How to install or change a theme in WordPress

Even if you are completely new to WordPress, you’ve probably heard a lot about themes, and are eager to try them out. In fact, for many people this is the primary reason for choosing WordPress: with thousands of themes available, the platform allows you a huge range of possibilities for the way that your site looks and feels.

How to install or change WordPress theme

Today, I’ll take you through how to install a new theme on your WordPress site. There are several ways of doing this, and so I’ll show you two of the easiest.

Then, we’ll look at how to change themes. Knowing how to change themes is important, especially if you are new to WordPress, it might take you a few tries until you find a starter theme that is perfect for your needs. Changing themes is a little more difficult than installing one fresh, but with careful preparation is also nothing to worry about.

Installing a free theme

WordPress has been designed to be as easy to use as possible, even for complete beginners, and so it provides an easy way to install new themes right out of the box. The easiest method for doing this is to use the WordPress admin theme search feature, which allows you to install any of the free themes from the WordPress Themes Directory.

First up, log in to your WordPress admin area. On the landing page, you should see a black toolbar, and about half-way down, there is an ‘appearance’ tab. Click this, and then select ‘Themes’. This will take you to a section of your admin area where you can manage the themes for your site.

Themes menu in WordPress admin dashboard

Click on ‘Add New’ near the top of the page, and you will be presented with a search page.

Add new WordPress theme to your site

Here, you can look through Featured themes, Popular themes, and the newest available. This page also gives you access to a powerful tool, the ‘Feature Filter’, where you can search for a theme by color, by type, or according to specific features that you need.

Search for WordPress themes via theme filter

Once you’ve chosen a theme, installation is easy. Just click on ‘Install’, and WordPress will automate the process of installing your new theme. Some themes will ask you for more advanced configuration settings, but these will be presented in easy to use dialogues.

Installing a premium theme

The first method I have described above only covers free themes. It might be, however, that you want to use a commercial ‘premium’ theme from one of the many third-party developers who offer WordPress themes.

Because these paid themes are not hosted on the WordPress directory, the method to install them is slightly more complex, but still not that difficult. It is important to note, though, that this functionality is only available if you self-host your WordPress site through, rather than using the web client for Many people chose to move away from as their site matures, because there are undoubtedly better web hosts available, with better uptimes. Which you choose is up to you, but even if you are new to WordPress you should be aware of the differences.

When you purchase a theme from a marketplace or a commercial theme provider, you will be asked to download a .zip file. This file contains everything you need for your new theme. Once you have the file, login to your WordPress admin area. On the toolbar, click ‘Appearance’ and then ‘Themes’. Once you are on the themes page, click the ‘Add New’ button that is near the top of the page. The next page has a button in the same place labeled ‘Upload Themes’, so click that.

Upload premium WordPress theme

The page will now prompt you to upload the .zip file you downloaded earlier. Navigate to wherever you saved it, select it, and then click ‘Install Now’.

Install WordPress theme from the theme zip file

You should see a success message, informing you that your new theme is installed and ready to go.

Click ‘Activate’ and your new theme is live.

Activate WordPress theme after installation

Changing your theme

Swapping between themes can be easy, and it can be complex. It all depends on how large your site is, and how many extras you have added.

If you are setting up a new site, you can go right ahead and try out as many themes as you like, using either of the methods above. Simply navigate to the themes admin page, and you can swap between themes easily. With a brand new site, there is unlikely to be anything on your pages that will cause problems when swapping between themes.

If you’ve been building your site for a while, though, the situation might be a little different. After just a few months, you will have probably added some extra tools or pieces of code that can make swapping themes a little more complex.

When swapping between themes on a mature WordPress site, therefore, you should be aware that you might experience problems of various types. These may range from the relatively benign, such as losing your RSS feeds, to the potentially catastrophic, such as completely ruining your content design and layout. However, updating old themes is a necessary evil. Theme upgrades often come with new and improved security measures, to help protect your site from common vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting and SQL injections.

There is no easy way to avoid these problems since everybody’s site is different. There are a few practices, though, that can help to limit problems further down the road. Make sure, from the very first day you start working on your site, to keep a list of everything you have installed. This will allow you to test each component of your site when you swap themes, and will also remind you to delete outdated or unneeded components, helping to ensure your site stays secure.

A final word

Playing around with themes is one of the most enjoyable features of using WordPress, and the sheer range of themes available give you a huge range of options when it comes to achieving the look that you want. For new sites, installing new themes and swapping existing ones is also really easy, as I hope I have shown.

Playing around with themes is more than just fun, though: it is also the first step in a learning process. After a few months of using WordPress, most users find that they have become accidental experts on using the platform, and since it has been designed for beginners it is also pretty hard to mess up. For this reason, my advice for new users is to be bold, and not worry too much about breaking your site, since it is only through such an approach that you will learn the intricacies of the platform.

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