New installations of WordPress include with a pretty nice blogging theme. Chances are, though, once you start publishing content or designing your website in WordPress, you’ll want something different.
For one, the default WordPress theme, Twenty Seventeen, is rather plain. Plus, there is the problem of it being just that – the default. By its very nature, it is going to be a commonly used theme, which means that your site won’t be very unique if you stick with it. So how do you change the way your WordPress site looks? Easy: you install a WordPress theme!
So how do you change the way your WordPress site looks? Easy: you install a new WordPress theme!
This article will tell you everything you need to know to install a WordPress theme, and two ways to do it: from your WordPress admin, and from the control panel. Let’s get started!
What is a WordPress Theme?
WordPress themes control most of what makes your site look the way it looks. Changing your site’s theme is a little like changing its “skin”; the content will still be the same, but the way it’s arranged and the design of the interface will be different.
Your theme controls many things about the appearance of your site. Here are just a few of the items changing your WordPress theme will impact:
- Location of menus
- Location of widgets
- Arrangement and look of individual posts/pages
- Arrangement and look of archive pages
- Size of featured images on homepage, archives, and/or individual posts
- Overall style of your site
There are both free themes and “premium,” or paid, themes. A free theme is a great place to start if you are on a budget or just trying to figure WordPress out. If you have a specific look in mind for your site, need additional customization options, or want or need great documentation and theme support, a premium theme may be the better option for you.
Features to Look for in a WordPress Theme
If you are looking for a new WordPress theme, you probably have a very specific look and feel in mind for how you want your site to look. That’s great!
However, the look of the theme demo should not be the only deciding factor in the theme you choose. WordPress theme demos can sometimes be misleading because they were created to showcase all the features of a theme and to drive sales. When you install the theme, you may be dismayed to discover that your content just doesn’t look as nice as the carefully curated text, images, and other media included in the demo.
When you install the theme, you may be dismayed to discover that your content just doesn’t look as nice as the carefully curated text, images, and other media included in the demo.
Here are some other things you should look for when choosing a WordPress theme, especially a premium theme:
- Clear, detailed documentation
- Strong ratings from users
- Resolved comments and support threads by the theme author
- Responsive design (looks good on mobile devices as well as desktop)
Preparing to Install a WordPress Theme
Once you’ve decided on your new theme, download the theme file. The theme should be contained within a .zip file.
Look inside the .zip file and see what it contains.
If you see documentation and licensing information inside the .zip file, and another .zip file named after the theme, you will want to unzip the file you downloaded. In this case, the .zip file inside the one you downloaded is the theme itself, like in the image shown below.
If, instead, you see folders like “css” and “js” and files like “category.php,” “comments.php,” and “index.php,” as shown below, the .zip file is the theme itself. Leave it zipped for use in one of the installation methods below.
Do you have a folder and not a .zip file? If so, you’ll just need to zip that folder back up. In Windows, right click the folder and choose “Send to Archive.” On Mac, right click the folder and choose “Compress.”
Method 1: How to Install WordPress Themes in Your WordPress Admin
Now that you’ve got your WordPress theme in a .zip file and ready to install, you can upload it within your WordPress admin pages using the following steps.
1. Go to Appearance > Themes.
This is the settings page where you choose your WordPress theme. You’ll see your active theme, as well as any other themes you’ve installed on your website. If there is a new version of any theme available, you’ll have an option to update it here.
2. Click the “Add New” button.
You’ll be taken to the “Add Themes” screen which displays popular WordPress themes you can install.
3. Click the “Upload Theme” button and select your theme file.
After you click the “Upload Theme” button, WordPress will pop open a place to upload your theme’s .zip file. Select the file and upload it.
4. Activate your new theme.
Once you activate the theme, it will become your “Active Theme” and will be live on your site.
5. Optional: customize your theme.
Some themes are ready to go out of the box, but in many cases, you will need to do some customizing. Some themes can be customized through WordPress’ native Customizer (Appearance > Customize). Others add a new link to your WordPress admin sidebar named after the theme. Every theme is different, so it may be helpful to refer to your theme’s documentation to learn more about how to customize it.
Method 2: How to Install WordPress Themes Manually
For various reasons, sometimes you need to install WordPress themes manually, through your website’s cPanel. The theme file might be too large to upload through WordPress if you have a file size restriction. Or, you might not be able to access your WordPress admin right now. Whatever the reason, if you need to install your WordPress theme through the cPanel, here’s how.
Or, you might not be able to access your WordPress admin right now. Whatever the reason, if you need to install your WordPress theme through the cPanel, here’s how.
1. Go to your cPanel and click File Manager.
Most common hosting companies run cPanel. You can access your cPanel either through your web host login or by navigating to yourdomain.com/cpanel and logging in.
Once you’re in your cPanel, you’ll see a bunch of icons in different categories. Click the File Manager icon.
2. In File Manager, go to your themes directory.
Next, go to the directory where your WordPress themes are stored. Enter the public_html directory, then go into your blog’s subdirectory, if applicable. Next, go to wp-content > themes.
In this folder, you should see a subfolder for every theme you have installed on your WordPress site.
3. Click the “Upload” button and upload the .zip file with your theme.
The “Upload” button should be near the top of the screen. Click it, then follow the prompts to attach your theme’s .zip file.
4. Extract the .zip file.
Select your newly-uploaded .zip file and click the “Extract” button to unzip the theme.
5. Activate and customize your theme from within WordPress.
Now you just need to return to step 4 of the previous method to activate the theme and customize it if needed. (Log into your WordPress dashboard, go to Appearance, Themes, and activate the new theme).
What If Installing a Theme Broke My Site?
Sometimes, installing a theme can appear to break your site. When this happens, your homepage will display an error, or, even scarier, your WordPress admin can stop working.
This can happen for various reasons, but the most common reason is uploading a .zip file that is not a WordPress theme. For example, if your theme .zip was inside another .zip that contained documentation and licensing information, and you upload that outer .zip, it can sometimes crash your site.
If you just installed a theme and it broke your site, don’t worry. There are some very simple steps you can follow to revert the change.
1. Follow steps 1 and 2 above to get to your theme directory in cPanel.
Follow the steps in method two (the manual theme installation method) to go to your themes folder.
2. Rename or delete the theme you just tried to install.
Changing the directory name or deleting the files altogether will trigger WordPress to fall back to a default theme, which will usually fix your site if it broke when uploading a new theme. Then, look inside that .zip file to see if there is a different .zip for the theme itself that you should use instead.
If problems still occur, contact the theme developer where possible!
WordPress themes control the look and feel of your site. As you’ve just learned, it is quite easy to install a theme either within WordPress or manually, and to troubleshoot if your installation is not going as planned. Following the simple steps outlined above, you can install any theme designed for self-hosted WordPress.
What questions didn’t this article answer for you about how to install a WordPress theme? Please let us know in the comments below and we can address them in a future article.