WordPress powers nearly 20 percent of all the sites in the world — and half of that figure is hosted for free on WordPress.com. With more than a decade under its belt, the open-source platform has embraced thousands of developers and designers, adding to a laundry list of contributors constantly driving the impressive content management system well beyond its humble roots and barebones beginnings. Nowadays, it serves bloggers and businesses hellbent on pushing a product, service, or content in the hopes of being seen in the bustling industry that is the Internet.
However, not everyone thinks about how their WordPress theme is a reflection of themselves. Although individual aesthetics play a role in website design, you need to factor in the kind of site you’re building and the audience you’re trying to appeal to. Different themes offer different page templates and widgets, coding and fonts, layout builders, and design responsiveness that can be custom tailored to become your site’s personal mouthpiece without ever actually saying a word. Simply put, they’re an easy way to make your site your own and stand out among the pack.
Thankfully we’ve sorted through them all to bring you our picks for the best WordPress themes available for both, whether you’re looking for premium customization or a simple, free alternative. Some cater to the professional blogger or business, some to the photo aficionado or artist, but each caters to someone.
Best free themes for WordPress.org
Themehorse’s flagship offering is simple and classic. It features highly-customizable page builder facets, including two site layouts, five page templates, five widgets areas, four custom widgets, and many more standout aspects that make it a perfect foundation on which to begin building your site. Though the free version is missing such perks as a huge font family and a gallery option — both of which are available with the premium upgrade — it supports a variety of plugins (Breadcrumb NavXT, WP-PageNavi, etc.), has built-in translation to eight different languages, and is retina optimized, meaning it automatically adapts to tablets and other mobile devices.
Swift Basic is the fastest loading WordPress theme around, and has been hailed for its intelligent loading process, one that gives first priority to the most important elements on the page. It features post sliders, eight widget areas, and built-in sidebar options that make for a magazine-oriented design. Various design aspects and meta info can always be customized using the drag-and-drop interface, too, and all the standard WordPress features are present — menus, post types, post formats, etc. The streamlined design just makes it optimized for breakneck speeds and advanced SEO purposes.
As the name suggests, Customizr is the bespoke tailor of free WordPress themes, offering the most flexibility to make your site tailor-made and unique. Built on the Twitter Bootstrap framework with HTML5 and CSS3, Nikeo’s theme is fast, responsive, SEO optimized, and easy to use — even for beginners. Some key features and design elements include individual skins, logos, social profiles, a responsive slider generator, featured home blocks, a call-to-action button, and varied designs for the overall layout, all of which are easily accessible using the built-in WordPress theme customizer. Its compatibility with plugins such as WooCommerce render it a great theme for businesses and bloggers hoping to integrate merchandise sales into their site, too, as does the theme’s extensive support forum.
An ideal theme for sites that have multiple contributors and word-heavy content — e.g. travel sites, writing blogs, or writers’ portfolios — Tracks is incredibly simple while still managing to offer a set of sophisticated options. Author bios at the bottom of posts can link to the author’s social media page, as opposed to the site’s social media pages, the latter of which can be found at the top of the page. A search bar, various post layouts, comment display controls, a logo uploader, and social media icons also make the site easy for users to navigate and site builders to brand. Custom excerpts allow authors to display succinct summaries of posts rather than just truncated versions, which, when pair with the right header images, make for visually pleasing sites that don’t look busy.
Cohhe’s Longform is the only free WordPress theme designed to be fully compatible with Aesop, meaning it can harness the powerful storytelling engine plugin to offer 13 impactful story components. This allows you to incorporate components such as chapters and timelines designed to better segment your stories, while also allowing you to add audio and video players to enhance them. The character tool provides you with further customization — i.e. the ability to display an avatar, title, and short bio for your key characters — and the built-in stories page allows you to curate a single page with stories that share the same tag, thus creating an impressive and accessible hub for all your best content. Retina-ready and responsive, your stories will benefit from an interactive experience that’s as responsive on your smartphone as your desktop.
Next Page: Our favorite, free themes for WordPress.com…
Best free themes for WordPress.com
CyberChimps’ Responsive is loaded with features and extras, such as four custom menu options, a site logo, four different areas for widgets, breadcrumb navigation, and five different page layouts. The home page template includes the option for a call-to-action button and the theme allows users to replace the site title with a custom header. The optional social media icons also help direct readers to a Facebook page, Twitter account, or other social media profile. The fluid grid system the theme uses only means that, no matter what widgets are included or left out, your site always remains straightforward, streamlined, and professional. “Basic” is not an option.
Many themes are designed to capitalize on an abundance of photos and featured images for every post, leaving writers with word-heavy sites in the lurch. Intentionally sparse and clean, Libre is a theme created with long-form writers and bloggers in mind. The fixed navigation bar keeps all the essential links in sight as visitors scroll through longer stories and posts, while three widget spots help organize secondary information at the bottom of the page. Three different page layout options also allow creators to make the site their own, as do the custom menus, headers, color schemes, and background options. Photos, galleries, and videos can easily be incorporated if desired as well, but the design and functionality don’t suffer from their exclusion. Best of all, Libre is simple to use, leaving writers free to focus on their content instead of the presentation.
