How to choose & install a theme

In this lesson you will learn how there are close to 3000 free themes in the official directory and at least as many in the commercial space. This lesson will help you learn how to find and evaluate themes, as well as how to install, customize and update your theme. Finally, you will learn where to go if you need support for your theme, or if you want to report a bug.

Learning outcomes

  1. Recognize the enormity of themes available to the consumer.
  2. Outline where to find themes; as well as highlighting the best place to start looking.
  3. Explain what to look for and consider in a good theme.
  4. Describe how to evaluate a theme.
  5. Demonstrate how to install, set up, and uninstall a theme
  6. Demonstrate how to update a theme
  7. Recognize where to go for support or to report bugs

Comprehension questions

  • Where are some suggested places to locate themes?
  • How can I install my theme?
  • What is a good metric for evaluating a theme?


Hello, and welcome to this Learn WordPress workshop about how to choose and install WordPress themes. A theme is a great way to customize your site’s design, and different themes will help feature the purpose of your website, whether it is a blog, an e commerce site, or a gallery to show off your photos. Are you ready? Let’s go.

While plugins and themes can achieve the same goals as each other, it is important to understand the differences between them. WordPress plugins are PHP scripts that extend the functionality of WordPress. They enhance the features of WordPress or add entirely new features to your site. Plugins are often developed by volunteers and are frequently free to the public. WordPress core provides the primary functionality for publishing content and managing users. Each WordPress plugin is an additional piece of software that can be easily installed to extend the functionality of WordPress core. This allows you to customize your WordPress site with your desired functionality. Since so much functionality is provided through plugins, WordPress core is full featured and customizable without having to include everything for everyone.

WordPress themes, on the other hand, are fundamentally a way to skin your WordPress site. Yet it is so much more than just a skin skinning your site implies that only the design has changed. WordPress themes can actually provide much more control over the visual presentation of your content and other data on your WordPress site, as well as behavior of certain sites elements while interacting with visitors. A WordPress theme is a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a website. These files are called template files. A theme modifies the way the site it’s displayed without modifying the underlying software. In short, plugins are features and functionality to your site. While themes change the look and layout of your site.

WordPress comes with a set of default themes named after the year in which they were released. At the time of recording. The latest default theme is 2021. If you would like to find more themes, the WordPress theme directory is the official site to search. Every theme in this directory is reviewed by a dedicated team and tested against a wide range of rules, all of which are designed to ensure a secure and pleasant experience for the theme user. Among the 1000s of themes in the directory, you can easily find the right one for your site using the Advanced Search feature that uses filters for layout subject and a specific themes features. There are also sites outside of, where you can find themes for your site, but the most reliable source is itself.

When considering what theme to use for your site, it is a good idea to have a general idea of what you want your site to look like. The theme directory allows you to filter themes by features, layout and subject. Will you have a photo blog or an e commerce site? Do you want one, two or three columns on your site? How about support for Full Site Editing or a custom header? You don’t need to be able to answer all of these questions, but the more you know, the easier it is to narrow down your choices. As you search through the different themes available, you can click on More info to find out more information about each theme, including things like what version it’s on. And if there are any ratings, version updates and ratings can give a good sense of the overall experience others have had with this theme, as well as its support for updates to the core WordPress software itself.

Just like WordPress, themes need to be updated in order to take advantage of new features and for security fixes. There are three ways in which you can install a theme. The easiest is to choose and install one from within the dashboard. Let’s take a look at it. To install a theme within your dashboard. Head over to Appearance themes, add new The theme directory will be displayed here. You can also install the theme directly from this page or click on details and preview and install. Once installed, you’ll see the Activate button. Click on that to this will bring you back to your themes dashboard where you can see the current theme installed and activated.

