WordPress theme customizer explained

Recently I was visiting WordCamp Stockholm and one of the talks that dragged my attention was ‘Customize It! – Give users control with the WordPress Customizer’ by Edmund Turbin from WPEngine.

In short, it was a very brief description for beginners on how to modify your WordPress theme. I quickly realized that this topic could be very boring for most WordPress developers, but the truth is that there are so many beginners within WordPress community who are eager to learn the very basics.

Let’s face it, Theme Customizer is one of the first things you will see once you start working with WordPress. For theme authors and WordPress in general, it can be either opportunity or failure. Most of the themes fail to raise because of poorly executed WordPress Customizer.

On the other hand, understanding what is Customizer for beginners is vitally important as it will allow you to customize your site look and differ from the rest of the world.

What is WordPress theme customizer

WordPress Customizer allows you to edit the appearance and functionality of your WordPress website. You can set the title of your website or add your company logo which is the very basic options. Or you can go further and start adjusting the color scheme, layout, and typography to personalize your site. This could sound like a tough job to do, but don’t worry – Customizer offers an instant live preview (we will get to that one later on).

Most of the themes fail to raise because of poorly executed WordPress Theme Customizer. Click To Tweet

In other words, WordPress Customizer allows you to align your website with your brand by editing certain predefined settings. What you should know is that all of the settings can be divided into two logical groups – default and custom.

Default settings

WordPress has guidelines, called WordPress Codex, on how to develop WordPress themes. One of the sections is related to Customizer, it describes general settings that must be included in every WordPress theme. These settings include:

  • Site Identity: to edit your site title, add logo and favicon;
  • Menus: edit menus and their locations;
  • Widgets: add or remove WordPress widgets;
  • Static Front Page: set your homepage to be either static or display latest posts (for blog owners);
  • Additional CSS: an option to add custom CSS to your WordPress site via Customizer (available since WordPress 4.7).

Whatever theme you choose, you will see these settings available in Customizer by default. If some of these options are missing, I would highly recommend double-checking before selecting this theme.

Default settings of WordPress Theme Customizer
A screenshot of WordPress Theme Customizer default settings

Custom settings

Thanks to WordPress API, theme developers are allowed to add their own settings that are exclusive to their themes. These settings are usually associated with a layout, colors and other visual parts of the theme.

As you may guess, these settings will differ from theme to theme and it is up to theme authors to decide what are the settings they would like to get modified by their theme users. As there are thousands of themes on WordPress.org you surely have something to choose from, not taking into account multiple theme and plugin markets.

Custom settings of WordPress Theme Customizer
A screenshot of WordPress Theme Customizer custom settings of Visual Composer Starter theme

What we have spotted is that WordPress beginners and small business owners tend to choose themes bloated with multiple options.

Why? Because of ‘Why not?’

The trick is that this may lead to a significant fall in your site performance and hours of modifications. It does not mean that you have to choose themes with fewer custom settings. Instead, examine the options and decide on vital settings that you need to have.

Ok, now that you are aware of differences, it’s time to get started.

How to access and use customizer

As one of the first things to start with, Customizer has reserved the first-class spot within your WordPress Dashboard. To access Customizer make sure to follow these essential steps:

  • Log into your WordPress Dashboard;
  • Click on ‘Appearance’;
  • Click on ‘Customize’.

At that point, you will see a native Customizer screen with options located in the left sidebar and your actual website displayed on the right. Such layout makes it extremely easy to customize your site as, guess what, all the changes you make will be applied instantly.

How to access WordPress Customizer via Dashboard
How to access WordPress Customizer via Dashboard

Having an easy preview is a must once you work on your content and styling of the whole website is not an exception. I guess you don’t want to apply changes to the live site instantly, right? So, any changes you will make in customizer will be displayed in preview mode and applied to the live copy of your site only after final confirmation. You can navigate across Customizer sections, native and custom ones, to adjust your settings to fine-tune things.

Most of the options you will face has native controls that you can find at every contact or checkout form on the web. Things like input fields, drop-down menus, color picker, and radio buttons are most commonly used elements to display options. And even WordPress does allow having custom controls, you will rarely spot something extraordinary. Some of the theme authors like to introduce toggle feature (so do we in our free theme), but as we are also using smartphones this should not be a problem to understand on how to use it.

Once you are done with editing and styling, simply click ‘Save & Publish’ button to confirm changes. Or click ‘Exit’ option to cancel all the changes.

Time to get started

WordPress Customizer is not a daily tool, but this an essential part of your theme that you will use at the very beginning. In some way, this will form one of your first impressions of the theme so make sure to trust your ‘guts’ (and good practices). Don’t get yourself trapped into ‘unlimited options’ to sacrifice site performance.

If you are not familiar with WordPress or looking for a fast and easy to use WordPress theme, it is a good idea to look for a starter theme. A theme that has only the most important settings, structured in an easy to understand way and giving you enough flexibility to stand out.

For anything else – there is a plugin for that!

What was your first experience with Theme Customizer?

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  1. Hello guys,

    In a WP Multisites Network, do you have any solutions to make posts integrations between the sites of this network?

    My site proddigital.com.br, talks about several subjects divided into categories. Each of these categories will be transformed into subdomains.

    On the Home Page of my site (http://proddigital.com.br), I use the “WPBakery Visual Composer” plugin to create blocks of posts. But the layout plugin can only display blocks of posts from the same site (in this case the main domain). From the moment I pass all posts from all categories to subdomains, the “WPBakery Visual Composer” plugin will not have how to show the blog posts in the Home page of my site as it currently is.

    I need some solution to create blocks of posts of several subdomains in the Home of proddigital.com.br. Do you have any solutions for this?

    I thank you.

    1. HiRodrigo, for managing content between sites you can use Templatera add-on to export/import templates. If you are seeking for automatic solution synchronization – we are not aware of such solution.

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