Understanding WordPress themes and how they function

Last Updated on April 24, 2021 by monk

You can’t have a WordPress website without a theme. 

If you’re just starting out making a website, your best bet is to use a WordPress theme. WordPress is free to install and lets you design beautiful websites without needing to learn how to code.

The first hurdle is setting up WordPress. Once you’ve bought your domain name and hosting package, you can go ahead and install WordPress. WordPress’s key draw is how you can keep the same content and images but play around with different themes to see which ones work the best for your site. 

Table of Contents

What Are Themes?

Themes are ready-designed website templates and style sheets that you can apply to the nuts and bolts of your content. Imagine your written content and images in separate pages. Without a theme, they would appear as boring text and images.

But, once you apply a theme, it becomes a singing, dancing website. You can install plugins for slide shows, embed video, and swap themes with ease. 

complete guide to wordpress themes
There are over 8,000 themes that you can choose from

Types of Themes

There are themes for just about any type of website you want to build.

If you’re planning to build an affiliate site packed with helpful content and useful links to products, consider a theme like Ribbon. This theme is ideal for niche blogging. SEO and AdSense-ready, start monetizing your site right out the gate.

Maybe you are working on your startup company and looking for a theme to showcase your business – check out the Startup theme

Or maybe you are looking for a multi purpose that can be used to build a wide variety of websites? Then check out the incredible OceanWP theme.

Whether you’re building a portfolio website, a hobby blog, or an affiliate site, you should easily find a suitable theme.

Free or Premium?

There is a myriad of free WordPress themes you can use to produce a sleek, professional site without much knowledge of web design. Free WordPress themes typically function seamlessly, so you can add great content and images with ease. You can also install plugins to boost SEO, create online forms, or make your site perform better in page rankings. 

That said, there are limitations to free WordPress themes. Free themes don’t include lifelong support, and their functionality can’t match that of premium WordPress themes.

If you’re just starting, you might want to try some free themes. Experimenting with different themes will help you to get a feel for how WordPress works. Once you become more advanced, you can look at premium themes with more features.

Theme Functionalities

Depending on the kind of theme you choose, you might access to very useful features like theme customizer options, page templates and tons of sidebars.

Theme Customizer

This is perhaps the most important of all features a theme provides as these will allow you to make custom design changes to your website. Such changes can involve

  • Choose a font family for your text, as well the font weight, size and color.
  • Adding a logo and favicon
  • Styling the header & footer of your website
  • General settings like pagination, page width, widgets and much more

One theme that does an incredible job of offering a ton of customization options is the OceanWp theme.

theme customizer options

In the image above, you can see some of the features offered by the OceanWP theme.

Page Templates

A page template is used to present the content of that page in a custom manner.

As an example you can have a full width page template where the page content will extend to the borders of the page container. As a result such a page will not have a sidebar.

You can have another page template that will have 2 sidebars of the main page content area and so on.

Some themes are designed to provide you with several types of such page templates .


Themes also determine the amount of sidebars and their locations that will be made available for you. 

Most themes typically provide at least one sidebar that will appear on the right side of your post pages and also 3-4 footer sidebars. 

Other themes provide even more options for sidebars such as a sidebar just above your main footer sidebar, a sidebar that can appear on the left side of your posts and so on.

How to Choose the Right WordPress Theme

A WordPress theme affects the appearance, behavior, performance, and speed of your site. You need to consider all these factors when deciding on a WordPress theme.

Considering your needs is the best place to start when choosing a theme. Ask yourself, what is my site for? Is it informational? Is it showcasing visual art, or is it intended to sell products? This deliberation will help develop your brand personality and help you to narrow down the type of look and feel you want for your site.

Will you incorporate social media into your site? If so, you could include social media widgets. A widget is a piece of content that goes on a page with links to various social media accounts, like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Try varying the layout on each page, or experiment with a uniform layout. Imagination is your only limitation.

I have made a tutorial on YouTube describing how to choose your perfect theme and you can check it out below.

Where to Buy Themes

You can find many sites that sell WordPress themes if you search online.

My go to website for buying themes is mythemeshop.com. The themes are HTML5 and CSS3-ready, so they have the latest version of coding. They offer free and premium themes. You’ll find different premium themes available at temporary discounts.

Elegant Themes produce well-designed themes for all types of businesses. Elegant Themes are built with Divi. You can build sites in real-time, add content and widgets, change the look and feel of different elements, and play around with the sizing. Elegant Themes WordPress themes are popular with designers.

Have you chosen a theme and ready to get down to business?

Luckily, installing a WordPress theme is straightforward.

How to Install a Theme

Before you install a theme, you need to purchase a domain name and hosting.

Next, you need to install WordPress. You should be able to do this from your web host’s user interface. You can host your site at either WordPress.com or WordPress.org. If you host it will WordPress.com, there are limitations, such as limited data and monetization options. With WordPress.org, you have more control, and it’s the recommended platform for serious site owners.

Your WordPress site needs to point to your domain name. This involves two steps. First, attach your domain name to your WordPress site. Next, update your domain nameservers to WordPress.com or WordPress.org, whichever you are using.

The full details of how to attach your domain name to your WordPress site are on WordPress.com. You have the option to either transfer hosting to WordPress or keep it with your current domain provider.

Once you have installed WordPress, you can choose a theme to install. Visit yourdomain.com/wp-admin and log in with the username and password you created at setup.

You will find yourself on the admin page. Go to Appearance and select Themes.

You can browse the various themes or search for specific ones. You can try demos of different themes, and when you’ve decided, press Install.

You are then ready to add blog content and images.

Updating Themes

WordPress themes are continually updated to keep pace with developments and security. You must update regularly.

To update a theme, go to the Dashboard and select Appearance, then Themes. Select your theme and press Update. It will automatically update your theme. One thing to remember is that changes will be lost if you have customized your theme. To avoid this, follow these steps:

Read the Changelog

When you download a theme, your file comes with a ‘readme’ text file. Read these files and see if any changes might affect your site.

Backup Your Site

As a precaution, download an offline version of your site, so you don’t lose your content. If anything goes wrong, you can always reupload it.

You can do this manually, or you can automate it by downloading a plugin to your site. 

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