AlienWP’s Oxygen theme is perfect for online magazines or for those looking to organize a wealth of content, highlight prime posts, or keep their site easy to navigate. Although you can set up the theme to resemble a standard blog, utilizing the showcase template allows you to transform it into a magazine format that’s outfitted with a featured slider, which can highlight up to six sticky posts at any given moment. The primary and secondary sidebars provide ample space for widgets, as do the optional footer and after-post widget areas, the latter of which is a suitable space for a bio if the site features more than one contributor. Custom menus, headers, backgrounds, color schemes, and several font options means the theme is as individual as the person creating it.
A theme specifically designed to be visually dynamic, Cubic was created with photographers in mind. It sports two custom menus — one in the footer to display social media links and the other as a slide-out side bar — which allow the homepage to remain uncluttered and really showcase the grid of featured photos and their accompanying post links. Customizable facets include multiple post layouts, optional author bios, fixed or unfixed header images, and theme colors, the last of which is extremely important as posts without a feature image will appear as a color block on the home page. Though not as flexible as other themes, Cubic allows creators to build beautiful sites with minimal effort, making it one of WordPress’s most popular themes.
While a handful of free WordPress themes offer full-width header images, Radcliffe is the best. Featured images for posts also appear full-width, if desired, giving the homepage a bolder aesthetic than is typical of most static homepages. Six different post layouts also let you quickly add images, videos, quotes, links and more to your site. Optional side bars and a footer provide additioanl room for widgets, while the option to add social media links on a per post or page basis means that you choose whether you want links on all pages or only some. The responsive theme even allows your site to feature a custom background, header, accent color, site logo, and menus. Perfect for a single-author blog or professional portfolio site, Radcliffe makes creating eye-catching sites as easy as possible.
Next Page: Our favorite, premium themes for WordPress.org…
Best premium themes for WordPress.org
Starting off a recurring theme you’ll notice with premium WordPress sites, Jupiter offers 47 individual templates, which is kind of like getting 47 themes for the price of one. Templates or demos are entirely pre-built sites that you can import, allowing you to just swap out the generic content for your own without worrying about configuring the design of the site at all. Some of the flashier features include optimized parallax scrolling, gradient titles and buttons, and shape divider, the last of which allows you to divide your content in various ways other than horizontal. Designed by Artbees, the theme also includes more than 100 other elements and over 230 styles, 1,600 resizable icons, 14 custom widgets, 10 custom post types, custom sidebars, extensive documentation, and multiple premium homepage sliders that differ when it comes to visual animations. Everything is drag-and-drop, too, meaning the aforementioned features are a breeze to implement.
Theme Fusion’s most popular theme, Avada, is 18 themes in one. That’s because it comes with 18 demos, all of which you can add features to or combine. Furthermore, if you’d rather, you can build your own design using Avada’s features, meaning that there are endless possibilities to make a unique website that looks and functions exactly how you want it to. The theme essentially gives you complete control over virtually every single aspect of your site, from fonts and menus to page layouts, colors, and widget areas. It’s coded to be fast, SEO-optimized, and responsive, providing a great user experience for visitors. Moreover, it’s completely compatible with plugins such as WooCommerce and bbPress, and includes it’s own plugin (Fusion Core) for free. Utilizing shortcodes and the various options Avada provides is easy given the drag-and-drop builder, too, and because Avada is so versatile, it’s a dream for designers who crave control but don’t know code. However, it might be a bit much for simple blogs and websites that don’t require all the bells and whistles.
If there’s a developer that’s almost universally known for its WordPress themes, it would have to be ElegantThemes. Divi is its most versatile theme, too, and is available through their membership model, which gives you access to 87 themes and allows you to download as many as you want for use with an unlimited number of domains. Divi also comes with 18 pre-made layouts — all of which are completely customizable — along with 40 content modules that include facets such as stat highlighters, video sliders for curating video collections, and a shop. Every module is also completely customizable and, for the ambitious, features a custom CSS tab which allows those wishing to use their Web design skills to access the code. If you’re not a Web designer, though, that’s okay, as you definitely don’t need to be to build your site exactly how you want it. Divi’s building block foundation just means it’s easy to visualize a page as it’s being built.
While it is possible to create a shop with many different WordPress themes, if you know the primary function of the site you want to build, it can be helpful to have a theme that is specifically engineered for precisely that purpose. Enter Shopkeeper, a niche WordPress theme that’s also fully integrated with WooCommerce. The theme is designed with merchants in mind, and such being the case, it offers multiple page layouts specifically made for shops. Each touts the ability to add a wishlist and shopping cart, along with a checkout and several catalog layouts. You can also showcase products with six different portfolio options, product demos, and lookbooks, or describe and link to your business using various social media badges and one of four about page layouts. The theme comes with 11 different elements to help you organize your products however you’d prefer, as well as nine homepage layouts that make your shop look chic and sharp with minimal effort. The “coming soon” layout even gives you a way to build anticipation in the interim, thus allowing you take your time and create a beautiful shop without the stress.
