3 Simple Ways to Install a WordPress Theme

In the world of self-hosted websites, WordPress is the most popular Content Management System. Chances are, if you haven’t already, you’ve decided to use WordPress for your website. How do you install a WordPress theme?

Any method you choose to use to add a WordPress theme to your website shouldn’t be too difficult to understand – and there are a few! After installing your theme, you can begin creating a standout website right away.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at installing a WordPress theme. 

Where to Find WordPress Themes (Both Free and Paid)?

Finding the theme that fits you best may take some time, but with thousands of themes available, you’ll eventually find one that suits you. Trying out several free themes is like trying on different outfits for your site. You can change outfits as needed until you find just the right theme.

The WordPress Themes page isn’t the only place to find free WordPress themes, but it’s the place to find the most functional and safest themes available.

Safe themes contain clean code and fundamental WordPress functions to ensure that your website functions with the minimum requirements. The WordPress.org website lists the basic requirements that theme designers have to meet before their themes are accepted into the directory.

I highly recommend that you stick to the WordPress Themes page for themes to use on your site; you can be certain that those themes don’t contain any unsafe elements or malicious code.

If you suspect or worry that you have malicious code on your site — either through a theme you’re using or a plugin you’ve activated — the absolute best place to get your site checked is Sucuri, which offers a free website malware scanner. Sucuri provides expertise in the field of web security, for WordPress users in particular, and it even has a free plugin you can install to check your WordPress site for malware or malicious code. 

Thousands of free WordPress themes are available, but you may also want to consider premium (for purchase) themes for your site.

You can find premium WordPress themes on marketplaces such as MOJO Marketplace, CSS Igniter, and StudioPress. The most famous theme marketplace to date is Themeforest, which currently offers over 46,000 WordPress themes.

Adding to that, the developers in the following list are doing some amazingly innovative things with WordPress themes, and I highly recommend that you explore their offerings:

  • Organic Theme: Organic Themes has a great team, paid support moderators, and WordPress themes that are as solid (from a code standpoint) as they are beautiful.
  • Woocommerce Theme Store: WooThemes has a wide selection of high-quality themes with excellent options and support for ecommerce websites that use the WooCommerce plugin. The most popular theme is Canvas, a highly customizable theme with more than 100 options you can use to personalize your site via a theme options panel.
  • Press75: Press75 offers niche themes for photography, portfolios, and video. Check out the On Demand theme for a great example.

How to Choose the Right WordPress Theme

1. Choose between a free or a premium WordPress theme

There has long been a debate over free vs paid WordPress themes. Because of this, it’s difficult to know whether to save your money and use a free theme or invest a small amount in a premium one. 

It’s important for you to know the difference between free and premium WordPress themes:

  • Free: These themes are free, period. You can download and use them on your website at absolutely no cost. It’s a courtesy to include a link to the designer in the footer of your site, but you can even remove that link if you want.
  • Premium: These themes cost money. You usually find commercial themes available for download only after you’ve paid $10 to $500, or more. The designer feels that these themes are a cut above the rest and, therefore, worth the money you spend for them. Premium themes also come with a mechanism to obtain support for the use of the theme.

However, keep in mind that just because a designer calls a theme premium doesn’t mean that the theme has passed through any kind of quality review. The view of what constitutes a premium theme can, and will, differ from one designer to the next.

In the end, it comes down to your budget, but there are a few factors to consider:

Pros of Using a Free WordPress Theme

Free WordPress themes offer a number of benefits:

  • Free themes are excellent starting places. Find a couple of free themes, and use them as starting points for understanding how themes work and what you can do with them. Testing free themes, their layouts, and their options helps you identify what you want in a theme.
  • By using free themes, you can have your site up and running with a new design — without the help of a professional — pretty fast. And with thousands of themes available, you can change your theme as often as you want.
  • A strict review process is followed before free themes are approved for the WordPress Repository.
  • The free themes you find at WordPress.org are compatible with all the free plugins found in the same place. 

However, free themes also have some disadvantages.

Typically, when you download and use something that’s free, you get no assistance with the product or service. Requests for help generally go unanswered. Therefore, your expectations should be lower because you aren’t paying anything. When you pay for something, you usually assume that you’ll get support or service for your purchase and that the product is of high (or acceptable) quality.

