Installing a WordPress Theme

Installing a wordpress theme.

This guide covers what themes are, what they do, and how you install a theme in WordPress.

What is a wordpress theme?

There are a LOT of themes available that can be installed in WordPress, about 31,000 of them at the time of writing.

WordPress themes are pre-designed templates that dictate the appearance, layout and therefore the overall look and feel of your WordPress site.

WordPress comes with it’s own theme pre-installed by default, which you can use if you like, or you can search for and install a different theme if you prefer it’s appearance, or look and feel.

There are some themes that are free, and there are some themes that you’d have to pay for to be able to use.

What does a wordpress theme do?

A WordPress theme is effectively a template for the pages of your site.

Themes can be customised (the amount of customisation that can be carried out varies between individual themes) to change their appearance.

You’ll usually be able to customise things like colour schemes and fonts, and more advanced themes include more advanced customisation options. Some themes even include a page builder, where as other themes will only provide a minimal set of customisation options. You may have to try out a few themes to find one that you like, and that provides options to suit how you’d like to customise it.

In VERY practical terms, the theme you use will dictate the header (the part at the top of your pages, including the menu), possibly the title area (the part just below the header), and the footer of the site (the part at the bottom).

The part in between the title area and the footer is where you’d put your page content, which you’d normally make using a page builder aspect (either WordPress’ built in page builder or one you’ve installed as a plugin).

Not all themes are created equal.

How a theme displays, behaves and the degree to which it can be customised is dictated by the person/people who wrote (or coded) the theme.

You can’t tell what’s available in a theme until you try one out, so you may have to try various themes before you settle on one to use.

Some themes can be faster than others. By this I mean that you can use one theme and your pages will load faster than when using another theme. The themes I’ve used made by ExS I’ve found to be extremely quick and with a lot of customisable options. Astra is also a great theme, the main thing that’s great about it is that it’s customisation options are logically laid out, and there are a lot fo customisation options. The customisation part of the theme is usually the part that makes you want to throw your computer out the window, Astra really helps with the computer staying on the desk, due to it’s sensible well laid out customistation options.

Some themes are free, some you’ll have to pay for. Some themes have a free and a paid version.

As you’re probably going to have to try out a theme before you know if it’s for you, you might consider checking out a free theme and if you like it, buy the paid version.

Installing themes.

Installing a free theme is quite easy, after logging in to your wordpress hover over “Appearance” then click “Themes”:

Installing a WordPress Theme

What you’ll then see is a page showing you the currently installed themes (these are the ones WordPress has preinstalled by default). You can use these if you like, but we’re going to install a new theme, so click on “Add New” up at the top:

Wordpress add a new theme

And BLIMEY! LOOK AT ALL THE THEMES! scroll down, keep scrolling, hundreds of them aren’t there?:

Wordpress themes, so many!

Up at the top of the page, there are some options you can use to filter the displayed themes, or if you know the name of a theme you’d like to install you can use the “Search themes” box to search for the theme:

Themes filter options

I’m going to install the ExS church theme, so I type ExS church in the “search themes” box, then click “install” when the ExS Church theme has been found:

Install ExS Church Theme

And once it’s finished installing, I’m going to activate this theme, by clicking the “Activate” button:

Wordpress activate theme

And that’s it! ExS Church is now installed and activated.

That’s the easy way of installing themes using what’s available in WordPress. Now I’m going to show you…

How to manually install a downloaded theme AT FILE LEVEL.

Let’s say you’ve downloaded a theme or bought one and been provided with a download. You can’t install these as described above. You have to upload these to your site’s themes directory, extract it, then activate it in wordpress.

Seeing as I’ve been talking about ExS themes, I’ve just downloaded their ExS theme and I’ve got a .zip file in my downloads folder on my computer:

Theme zip file

You’re going to need to log in to your cPanel hosting account to install this, then click the “File Manager” icon:

Open cPanel file manager

You’ll then need to navigate to the document root of your domain. If you have a one site type cPanel account this will be the public_html directory, but if you have a multisite type hosting account this may be different. Click on public_html, and you’ll see your WordPress installation at file level. In the main portion of screen, locate the wp-content directory, then double click on it:

Open public_html then browse to wp-content

The wp-content folder is where all the things you add to WordPress are put (such as plugins, themes and uploads). After opening the wp-content folder you should see this:

wp-content directory

Can you guess where we’re going next? That’s right! Themes! So double click the “themes” directory:

Open themes directory

What you’ll see now is all the folders of the themes currently available in your WordPress, at file level:

Themes directories

You could delete some of these if you wanted (I did which is why you don’t see them in the screen shot below, but you might leave ONE there so that WordPress doesn’t get confused). Deleting old themes is a good idea for security purposes so you might consider deleting all themes EXCEPT THE ONE YOU’RE USING at a later date.

Now click on upload at the top:

cpanel file manager upload

Now click on select file:

upload then select file

Your computer’s file manager will open, so you then need to browse to where the theme file was downloaded (usually “downloads”, then double click the theme file to upload it:

Double click the theme file to upload it

Then wait for the bar at the bottom to go green (i.e. for the upload to complete), then click the blue “go back to…” text at the bottom of the page:

Go back to the file manager

You’ll then see the theme file you’ve uploaded. Now we need to extract it, so right click on the theme file, and then click on “extract”:

Extract theme zip file

Then confirm the extraction:

Confirm extraction cpanel file manager

At this pint it might look like nothing has happened, but you just need to refresh the page, or click the “go” button toward the top left and you’ll reload the directory:

Click the Go button

And you’ll then see a folder called “exs”:

Congratulations you've installed a theme

Congratulations, you’ve (beleive it or not) just installed a theme at file level!

Now we need to activate it, and we do this in WordPress, so go back to your WordPress admin area (log in if you need to), then hover over “Appearance” then click “Themes”:

Installing a WordPress Theme

Then hover over the theme you’ve just installed, then click “Activate”

Activate uploaded theme

Now, you might hate me for this, but there is an easier way to do what we’ve just done, which is…

How to install a downloaded theme within wordpress.

You’ve downloaded a theme’s zip file, now you can install it by hovering your mouse over “Appearance” then clicking on “Themes”:

Installing a WordPress Theme

Then click on “Add New” at the top:

add new theme wordpress

Then click on “Upload Theme” at the top:

Upload theme

Then click on “choose file”:

Click on chose file

Your computer’s file manager will open, so you then need to browse to where the theme file was downloaded (usually “downloads”, then double click the theme file to upload it:

Double click the theme file to upload it

Then click the “install now” button:

Click install now

You’ll then have to wait a little while WordPress installs the theme. Once it’s finish, you’ll see the word “Activate” and you click on this to activate the theme you’ve just uploaded.

click on activate to activate the uploaded theme

And you’re done!

Why did you do the hard way first?!

You’ve learnt more:

  • How to navigate around your WordPress installation at file level.
  • That you can add components (the file upload method can also be used to install plugins) to your WordPress at file level.
  • That your site comprises of files that exist in a hosting account.

These concepts will come in handy at a later date. Trust me on this.

In conclusion:

  • There are different methods that can be used to install a theme.
  • Different themes have different features (I’ll cover this in more depth in another article)
  • You can install themes in a couple of clicks in WordPress.
  • You can buy themes, get zip files, then install them either at file level or from within WordPress

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