How to Change Your Theme in WordPress

Last Updated on January 9, 2019 by Michael Brockbank

One of the beautiful things about WordPress is the ability to change the appearance and layout of your site instantly. With a few clicks of the mouse, you can change your theme from one to another without using code. Because there are so many to choose from, the hardest part is finding an appearance the you like the most.

Change Your Theme to Fit the Niche

Before you can start adding tools to WordPress, you should choose a theme that fits your content. Luckily, themes can be easily changed at any time. However, it may still save you a bit of time down the road if you look for a layout that appeals to you now.

As many as 66% of visitors state they would prefer a website that is visually appealing. This is why it’s important to find a theme that perfectly fits your niche. It’s all about appearance, and you only have one shot at a good first impression.

Luckily, many themes can easily be customized to fit a need or an industry. I’ll go over a bit of that in a moment. For now, let’s get started and change your theme in WordPress.

Accessing Your Themes

To access your themes, click the Appearance tool from the left column. The Themes window will load by default.

This screen will show you all of the themes you currently have installed on your site. The current appearance of your site will be the first in the list with an “Active” footer. If you want to switch from one to another, hover your mouse over another theme and click, “Activate.”
Activate Theme

What if you want to change your theme to something more appropriate for your content? You have a few different ways to do this. However, I am going to show you the two easiest methods for installing a new layout.

Install from

Perhaps the most common method of installing a theme is using the search feature in WordPress. This will scan the database of to find layouts you’re looking for.

From the Themes screen, click the “Add New” button on the top.
Add New Theme

By default, WordPress will show you featured themes available for download. You can also choose from Popular, Latest and your personal Favorites. If you have a pretty good idea about what you’re looking for, you can also use the “Featured Filter” to break down exactly what you’re looking for.

Type your keywords in the Search field. For this tutorial, I simply want to find something that may look nice for a blog about golfing. I want it to have more of a magazine feel to the layout, so I’ll search for “magazine.”
Search Field

Once you find a layout you like, hover your mouse over the theme and click, “Install.” This button will change to “Activate,” and you will click this if you want to immediately begin using your theme.
Install Theme

Install from an Upload

What if you download a theme from a third-party website? This is actually quite a common process as many people will purchase layouts from developers. In reality, you can find a lot of well-designed templates to use on the Internet.

At any rate, you can upload the files directly to WordPress. You can do this with FTP programs like FileZilla, but today I’m going to show you how to upload a WordPress theme ZIP file. If you don’t have the ZIP, you cannot use WordPress to upload the theme.

Go back to adding a new theme. Instead of searching for a layout, click the “Upload Theme” button at the top.
Upload Theme

A new section will immediately appear. Click the “Choose File” button and search for your theme ZIP file. This is the file you downloaded from the third-party developer and usually saved to your computer.
Choose Zip File

After you found your ZIP file, click the “Install Now” button and WordPress will do the rest. You will have to activate the theme after you install it before it will be live on your website.
Install Now[template id=”2087″]

Customizing the Theme

Themes rarely look like they do in the example images. You need to work on the layout’s settings and add widgets before it can really shine. A lot of this is done through the WordPress Customizer.

The Customizer is a tool that lets you modify certain settings within the theme. Unfortunately, not all developers include the same amount of support for this tool. However, it’s still worth the time to use the Customizer if possible.

Go to the Appearance area and click, “Customize.” This will launch your current theme in the Customizer. You can also click on the customize button of your active appearance if you’re in the Theme’s area.

Available Options

In the left column, you’ll see a variety of options you can modify for the website. The right column will show what your site will look like after you publish your changes. You will probably see a different set of tools depending on what you change your theme to.
Live Preview

You may want to spend a bit of time exploring what is available. Some themes offer an incredible number of functions for customizing the site. This is especially true if you purchase themes or using any from ThemeGrill.

Testing on Various Devices

If you’re curious as to how your website will appear on mobile devices, you can select one of three icons on the bottom left. These give you a simulated appearance for common tablet and smartphone dimensions. This is a good way to make sure your site looks excellent on all platforms.
Size Simulator

This function is available on any theme you install. It’s part of the WordPress Customizer and quite useful when you want to optimize for mobile devices.

Saving Your Changes

When you’re ready to save and commit your changes, click the “Save & Publish” button on the top. This will immediately change your website’s appearance.
Save And Publish

If you did not make any changes or if you simply want to close the Customizer, click the “X” icon in the top left corner. This will take you back to the WordPress dashboard.
Close Customizer

Theme-Specific Widgets

The last thing I need to show you is theme-specific widgets. These are components of WordPress that are available depending on the theme you install. For instance, ColorMag will have a variety of advertisement and content widgets you can drag and drop into your site.

To access these elements, click the “Widgets” tool under the Appearance area.

In this section, you can drag the widgets on the left and drop them into content areas on the right. Let me try to break these two sections down a bit for you.

Available Widgets

In this column, you’ll find features you can add to your website’s appearance. WordPress comes with a lot of these already installed, such as Archives, Calendar and Categories. However, plugins and themes often come with widgets you can add to make your site more attractive.

For example, the theme I chose to install comes with Post Grid 1, 2 and 3. These are different layouts for posts that I can customize once I drag them over to the layout sections and sidebars.

Layout Section and Sidebars

On the right, you’ll have access to layout and sidebar elements available in your theme. Remember, not all themes are the same. You may have a simple Sidebar area or you can have a wide range of locations to place content. It all depends on the theme you install.

These sections are where you drag-and-drop widgets into for specific placement. If I want to add a list of Categories into my sidebar, I would grab the “Categories” widget and drop it into “Sidebar.”
Add Widget To Sidebar

You will probably need to spend a bit of time exploring what each new widget and content area does for your site. While a large portion of widgets will be the same, you’ll often find new ones when you change your theme.

Make it Unique

Some themes are so elaborate that it’s easy to create a unique appearance. From color schemes to widget placement, it all plays a part in engaging the audience. Explore what your theme can do for you and give your visitors something to praise. After all, you want your first impression to be a good one, right?[template id=”2089″]

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Michael Brockbank

Michael has been a freelance writer since January of 2012. He has completed more than 8,000 jobs for a variety of clients ranging from animals to travel. Currently, he is the Content Marketing Team Lead of GreenGeeks Web Hosting.

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