The Ultimate Guide to Choosing & Installing Your WordPress Theme

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing & Installing Your WordPress Theme
The Ultimate Guide to Choosing & Installing Your WordPress Theme

One of the biggest advantages of using a content management system (CMS) on your website is that you can change the look and feel without having to understand HTML and CSS. Almost every CMS allows users to customize the look of their website without having to worry about the content being changed, which is what WordPress themes do.

There are thousands of free themes available for download on the market, plus thousands more that can be obtained at a very low cost. Most free themes are developed by members of the WordPress community, while other premium themes can be found on independent third-party websites. Before changing the theme of your WordPress website, you need to know the following.

  1. Some basic factors related to the theme
  2. How to find high quality themes
  3. How to choose the most suitable theme for your content and audience
  4. How to install a theme
  5. In this article, we will discuss all of the above. Note that if you use to host your own website, you will not be able to use any custom theme, but must use the custom theme they provide.

Find a theme

Many developers offer the themes they design for free, while others charge a small fee. Of course, if you can't find a free theme that meets your specific needs, then you can hire a developer to customize it, or, you can develop it yourself.

WordPress Theme Directory

The first place you should always go when looking for a WordPress theme is the official theme directory, which contains a variety of free themes uploaded by members of the WordPress community at

Click on the Popular tab in the list area to see the most popular themes, select one of them and we will go to the details page at

The page shown above shows the descriptive information of the theme, the average rating given by users, and some of their comments about the theme. If you click the Preview button, you will see a running demo of the theme, and if you are satisfied, you can click the Download button to download it to your own computer.

Main theme types

As mentioned before, themes are divided into two main types: free themes and premium themes. If you think that price is not a distinguishing factor, then we can divide themes into four other categories: standard themes, sub-themes, starter themes and theme frameworks. We will discuss sub-themes in detail in subsequent tutorials, for now we will only focus on the other three.

  1. Standard Themes
  2. The standard theme is the most common form, designed to run in its most original mode while allowing for some basic tweaks and customizations, just like the themes that come with WordPress.
  3. Starter Themes
  4. Starter themes are a relatively new concept in the WordPress world. Simply put, when using this type of theme, you may need to modify the source code and make it the basis for the theme being built - as the name suggests, they provide a good starting point for your own theme build. This is a great solution for developers, but may not be suitable for the average user who just wants to download a fully functional theme and use it right away.
  5. Theme frameworks
  6. Theme frameworks are somewhat similar to starter themes and can also be used as a basis for custom theme development, but they usually offer a wider range of features. In a way, the main difference between starter themes and theme frameworks is that when you get a starter theme, you have to do some preparation work beforehand to make it work. With theme frameworks, however, you can use them immediately for your website and take the time to tweak the elements later.
  7. For most bloggers and webmasters, the standard theme is the most suitable choice, especially if you don't need any advanced customization features and don't want to run a website for specific purposes (such as animations and interactivity).

Find more topics

If you can't find a theme you like in the official catalog, there are some other options, such as third-party free theme sites, and theme sales sites that offer discounts.

We recommend getting free themes from official directories or reputable sites for the simple reason that only high-quality themes make it into official directories, not in terms of look or style here, but in addition to design structure and code quality. Themes of unknown origin may have mysterious code blocks built in, such as encrypted code or suspicious external links.

If your budget allows it and you want to have a unique WordPress website, then consider buying a full premium theme or even a theme framework. To make your choice easier, we have summarized a list of preferred theme stores.

  6. Most good commercial sites allow you to view a preview of the theme before you buy, and some also allow you to customize it before downloading. As with other products, do some research before you buy to ensure you get a quality theme with good support.
  7. The best WordPress theme store recommendations

Some non-design related basics

Let's take a quick look at the factors to consider when choosing and installing a theme to give you a better idea of what to expect.

Structure of the theme

WordPress theme is actually a collection of files in a directory and does not have any special format, as a valid WordPress theme, the file directory needs to meet the following requirements.

  1. Contains a style.css file and an index.php file.
  2. The first five lines of the style.css file must contain the basic information about the theme.
  3. In most of the theme directories you can also see many other files.
  4. the screenshot.png file, which is a small thumbnail showing the appearance of the theme.
  5. images folder, containing all images related to the topic.
  6. Various files for different purposes, such as header.php, footer.php, page.php, single.php, archive.php, etc.
  7. You don't have to worry about these details now, but knowing them will help to determine your own theme information. Don't worry if your theme directory structure is different from the one described here, some developers will adopt their own structure to provide additional features and unique environments.

Factors to consider when choosing a theme

When you browse through all the available themes, you will find that there are many options in terms of look, feel and layout, which leads to a variety of factors to consider when picking a theme that meets specific needs.

Theme Purpose

You can create any website with WordPress, which is mainly reflected in the number of themes available. Therefore, the first question to answer is: what purpose do you need a theme for?

