WordPress allows you to easily change the overall design style and layout of your website. With just a few clicks everyone can change a look of their WordPress website. And the best thing is that you don’t need to know anything about coding. This is all possible because of WordPress themes – a ready to use designs that work as skins and are able to completely change the look of your site.
A WordPress theme is a collection of files (called template files) that work together to provide your website with the frontend design and output the content that is stored within WordPress. A theme controls only the output of your website and does not affect any functionality of WordPress or underlying plugins.
Depending on your coding skills (if any), you can either develop your own WordPress theme or browse through the Internet to find one. If you have a plan to develop a WordPress theme, the first thing to do is to visit the official WordPress website and look for a Theme Handbook. This documentation will quickly guide you through the whole theme development process and help to avoid mistakes on the go. Moreover, if you are up to submit your theme to the official WordPress theme repository, you will find all information necessary to pass verification process as well.
Where to find WordPress themes?
Now, if you are not up for development, you can simply look for a ready-to-use theme that was developed by some WordPress developer or even agency. Depending on your preferences and budget there are several options for you available.
Official WordPress theme repository
A place where you can find free themes (also accessible via your WordPress admin panel). These are the themes that have been approved by WordPress officials and usually consist of minimal functionality and design options. Still, some themes offer premium versions with additional options and support.
Individual theme developers
Not all theme developers submit their themes to the official WordPress repository. There can be different reasons, like offering only premium theme or driving traffic to their websites. One thing for sure, this does not mean that they are better or worse in any way – it is all up to the features, design and other parameters we will browse through later on.
Premium theme markets
Another good place to look for a good WordPress theme. Most of the themes there will be a premium quality with a comprehensive list of features and options. The downside is that some of these themes are bloated with functionality and may be heavy for your simple WordPress website.
Whatever option you will go after there is no wrong way. The most important part is to understand how to select a theme.
How to select WordPress theme?
There are thousands of themes out there with lots of functionality available. Some are really simple, others are bloated with features and layout options.
Further on, you will read my personal opinion which can be against some beliefs (so sorry in advance).
Now, if you want to have a fork you don’t need to a full set of tableware for 60 persons, right? The same principles apply to WordPress websites and themes. In order to keep your site clean and perform well, I would go slowly and add only the most crucial options, including plugins. For beginners, it will be also a lot easier to get your hands on WordPress with less functionality available at the very beginning.
Yes, it is always a good idea to look ahead and think about scaling your business and website. But, with a proper theme, it will rarely become a problem to you. If we look into the most popular complaints about WordPress, it all comes down to website performance. I doubt that we want to increase this list with our own failures.
So, when I choose a theme, there is a checklist available for me:
- Theme performance: a direct correlation with SEO and overall user experience do not allow to underestimate this point. To check the speed of your preferable theme, simply find a live website (ex. demo site) and use Google Speed Insight for comparison.
- Responsiveness: it is obvious that mobile devices are all around our lives. Look for a theme that states to be responsive (and always check it by yourself).
- User Experience (Theme Options): how fast and easy it is to modify a theme via Theme Customizer.
- Theme update: how regular theme author release updates for the theme. You want to have a theme that receives regular updates and is compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
- Plugin support: to add functionality to your WordPress site you will have to use different free and premium plugins. Make sure that your theme is fully compatible with these plugins in advance.
- SEO: here I relate to the code of a theme. Even most of your SEO rankings will depend on content and backlinks, code quality has a meaningful effect on it as well. It is not always easy to measure (especially if you are not a developer), but tools like SemRush or Moz can give you good insights.
- Reviews: there is nothing better than to read actual customer feedback. A real people, just like you, who already made their choice and are happy (or not) to share their experience.
As you can see, I did not mention design related things as this is always very personal and brand-driven. We all have our own design preferences and they are not in conflict with the checklist.
Now that you have selected your theme, it is about time to install it on your own website, right?
How to install WordPress theme?
Depending on the source of your chosen theme there are different ways to do it. Both are really simple and will not require any technical knowledge (not to mention coding). All you have to know is how to enter your WordPress admin dashboard and navigate to Appearance – Themes.
WordPress theme repository
If you found a theme on the official repository you can either download it as a zip file to install manually or you can navigate to your WordPress Admin Dashboard – Appearance – Themes. It will contain the list of all your installed themes with few themes available by default.
To add a new theme, click Add Themes and use the Search function to locate the theme from the official repository.
All you have to do next is simply click Install button that will appear upon hover of theme item and wait for the theme to be installed.
The last thing to do is click Activate to make this theme your default and start customization process.
Downloaded WordPress theme
If you found a theme outside official repository (marketplace or vendor website) you will have to download a zip file of the theme to proceed with the installation process.
Once you have the zip file on your computer, navigate to your WordPress Admin Dashboard – Appearance – Themes.
To add a new theme, click Add Themes and select Upload Theme.
In the next window, select zip that contains your theme files and click Install Now button.
Your new theme will be installed and ready for activation – to activate the theme, simply click Activate button.
Whatever way you choose, at the end you will have your theme installed and activated. Yet, I would suggest you create a child theme before actual theme activation. This is a bit technical but very important process that can affect your website future (think ahead). To get around child theme you can visit our child theme related article or step-by-step guide.
Now it is time to start customizing your theme to get your unique design and layout. A time for Theme Customizer to step into the game.
How to customize WordPress theme?
WordPress has a native mechanism to deal with theme design, it is called Theme Customizer. Theme Customizer consists of different theme options that affect the final look and feel of our website. We can divide all theme options into two groups – mandatory and optional.
Mandatory options are fields and parameters requested by WordPress Codex for a theme to be accepted. These options include site name, logo, control over the front page, and more.
On the other hand, there are optional theme options which have been added via your theme author. These options are related to design and layout of your site or specific blocks (ex. font family).
Theme Customizer is not a feature you will work with on a daily basis. Yet, it is extremely important to get around it in the very early stage of website development.
Theme selection is not exclusively design driven process, there are hidden factors that may play a big role in the future. There are many ways how to select a theme (like the one I described above) so it is interesting what is your key to success.