Zip does not like the appearance of the default WordPress theme — he wants to customize the appearance of his website. He’s ready to learn how to install a theme in WordPress. We’ll get to configuring his theme later. And I’ve promised him to keep his costs low at first, so we’ll be using free themes and plugins, for now.
But should you use a free theme or a premium theme? If you’re starting and have a minimal budget, you’ll find plenty of good free themes in the WordPress theme directory. However, if you purchase a premium theme, you’ll get extras and premium support.
The question is, “do I need these premium features?” You may find a free theme that offers the features you need, and you may be able to add a plugin for a feature that the theme doesn’t provide. But choosing a popular premium theme means that, likely, your theme won’t go away and will get frequent updates and security patches. As usual, you get what you pay for.
Be aware that changing your theme later can be a pain in the butt, particularly if you’ve extensively customized a theme, or used a pagebuilder that uses shortcodes to design your pages.
Do make sure that your theme is mobile-friendly and responsive. Make sure you look at changes your make on your website on all devices. Some themes may include preview modes for desktop, tablet, and mobile. While it’s a feature that can be very helpful, I’d recommend you look at your website on the actual device, if possible after you’ve make changes.
How to Install a WordPress Theme from the WordPress Theme Directory
Zip decides that he wants to use a free theme, for now, so he’s going to install one from the WordPress theme directory. He finds so many there that he has decision paralysis. Don’t give up, and decide to take a nap! Decide what you want in your theme first, so you’ll be able to find it.
Zip decides that he wants:
- The ability to use custom fonts.
- A sidebar on the right.
- The ability to have a custom logo.
- The ability to have a custom header.
- Featured image support.
- Post type support (i.e. quote posts, video posts, etc).
- Masonry blocks
- The ability to customize the entire website easily.
- Custom grids.
- Customized colors.
- Post ratings.
- Related posts.
- Popular posts.
Eeek! If he wants too much, he might find nothing in free themes! Free themes might not have built-in ratings or related or popular post support. He can add these things later. He might want to narrow down his choices a bit.
Time needed: 30 minutes.
How to Add a Free WordPress Theme
- Add New Theme
Go to Appearance > Themes in WordPress admin and then click the Add New Theme box.
- Search for a Theme
From the theme panel, you can browse themes, filtering them by featured, popular, latest, or favorites, or you can search for a theme.
- Use the Feature Filter to Find the Theme You Want
Click the gear icon that says “Feature Filter” and click some boxes to narrow down themes by their features.
Here, Zip has chosen to look for a theme with post formats, a custom logo, a custom-header, custom colors, a right sidebar, and a grid layout.
Click Apply Filters at the bottom of the page to find themes that fit these filters.
- Preview a Theme
Click on an image of a theme you think you might like and you’ll get a preview of the theme. This preview won’t show any images from your website and will likely look fairly plain but it will give you a general idea of the theme’s appearance. You’ll also see a blurb on the left with some information about the theme and its star rating if any users have rated it.
- Install the Theme
After you preview the theme, you can either click the “Install” button at the top of the preview page. Alternately, you’ll find an install button on the theme directory page for each theme if you hover over the theme image.
- Activate the Theme
After you’ve installed the theme, the “Install” button will change to “Activate.” Click it to make that theme active on your website.
- Look at the Front of Your Website
After you install the theme, you’ll see the message, “New Theme Activated” and a link to “Visit Site.” You’ll want to look at the front of your website now to see how your theme looks. Remember that this isn’t the final appearance — you still have much to do in the way of customization.
Installing a Premium Theme or a Theme Not in The Directory
Most free themes will be in the directory. Premium themes, of course, will not. If you purchase a premium theme, you’ll get a zip file. Installing it is pretty much the same as installing a plugin:
- Go to Appearance>Themes
- Click the “Add New” button at the top.
- Click the “Upload Theme” button at the top.
- Click “Choose File.”
- Choose your plugin zip file (keep it compressed, don’t unzip it!)
- Click Install Now
- After it’s installed, activate the theme just as in the tutorial above.
What if I Need to Manually Install a Theme?
I’ve intended this series to be a beginning series. Chances are you won’t need to do this. But know that your themes live in a directory in your WordPress installation called /wp-content/themes/. If you have a theme file that is NOT compressed (zipped) you can use FTP to upload the entire directory of the theme into the themes directory. Then you can activate it after that.
So What Now?
Zip is having indecision. So many themes! He find a theme called Hueman and thinks, perhaps, he should use that one.
But he find a theme called Agama and it has moving sparkly constellations in the header!
And he tried a bunch of other themes. Newsmag type themes, themes that look nice and clean, popular feminine themes (not for him, he decides.)
He narrows it down to the above two.
He doesn’t like how Hueman looks at first. However, this theme is a known entity to me, and I remind him that it offers a bunch of customizations. It has a five-star rating.
Agama also seems to have a bunch of customizations available, but I don’t know much about it. It has a four-star rating. But it has sparkly constellations in the header.
He keeps both themes installed for now.
Should I have multiple themes installed?
In general, no. Themes take up space, need updates, and outdated themes can come with security issues. It’s best practice to keep the following installed on your website:
- The default WordPress theme:
Keep this in place if you need to troubleshoot.
- Your theme
- Your child theme
If you are going to do any CSS customizations, you should install a child theme. Otherwise, your changes may get overwritten after your next theme update. We’ll be going over how to add a child theme in the next post.
Day two: Zip is still indecisive about his theme. He’s now tried several. He loves the sparkly constellations on the Agama theme, but it doesn’t have related posts, nor does it have video post formats. He finds a minimalistic but pretty theme called Prefer and considers using it, but it doesn’t have font options that he can discover, nor does it have an author box. Hueman has most of what he wants, and it’s been around for a while (plus I own a license for the pro version, but we won’t use it just yet,) but it doesn’t look as pretty. Not to worry — you can add those things later if you want them, and Zip can customize the colors for his website.
If this is you and you’re indecisive, you can install several themes and see what they have to offer. We’ll be going over the customizer in another post, but if you’re in doubt, go into the customizer (go to Appearance>Customize from your WordPress admin or click the Customize link from the top admin bar) and look through what’s offered in the customizer. Start a new post or edit an old one and see which post formats and templates the theme actually offers. And take a look at the ratings and reviews. Yes, the Agama theme has pretty sparklies but some reviewers were complaining about the free version having difficulties with updates (though I’m well aware those cases could be a plugin conflict or user error.) Just how important are shiny things vs. function?
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