Themes 101; What are WordPress Themes?

One of the first questions you’ll have after deciding to use a WordPress site is something along the lines of “How do I make it look good?” or “What does it mean by ‘theme’?”. We’ll look at what a theme does and why you’d want to use one in this article.

WordPress began as a blogging platform but it’s now a powerful content management system used by millions of websites across the world. This means that even though you can still just load it up on your site and start blogging, you can use it for pretty much any other purpose as well.

The main reason WordPress is so adaptable is due to themes and plugins (check out this other post for plugin information). A theme is a collection of files you can install to change the way your site’s appearance without changing its content or underlying structure. When you change your site’s theme you can change color, page layout, fonts, navigation styles, etc but everything else – including that painstaking about page you’ve slaved over – remains intact and unaffected.

WordPress is open source software meaning anyone can create and sell WordPress themes. As you can imagine, there are a huge range of themes to choose from. Themes for online stores, photography or art portfolios, lead generation, brick-and-mortar businesses, dentists, lawyers, or even for simple blogging sites. They can be complex, with lots of options to choose from, or simple plug-and-play where what you see is what you get.

Installing a new theme doesn’t require any coding skills, although changing your theme could get a little more complicated if your site was set up by a web designer who has customized it. If someone has set your site up for you its best to check with them (or another expert if they are no longer around) before changing your theme. Whenever you’re in any doubt check with your designer, it’s better to find out there’s no problem than accidentally damage your site!

Not all themes only affect the look of your site, however. Some come with other features such as widgets, which allow you to add features to your web pages (e.g. a search box or links to recent posts). Some widgets are available on all WordPress sites, but others may be features of your theme or plugins. Themes can also control your widget areas, which are the places you can place your widgets. Normal widget areas include a sidebar, header and footer.

WordPress themes can be either free or premium (paid) and you can find many of them at the WordPress themes directory. The directory also gives you reviews of each theme and the date it was last updated. As WordPress itself is updated regularly, it’s best to pick a theme which has been updated recently with a good reputation (although this becomes less important if you can code). There are also several well-known premium theme developers to choose from including Elegant Themes and StudioPress. The Themeforest marketplace is also a great place to find themes as it lets you purchase from independent designers and developers who may be willing to listen to requests for features.

Now you know how themes work, check out our other post on Plugins.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links; this means that should you purchase anything through them I receive a percentage.

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