Tutorial: How to Install a WordPress Theme
In this post, we’ll give you some advice for what to do before you add a new theme to your website. Then we’ll present two methods for installing and activating your WordPress theme.
We’ve written previous guides on the topic of what WordPress themes are and how to find them. However, there’s one more crucial step to take. Once you've located the perfect theme for your site, you’ll need to get it up and running.
Fortunately, this couldn’t be easier to do. Installing and activating a new theme in WordPress is simple, whether you’ve got it from the official directory or some other source. Plus, you can change themes whenever you’d like, with the press of a button.
What to Do Before Installing Your WordPress Theme
Installing a theme in WordPress isn’t difficult, and we’ll discuss how to do that in a moment. First, however, let’s talk about what to do beforehand. There are a few steps you might need to take in preparation for adding your new theme.
For example, you’ll want to:
- Make sure you’ve thoroughly vetted the theme, which includes checking out its ratings and reviews. Also, take a look at how frequently it’s updated by the developer.
- If the theme has a demo available, try it out to see if you like its appearance and features. You can also check out how a theme will look with your content after installation, which we’ll discuss later.
- Consider creating a staging site to test out the theme before adding it to your live site. This is a particularly important step if you’re switching themes on an already established site so you can see exactly how it will look and find out if it causes any compatibility issues or other problems.
- If you’re setting up a new WordPress site, make sure you’ve covered the other bases necessary to get it up and running. This includes signing up for a domain and choosing a quality WordPress hosting plan.
Once you’ve taken care of the above tasks — or however many of them apply to your site — you’ll be ready to install your new WordPress theme. There are a couple ways to do this so we’ll talk about each in turn.
How to Install a WordPress Theme (3 Methods)
Before we show you how to install a theme, there’s one more crucial thing to do first. If you’re changing themes on a site that already has content, you’ll want to make sure you have a recent backup in place. This will be essential for restoring your site in case the new theme causes any problems — especially if you aren’t using a staging site to test it (as recommended above).
1. Install a Free Theme From the WordPress Theme Directory
Let’s start with the easiest of the three installation methods. If you aren’t familiar with the WordPress Theme Directory, this is one of the best places to find themes for your site. Everything listed there is free and has been thoroughly vetted by a team of volunteers. What’s more, you can install a theme from the directory without leaving your WordPress dashboard.
To get started, visit your site and navigate to Appearance > Themes. Then click on the Add New button:
You’ll be presented with a searchable version of the Theme Directory. You can look through the most popular themes, or filter options based on layouts, features, and more. If you know what theme you’re looking for, you can simply type its name into the search box. Otherwise, you can browse the directory until you find a theme you like.
Once you know which theme you want, hover over its image and click on the Install button.
WordPress will spend a few moments installing the theme. Then you’ll be given a few follow-up options.
If you click on Live Preview, you’ll be able to see what your site will look like using this theme. Activate, on the other hand, will switch your site to the new theme immediately. That’s all you need to do!
2. Upload a Zip File to the WordPress Dashboard
At this point, you may be wondering how you’ll install a theme if you got it from outside of the WordPress directory. If you’ve bought a premium theme from another directory or a developer’s website, you won’t be able to install it using the above method.
Fortunately, installing a theme you’ve bought or downloaded elsewhere is just as simple a process. The theme should have been provided to you in the form of a zip file, which you can upload directly to your site. If you don’t know where to find that file, contact the theme’s developer, and they should be able to help you out.
Once you have the theme’s zip file saved to your computer, go to your WordPress dashboard. Visit Appearance > Themes, and click on Add New. This time, however, you’ll want to click on the Upload Theme button at the top of the next page.
Next, select Choose File. Then navigate to and select the theme’s file on your computer, and click on Install Now. WordPress will perform the install, then present you with a success message:
As before, you can either see what the theme will look like using Live Preview or hit Activate to make it official.
How to Change Your Current WordPress Theme
If you have several WordPress themes already installed (using the above methods), you may want to know how to switch back and forth between them. This is very simple.
Just go to Appearance > Themes to view your current list of options. Click on whichever theme you’d like to use, and select Activate.
That’s all you need to do to change themes! Don’t forget that you can use the Live Preview link first instead if you just want to see what your site will look like using a particular theme.
In addition, every time you switch themes it’s worth checking to see if there are new settings you need to configure. Take a look at any new tabs or sections added by the theme, as well as at the theme customizer, and make sure you have everything set up the way you’d like. If you run into any trouble, most WordPress themes have documentation you can check out or forums you can visit for help and advice.
Adding a theme to your WordPress website is exciting. You’ll get a brand new look, and plenty of options to play with and elements to personalize. Of course, to get there you’ll first need to know how to install and activate your theme.