How to Make the Most Out of Your Free WordPress Theme

20 March 2021Ashley Maxwell9 min read

Free WordPress themes are great, but since they are so popular with spammers, you need to stay clear of any similarities with cheap spam sites. Just because your template is free, it doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of it. With enough work and the right attitude, you can make a success out of your website, no matter how much you paid for its theme.

Lose the Floating Panels and Pop-Ups

Everybody on the planet hates floating panels and pop-ups, yet marketers are so good at selling them to websites, which is why they are everywhere. What’s worse is that overly-cautious webmasters are putting up cookie pop-ups where you have to agree before you can even see the page, when all you want to do is reach the web page without having to click seven times.

Too Many Pop Ups

On an expertly-made and professional website, popups and floating panels are annoying. When they are on free WordPress templates, they look cheap, and they lower the tone of the entire website. It just ends up looking like another spam website that was put up quickly to bait people into clicking adverts. For your own sake, and for the sanity of your viewers, get rid of your pop-ups and floating panels.

Remove the Theme-Made-By Information / Footer Credit

There are plenty of free WordPress themes, but at the bottom of free themes, there is almost always a “Theme made by” line, along with a link to the creator’s website. Theme makers will often give away their themes once they are done with them, but more frequently, theme makers will give you a bare-bones theme and then charge you to make it fully featured.

When it comes down to it, you may be getting a free theme, but you do not owe the creator anything. You especially do not owe that person a free link at the bottom of your theme. You are the one working to push your website up through the search engine results, so you shouldn’t be giving the theme creator a free ride.

Remember that the creators were not being charitable when they gave away the WordPress theme for free. It is part of their business plan. The theme creator wasn’t being charitable, so you shouldn’t be charitable either. There are three ways you can remove the theme-made-by line and link.

1 – Alter the code yourself

You will need a bit of HTML or CSS knowledge, but you can go and find the footer, and “Comment” it out, which is where you leave the coding where it is, but the text showing the creator and the backlink to the creator are removed without actually being moved.

Creators will often hide the footer information, so you may have a bit of trouble finding it. Locate the creator’s link at the bottom of your website, copy a section of the link, and try searching for a portion of it within your website template code. That is often where you will find the footer link information you need to comment out.

Take note that theme creators are aware that people do this, which is why when you update your theme, you will notice the links come back, and you have to comment them out again. Also, don’t go tinkering with your theme’s code unless you know what you are doing.

If you just want to get rid of the bit that says, “Powered by WordPress,” then here is an article that may help you, “Remove the Proudly Powered by WordPress footer link.”

2 – Use a Free Plugin

There are plenty of free WordPress plugins that allow you to remove the footer credit from your website. They also help you remove the “Powered by WordPress” footer credit too. Here is a link to a website that describes how a footer credit removing plugin works. We at Vertanet are not endorsing the app, we just think the article describing it gives a good idea of what to expect from footer-credit removing plugins.

3 – Pay For the Premium Theme

In many cases, the ability to “Remove” the theme-made-by credit is enabled once you pay for the premium theme. Or, it simply doesn’t appear on the website footer because you paid for the theme. Alternatively, find a theme that doesn’t have a footer credit/link in the first place. They may not be as popular on the WordPress store, but there are plenty of them kicking around.

Get a Free Theme That Runs Very Quickly

There is no point in this article trying to tell you which are the fastest free WordPress themes because the leader board seems to change on a weekly basis. In fact, you could probably go searching for articles right now on the subject of the fastest themes, and find very different results in each article you read.

Don’t be afraid to switch your theme from one to the other, testing which themes/templates render and load the fastest. Start by taking a look at your current website speed because things may not be as bad as they appear. Use the free Google page speed insights tool and see how fast your websites renders and loads.

Take note of the fact you have different scores for your mobile website and your desktop website. Even though your website is probably responsive (i.e. adjusts to fit the size of the viewing screen), the difference between mobile loading and desktop loading is still relevant. Below are a few results from a website that is not slow, but it certainly needs a bit of improvement.

Google Speed Check

Use the Google tool and look over your speed check results. You will see the elements that are making your website slow. There are often several factors at play. Quite often, your website is slow because of your WordPress theme, WordPress plugins, something you have done, or the hosting service you are using. Sometimes, the free WordPress template is not the biggest problem on your list.

Below is a sample of a Google speed check results chart.

Speed check suggestions

Take the suggestions shown above as an example.

  • The server response time is more about the hosting company than the website theme.
  • The unused JavaScript on the other hand is probably the fault of the WordPress theme.
  • In the diagnostics, the part that says “Ensure text remains visible during webfont load” is probably the fault of the free WordPress template, though the webmaster may have added a custom font that is slowing things down.
  • The “Avoid document.write()” is probably due to the adverts the webmaster has put on the website.

The point is that even if your website is slow to render and slow to load, it is sometimes only partially the fault of the WordPress theme. There are often other factors at play.

As a final point on the subject, do not forget to do a visual check yourself. A WordPress theme may score very well on speed tests, but if you can see that elements load more slowly within one theme than another, then your experience should be taken into account. Some website themes can fool speed checkers so that they may appear on “World’s fastest free WordPress templates” website articles. Don’t forget to trust your eyes as well as your speed-check tools.

