The other day I wrote this post about WordPress themes. Today I wanted to mention three themes that appear to meet all the criteria for a quality theme and are free. All three look great, but the only one I’ve tested in an SEO capacity is the first one. Each of these themes has been updated this year (within that last few months) which is a good sign that they are current and work properly with the latest version of WordPress.
The Atahualpa theme is a mature theme (meaning it’s been under development for a long time) and provides a lot of user configurable options. Perhaps best of all for non-tech folks is that there are a lot of template type items so that you don’t have to provide your own information. For example, there are a collection of favicons to choose from without having to create and upload one. Favicons are the little icon that shows up in your browser tab and they can add some polish to a website.
My first thirty day challenge website used this theme and as I went through the motions I was easily able to take top page listing in Google for a competitive keyword in just a few weeks, so at least there wasn’t anything glaringly wrong with the theme from Google’s perspective. I doubt it’s as optimized as something like the Thesis theme, but it can get you down the road quite nicely if you’re on a short budget.
UPDATE: I’ve recently had some trouble with this theme in Internet Explorer. That’s a pretty bad thing since Microsoft still holds a significant lead over the competition in user base. If you plan to use this one make sure your finished site looks OK in IE.
The Arjuna X theme has also been around for a while and has a very polished look. In fact, it may be the most attractive of the three themes I’m featuring here and would be a great choice for a personal blog. Customization includes headers, sidebar placement and well defined widgets. It’s easy to use and gives your blog a clean, authoritative look.
The Arthemia theme is a free theme, but it’s a sibling of a more robust premium theme by the same name. That means that in some ways you benefit from the commercial development on the premium theme, even if you don’t get all the bells and whistles. This theme is also the only one of the three that fits in the category of a magazine theme.
Out of the box this theme offers several well defined areas for widgets that look great, but it has no user options on the backend. That means that any customization will have to be done in the editor and so it’s not a good choice for a non-tech person.
Caution: you get what you pay for
I know that the free themes are appealing because they don’t cost a thing. If you’re starting out with very little (or no) budget then these three themes give you options that are probably just right. On the other hand, the SEO characteristics of these themes and customization for branding or conversion may not be as good as the premium themes.
In my experience, I found that I wasted a lot of hours trying to tweak the free themes to meet my needs. In the end I wasn’t ever quite satisfied, since they don’t have the same polish and purpose that the premium themes do. If I have to spend two hours getting a free theme to do what I want it to, then I’m probably better off just paying for a premium theme that does it out of the box (like Thesis).
If you have a favorite free WordPress theme, post a link to it in the comments below.