There are literally thousands of free WordPress themes available to download out there. A Google search will provide you with more than you can sort through. There are a lot of website owners and bloggers who are in it just for fun, or just starting out. Investing a lot of money is not high on the priority list. With the average cost of a premium wordpress theme around $50, free wordpress themes offer a very inexpensive solution.
Free WordPress themes also offer flexibility. You can swap them in and out at will. If you don’t like the way it looks, simply delete it and find another one. This can be great for someone who is just starting to design a blog or website. The question is, are they safe to use? Yes, as long as you download from a reputable source and know what to look out for.
Why People Are Afraid of Free WordPress Themes
Malicious code is probably the main reason people advise not to use them. There are other reasons, but I’m going to focus on this one. Sometimes programmers will put malicious code hidden inside the theme which can hijack your site. Or, they may put links in the footer for spam and malware injection. Obviously you don’t want your newly created site to get hijacked and those links can hurt your SEO. Google penalizes sites with spam links and such. These are easy vulnerabilities to expose. If you find them, simply don’t use the theme.
How To Choose a Free WordPress Theme
First, there are a lot of good quality free WordPress themes out there. They feature responsive designs, custom sliders and a variety of settings to help you customize. The best and probably safest place to download from is the WordPress Theme Repository
You will definitely be able to find a good starting theme here. It’s probably the largest resource available. It even has a search function that allows you to search by color, layout and features. Next to each theme you’ll be able to see how many times it has been downloaded. Pay close attention to the reviews and ratings on a particular theme, as well as the date it was last updated. The community will definitely let you know if it’s not up to par. The themes in the Most Popular section will probably have the largest community support.
The other great feature of this repository is that they have a Theme Review team that tests all free WordPress themes thoroughly. So the chance of finding a theme with malicious code is pretty slim.
How to check Free WordPress Themes with TAC
Once you find a theme that you like and download it, don’t activate it just yet. There is a plugin that will help you scan it to see if there is any malicious code hidden inside.
Download the Theme Authenticity Checker plugin. You can simply search for TAC in the plugins section of your WordPress admin console.
Once you have it installed and activated, you will see an entry in your sidebar menu. There are no settings to fool with. It works right out of the box. Simply click on the “TAC” menu and the plugin will scan all themes that you have installed.
A report will appear of all your installed themes and whether or not they have encrypted code and links.
An entry like this is obviously means nothing was found and it is free of malicious code.
If malicious code is found, the report will look like this.
Not a good sign. If you click on the “Details” button TAC will show you the encrypted code and which file it was located in.
Sometimes you’ll see an entry that looks like this. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. The theme checks out OK for malicious code, but a link was found.
Clicking on the “Details” button reveals that it’s just a static link, actually two links. One back to the homepage of the author and one to WordPress.org. Which is totally legit. Sometimes authors will release a quality free theme in order to help get exposure and/or advertise their premium themes.
If you’ve been hesitant about using free WordPress themes, hopefully this plugin will help ease your mind about hidden malicious code and spammy links. There are other trustworthy download sources out there besides the WordPress Repository and you can check them with TAC as well. Above all else, take the time to do a little research and don’t just install any free theme that you find.