If you have a theme in the form of a ZIP file, you can install it manually. One way is to upload the ZIP file from the dashboard. To do that, go to Appearance themes add new at the top, you should see a button to upload. Click on that and choose your ZIP file. Then install now. Make sure you activate your theme there as well. If you have a ZIP file and don’t want to use the web dashboard to upload it. Another possibility is through FTP, preferably SFTP, which is the secure version of FTP. For this you would need SFTP credentials from your web host like the username, password and server information. Once logged in, navigate to WP dash contents backslash themes directory and upload your theme there. The unzipped form should sit in this directory. Once this is done, open your WordPress dashboard in a web browser and navigate to Appearance themes. The theme you just uploaded should be listed there and can be activated. After installing a theme, the next step is to set it up. Most themes setup will happen primarily in the customizer under appearance customize in your dashboard. In the customizer, you will be able to set things such as your site’s colors. A custom header image if your theme supports it, a background image widgets if your theme has widget areas, and menus, which might include social icons menu depending on your theme. Because different themes come with different designs and subsequently related features, you may see more or fewer options than this in your customizer. Likewise, some themes may require more steps to set it up, like the design and the preview than others. In this case, it’s a good idea to search in the related theme support forums, and or the theme developers documentation to better understand the setup flow the developer had in mind. When in doubt, reach out for help in the forums.

Like most software WordPress themes will be updated with fixes and new features. These updates will be available either automatically or when you choose to manually update them when your site notifies that updates are available. When you are logged into your WordPress admin dashboard, if there are updates available, you will be notified in the top menu bar, as well as in the dashboard menu, you can navigate to the updates page where you will be presented with a list of themes that have updates available. From this page, you can choose to update individual themes or all at once. In order to make this process easier for you. WordPress allows you to enable automatic updates for each of your themes. That means whenever a new version of the theme comes out, your WordPress site will automatically update to the latest version of the theme for you. So how do you enable automatic updates, just navigate to the themes page where you can enable auto updates for each theme individually. You can also manually update your themes from this page.

An alternative way to update your themes is a recently added feature where if you have a ZIP file of the newest version of the theme, you can follow the same process of installing a new theme by uploading a ZIP file. WordPress will notice that you already have a version of that theme installed and will check to see if the version you are uploading is new. If it is it will simply update to the latest version. Finally, you can use FTP to upload the new version of the theme to your web host in the same way that you upload other files by replacing the existing version of the theme files. Much like plugins It is generally a good idea to delete or uninstall themes that you are not using. To do so go to Appearance themes. To see a list of all the themes that you’ve installed on your site. For the theme that you would like to uninstall make sure that it is the activated first. You can do this by activating another theme using the Activate button when you hover over that theme. If the theme you would like to delete is already activated, you will see an activate buttons at the bottom. Click on theme details. In the theme details pop up, you will see a delete link that allows you to delete or uninstall that theme.

Just like plugins, there are places where you can buy premium themes outside of the theme directory. One of the major benefits of using the theme directory however, is that themes included go through a review process, which ensures that they meet standards for code and security. However, there are times when the theme that more closely meets your needs, includes premium upgrades or sold by a third party. When considering buying a theme from a third party, it’s helpful to do your homework. With any themes or plugins uploaded to your site, you are adding additional code to your core WordPress software. Any code can introduce bugs or security issues due to poor quality compatibility issues, or just plain old human error. With that in mind, it is helpful to check the website that you’re purchasing your theme from for reviews, how frequently they update their themes, and if they provide support. getting this information should help you better understand how actively the themes are under development, which means that they’re regularly updated to add add either new features or fix security issues. Likewise, if you purchase a premium theme, it is important to know how you can get in touch with the related support team.

Since themes outside the theme directory do not have support forums on that you can use. Remember, the more information you have the better. With any theme or plugins sometimes you might run into a bug or other issue that needs troubleshooting. The best way to get help with a theme is by going to the themes related support forum. All themes and plugins in the directory have a related support forum that the developer or their team typically helps to maintain by answering questions or feature requests that come from using their themes. You can find the related forum by visiting the theme backslash themes here, search for your theme by name. Click on more info, then click on View support form. When reporting a bug, it is helpful to describe specifically what actions he took when the bug occurred. Other plugins you may have installed and the version of both WordPress and the theme you are using. This brings us to the end of our introduction on how to choose and install themes. We hope that this overview was helpful and that you now feel prepared to choose and install a theme for your WordPress website. For more great content on how to use WordPress Don’t forget to check out our other workshops on Learn WordPress or join a discussion group.

Workshop Details


Angela Jin

An inveterate volunteer, Angela has a longstanding passion for building strong, inclusive communities. She joined Automattic in 2018 as a community organizer for the WordPress open source project, and adores working with WordPress communities around the world. Originally from Seattle, Washington, Angela is currently trying out Madrid, Spain, where she delights in learning Spanish, exploring by eating, and reading a good book.