How to Add a WordPress Theme

Designing Your Website

Now for the fun part: web design! Colors, fonts, layout, oh my! Design is my favorite part of making a website, so please forgive my giddiness.

The biggest challenge my clients have when they first get on WordPress is choosing a theme. A theme is a pre-made set of rules for how content looks on your website. Should the text be big or small? Should the background be dark or light? What color are the buttons? A theme controls everything about the color, size, and organization of your website. It does not control what the text says, just what it looks like.

What is a Theme?

In WordPress, a “theme” is a pre-made website design. A designer chose which fonts, colors, shape, and size the website should have, and packaged it all up for you to use. It could also be called a “template”.

A theme is easy to add to your website, and you can just as easily switch between themes with a click of a button. It’s nice to add several themes to your website, and try each one out. Think of it as an outfit. You can change outfits easily, but each one makes you look different.

Like everything with WordPress, there are thousands of themes out there. Many clients get caught in what I call “theme paralysis” because there are just too many good options to choose from. To make matters worse, many themes are free. Choosing a free or paid theme should be your first decision.

Before you start looking, set a deadline for when you are going to decide on which theme you will be using. This will help you keep on track. Remember, you can always change it later, and a demo of a theme never really looks the same as when you use it.

Paid themes usually have support, so you can contact the theme maker with any questions. Paid themes also get updates, so if they make a better version later, you get that version automatically. Some paid themes comes with plugins or other add-on that makes changing things like colors and fonts (and even the entire layout), easier.

Free themes are offered as is, and the quality varies wildly. Luckily, if a free theme is terrible, you can tell. If it’s terrible on the outside, it will be terrible on the inside. Trust your gut.

To complicate the “free vs. paid” choice, most paid themes have a free version that unlocks more features.

At the end of this chapter, I will recommend some other good themes, but for now, I’m going to recommend one theme, just to make this simple. But this method will work on any theme you dine, and at the end of this chapter, I have a great list of good themes for you to use, if you don’t like this one.

Zakra is an excellent theme, and you can make changes without coding. But if you know some CSS, then you can get under the hood and make advanced changes, but it is not at all required.

Recommended Theme: Zakra

The Zakra Theme homepage

Zakra – This theme is perfect for a beginner. It has good documentation, which you can reference to find out how the theme works, and a support forum where you can ask questions.

It also comes with 20 optional starter demo themes, which is unusual. Zakra’s basically like 20 themes packed into one, and you can use any of them as a base for your website design. You can modify these demos, or just use them as is.

You just click on the one you want, and it makes a theme, pages and content for you. Obviously you will want to add your own content, but if you want to start with a strong base, this is the way to go. Find the demo themes in the WordPress admin screen, under Appearances → Demo Importer. Try one out, and if you don’t like it, you can completely undo it and try another.

One thing to note about the demos is – and I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not – when you import one into your website, it also adds several free plugins, automatically. These plugins do various things, like help people contact you, make it easier to edit the theme. You can turn them off under the Plugins page from the admin screen sidebar.

Zakra also sets up WooCommerce, a free plugin that helps you sell products on your website. This is optional, and you will need to activate the plugin (see the section All About Plugins for how to activate a plugin).

They have a paid version of the theme as well, which comes with support and more themes. This email-based support can help you if you get stuck. The paid version also adds a few more features (see free vs. pro comparison here), but the free version has everything you need to make a great website.


Other Good Free Themes

Below are a few other free themes to look through. There are also thousands in the WordPress Theme Directory.

The themes below are all free, but really they are “freemium”. Some more advanced features require you to pay for the pro version. Some have an annual payment, but you only need to pay once to get the theme. You only need to keep paying if you want support, and updates for the theme, which isn’t required.

I’ve found the free version usually has all the things you’ll need. But, the paid versions also comes with support, so if you get stuck, buy the paid version to get help.

The Best Paid Theme

If you are willing to pay for a professional looking theme that is easy to edit, check out StudioPress. It comes with a built-in page editor (called Genesis Pro), that makes sure your content always looks good, and is quick to edit.

It’s not one theme, they have 35 designs to choose from. StudioPress is a good choice if you are starting a business, or need to impress clients. When you sign up, you also get a free year of hosting. It’s expensive, but they do all the setup for you, and your website will look great.


Install the Recommended Free Zakra Theme

  1. From the WordPress admin screen, click Appearance → Themes
  2. Click the Add New button on the top.
  3. On the next page, it will show some recommended themes you can install. Look for the search bar on the right.
  4. In the search bar, type: Zakra.
  5. Only one result will come up. Put your mouse cursor on the Zakra box, and two new buttons will appear. Click Install.
  6. Wait a moment.
  7. When done installing, you will see the word Installed on the top of the Zakra box. Put your mouse cursor back on top of the box, and click the new button that says Activate.

Your theme is now installed and ready to use. The page reloads, and you can then pick which layout you would like to use.

Install Your Custom Theme from the Internet

If you want to use another theme other than the free Zakra theme, download the theme from its website, and follow the instructions below.

  1. Find and download a theme from the internet to your computer. When you download it, the file you get will end up with a .zip file. Look in your Downloads folder on your computer.
  2. From the WordPress admin screen, click on Themes.
  3. On the next page, click the Add New button on the top-left of the page. Then, in the same spot, there will now be an Upload Theme button. Click that, and look down the page a bit for a Browse button.
  4. Click the Browse button. Then, find your theme file (the .zip one) you downloaded to your computer in step 1. (if you don’t know where the theme file is on your computer, look in your computer’s Downloads folder).
  5. Once you find it, double-click on it.
  6. Once you’ve done that, back in WordPress, the name of the file you uploaded should appear in the same spot the Browse button was in.
  7. Click the Install Now button next to the name of your theme file.
  8. Wait a moment.
  9. The page will refresh, and if everything worked, you should see a new theme option, next to the default WordPress themes.
  10. Put your mouse cursor over the theme you want, and click the Activate button that appears over the theme’s picture.
  11. Your theme is now activated! Click the name of your website in the upper-left hand corner of the admin screen to see what it looks like.

Anytime you want to try out another theme, repeat this process. You can try out as many as you want! Once a theme is installed, all you have to do is click the Activate button to switch to that theme.

Next Chapter: How to Customize your WordPress Theme