visualisation of wordpress themes as donuts

How to Install a Theme in WordPress

What are WordPress Themes?

WordPress themes determine the overall design and feel of your website. Each theme will come with its own:

  • colour palette;
  • style of fonts used in the headings, main text and hyperlinks;
  • page layouts;
  • the appearance of blog archives;
  • the position of the main navigation menu in the header or side panel;
  • the arrangement of links in the footer;
  • widget locations;
  • spacing between elements;
  • and many other stylistic features.

Changing your theme could drastically change how your data and content is displayed in a browser. However, your actual content should remain the same. For instance, the different donuts in our featured image at the top of this page all have different toppings and flavouring, but they are still made with the same delicious fried dough.

Most theme developers will also make use of the WordPress Customizer so you can adjust some of the page elements, such as swapping background colours used in your header or the modifying the typography of your body text. Add a few extra sprinkles. Use chocolate icing instead of strawberry.

Make sure you pick a theme which will appeal to your target audience’s taste. There are plenty of themes to choose from, so spend some time searching for a design which fits your message.

Hungry for more information about themes and how to install them to your own WordPress site? Read on.

Where can you get a new Theme?

A fresh installation will come with the latest default WordPress themes, but you might be able to find a free alternative to suit your niche from the WordPress theme directory; it is one of the best places to download a theme because they have to meet rigorous quality guidelines to ensure they are included in the repository.

You can purchase premium themes from various online marketplaces. There are also plenty of Freemium options available where you only pay if you want the pro version with the extra features and support. Astra and Kadence are very popular examples from this business model and are worth exploring further.

Installing a Theme

Assuming you have WordPress installed locally on your computer or hosted on a live web server, login to your site to open the dashboard area. Clicking “Appearance” on the admin sidebar will direct you to the “Themes” admin screen. Yours might look a little different to the following screenshot if you have other themes installed and when you downloaded the software:

Screenshot of the Themes Admin Screen
Screenshot of the Themes Admin Screen

The active theme is highlighted. The “Customize” button will open the Customizer work area we mentioned earlier where you can modify some aspects of your theme’s style.

Move your cursor over the other themes and you will see two options. You can click the “Activate” button to change to that theme or the “Live Preview” to view the new design without affecting the live site. Go ahead and check out the differences each theme brings to your content to get a better sense of how themes function in WordPress.

Add New Theme

You should see the “Add New” button at the top of the admin area. This link opens the WordPress Theme directory where you can find lots of themes built by experts from around the world. These themes are reviewed and approved by a group of WordPress volunteers who make sure they meet stringent security and coding standards before they are added to the list.

You can sort the themes by popularity and recently added. If there are specific functions you need or you want a niche theme which targets a particular industry and audience, you should try the “Feature Filter” for a more advanced search. Type in a few of your keywords into the search bar and see what’s available. Searching for themes related to photography returned the following results:

screenshot of the results from a theme search
Search for a Theme

Try other search terms and keep scrolling until you find an appealing design which suits your content. There are thousands of themes to choose from so spend a little time previewing ones which grab your attention. Keep clicking for details and previews.

Install and Activate a Theme

Once you have found a modern and responsive theme, click install button and you will see WordPress working its magic. Then click activate theme button and WordPress will set theme to live and the world will be able to see your awesome new design.

Customise a Theme

Of course, you might want to make some minor adjustments to theme. Back in the themes admin area, click the customise WordPress theme button button to go to the WordPress Customizer screen.

The range of sections will depend on which theme you have selected. This list is from one of the default WordPress themes.

We covered the “Site Identity” options in our tutorial on changing your site title, tagline and icon in WordPress. Most of the other sections should be self-explanatory.

Click the “Colors” section to open the values. You will probably be able to modify the background colour of your pages and the primary colour used throughout your website. Again, try some different colours and test the primary colour option to see where changes are made. Become more familiar with the panel.

The menu panel should list the names of your menus and where they are located. If you are interested in personalising your links into something more meaningful, we have a quick guide to changing your navigation menu.

Once you are satisfied with your new appearance modifications, press publish theme button to verify the changes.

screenshot of theme customizer panel
The WordPress Customizer Panel

Essential and Recommended Plugins

Themes are only supposed to control the visual aspects of your website, but some developers use plugins to extend and enhance their theme’s capabilities, filling their donut with jam. You will have to install these required plugins to enable the full experience.

screenshot of plugins recommended by a theme developer

Click the “Begin installing plugin” link to start the process. On the next page, tick the box of the plugin you need and click “install”. You can use the bulk action when there is more than one required or recommended plugin. We have a quick guide to installing plugins in WordPress if you want to explore this topic further.

Final Thoughts

If you have uploaded lots of themes to see what impact they might have on your content, you should clear your list by deleting the themes you no longer want to keep on your server. In the theme admin screen, click on a theme to open the details and you should see a link to the delete theme at the bottom of the window.

Fed-up with our donut analogy, but your belly is aching for something else, have a bite of our quick guide to WordPress categories and plugins. To find out where themes fit in the platform’s ecosystem, you should read our introduction to WordPress.

Further Reading

Thanks for reading!