If you’re just getting started with WordPress, it may seem natural to assume that as long as a free WordPress theme looks like what you had in mind for your website, then it’s a good fit. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. That’s why in today’s post, we’ve outlined a solid checklist of criteria you can use to ensure that the free WordPress themes you’re considering are a solid choice. We’ve also listed what we believe to be the best free WordPress themes available this year currently.
What Should You Be Looking for in a Free WordPress Theme in 2023?
With WordPress, you get a free, compelling, and impressively flexible platform for building websites, blogs, shops, and more online. But with that power and flexibility comes a certain amount of unavoidable complexity. The complexity has increased over time and, if ignored, could provide a lackluster user experience for WordPress theme users and put their sites at risk of security breaches, search engine penalties, and myriad other issues or inconveniences, big and big and small.
In a practical sense, this means that if you’re looking for a WordPress theme (even a free WordPress theme), you need to be sure that you’re getting a quality product that meets an ever-rising development standard as the WordPress platform itself matures.
What Makes the Best Free WordPress Theme?
1. Serious ongoing development
WordPress hasn’t become so complex that amateurs cannot create and maintain quality tools and resources like themes and plugins. But it’s not easy. Not everyone capable of producing a theme is also capable of maintaining and supporting it at a sufficiently high level for it to be considered a good option for users.
2. Good Reviews and Other Positive Social Proof
This is the best indication that a theme author has passed the first big filter of “serious ongoing development.” The longer they’ve offered their theme and the more indicators of positive social proof, the better. The most important are the number of five-star reviews, but also: the number of downloads, “last updated” date (it should be recent), number of open support requests, and user community strength, to name a few.
3. Tight Security
Don’t worry; you don’t have the be a cybersecurity expert to be reasonably assured of your WordPress theme’s adherence to security best practices. The easiest way to do this is to download your free WordPress theme from the official WordPress Repository. This way, you don’t have to worry about whether or not the theme you’re considering is reasonably secure. If it’s on the repository,, it has already passed a reliable quality-assurance process. Above and beyond these measures, some of the best WordPress themes will contract WordPress security experts to audit their themes independently.
4. Broad Browser Compatibility
If this isn’t clearly stated in the repository listing or on the theme author’s website, it’s always worth running some browser tests before committing to a theme. Especially if the theme does not provide easy-to-use responsive and mobile design options.
5. Essential WordPress Plugin Compatibility
The real power of WordPress is unlocked with Plugins, software designed and developed to extend what you can do with WordPress (like opening an online store with WooCommerce) or improve existing core features (like optimizing your pages for search with Yoast SEO). See our list of essential WordPress Plugins for some great examples. And then, make sure that any theme you consider will work with all of the plugins that will be essential to your website.
6. Compatibility with popular page builders – if a WordPress theme is in the official repository, then the good news is that it’s already compatible with the most widely used page builder in the world–WordPress’ native Gutenberg. However, there are more mature and advanced builders that many WordPress users still prefer to use instead of or in addition to Gutenberg. Starting with a theme that is compatible with all or some of the leading page builders like Divi, Elementor, Beaver Builder, etc., is a good idea.
7. Translation and Multilingual Ready
Since most of the world does not speak English, a fundamental requirement of WordPress themes in 2023 should be that folks can use it in their language. And, while they’re at it, they can also offer their content to others in multiple languages. Several WordPress translation plugins could help them with that!
Over the last few years, there seems to have been an increased awareness of the importance of accessibility on the web. As our lives increasingly move online, the question of, “Can I interact with this website?” or “Ok, but how do I create a website?” can also be stated, “Am I able to participate in society equally?” Developers whose themes have met a set of minimum accessibility requirements can label their themes “accessibility-ready” in the WordPress Repository
9. Good User-Experience Design
This one is a bit tricky. Ultimately, what matters most is finding the user experience good–not some reviewer. However, I’ve found that terrible user-experience design tends to show up in theme reviews and its general popularity. Beyond that, it’s crucial that when you use the theme that makes sense to you, you can locate key features quickly and achieve your design goals. This might require testing on a local install with dummy content if you want to be sure you like working with one theme over another.
10. Meaningful Support Options
With free themes, this usually means a community forum and documentation. Which is fine if the documentation is up-to-date and robust enough to be helpful.
