How To Choose And Install A WordPress Theme (A Step-By-Step Guide)

WordPress themes are a major component of any WordPress site.

They determine the appearance of your website.

Your theme is the first thing that people are going to notice when they load your page.

Let’s take a deeper look at WordPress themes and how to install one.

We offer a full series of WordPress Courses here.


What Is a WordPress Theme?

A WordPress theme is a group of files that determine the look of your website.

They cover everything from fonts and colours to the appearance of most widgets.

Your WordPress theme is a folder that is usually stored at /wp-content/themes/

Your theme folder will always contain at least two files:

A style.css file

This will determine the global design of your website. It can include images, JavaScript files, CSS (cascading style sheets), and more types to coherently create the outlook of a page.

An index.php file

This file contains the theme that will be used if WordPress can not find another file in the /wp-content/themes/ folder.

The best part about a WordPress theme is that it is applied to every page without any effort.

WordPress compartmentalizes design, add-ons, and content. Therefore, whenever you make a design change it will be applied to all of your content instantly.

Read our post here for a full introduction to WordPress if you are interested in using the software but are not yet experienced.


What To Consider When Choosing a WordPress Theme?

You need to choose a theme that will make the best impact on your audience and customers.

When choosing a WordPress theme you should consider the following areas:

1. Your Brand

The theme that you choose needs to reflect your brand and brand values.

2. Your Level Of Experience

If you are an experienced coder, you can update your theme yourself.

However, if you are a starter, a drag-and-drop theme will be more appropriate as it will allow you to tweek your design without the need to find a coder.

3. Price

There are lots of free themes available and they are a good way to get started.

Inevitably, the best themes are mostly developed by third parties and have to be paid for.

Don’t forget to include the cost of a good theme when budgeting for a new website. The average WordPress theme costs about $40 although premium themes can cost upto $400.

4. Speed

 Large or poorly coded WordPress themes can slow down your website substantially.

When choosing a theme make sure that it is well written and won’t cause issues with your load speed.


How To Choose a WordPress Theme

Choosing a WordPress theme is difficult as there are so many to choose from.

Ultimately, it is a case of finding one that meets your needs and is in your budget.

Good places to look for WordPress themes are:


Under the Themes section you can browse a vast selection of themes.

As you can see it was offering 4,266 themes when we created the screenshot below, however there is a ‘Feature Filter’ option which allows you to filter down the selection of themes that you are shown.

Most popular themes can be found here and as standard it shows themes that are free to use.

If you would like to see paid for theme options then select the ‘Commercial Themes’ button and that will show a selection of paid for themes.

Shows the Themes section of WordPress

2- ThemeForest

ThemeForest contains more than 11,000 themes.

Note it has a limited number of free choices but given how many it has you are very likely to find something that suits your needs.


How To See What Theme a WordPress Site Is Using

There are a number of tools and websites that will tell you what theme an existing website is using.


1- WPBeginner

WPBeginner offers this free tool. Paste the link of the site that you want to analyse into the input box and click on “Analyze Website”.

The tool will tell you the theme and the hosting provider of the website.


2- IsItWP

IsItWP works in exactly the same way and will give you details of the theme that a website is using along with the plugins it is using (in some cases).


3- Manual Inspection

To do this, you need to understand a little about coding websites.

All pages have a head section. This is always at the top of a page and will be between the <head> tag. There, you can see the stylesheets connected to the page.

To use this method, right-click on the page you’d like to inspect.

Find “View Page Resource”, “Inspect” or “Page Source” and click on it.

This will show you the page’s code.

On that page, near to the top you’ll see some code that looks like this:

Lists some code of the CSS links

In the third line you can see “id=’oceanwp-style-css’” – this is the main style.css file for the theme.

The name of the theme is the first word, before the first hyphen so in this case oceanwp.

Just like the head of a page, every CSS has a meta part at the beginning. This is how these tools above detect the theme of a website.

Code listing of a themes details

You can detect if the theme is a child theme with the same method. More on Child Themes and how to use them here.


3 Examples of Great WordPress Themes

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so the best WordPress theme will always be a subjective topic but here are three WordPress themes that we really like.


1- Divi

Divi WordPress theme

Divi is a paid theme developed by Elegant Themes.

