Customizing WordPress: Free Themes, Premium Themes, and Frameworks

At Radiate Digital, we use WordPress as the platform for over 90% of our websites.  WordPress is an incredibly popular and powerful platform that can do just about anything.

Yet it also manages to offer a relatively simple CMS for users to access and update content that appears on their website.

Though just about anyone can learn to create a page or add a blog post to a WordPress site, getting it to look and function how you want it to takes a little extra effort.  Default, WordPress looks a little…vanilla.


Maybe you like vanilla.  That’s fine.  If we’re talking about scented candles, I’m a big fan of vanilla.  But when it comes to design, I like to think we can do a little better.

This is where the use of ‘themes’ comes into play.

Themes are what add the beautiful design to a WordPress site.  They can also add some additional functions such as shortcodes.  Technically, every WordPress site has a theme.  Even that picture above is a theme.

But not all themes are created equal.


(it’s like a rejected scene from a Frozen ripoff)

The Freebies

There are a lot of free themes out there for WordPress.  You simple go to a themes website, download one, upload it onto your website, activate it, and there you go.  Your WordPress site now has a design.

However, free themes tend to come with a different kind of price.

Free themes typically offer very limited if any customization, meaning that any other site using that theme is going to look incredibly familiar.  They usually also feature the theme designer’s name at the bottom.

And frankly, a lot of free themes just don’t look that good.  Generally, these freebies are best left to a personal blogging site or that website you were forced to set up for your dad for free.

Premium Themes

As you might have guessed from the name, premium themes are ones that cost money.  The prices on these can range quite a bit depending on how robust they are.  They might offer an extensive amount of homepage options and arrangements or multiple looks for interior pages.

They might also involve things like Woocommerce for stores or some other sort of inventory system. Typically, they’ll provide you with some different color and font options, and let you tweak things so that the site looks a little more ‘you’.

That said, even premium templates often give off a certain “out of the box” feel.  Now depending on what you’re looking for, that might be fine.  It’s also important to remember that themes take support to make sure they stay up to date with the latest version of WordPress.  If the company that made the theme disappears or stops supporting it, you might run into some issues.

They can also sometimes have compatibility issues with different plugins.

Lastly, even though the tools and settings are all there for you, it can still be quite a bit of work for the average computer user to get a template setup correctly and looking like what it’s supposed to.  That’s why even people who use a theme often team with a professional WordPress user or developer to set up and manage their site for them.

WordPress Framework

Frameworks are where some people start to get a little confused.  A framework isn’t a theme, per-se.  It does go on top of the WordPress foundation like a theme does.  It’s installed in the same place as a theme is.  It often has settings very similar to what a theme has.

But it lacks an actual design.

Typically, a framework has something called a child-theme placed over top of it.  This uses the functions and capabilities of the framework, but puts a unique design to it.

Think of it like the human body a car.

WordPress is the engine.  The framework is the car frame and suspension.  The theme/design is the body and paint job.

Many (if not most) themes come with the framework and the design bundled together.

Here at Radiate, however, we don’t use pre-made themes.  We make custom WordPress designs so that our clients get exactly what they want out of their website.  But we do use our own Framework.

It’s Called the Radiate Framework

After designing and setting up quite a few WordPress sites, we decided to build our very own Framework.  Why?  Because we knew the kind of features and functionalities businesses wanted, and we wanted to be able to provide that on a stable platform for an affordable price.

Our framework provides the perfect groundwork for a fast and flexible website.  Behind the scenes, it comes preloaded with a number of useful features such as staff sections, portolio displays, a long list of useful shortcodes, custom headers on every page, and more.

Simply put, it comes with a lot of tools preloaded but can still be molded to meet the diverse needs of our clients.

What’s Best for Me?

Ultimately, it depends on what you want.  WordPress as a whole is a great website platform.  It’s our favorite platform.  If you’re creating a hobby blog for fun, a free theme will probably handle your needs.  If you want to take that a little more seriously, a premium theme is an easily affordable solution.

Just remember, with either of those options, you’ll still need hosting and a domain name.

That’s why we bundle all of that into our custom website designs.  If you want a website made your way with a stable framework, website updates, ongoing maintenance, hosting, and domain management, might we suggest having us craft something for you on our Radiate Framework?

You can checkout our Portfolio page for just a few examples of sites we’ve built on it.  Visit our sister-site LaunchRunner and you’ll find a few more.

Or if you’re really serious about it, visit our contact page.  We’d love to chat.

What is your experience with WordPress themes?  Do you have any questions?

Written by Timothy Snyder
on August 20, 2015