11. High-Quality Responsive and Mobile Designs and Design Options
Responsiveness has been considered an absolute must for quality WordPress themes for years. And that’s still true today. However, we’ve moved beyond responsiveness as an impressive feature. Now, not only should a theme be responsive, but it should either be completely mobile optimized out of the box or provide design features that make optimization possible by the user.
12. A Pre-made Design or Design Features that Allow You to Meet Your Specific Needs
A good WordPress theme should consider deeply the design elements its intended users need to create a functional WordPress website. For example, suppose the theme is for an online shop. In that case, it should include deep integration with WooCommerce (or another eCommerce platform) and consistent styles for any elements the plugin or service will add to the website. Such as shop pages, product pages, cart pages, account pages, etc.
As you can see, this is a pretty high bar. The theme authors who tend to create free WordPress themes that meet these criteria are not inexperienced amateurs. They’re either very talented and hard-working amateurs or companies and individuals who use their free theme to add users to the top of their business funnel—moving them toward the use of a premium product or service that adds significant utility to their free theme offering. This is a good thing! It means that their efforts are sustainable, and you’re likely to get a better product, a more supportive user community, better official support, and all of the other benefits couched in the criteria above.
The 11 Best Free WordPress Themes for 2023
If thinking through all of the above criteria while browsing endless lists of free WordPress themes seems daunting, we don’t blame you! That’s why we decided to put this short list together consisting of themes we checked against the standards we’ve just outlined. Unfortunately, not every theme listed meets every single criterion. However, we’ve tried to highlight those instances so you can assess whether it’s worth missing one thing in favor of something else.
Astra has been a powerhouse in the WordPress theme arena (not just the free WordPress theme space) for years, and the numbers bear this out. According to the official WordPress Repository, Astra has an impressive 1 + million active installs! So what has made this free theme so popular?
First and foremost, it starts with a solid base of features and code quality. As with the other themes on this list, it ticks (almost) all of the criteria listed above. Unfortunately, the one thing they’re missing is the Accessibility-Ready classification.
Beyond the essential criteria that Astra meets, it’s a perfect option for folks interested in creating a WooCommerce shop. Their integration with WooCommerce is deep and highly recommended by eCommerce industry leaders. The Astra team also provides an extensive and growing library of website starter templates optimized for Gutenberg, Elementor, Beaver Builder, and Brizy. The screenshot above is actually of a starter site they offer built with Astra and Gutenberg!
OceanWP is one of the most popular free WordPress themes in the WordPress Repository, with over 700,000 active installs. And looking at it from the outside, it certainly looks like that popularity is well earned. It ticks all of the boxes for our criteria above. It also comes with 15 free website demos and eight free extensions that you can use to kickstart your website. If you upgrade to their premium offering, you get an additional 88 demo sites and 12 extensions.
The impression you get with OceanWP (and indeed many of these themes) is that you can get started for free without worrying about changing your core WordPress toolkit down the road; you can simply upgrade to the premium level to meet any new needs that may arise.
3. Hello Elementor
Lovers of the theme and page builder Elementor will fall in love with the Hello Elementor theme. A proper blank canvas for the famous page builder, the Hello Elementor theme is free to use and download from the WordPress repository. Of all the free WordPress themes that work with Elementor, the Hello Elementor theme is the one that has the tightest integration with the plugin… I mean, it’s in the name!
You can take your Hello Elementor free theme up several levels by upgrading to Elementor Pro. With its library of website kits, powerfully advanced modules, and robust support, you can make any website with Hello Elementor and Elementor Pro by your side.
4. Kadence WP
Kadence WP is a relative newcomer to the WordPress Repository (November 2020). It has roared onto the scene, acquiring over 150 five-star reviews and 200,000+ active installations. This theme, even on a list like this one full of perfect free themes, seems to pack the most power and value into a free package.
In addition to ticking all of our criteria boxes, Kadence WP offers features that usually live on the other side of a premium upgrade. Things like a header and footer builder, global font and color controls, and deep integrations with a wide variety of powerful plugins for eCommerce, e-courses, and much more.
GeneratePress is a free WordPress theme surging in popularity. They’re hyper-focused on speed, performance, and builder compatibility.
They have also gone all-in on the WordPress block editor but support other major builders, like Elementor and Beaver Builder. Their Site Library shows what’s possible with all three options. To gain access, though, you need to upgrade to GeneratePress Premium. The screenshot above shows a pre-designed demo built with the WordPress block editor from their Site Library. Pretty impressive! Users of GeneratePress can build designs just as unique and appealing. And if they can’t, professionally designed options are always available via an upgrade.