It offers a huge number of templates which can be a huge time saver as there is a template for every page type you can think of.

Divi also comes with its drag-and-drop page builder. It is a compact and fast theme.


2- OceanWP

OceanWP WordPress Theme

OceanWP is the theme we used at the top as an example.

Again it offers a wide range of templates and also has an extra plugin that gives you very detailed control.


3- Astra

Astra WordPress theme

Astra is another recommended theme that can be found in Astra is powerful because it is fully customizable. This makes it a great base theme.


Installing A WordPress Theme in Three Ways

There are three ways to install a WordPress theme.

Which one you use depends on how technically competent you are.


The Easy Way

    • Go to the Admin Dashboard.
    • Select the Appearances tab.
    • Under this tab, you’ll see Themes. It’s the default page.
    • Click on “Add New” button, or the dashed box with a plus.

Themes section of the WordPress admin site

    • Next, you’ll see this screen.

Shows a successfully installed theme

Here, you have to make your selection. The number at the top left with a grey box shows you the count of themes you can select from – 8,720 in this case!. “Popular” tab shows the most used themes, and the “Latest” tab will give you the freshest choices.

Filtering the Themes listed

Feature filter allows you to filter from the vast choice of themes according to your needs. When you have selected the features you would like, click the “Apply Filters” button below.

If you found the theme you were looking for, simply hover on the theme. You’ll see the “Install” button in blue. You can preview the theme by clicking on “Details & Preview”.

Shows how to preview the theme with Details and Preview

When the theme is installed, you’ll see a green check at the top of the theme with a notification. Next, click on “Activate” to select your freshly installed theme as the main one.


The Moderately Harder Way

This is still an easy way to upload a theme but there is one catch.

You need to have your theme file as a ZIP file. The file should be always a ZIP, not RAR or 7z.

This is the method you need to use when you have a directly download the theme from ThemeForest or another third-party developer.

If you have a WordPress theme downloaded as a ZIP file that you would like to use.


    • Click on “Appearance” in the left side bar menu.
    • Click on the “Upload Theme” button.

Where to Choose File and upload your theme

    • Choose the file from your computer and upload it.

Shows WordPress installing your theme

    • When the theme is installed, you’ll see a notification page like the one above.

You can now live preview, activate, or go back to the Themes page.


The FTP Way

This is the most complicated way to install your theme.

If you have the source files for your theme you can use FTP to upload it. This is useful if the compressed file that contains your theme isn’t a ZIP file.

    • Prepare the files by extracting the document from the compressed file.

Shows the extracted document out of the zip

    • Connect to your host with your FTP client. As an alternative, you can use WP File Manager plugin.

Using the WP File manager plugin

Select the public/wp-content/themes folder as the place you want the files to go.

Shows our uploaded theme in the Theme page

Once the files are completely uploaded, you’ll see the theme in the Themes page. There, you can activate it.

One additional way is to use the hosting provider’s system for installing a theme. You can select a theme from the wizard, and it’ll be installed on your website. This may not be an option for every hosting provider company.

You can also view our article on how to Delete A Theme here.

Three Mistakes That People Make When Installing Their Theme


1- Not backing up their website.

Sometimes things go wrong.

Backing up your website will allow you to bring all the data without any loss if anything goes awry.

There are lots of options to back up your website. There are lots of plugins you can use and your hosting provider probably offers this as well.


2- Make Sure The Current Theme Isn’t Live When You Edit It.

When you activate a theme, it becomes live.

If you change anything on the active theme the users will be able to see it instantly.

The best way to customise a theme is to duplicate it and work on the duplicate.

The duplicate will remain inactive while you change it.

Then, once you are happy you can activate the duplicate and deactivate the old one.

Another tip is to put the page in maintenance mode. However, this can lower your site traffic.


3- Forgetting That Templates Are Tied To Themes.

Templates are not independent of themes.

Templates are meant for them theme that they were designed for. This means that there no guarantee that a template developed for Divi will work on OceanWP, for example.

Trying to do this is likely to break your website.



WordPress dominates the internet because it is so versatile and customizable.

Knowing how to install a WordPress theme allows you to quick take advantage of all of the creativity of other WordPress users to make you site look as good as possible.