Depending on the type of website you plan to launch, you will need to focus on various types of themes, the following are some popular possibilities.

  1. Traditional blog: The content is arranged in reverse chronological order, with only a few pages of static content.
  2. Photo blogs: very similar to content organization, but in this case, photos are the main source of content for photographers and creatives.
  3. Video blogs: Very similar to photo blogs, but mainly dealing with video.
  4. Corporate websites: Most corporate websites do not have the large number of posts that traditional blogs have, they usually focus on static pages and provide important information about the business (contacts, appointments, etc.). This type is most commonly used for local businesses such as restaurants, cafes, hotels and other entities.
  5. One-page microsites: Some people see their website as a modern business card, in which case a solution like a one-page website is great.
  6. Online magazines: The main difference between a traditional blog and an online magazine is that the latter has more content, usually publishing 10 or more articles per day.
  7. E-commerce: allows visitors to purchase a variety of products and may include blog posts.
  8. Application website: dedicated to promoting/selling a specific product, usually an application of some kind.
  9. Topic Licensing
  10. If you get a free theme from the official catalog, then there is no need to think about it. However, when you buy a theme from the Pro Shop, there are usually two or more license options, and here are the two most popular ones to use.
  11. Standard single site license: allows you to use the theme on one site, if you are just using it yourself, then this is the recommended choice.
  12. Developer License: For developers and users who want to launch multiple sites using the theme, in addition, this package will usually include PSD project files and other mid-term development files.
  13. Always up-to-date
  14. This is probably the most important factor, your theme must be up to date or you won't be able to take advantage of all the latest features of WordPress. The only bad news is that you can only rely on the information provided by the seller, and whenever you see a description of compatibility with WordPress version X.X, chances are this is true.
  15. In addition, you can view when the theme was last updated, and depending on the store, this information may be displayed in different places.
  16. Customizable
  17. When considering a WordPress theme, be sure to find the answers to the following questions.
  18. Are the sidebars flexible? Can I set the number of sidebars?
  19. Does it support widgets?
  20. Does it support custom menus?
  21. Complexity or Simplicity? Which one do I prefer?
  22. How flexible is the content and layout? Can I set the number of columns and width?
  23. Does it support customization function? Does it provide a theme setting page? Can I customize the page layout, category display, site homepage and other options?
  24. Responsive Design
  25. When developers indicate that their theme has a fully responsive design, it means that it is compatible with all devices used to access the Internet (including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones).
  26. Support, comments and documentation
  27. This is especially important if you plan to buy a premium theme, since you pay for it, then you naturally want a quality product, good customer service, and well-designed features. Therefore, documentation, reviews and customer support are very important.

Installing and changing themes

Now that you have chosen your WordPress theme, in order to install it into your website, you can use the following two methods.

  1. If the theme you want is located in the official directory, then you can search and install it directly in wp-admin.
  2. Otherwise, you have to download it manually and then upload and install it via wp-admin.

Search and install in wp-admin

Navigate to the Appearance → Themes menu and click the Add button (or the Add New Theme box at the bottom of the screen), as shown in the following image.

You will see a page very similar to Add Plugin.

The top contains various navigation links, such as featured, popular, latest, favorite, etc., and a search box on the right. Feature filtering provides an advanced filtering option that allows you to view only topics that match a specific style:.

The theme used for the Top 10 review is Customizr Pro, a theme that also offers a free version. As a demo, we searched for and installed the free version in wp-admin at

Clicking on the first search result will take you to the topic details page, then click on the install button:.

Wait a little while, if you are using a web host then the installation will be done in a few seconds; if you are using a domestic host then it may take a few minutes and may even time out and you will need to click the install button again. Once the installation is complete, click the Enable button, at which point your website will have a brand new look:.

Upload and install via wp-admin

Due to the growing popularity of external theme sources such as theme stores and independent developers, manual download and installation has become increasingly popular and is gradually replacing the traditional method of obtaining themes from official directories. As a demo, we will install a theme named Underscores, which is上的免费入门主题.

For various premium WordPress themes, you may need to perform steps such as creating an account, placing a purchase order, subscribing to a newsletter, etc. before you can get a download link for the theme. Getting Underscores is much easier, just enter the name of any theme you wish to generate on the official website, then click the GENERATE button and the theme will automatically download:.

Navigate to Appearance → Themes menu, and then click the Add and Upload themes button one after another, which will bring you to the page shown in the following figure.

Upload the zip file you just downloaded, then click the Install Now button and after a few moments you will be redirected to the success page at

Click the Enable link and a new theme will be applied to your site.


This article describes how to manage the basic look of your WordPress site, you already know where to look for themes, the differences between individual themes, how to choose the perfect theme for your site, and how to install themes manually and automatically. Next, we'll cover how to launch a WordPress site on a web host.

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