How to Install a WordPress Theme – 3 Different Ways


Dani Nolan


2020 January 20th


When you want to change the look and feel of your WordPress website, one of the fastest ways to achieve that it is to change your WordPress theme. There are a huge variety of free and paid WordPress themes available that you can use for your site.

Thankfully, installing a WordPress theme is a very easy procedure. There are several ways to do it, and on this post we'll cover them all. This means the most simple, straightforward method - but later in the post we'll also cover the alternative options.

Let's start with the basic procedure. This is how to install a WordPress theme:

  • Open the WordPress Theme Directory
  • Filter the themes to suit your needs
  • Select and activate the theme

Open the WordPress Theme Directory

If you want to find and install a free downloadable theme, the best tool for the job is the Theme Directory.

In your administration dashboard, navigate to 'Appearance > Themes > Add New'. Once there, you’ll see suggestions of 'Featured Themes', as well as tabs to view 'Popular', 'Latest', and 'Favorite' themes.

Install WordPress Theme Search

Filter the themes to suit your needs

Not all themes are made equal - and they're very much different. In order to get just the kind of theme you look for, use Search Fiters to be sure.

The 'Feature Filter' tool allows you to narrow down your options based on different attributes, such as the layout of the theme, the type of website it is designed for, and what special content features it offers.

Finally, you can also search for themes by name using the search bar at the top right.

Install WordPress Theme Filter

Select and activate the theme

When you finally find the theme you're interested in, click on any theme to find out more details about its style and to preview how it looks on an example site.

Once you’ve decided on a theme, click 'Install' to download and install the theme to your site. The 'Install' button will then convert to 'Activate', which you can click to switch your site from your current theme to the new theme.

Install WordPress Theme Install

Depending on the theme, you may need to configure additional settings in the 'Theme > Appearance > Customize' panel.

There, you'll be able to edit the theme just a little bit more, so it looks just the way you want.

And that's it - method 1 is done!

How to upload a theme to WordPress

Now, let's check out the more advanced options

If you can’t find a free theme you like in the themes directory, there is a huge number of free and premium WordPress themes available from third-party sites.

Additionally, you can develop your own custom WordPress theme. In either case, you’ll need to use the WordPress theme uploader to install these themes on your site.

Note, however, the ability to upload themes to WordPress is limited to self-hosted websites.

If you are using a account, you will be limited to the free downloadable themes available from the themes directory.

This is how to upload theme to WordPress: you simply download the .zip file containing the theme and upload it to your website.

To do so, you will need the zip folder containing the theme files that you downloaded from your theme provider. Navigate to 'Appearance > Themes > Add New', then click the 'Upload Theme' button at the top of the page. Click 'Choose File' and select the theme zip folder from your downloads, then click 'Install Now'.

Install WordPress Theme Upload Prompt

After the installation finishes, WordPress will display a success message. To switch your site over to the new theme, click 'Activate'. You can also return to 'Appearance > Themes' later to find and activate this uploaded theme.

Install WordPress Theme Upload Activate

Upload a WordPress theme by FTP

If you are having issues uploading your WordPress theme via WordPress’s built-in theme uploader, you can also try installing your theme by FTP. This method is more complex and time-consuming, so the theme uploader is the preferred method in most cases.

Connect to your WordPress site’s host using an FTP client, such as FileZilla. You will need to get login information to connect to your host from the administration panel in your host, rather than from WordPress. Once connected, navigate to '/wp-content/themes' and upload the unzipped theme folder.

Once the upload is complete, you should see the new theme under the 'Appearance > Themes' section of your WordPress site. Click on 'Activate' to switch your site over to using the new theme.

Tips to Consider When Changing Themes

Changing your theme can be a big switch for your site, and as with any large website changeover, you’ll need to take some precautions to ensure that no data is lost.

Backup your WordPress site with the current theme before installing or activating a new theme. This ensures that even if something goes terribly wrong, such as the new theme being incompatible with your plugins and causing a site failure, you’ll have a clean copy of your site to return to.

Consider turning on 'Maintenance Mode' while changing themes. This will block any visitors to your site, letting them know that changes are underway and that the site will be back up and running soon. Importantly, visitors won’t see any layout issues or encounter broken links that occur as a result of changing themes.

Test out all content and plugins. Content and plugins have a tendency to break when switching themes, so it’s important to click around your site and make sure that things such as the comments sections, widgets, 404 page, and auto-formatting are working as you expect after changing to the new themes. Some plugins may need to be updated or replaced with an alternative in order to work with the new theme.

Update your tracking codes. If you use Google Analytics or another website traffic tracker and placed the code for that tracker in your theme settings or page footer code, you’ll need to add that tracker code back into the new theme so you don’t lose track of visitors.

Update the formatting of third-party content, such as customizable advertisements. For example, if the ad-linked text is set to blue to match the hyperlinks on your old theme, but hyperlinks on the new theme are red, you’ll want to change your ad-linked text to red as well.

Let the users know you’ve changed themes. Writing a quick post to let your site’s visitors know you’ve made some changes not only serves to explain why they may have found your site was down for 15-20 minutes but also lets them know they should give you a heads up if they find any bugs when navigating through your site with the new theme.

Installing a WordPress Theme is Easy

Changing from one WordPress theme to another is one of the most effective ways to change the look and feel of your website. Especially when your site is just starting out, you may want to install a new WordPress theme to see if it leads to better organization, increased website traffic, and lower bounce rates.

If you found this guide helpful for learning how to install a WordPress theme on your site, please let me know in the comments below!

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