The only major criteria above we couldn’t verify is if GeneratePress is Accessibility-Ready. At this time, the WordPress Repository would seem to indicate that it is not.
Neve by Themeisle is a feature-rich, multi-purpose, free WordPress theme. It’s a suitable theme for any WordPress use case, from eCommerce to blogging to small businesses and more. In addition to being Gutenberg-ready with unique block styles, it also works with Elementor, Brizy, Beaver Builder, Visual Composer, SiteOrigin, and Divi. It should also be compatible with any well-coded WordPress plugin.
Where Neve seeks to carve out its own unique value amongst the competition seems to be in search engine optimization and page loading speed. It’s responsive and fully AMP optimized so that every page looks good and loads quickly on any device.
7. Twenty Twenty-Three
Every year WordPress.org releases a new free theme intended to showcase the improvements and capabilities of the platform up to that date. It’s a wonderful tradition that provides a valuable resource to the whole community while signaling where the platform is headed. The Twenty Twenty-Three theme is no different.
In addition to checking every box on the criteria list above, this theme is all in on Gutenberg, WordPress’ native page builder/block editor. It’s a blank canvas approach meant to give you maximum control over as many design elements on your site as possible. Since that can be difficult to visualize before you’ve created a lot of stuff with it, Twenty Twenty-Three directs users to Block Patterns, allowing you to use pre-designed block editor elements with a simple click and allowing users to create beautiful page layouts in seconds.
Storefront by Automattic is another example of a free WordPress theme that aims to provide a valuable resource while signaling what’s possible with WordPress. In this case, what’s possible with WordPress and WooCommerce–the leading eCommerce plugin for WordPress, also by Automattic.
Storefront, like Twenty Twenty-One, adopts a blank canvas approach. You are functioning a lot like an empty container for your products so that you can add only the design elements your site requires instead of removing default styles first. When you are ready to design your website, you’re able to use the WordPress customizer, a builder plugin of your choosing, or a child theme. These options span from free to premium.
You also get to take advantage of deep integration with WooCommerce itself and its thriving ecosystem of products. Meaning form meets function in this free theme in a compelling way for anyone whose shop is of utmost importance.
Zakra by ThemeGrill is another example of a multi-purpose theme emphasizing builder compatibility and pre-made starter sites. Aside from not being Accessibility-Ready, it ticks all of the other criteria boxes outlined above. Making it an excellent option for a free WordPress theme.
It’s worth noting that among the builders Zakra is compatible with, including Gutenberg, there seems to be an emphasis on Elementor, especially regarding the amount and quality of starter sites available. This is excellent news for folks interested in Elementor, but if that’s not you for whatever reason, you might want to ensure you’ll get all the helpful resources you need to get your site up and running.
Blocksy by creativethemeshq is a Gutenberg first theme that works well with other popular builders. Its news starter site above is an excellent example of how they’re pushing the boundaries of what can be done with Gutenberg regarding complex dynamic layouts.
Under the hood, the Blocksy team emphasizes “the latest web technologies.” With a focus on speed, minimal theme “weight,” and modern browser compatibility. The one critical criteria that seem to be missing from this theme is the Accessibility-Ready tag.
Responsive by CyberChimps seemingly does it all. Not only does it check all of our criteria boxes, but they also support Schema.org microdata, bbPress, BuddyPress, LearnDash, Sensei, and ALL major builders. All of their (15) free starter sites can be used with Gutenberg or Elementor, depending on your preference.
Due to their deep Gutenberg integration and integrations with other powerful plugins, Responsive may be one of the most multi-purpose free WordPress themes on this list.
What are the Best Free WordPress Themes?
No WordPress theme list will ever be complete without talking about Astra. One of the most downloaded themes on the WordPress theme repository, boasting over one million happy, active users can’t be wrong! OceanWP gives many premium features that other themes charge for in its free version. Upgrading your plan means the sky is the limit for you and your website! Lastly, Hello Elementor is a free theme for users who want a strong visual builder to support them as they build their site.
As you may have noticed from the list above, multi-purpose themes with deep builder support and integrations with other essential WordPress plugins have dominated the WordPress theme market even when they cost nothing up front! Another huge trend is adding value with free starter/demo sites where users can jump-start their website-building process. That said, it’s easy to get distracted by a flashy demo. Be sure to test the themes you are interested in and choose the one you feel most empowers you to do what you need to do.
Featured Image via HarisArtz / shutterstock.com
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