Last Updated on by Michael Brockbank
Themes control how your WordPress website appears in a variety of ways. From colors to the overall layout, you can install themes to give your site a unique appearance. Today, I’ll show you three methods to add these themes to your website.
How to Install Themes in WordPress
Installing themes and plugins is perhaps one of the easiest things to do in WordPress. The hardest part is deciding which one is going to serve you best. And with so many options out there, it could take you quite a bit of time to find something that fits.
Luckily, you can switch back and forth easily. This means you don’t have to permanently commit to a specific layout of your website.
Let’s dive into ways to install themes in WordPress.
Method 1: Using WordPress and the Built-In Repository
Perhaps the easiest way to install themes is to use the WordPress Repository. This is built directly into WordPress and acts as a database of supported and tested themes and plugins.
These themes are safe to use and are checked by Automattic…the developers of the WordPress system.
In other words, it’s safe to use these without worrying about malicious coding or poor development. And I have yet to come across one that is defunct in some way.
Go to Appearance and click, “Themes.” You can also just click Appearance as it will take you to the same screen.
Click the “Add New” button at the top of the screen.
This is the WordPress Repository to install themes. By default, the system will show you Featured layouts first. But, you can select Popular, Latest, and any Favorites you select.
You can also search for specific themes based on various filters, such as photography styles, portfolios, how many columns the site has, and much more.
For this tutorial, let’s say I want a theme that looks good with a fitness blog.
Searching for Your Theme
Enter your term in the “Search themes” field. In this case, I am looking for “fitness” related themes.
The nice thing about searching in WordPress is that you don’t have to hit enter. The system will start searching as soon as you’re done typing.
Scroll through all of the themes available and see if there is one you like.
When you find a layout that fits what you want, hover your mouse over it and click the “Install” button. You can install themes, but they won’t be live on your site just yet.
NOTE: You’ll also have the option to Preview and get more details about the theme and its developer. Keep in mind that the Preview is a bit misleading, though. Some themes will have widgets and sidebars you’re not using yet. So, it won’t give you an accurate portrayal of what your site will look like.
Once the theme is installed, click the “Activate” button.
Your website is now using that particular theme.
NOTE: You might install themes that have extra widgets and functions that you can use. And sometimes, they’ll have a welcome page designed to help you get started. In this case, you can see that “Fitness Park” has one such instance.
It’s up to you if you want to take advantage of these pages or not. Though, some have quite a bit of information regarding how to effectively use that particular theme.
You can have as many themes as you want in WordPress. Though, I do recommend managing and deleting the ones you’re not using. If they lose support and are no longer updated, they can cause a security risk down the road.
Method 2: Uploading the Theme to WordPress
So, what if you have a theme you downloaded from a third-party and want to add it to WordPress? Well, that’s actually pretty easy as well.
As long as you have ZIP files to use when you install themes, WordPress will unpack and add it for you.
Go to Appearance. Click the “Add New” button above like you did in the previous method.
This time, instead of searching, click the “Upload Theme” button.
Click the “Choose File” button and search for your theme’s ZIP file.
NOTE: You need a ZIP file of the theme for WordPress to unpack and install it correctly.
Once the filename appears, click the “Install Now” button.
WordPress will then show you the progress of the installation. When it’s done, you should see a “Theme installed successfully” message.
From here, you can either use the Live Preview, Activate, or Return to Themes page links. For the sake of this tutorial, I’m just going to click the “Activate” link to make the theme live.
Method 3: Install the Theme Using FTP or cPanel File Manager
And lastly, you can install a WordPress theme manually by using FTP or cPanel’s File Manager. Essentially, you’re uploading the files directly to your website’s directory.
Once the theme’s files are detected by WordPress, it will automatically add the new layout and it will be available the next time you go into your admin dashboard.
For this tutorial, I’m using cPanel and File Manager. I’m also using a ZIP file of a theme as it is much easier to upload to File Manager than individual site files.
However, the steps are similar to FTP once you connect to your website’s server.
From cPanel, click the “File Manager” link. It’s often one of the first things available in cPanel depending on your web host.
Here’s where the similarities between cPanel and FTP programs start.
Open the “public_html” directory.
