  • Limited or no support
  • One size fits all approach
  • Code is exposed therefore anyone can get a copy of it. This can make it easy for malicious types to find vulnerabilities and exploit the theme.

The ugly…

Premium Themes

Premium themes are themes sold by theme makers or theme marketplaces. You essentially pay for support and the right to use the theme. A copy of a theme can be sold to an unlimited number of customers. In its glory days, premium themes helped catapult WordPress to the masses and made it a viable solution for both individuals and businesses. Over the years, hundreds if not thousands of theme companies have been established, developing a plethora of competing themes. Each new theme would offer more functionality and options in an effort to outdo the rest. As the number of available themes grew, developers needed to ship more themes and add more options to remain competitive (and in many cases pay the bills).

There is no shortage of ‘premium’ themes to choose from. The difficult part is finding a theme that is well built, in tune with your requirements, free of bloat and well supported. They do exist, but unless you get really lucky, you may need the assistance of a WordPress professional to help you make the right choice.


  • Includes support
  • Includes updates
  • Low cost (roughly $50)
  • Loads to choose from


  • Often loaded with feature bloat. Premium themes are by nature designed to appeal to a large audience. As such the developers include a ridiculous amount of options, layouts and features that you will never use. Depending on how the theme is built, this could be ok. That said, most themes we have looked at are poorly developed. The bloat usually leads to an exploit on a piece of functionality that you don’t even use or need.
  • Code is exposed (anyone can get a copy of it).
  • Support can be limited (after all you only paid $50).
  • Updates are only effective if you keep up with them, which is often not the case.
  • Thanks to feature bloat, configuring a premium theme can be rather complicated and challenging.

Get in touch if you would like to find out more about our WordPress services.