For those wishing to have all the options — and we mean all the options — Be is the one to pick. The theme boasts more than 170 pre-made templates, all of which come ready to import with a single click. Be also offers more than 200 shortcodes and items, and 21 different page layouts. Like every other premium theme on this list, the theme uses a drag-and-drop builder that bypasses coding entirely, letting you create your ideal website without an prior coding knowledge. Nearly all of the theme’s elements are customizable as well, including the color options, fonts, and backgrounds. You can even utilize video backgrounds, if desired, or build a custom page layout if the 21 provided aren’t quite what you’re looking for. All this is ensured to be fast, SEO-optimized, and compatible with all browsers. And with lifetime updates, you can rest assured that your site will never be left in the dust.
Next Page: Our favorite, premium themes for WordPress.com…
Best premium themes for WordPress.com
Silo Creativo has created the perfect theme for blogs. While it doesn’t sport as many options as some of the other premium themes on our list, those it does feature are curated to create a light and airy aesthetic. This helps it maintain a minimalist design and keeps it from becoming too claustrophobic, which is the current trend overtaking Web design. The embedded options also grant enough customization to ensure that you’re blog won’t look exactly like a thousand others. You can choose from unlimited colors, pick a custom background image, or upload a site logo on the fly. Widget areas are tucked within an accessible sidebar to maintain the clean design, and an especially smart feature allows post layouts to adapt according to the shape and orientation of the feature image you set, meaning that your words and content will adapt to highlight your photo rather than being restricted to landscape-oriented shot. The design also renders your site as beautiful on mobile devices as desktop systems.
Though you could use the MH Magazine theme for a blog or online storytelling project, it really excels at creating an online news or magazine site. Built-in options such as the news ticker at the top allow you to flash your most recent headlines, while optional components like the author box give you a space to share additional information regarding the site’s contributors. The theme also features custom widgets geared specifically toward news sites, like the news-in-pictures widget, which displays a gallery of thumbnails from various posts. The widgetized homepage template lets you make the most of the widgets, too, providing 11 widget areas that you can then arrange to form whatever layout you prefer. Four custom menus additionally provide you with options for navigating the abundance of content on your news site, and various layout options let you opt for less clutter or a second sidebar if need be. The theme’s responsiveness and powerful feature set basically help keep the chaos of the newsroom organized and accessible to your readers.
If you’re a writer or photographer looking for a clean, spacious design for a portfolio or professional website, Atlas was built for you. Like Janice, this theme accommodates feature images that are portrait-oriented or square, thus restricting them to their original proportions at all times. Another novel feature allows the excerpt for each post to scroll with the page, meaning you’ll always be able to view excerpts and portrait-oriented feature images on the homepage simultaneously. Very subtle animations — e.g. a slight zoom out when you hover over an image — also add a level of engagement to your site without distracting from its sophisticated simplicity, while the ability to add a personal portfolio and link to an abundance of social media profiles help keep your brand identity at the forefront. Six different post formats and the option to have overhanging images even lets you to style your posts exactly as you see fit, and a side menu and widget area highlight your content at all times. Plus, like every other WordPress theme on this list, Atlas is fully platform responsive.
Full Frame ($75)
To go the opposite route of Atlas and have your photos featured full-width, try Full Frame. Featured images are showcased from one edge of the homepage to the other, and as the background of the post they’re connected to. The sheer lack of white space can provide your site with a more intimate aesthetic depending on the content, which, in turn, renders it perfect for a travelogue or blog. Because your photos create the background of your posts, the theme gives you four different text positioning options, meaning that your text won’t cover the main subject of your photo unless you want it to. Additional formats also grant you the option to showcase galleries, videos, images, and standard posts. You can also use Full Frame to set a custom background for posts that don’t have featured images. Need more? The theme gives you the option to add up to three widgets in the footer area, upload a logo to the custom header, or chose a single photo that you want to use for every post and page. Variety can be be overrated, after all.
Anemone is as ideal for a creative company or startup as it is for personal blogging. The sticky menu and sidebar keep navigation links and widgets within reach as readers scroll through your content, but if you prefer, you can also opt to have your site sidebar-free. A highlighted footer also serves as the widget area, an additional menu, and a space for your social media links. What’s really eye-catching about Anemone is it’s slanting horizontal section breaks, though. It’s the only WordPress-hosted theme to offer an option other than the traditional, horizontal breaks, a simple design component that imbues your site with a distinct feel that’s also incredibly subtle. Featured images highlight the post title and date on top, with the slanted break running through them as showcased in the image above. A host of post formats also make it easy to include any type of media, while its responsiveness ensures it looks great on whatever platform is available.
Updated on January 11, by Rachel Grozanick: Clarified the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com and categorized themes accordingly. Updated themes, adding 15 new themes.
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