WordPress, for example, is available free. But you have no guarantee of support while using the software except for the active WordPress support forum. Moreover, you have no right to demand service.

Pros of Using a Premium WordPress Theme

In the same way that free themes have their own benefits, premium themes do as well:

  • To differentiate them from their free counterparts, premium themes include innovative features, such as theme settings or advanced options that extend WordPress to help you do more.
  • Although many beautiful themes are available for free, premium themes are professionally coded and nicely designed, cost thousands of dollars, and require dozens of hours to build, which simply isn’t feasible for many developers of free themes.
  • Premium theme developers spend more time helping customers troubleshoot issues outside the theme products. Therefore, purchasing a premium theme often gives you access to a dedicated support community, which you can ask about advanced issues and upcoming WordPress features; otherwise, you’re on your own.

There is, however, a cost associated with premium themes. Depending on the theme, you may have to pay yearly or a one-time fee. In other words, if you buy one and then decide to change, you will lose the money you spent.

Before you make a purchase, search online for the theme and the designer. Often, users of premium themes post about their experiences with the theme and the designer. You can find both positive and negative information about the theme and the designer before you buy.

2. Identify your niche

WordPress themes cater to all types of websites. When you know your niche before choosing a WordPress theme, you will find themes with the functionality you need.

If you’re starting a WordPress food blog, you should look for a WordPress theme that caters to food blogs. Even better, if you want to start an online food business and blog at the same time, you might want to look into ecommerce themes for the purpose.

You can narrow your options if you consider the type of content you plan to publish, the features your theme will need, the audience you want to reach, and the industry you wish to be in.

3. Avoid unsafe themes

Although free themes are great, you want to avoid some things when finding and using free themes. Like everything on the web, themes have the potential to be abused. 

Although free themes were conceived to allow people (namely, designers and developers) to contribute work to the WordPress community, they’ve also been used to wreak havoc for users. As a result, you need to understand what to watch out for and what to avoid.

Here are some things to avoid when searching for free themes:

  • Spam links: Many free themes outside the WordPress Themes page include links in the footer or sidebars, and these links can be good or bad. Spam links are links to sites you may not ordinarily associate with or endorse on your site. The best examples are links in the footer that go to odd, off-topic, and uncharacteristic keywords or phrases, such as weight loss supplement or best flower deals. Mostly, this spam technique is used to increase the advertised site’s search engine ranking for that particular keyword by adding another link from your site — or, worse, to take the site visitor who clicks it to a site that’s unrelated to the linked phrase.
  • Hidden and malicious code: Unfortunately, the WordPress community has received reports of hidden, malicious code within a theme. This hidden code can produce spam links, security exploits, and abuses on your WordPress site. Hackers install code in various places that run this type of malware. Unscrupulous theme designers can, and do, place code in theme files to insert hidden malware, virus links, and spam. Sometimes, you see a line or two of encrypted code that looks like it’s part of the theme code. Unless you have a great deal of knowledge of PHP or JavaScript, you may not know that the theme is infected with dangerous code.
  • Themes that lack continued development: WordPress software continues to improve with each new update. Two or three times a year, WordPress releases new software versions, adding new features, security patches, and numerous other updates. Sometimes, a code function is superseded or replaced, causing a theme to break because it hasn’t been updated for the new WordPress version. Additionally, because software updates add new features, the theme needs to be updated accordingly. 

The results of these unsafe theme elements can range from simply annoying to downright dangerous, affecting the integrity and security of your computer or your hosting account. 

For this reason, the WordPress Themes page is considered to be a safe place from which to download free themes. WordPress designers develop these themes and upload them to the directory, and the folks behind the WordPress platform vet each theme on the official WordPress Themes page, themes that contain unsafe elements simply aren’t allowed.

4. Look for responsive design

For your mobile site visitors to have an exceptional experience, you must choose a responsive theme.

A responsive theme is one that is compatible with most mobile appliances. It will adjust itself to display at optimum layout to suit the mobile device’s browser. The user will be able to tap and slide around your site in a way that fits the shape and size of the mobile’s screen. 

When your WordPress theme is mobile-friendly, it will look the same regardless of what device your site visitor uses to access it. None of your website’s elements will change regardless of the device or screen size used to access it.

You can test your website’s mobile-friendliness using Google’s Mobile-Friendly test.

