How to Install a WordPress Theme (Tutorial)

by Jason Cosper
How to Install a WordPress Theme (Tutorial) thumbnail

In this post, we’ll give you some advice on 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 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 things you might need to do 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 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. 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 all the necessary tasks to get it up and running. These include 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 of ways to do this, so we’ll talk about each one in turn.

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How to Install a WordPress Theme (2 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.

1. Install a Free Theme From the WordPress Theme Directory

Let’s start with the easiest of the twothree 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 here 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:

WordPress Appearance menu

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:

browse for available WordPress themes

WordPress will spend a few moments installing the theme. Then you’ll be given a few follow-up options:

activate installed WordPress theme

If you click on Live Preview, you’ll be able to see what your site will look like using this theme. Meanwhile, clicking on the Activate button will switch your site to the new theme immediately. That’s all you need to do!

2. Upload a .zip File in the WordPress Dashboard

At this point, you may be wondering how to install a theme that you got from a third party. 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 a simple process. The theme should have been provided to you as 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. Navigate to 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 page:

upload a WordPress theme

Next, select Choose File. Then select the theme’s file on your computer and click on Install Now. WordPress will display a success message when the theme installation is complete:

install a WordPress theme from a ZIP file

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. Then, click on whichever theme you’d like to use and select Activate:

activate WordPress theme

That’s all you need to do to change themes! Don’t forget that you can use the Live Preview link to see what your site will look like before activating the theme.

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 come with documentation and forums where you can find help.

Install Your New Theme Today

Adding a theme to your WordPress website is exciting. You’ll get a brand new look, 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.

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Jason is DreamHost’s WordPress Product Advocate, based out of Bakersfield, CA. He is currently working on making our DreamPress product even better. In his free time, he likes to curl up on the couch and watch scary movies with his wife Sarah and three very small dogs. Follow him on Twitter.