The WordPress CMS may be free to download, but its users know that you can’t serve a quality website to visitors without paying at least a little. On top of web hosting, there are security and performance enhancements, plus premium WordPress themes and plugins that can help bring your site to life.
If you’re looking to save on costs, you might have come across nulled themes and plugins — free or low-cost versions of premium WordPress tools. Finding them is as easy as searching on Google and downloading one from a third-party website. You’ll soon have a free theme/plugin to upload to your site.
If this seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. They may save you a quick buck in the short term, but nulled WordPress themes and plugins aren’t worth the extra liability you take on by using them.
In this post, we’ll explain everything marketers and website admins should know about nulled WordPress products: what they are, whether or not they’re legal, and why you should steer clear regardless.
What are nulled WordPress themes and plugins?
Nulled WordPress themes and plugins are copies of premium WordPress products that have been modified and made available for free or at a reduced cost. These nulled products are distributed by websites unrelated to the original developers. While cheaper than the official premium versions, nulled themes and plugins pose significant risks to security, SEO, and overall website health.
You might be wondering: This is illegal, right? It seems like nulled products are essentially stolen products.
In other instances of pirated software, yes, this activity would probably be illegal. However, there’s a caveat with WordPress themes and plugins. Premium WordPress products are often licensed under the GPL (General Public License). In very simple terms, this license allows for free and unrestricted distribution of the software it covers. Themes and plugins publish under GPL because the WordPress CMS itself uses this license, and because it’s a requirement for being featured in the WordPress marketplace.
Unfortunately, a drawback of GPL is that it allows anyone to alter and distribute the software it covers. Any developer has permission to obtain a premium version of a product, modify its code however they please, and release it to the public as their own. As long as all copyrighted material is removed, nulled WordPress products are, generally speaking, legal.
Still, just because something is legal doesn’t make it good, and just because something is free doesn’t mean you should use it. Nulled themes and plugins are known to hurt WordPress sites more than they help them — next, we’ll discuss why you should avoid these products in favor of their official versions.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Nulled Themes and Plugins
It can cost a lot to build and manage a website, so you might be tempted to seek out cheap solutions wherever possible. The problem with nulled WordPress products is that what you save in money, you eventually lose in quality (and, potentially, money). Here are six ways that nulled themes and plugins harm your website:
1. Nulled themes and plugins are a security risk.
If you remember one thing from this article, it should be this: Nulled WordPress themes and plugins can greatly compromise the security of your website.
As mentioned, developers are allowed to do whatever they want with a nulled product, and this often means inserting malicious code — spammy links, redirects to dubious websites, a backdoor that grants unauthorized access to your data, or malware that could steal confidential information or even crash your entire site. The possibilities are virtually endless, and not in a good way.
Plus, good luck finding these issues yourself if you opt for a nulled product. While malware scans can detect some harmful code, there’s always a chance you’ll miss something crucial among the files. Hackers know how to disguise malware in such a way that it likely won’t be detected, and you may not realize the damage until it’s too late.
For this reason alone, nulled WordPress software is not worth the risk. You’re much better off purchasing the legitimate version to protect yourself, your visitors, and your reputation.
2. You won’t receive updates.
Any WordPress user knows that updates are a part of life. Plugin and theme developers frequently release updates to patch software bugs, address security vulnerabilities, and introduce new features. If you acquire a nulled version of a plugin or theme, you simply won’t get these updates.
Outdated WordPress software is not ideal, for a few reasons. First, you’re missing out on features that can improve your site’s user experience and performance. Once you download a nulled product, you’re stuck with the current features.
Second, outdated themes and plugins are a very common WordPress security hazard. As developers find and fix vulnerabilities, they record these issues in public changelogs. A bad actor can reference these logs and target websites using outdated software, potentially yours.
Lastly, developers update their products as WordPress core itself updates, and outdated themes and plugins may not be compatible with the current version of WordPress. This incompatibility can break your website and leave a negative impression on visitors.
Without updates, your site will underperform. You could continually reinstall the nulled software every time an update comes out. But at that point, is it really worth it?
3. You won’t receive support.
Nulled themes and plugins may be able to replicate the functionality of the original software, but they’ll never offer the same level of support as an official license. There’s no incentive for nulled developers to help you, since you’re getting the software at little to no cost. On the other hand, official developers devote significant time and resources to offering product support, or at least thorough documentation.
This means that any issues you encounter in a nulled product, from technical questions to glitches, are yours to handle. You might find some helpful resources online, but a dedicated support team can have your problems fixed in much less time.
4. Nulled themes and plugins hurt your SEO.
You could spend months building your authority in search engines, only to have it tanked by a single nulled plugin or theme. This is because these plugins and themes often contain spam links and covert outbound links to malicious websites.
Even if you don’t notice these links sprinkled throughout your site, Google’s site crawlers will record these and factor them into your site’s ranking — it might even remove your site from the index completely if you link to known harmful websites.
5. Nulled themes and plugins hurt the user experience.
As if malware and spam weren’t enough, nulled products may also place undesired advertising in the form of display ads and pop-ups. You have no say in what ads show up, so they could be for anything the developers want.
Unless you search for and try to remove these ads, you probably won’t notice them until your visitors do. It’s not a good look, not to mention how advertisements can impact page load time.
6. Nulled themes and plugins hurt WordPress developers.
Nulled themes and plugins not only hurt your WordPress site — they also hurt the WordPress developer community. A nulled copy of a paid WordPress product means money taken from those who create and maintain the plugin. Theme and plugin creators often lack the time and resources to make up for lost income, so nulled themes can run these developers out of business.
While this may not be a compelling reason for some — software is pirated all the time, so what’s the big deal? — know that WordPress is maintained on open-source principles, and developers rely on WordPress users to invest in quality products. For the WordPress ecosystem to grow and improve, developers must be compensated for their work.
Where to Find Free Themes and Plugins
At this point, we’ve hopefully convinced you that nulled WordPress themes and plugins aren’t worth it. However, this doesn’t solve what’s likely your main issue: Where can I find legitimate WordPress software to improve my website if I’m on a budget?
WordPress is all about making websites possible for anyone, so there are tons of free options available if you know where to look. You can find free themes and plugins using any of these resources:
- The developer website: Many WordPress developers offer a free version or a trial version of their software. If you wind up enjoying the product, you can easily upgrade to a paid version and get extended access, more features, and support.
- WordPress: WordPress has both an official theme repository and plugin repository with thousands of free offerings available. Themes are vetted by WordPress for security and functionality, so this is the best place to look for free options. You can also check out reviews and popularity for each item listed.
- Theme and plugin lists: Gather recommendations from blog posts that you trust. We have plenty of lists on the HubSpot blog — start with our must-have WordPress plugins and drag-and-drop WordPress themes lists. These both feature plenty of free options to elevate your website.
Want a quality site? Don’t use the nulled software.
Yes, we might sound a bit heavy-handed with this advice, and we also know it’s tempting to download a nulled product instead of paying full price. The thing is, this route actually isn’t better in the long run — you’ll miss updates, new features, and support, all while putting your security and user experience at risk.
With the right free resources and a bit of elbow grease, you can build an exceptional website for low cost, then upgrade to premium features when you have more cash on hand.
Originally published Apr 20, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated April 20 2021