5. Keep things simple

Many WordPress themes are multipurpose, which makes them attractive to users. Though some people may need these themes for their features and design, it is often better to keep things simple.

Beginners in particular should keep this in mind. Multipurpose themes often have an excessive number of features, a steep learning curve, and a negative impact on the performance and speed of your site.

The best theme is one that provides just what you need.

6. Consider the features

Last but not least, you should definitely pay attention to the features your WordPress theme offers. Whatever theme you choose, whether it’s free or premium, these are some features you should look for:

  • Built-in SEO optimization
  • Cross-browser compatibility
  • Social media sharing
  • Inclusive WordPress page builders for easier site creation
  • WordPress plugin compatibility
  • Multilingual and translation ready
  • Ecommerce support

Every website needs different things, of course. You can make a decision based on the considerations listed above, however.

Now that you’ve chosen the perfect WordPress theme, let’s look at how to install it.

How to Install a Free WordPress Theme

On your website, you can easily install a theme from the WordPress Repository by going to the backend.

To start picking a theme go to the “Appearance” tab and select the subcategory of “Themes,” this is located on the left-hand side of your WordPress dashboard. 

After the “Themes” page has loaded click the “Add New” button located at the top of the page. 

If appropriately completed you should arrive at the “Add Themes” page, where you can browse through the different themes; which are great for all different types of websites. 

If you want to filter through designs for ideas effectively I recommend that you check out “Featured” and “Popular” tabs within the theme page. 

But if you have a clear idea on what you would like your website to look like, use the “Feature Filter” tab. The “Feature Filter” will allow you to only look for the features of themes you are looking for and will generate a list that meets your requirements. 

When you find the theme that matches what you are looking for and want to test, all you do is click the “Install” button. 

Once the theme has finished installing, you will have to locate it on your main “Themes” page. This will require you to click “Activate” to make it active on your website.

How to Install a Premium WordPress Theme

You can install a custom or premium theme template on your website by following the steps below:

  1. Download the theme you purchased from the theme marketplace or company. Save the zip file to your computer. 
  2. Log into your website and click on Add New in Appearance > Themes on your WordPress dashboard.
  3. From your computer, click Upload Theme to upload the zip file of your premium WordPress theme.
  4. To select a zip file from your computer, click Browse.
  5. Click Install Now to add the theme to your website. WordPress will install your premium theme for you.
  6. To see how your website will look using the uploaded theme, click Live Preview.
  7. In order to make the theme ready for your website, click Activate.

A zip file of a premium WordPress theme can be uploaded using this method. You can also use it to import themes from ThemeForest. Just download the zip file that’s saved on your computer and follow the same steps above.

How to Install a WordPress Theme Using SFTP

After you find a WordPress theme, you can also install the theme on your WordPress site via SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol) or the WordPress Dashboard.

To install a theme via SFTP, follow these steps:

  1. Download the theme file from the Themes page. Typically, theme files are provided in compressed format (.zip).
  2. Unzip or extract the theme’s .zip file. You see a new folder on your desktop, typically labeled with the corresponding theme name. 
  3. Upload the theme folder to your web server. Connect to your hosting server via SFTP, and upload the extracted theme folder to the /wp-content/themes folder on your server.

To install a theme via the Dashboard’s theme installer, follow these steps:

  1. Download the theme file from the Themes page to your desktop. Typically, theme files are provided in compressed format (.zip). When you use this method, you don’t extract the .zip file, because the theme installer does that for you.
  2. Log in to your WordPress Dashboard.
  3. Click the Themes link on the Appearance menu. The Themes screen appears.
  4. Click the Add New button. The Add Themes screen appears, displaying a submenu of links.
  5. Click the Upload Theme button. The panel displays a utility to upload a theme in .zip format.
  6. Upload the .zip file you downloaded. Click the Choose File button and then locate and select the .zip file you stored on your computer.
  7. Click the Install Now button. WordPress unpacks and installs the theme in the appropriate directory for you. 

After you upload a theme via SFTP or install it via the theme installer, you can preview and activate your desired theme.

The WordPress Theme Preview option allows you to see how the theme would look on your site without actually activating it. If you have a site that’s receiving traffic, it’s best to preview any new theme before activating it to ensure that you’ll be happy with its look and functionality. If you’re trying to decide among several new theme options, you can preview them all before changing your live site.

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