Access the “wp-content” directory. This is where your themes and plugins are held.
Go into the “themes” directory.
Upload your site files to the directory. Now, your theme should be in its own folder, as you can see in the image.
If you’re using an FTP program like FileZilla, you can upload all of the folders and files to this directory.
Optional Using ZIP File
As I uploaded a ZIP file in File Manager, I need to extract it into this directory. I already know the theme is in its own folder within the ZIP file, so I don’t have to worry about moving files around to make them all fit.
Once the files are extracted, WordPress will recognize it as a new theme.
And now I have a new theme ready to go.
NOTE: Don’t forget; for this option to work, the themes files all need to be within a single folder. Otherwise, you might fill up the “themes” directory in WordPress and the theme will not be available.
What Happens to Your Site When Changing Themes?
Depending on how big your site has become over time, it might be a bit of a process to install themes. If your site is relatively new, then you really don’t have much to worry about.
However, changing the layout can result in a few issues:
- Coding modifications are gone, but not lost.
For instance, if you use the WordPress Customizer, additional CSS you enter will be saved with that particular theme. But if you change, the custom CSS code will be gone from the new layout.
- Some sidebars and other theme-specific tools will be lost.
Themes are not created equal. One might have several widget areas and sidebars, while another might have just a footer. This means you might have to jockey your widgets around a bit if you use them.
- Custom colors, text, logos, and more will need to be replaced.
Any custom colors, text, logos, background images, and more will only be available for your current theme. The new layout will not have any of those things available until you put them back in.
It may be a pain to have to replace all of these things after a change. But, it’s a small price to pay if you find a theme that is better for your website.
What Are Some Best Practices When You Install Themes?
There’s nothing wrong with switching a site’s layout often to find the best one for your needs. However, I’d like to give you a few tips before you install themes in WordPress.
These are completely optional. But, they might save you a bit of a headache down the road.
Always Create a Backup
Never underestimate the value of a backup copy of your website. In the event that something goes wrong, you can quickly restore the site back to working order.
I’ve seen third-party themes completely wreck a website to the point of not allowing the owner to access the admin dashboard. Before major changes, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
Use an Offline Testing Site
Using an offline testing site is great for working out the bugs and seeing if you really want to install a theme on a live website.
I use a local install of WordPress. It’s a bit slower than an actual site on a web hosting server, obviously. But, it works exceptionally well when I need to test themes, plugins, and coding adjustments.
Remember, Themes Are Customizable
One of the beautiful things about WordPress is how customizable it is. This includes the themes. If you come across a layout that isn’t quite right, you can always make modifications to make it fit your needs.
In other words, you can make the exact same theme everyone else uses to look completely unique.
Don’t Forget the Customizer!
In the Appearance section of WordPress, you can access the site’s Customize tool. This gives you quite a bit of control over what the layout looks like while giving you a real-time view.
That way, you can see what your alterations look like before going live. It’s a great place to start after you install a theme to make it appear as you want.
Add Your Own CSS
In the Customize tool, you’ll see a section for “Additional CSS.” Here, you can make all kinds of adjustments for the different areas of your website. That is as long as you know how to handle CSS.
Typography changes, colors, heading styles, and even widget control can be altered using CSS.
If you want to learn more about CSS, you can always visit W3Schools. It’s a great place to learn all kinds of website programming for free.
Always Update Your Themes
When developers fine-tune coding or add new features, they’ll push an update. This is one of the reasons why I like using the WordPress repository. If there is a new version, WordPress will let you know.
It’s always a good idea to make sure you keep your themes and plugins updated. This way, you’re using the most current version, which is often safer while potentially offering new tools.
Which Method Do You Prefer to Install WordPress Themes?
I remember building each page of a website one-by-one. Instead of copying and pasting lines of HTML for each page, you can now flip a switch or tap a button. I can say that it’s much easier to install themes in WordPress than developing a site 20 years ago.
But, out of the different ways above, using the WordPress repository is my preferred method. With thousands of quality themes to choose from, it’s quite easy to find something that closely fits the niche of the site.
Then, all I have to do is customize it how I want.
For more information about WordPress, visit the WriterSanctuary YouTube Channel.
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