How to Change Your Theme in WordPress

Your “theme” is the part of your WordPress installation that controls how your site looks. It is a PHP subprogram that runs from within WordPress.

You really need to understand how your theme works if you want your WordPress website to be successful. A bad theme can ruin the customer experience and drive down your profits.

Still, before you start playing around with the design, you want to make sure that everything else on your site is functioning correctly. Isit time to upgrade your hosting plan? It might be if users are complaining about slow load times. Do you need fresh content? Perhaps, if your blogs aren’t getting a lot of attention.

Once you’re ready to start making design changes, you need to know how to do it.

Keep reading to learn how to change your theme.

What’s WordPress?

WordPress is an open source ecosystem. It runs under the GPL [General Public License] and is free for anyone to use or modify. That means that basically anyone can do anything they want with the system.

The software is controlled by the WordPress Foundation, who own and operate the wordpress.org domain. They are the people who host the free plugins and themes that are found in every WordPress install. As an admin, if you go to “Appearance” >> “Themes” >> “Add New”, the tens of thousands of themes you see are the ones published from the wordpress.org servers.

Paid vs Free Themes

There are another class of themes, commercial, or paid themes. These are private companies and publishers that are not associated with the WordPress.org community.

There is a big difference between paid themes and the one in the repo. Frankly, you should almost never use a paid theme. For one, they cost money. Now that might be okay if they provided a superior product but actually, the reverse is true! Because of the way WordPress works, in this case the free themes are actually way better than the commercial themes.

Commercial themes are just a way that people use to try and make money. Nothing wrong with that, but why would you buy one? You might think that because you’re paying for it, you’re getting a better product. The reality is that commercial themes are less secure, more prone to hacking and viruses, and often employ shady coding or business practices, such as obfuscated code. They are completely unregulated.

The free repository themes, on the other hand, must publish their code for all to see and must conform to strict rules. This exposes bugs and security flaws almost instantly. Repo themes cannot collect information about the site they are running on without first informing the admin what it’s doing.

Compare this to a commercial theme that has no restrictions. Free themes have a host of other security requirements. By publishing their themes to the repo, honest developers subject their code to intense peer review. Bad ones are quickly rejected, and bugs are fixed fast.

Bottom line: use a free theme from the WordPress repo.

Installation

To get a free theme couldn’t be any easier! Just log in to your WordPress installation as an administrator and go to “Appearance” then click “Themes”, then “Add New”. From here you’ll be brought to WordPress.org’s theme search page. It sorts themes into categories, lists features, options, and color schemes.

Customization

There are tens of thousands of free themes, and dozens more are added each day. You can spend the rest of your life going through the repo, so you are SURE to find one you like. Remember that the theme is just the start of your design. Once you pick the theme, it’s time to start making customizations.

You can use the WordPress “customizer” to control many aspects of how your theme works. Again, log in as an admin and go to Appearance”, and then to “Customize”. You will now be brought to the customizer homepage in your site.

Changes here will be saved into the database and are specific to this particular WordPress installation. Each theme has its own options, but typical ones are things like:

  • Background color
  • Fonts
  • Headers
  • Images

Other themes might have advanced options like portfolios, video headers, or JavaScript images rolls. You can select from some advanced features in the theme picker, but by definition, an “advanced” feature is something that only a particular theme has.

Advanced Features

You can find themes with advanced features by searching the internet and by using examples related to your business or blog. There are themes for professionals, technical companies, software coders, plumbers, whatever.

Again though, just because someone is selling a premium theme designed for plumbers, you don’t have to use that one just because you are a plumber! Make sure that you really need something before you buy it.

You can also add code to a theme by creating a “child theme”. A child theme is a subprogram that accepts code for a theme. If you just modify a theme’s PHP code, when WordPress detects an update from the theme publisher, your changes will be overwritten. Child themes are the solution to that problem.

Back up your site with any backup plugin, and then go hog wild on your theme! WordPress is designed to be easy to modify and change. Experiment a little. Have fun! Be creative and explore all the options your theme has to offer.

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