WordPress themes are effectively the templates that determine what your website will look like. They specify the color scheme and fonts and also the shape and architecture of your site. In the earlier lessons I promised that you could change your theme later, and here’s how to do it.
I have introduced you to the Twenty Fourteen theme because it is a simple and contemporary design that could be all you need to create an effective web presence. If you’re happy to stick with Twenty Fourteen for the time being then you can skip the rest of this lesson.
But if Twenty Fourteen doesn’t suit you, please read through the rest of this lesson to find out how you can change your theme.
As I’ve explained, WordPress themes are the design templates that determine the appearance of the website. There are hundreds (thousands?) of free themes to choose from and you can (usually) switch the theme quite easily if you change your mind about what you want.
WordPress offers many free themes on its website that you can install with a few clicks of the mouse. Your web hosting company will likely offer you some free, some paid, WordPress themes. Others are offered by third parties, some for free and some for sale.
Choose A Responsive Theme
What’s a ‘responsive’ theme? A responsive theme is one that is compatible with most mobile appliances. Estimates are that getting on for half of online access is now via mobile phones, tablets and other devices.
A responsive theme 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. It won’t necessarily look the same as on a PC but it will still be accessible.
This is now important because Google has announced that they are taking mobile readiness into account in their site ranking algorithm. So, in effect, if you want your site to appear in the Google search engine listings you need to choose a responsive theme.
Before you go further, I suggest that you also look at the other free themes that WordPress will have already installed on your site: Twenty Thirteen, Twenty Fifteen and Twenty Sixteen. These are flexible and robust themes that all have their own distinctive features. To view these, from the dashboard click on ‘Appearance’, ‘Themes’.
As you’ll see, you can ’Live Preview’ and ‘Activate’ any of these themes with one click. If you change your mind and want to go back to your original theme, then just click on that theme and activate it and it will overwrite the previous theme.
But to illustrate the possibilities, we are going to go to the WordPress site and pick a free theme.
Install A Free WordPress Theme
To see a wider range of free themes, from the dashboard click on ‘Appearance’, ‘Themes’, ‘Add New’.
As you will see, there are tabs for ‘Featured’, Popular’, ‘Latest’ and ‘Feature Filter’. These are themes which have been produced by third parties but which have been approved for distribution by WordPress.
There are minimalist themes, themes designed to be used on mobile devices, themes designed to attract children, teens, men, women – you name it.
So, if you think that your requirements are too complex for WordPress to render, I urge you to think again and explore some of the more feature-rich themes that some very clever designers have provided for you.
When you find a theme that you like the look of you can hover your mouse over its thumbnail and click on ‘Details & Preview’ to see how the theme will look on the screen. This will pop up in a new window which you can close when you’ve seen enough. It’s also a good idea to click on the ‘Details’ links to see how many stars the theme has been awarded by other users – the more the better.
When you’ve found a theme that you like, click on the blue ‘Install’ button at the top left of the screen. This will automatically upload the theme to your website. You can now preview the theme again as it will look on your own website and, if you like it, click ‘Activate’ and you’re done – you’ve changed the theme.
After installing a new theme, have a look at the options it gives you for customizing the header, widgets, colors, or whatever. The theme’s author may provide a link to their website where you can find out more about this theme or others that they may have on offer.
You can change the theme of your WordPress website as often as you like, but it is a good idea to do your experimenting early on in the development of your site. What you ideally want is to find a theme that fits the style and personality that you want to portray and then settle down when you are comfortable with it. Your visitors will soon come to recognize the look and feel of the website with your particular style.
If you change the theme more than once you will probably end up with several non-active theme files in the background. You can, if you wish, go back and re-activate a theme that you’ve previously installed. But, when you know that you don’t want to make use of a previously installed theme, it’s a good idea to simply delete it because it will just be taking up space on your web hosting server.
Premium Themes – Why Pay For A Theme?
If you can’t find a free theme that you like, or if your website needs are more complex than the standard, then you might like to explore some of the themes available from third party suppliers. These are usually available for less than $100 and you might find this a worthwhile investment, particularly if your website is for business use.
The advantage of premium themes is that they generally offer more features and are more highly customizable than free themes, and they often also look more professional.
I feature some sources of professional themes on my website and you can find more details in the Conclusions section at the end of this program.
But let me caution you not to rush – at least not yet. Premium themes often suppose a close familiarity with WordPress and its features and while you are still a learner it may be rather a steep learning curve to make the theme behave as you want. I recommend that you begin with a free theme and when you have finished this program and feel that you have learned all the lessons then that would be the time to graduate to a premium theme.
Install A Third-Party Theme From A Zip File
If you have a theme that you have obtained from a third party (free or premium), you will likely have the theme files in a ZIP file sitting somewhere on your computer, in which case DO NOT unzip it.
To install a zipped theme from your computer, from the dashboard, click on ‘Appearance’, ‘Themes’, ‘Add New’ and then click on the ‘Upload Theme’ tab at the top of the screen.
A pop-up box will prompt you to browse your computer to locate the ZIP file and when you have done so, click on ‘Install Now’. The theme should then upload and install automatically from the ZIP file. Activate it, as above, and you’re done.
OK, I’ve made it look pretty simple to choose and change your website’s theme, but there are one or two important provisos that you need to be aware of.
If you choose a theme and then go on to do a lot of work on your website (particularly with widgets and menus) and then decide to change your theme, the new theme may not automatically pick up all your content and display it how you want.
It may be just fine, but be aware that this is a possibility and you may have to reinstall your widgets and/or menus. This is not usually a big deal but it may just cause a bit of unexpected work.
WordPress issues new software releases from time to time and sometimes these are major upgrades which require a theme to be upgraded accordingly. Most reputable theme designers keep their themes up to date but be aware that you may be forced to change your theme if your designer’s theme gets out of sync with the latest WordPress release.
If you’ve changed your theme the lessons will still be relevant but the illustrations may look a bit different.
How can I design my own theme?
To design your own theme you need to be fairly competent at CSS, HTML and PHP, not to mention graphics technology and WordPress. So, to be realistic, it isn’t easy for a beginner to design their own WordPress themes.
However, one easy way for a non-geek to create a unique WordPress theme is via software that lets users design WordPress themes using a very flexible template which they can then tweak and personalize themselves. I use Artisteer to do this and I thoroughly recommend it. It takes a bit of practice to explore all its possibilities but I use it a lot to create my own, unique themes. See the Conclusion to find out more details of Artisteer.
What’s a ‘child theme’?
Child themes are rather beyond the scope of this tutorial, but I will briefly explain what they are and how they can become useful.
Essentially, a child theme enables you to create a theme that inherits most of its characteristics from another theme (the ‘parent’ theme) but which contains a few specific changes that make it different from its parent. For example, if you have a parent theme that has a sidebar on the right but you want a sidebar on the left, you can create a child theme that specifies sidebars on the left.
You do this by creating a small style sheet file (style.css) that contains the changes that you want to override the corresponding lines in the equivalent parent theme’s style sheet.
The principle is that the original parent theme remains unchanged and can be subject to updates and enhancements but the child theme’s style sheet will always be linked into the parent and the changes will still apply at run-time.
I suggest that you visit wordpress.org if you want to explore more about this topic.
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