Preinstalled or Plugin Lazy Load

If your website theme has lazy load, then that is a plus. Lazy loading helps your website appear more quickly by only loading the elements in the top part of your website. It then loads the rest of your web page as people scroll down.

If your free WordPress template doesn’t have a lazy loading function, then there are quite a few free and paid lazy loading plugins you can use. If your web pages are pretty media heavy, then these sorts of plugins help your users to have a better overall experience when they use your website.

Example of Lazy Loading

Since you only have a few seconds to maintain your viewer’s interest, getting the first part of your web page to load quickly is more important than loading the entire page all at once. In the old days, when Internet connections were slow, lazy loading was more of a hassle. In the old days, people would scroll down and have to wait seconds before seeing the page, but these days the Internet is so fast that lazy loading is far more effective.

For example, take your Instagram feed. Even if you only follow twenty people, the feed you see goes on for thousands and thousands of images. Can you imagine how slowly your Instagram feed would take to become usable if it had to load all those thousands of images every time you visited Instagram? Instead, your feed loads the first few images and only loads the following images as you scroll down. It makes for a far better user experience, and you can do the same thing with your WordPress website. If your template doesn’t have a lazy-loading feature, then download a free (and reputable) plugin, and improve your website’s user experience instantly.

Work Around The Pre-Defined WordPress Theme Limitations

Each free WordPress template has its own limitations. They are put there so that you have to pay the premium price in order to get a fully functional WordPress theme. For example, some of them will not allow you to centre your page titles. It may not allow you to add images over a certain size, or may limit how much control you have over your text width. Sometimes, they disable the CSS functions within your theme, and some may set limits on how many blog posts may be seen on your home page.

You could always find another free WordPress theme and move on, or you could work around the pre-defined limitations. For example, if the website will not allow you to centre your titles, then create titles that stretch across a single line.

If you cannot add images over a certain size, then standardize all your images so that they are all the same size in a way that looks natural on your website. When the theme tries to control your text width size, then remove the sidebar, or increase the font size.

They may disable the custom CSS part in your theme controls, but they cannot stop you tampering with the actual website code. It is riskier, but a good option if you know what you are doing.

If they limit the amount of blog posts that can be seen on your home page, then set your home page up so that it doesn’t feature blog posts. You could set it up so that it features images, but where each image can be clicked and will lead to each blog post (similar to what we did here at Vertanet).

Vertanet blog post thumbnails

Moderate Your Comments Personally

If you see a sophisticated website, and it has 2000 comments on a single page, you think “Poor dears, they must have had a comment-bomb attack.” If you see a WordPress template website with 2000 comments on a single page, you figure it is a spam website and ignore it. Having lots of spam comments makes your website look tacky and cheap, which is not good news if you are already trying to make the most of your free WordPress template.

Moderate your comments personally because spam-catcher plugins can slow your website down and may dispose of comments from genuine people who could have become real customers. Be sure that you can recognise real comments from the very convincing spam comments. Do not waste money on WordPress spam catchers because if you moderate your comments personally, you can use the in-built WordPress functions to catch spam.

Having a bunch of spam comments is terrible for your website’s SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), especially when you consider that the same comment has been splattered around the Internet hundreds of times. Plus, when you allow spam comments onto your website, it attracts a wide variety of other spam comments.

Why do spam comments attract more spam comments?

Let’s say that Jenny the spammer receives a spam comment on her website. She knows it is spam, but she copies half of a sentence from the spam message and pastes it into Google with quotation marks around it showing that she is looking for a verbatim search. She searches, and up pops hundreds of results showing the spam message on other websites.

Comments were not properly moderated

This is very interesting to Jenny the spammer because she now has a long list of websites that she “Knows” are not moderating their comments properly.

So, she can now go down the list and spam a comment on every one of those websites manually. Or, better still, she can add those websites in the search results into her spam program, and have it spam those websites every time she has a new message to spread. That is how spam comments attract spam comments.

Final Thoughts – Less is Almost Always More

Take a look at our website at Vertanet. It is well laid out, it makes good use of white space, it is media-heavy without being cluttered, and it flows easily, so your eye can move easily between one element and the next. Now, take a look at an essay writing service website in the image below.

A website that is way too cluttered

The website is clearly made from a free WordPress template, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing if the web page was not so cluttered and muddled. Every part of the page is clawing for your attention. Every element is loud and attention-grabbing.

Now compare it to another website that sells the same service. The website below also uses a free WordPress template, but it is uncluttered, it leads the eye, and it gets its message across far better.

Uncluttered essay website

It is not just visual elements and clutter where less-is-more works. Fewer plugins often mean faster loading speeds. Fewer in-page widgets or sidebar widgets often means a smoother and more visually appealing experience.

First-time WordPress users often choose website templates with carousel widgets, animated page transitions, and links that wiggle when the user hovers over them. And, even though they all look great, they are also very unnecessary. Look at how bare-bones the Amazon website is, and it is the most powerful eCommerce website in the world. When customising your WordPress template, and when picking your WordPress templates, remember that less is more. Uncluttered, simple and efficient is often better than over-designed and fancy looking.