how to install a wordpress theme

Now you are in the second part of the WordPress tutorial in which we will show you how to install a theme using the option provided in the dashboard as well as other methods like cPanel or FTP. We cover all the methods, so if one fails, you can try using a different one.

You can go back to the part I of this tutorial where we discussed the basic settings in case you missed it.

Selecting a Theme

Let’s begin with the hard part: selecting a theme.

Selecting a theme is not an easy task at all. You will soon realize this once you start searching. It is not because of the lack of themes. There are plenty to choose from, both free and premium themes. However, having more selections can cause a headache as we may get overwhelmed. But that would be a good headache to have.

We have listed some of the top themes in the Free and Premium category, based on our preference, which may be useful for you when selecting your theme.

Installing a Theme in the WordPress Directory

WordPress itself has a large pool of free themes. You can search for a theme directly through your WordPress dashboard, which is the easiest way to install a theme.

Go to Appearance > Themes > Add New.

You will see a set of featured themes. As you can see in the top, there are various filters to narrow down your choice. Start with ‘Featured’ and ‘Popular’ themes to see what other people are using.

install theme in wordpress directory

Using the ‘feature filter’ will enable you to refine your search based on different aspects of themes. For example, if you are only interested in themes with a sidebar on the right-hand side, you can filter such themes by selecting ‘Layout’ as ‘Right Sidebar’. Another example would be to search for ‘Ecommerce’ themes if you are building an ecommerce site.

theme feature filter

If you found a free theme in that way, you can install it directly through the WordPress interface. Use the ‘search’ field and find the theme. Let’s search for the ‘Hemingway’ theme which is the one installed in the test site,

You can preview how the theme will look like in your site using the ‘preview’ button. Or else it can be installed and activated immediately. Go to your home page and see how it looks in your site. That is how you can install any theme that you find in the WordPress free themes repository.

search themes directory

Installing a Theme by Uploading

We learned how to install a theme that is available in the WordPress theme directory. That is not the only way to install a new theme. Often, we may come across free themes which are not available in the directory. There are many premium theme providers and most of them provide free themes as well. Some of them you may not find in the directory. In such a situation, the earlier installation method will not be useful.

Another great way to find a good theme is to search Google. Search for ‘best free WordPress themes’ or the specific category of themes such as ‘best free ecommerce themes’ and there are plenty of posts with lists of themes. Almost all the blog posts you’ll find in the search results will have the screenshots of the themes which will make the selection process much easier for you.

Also, this would be the method you should follow if you are going to install a premium, paid theme which is certainly not found in the theme repository.

So, let’s see how to install a theme by the uploading method.

Firstly, download the theme. Make sure that the theme files are in .zip format. Most of the time, the download itself will be a zip file so you will not have anything to do.

Go to Appearance > Themes > Add New and then select Upload Theme. Then choose the zip file and double-click to install it. Once the installation is completed, you will be given the chance to preview or activate it.

uploading theme using dashboard

Until this point, we have looked at installing themes using the WordPress dashboard. At times, you may find problems using that method because of various reasons like file uploading issues, server security restrictions, etc. So, you should be aware of alternative methods of installing a theme. So, in the next section, we will see how to install a WordPress theme using cPanel and FTP (Or SFTP).

Installing a Theme Using cPanel

Log in to the cPanel visiting and go into the file manager in the files section. On the left-hand side, you will see a list of folders, some with plus signs in front of them. Find the public_html folder and click on it to expand it.

cpanel file manager

Go to wp-content > themes.

Important: In here, I assume that there is only one domain in your hosting account which was added at the time of purchasing it, and you are also installing the theme to that particular WordPress site. If there are multiple domains under your account (addon domains) then, under public_html folder, you will see folders named by those addon domains. If you are installing the theme to one of those addon domains, then you should select the relevant folder and then go in to the wp-content > themes sub-folder within it.

file manager wp-content themes folder

In the themes folder, you will see the folders that belong to the already installed themes. Select the “upload” option in the menu. A new tab will open and you can select the zip file which contains the theme files. There is no need to change any other settings. An uploading progress bar will display in the bottom. Once it is completed, go to the file manager tab and refresh the themes folder. You should see the newly added theme zip file.

uploading via file manager

The next step is to extract the theme files to a new folder. Select the zip file and click the extract option from the menu. You will be given the option to select the location. The default path would end with /wp-content/themes. Add the name of the theme to the end (/wp-content/themes/theme_name) so that the files will be extracted to a new folder. Once it is completed, delete the zip file from the server.

extract zip file

Then go to the themes section in the dashboard and you will see the newly uploaded theme. The rest of the process is same as the methods we did earlier.

Installing a Theme via FTP Client

For the final method, we will look at how to install a WordPress theme using an FTP client. If you are not familiar with using an FTP client, then please refer our Filezilla tutorial. It covers the basic things you should know when transferring files through an FTP client.

In the earlier method, we used the zip file but here, you should unzip the file to a new folder and rename it with the theme’s name. Then open Filezilla and connect to your server. Copy that entire folder with the theme files to /wp-content/themes folder. You will see the queue of files in the bottom. It will take few minutes to complete. If you found any failed transfers, then wait till the process is completed and re-queue it.

installing theme via ftp

Like in the cPanel method, once the uploading is over, visit the dashboard and see whether you can find the uploaded theme and activate it after previewing it.

Wrapping it Up

We went through all the methods of installing a WordPress theme and you can see that the process is not very difficult. As I said earlier, the hard part will be making the right selection of theme.

Always keep yourself updated about the latest themes by researching online. Read reviews. Almost all the themes have demos. If you find a nice theme that you like, go on and browse through it. Look at its features. Many premium theme providers showcase real websites built using their theme. Go through them and see what others have done using that theme. Those are good indicators about the level of customization that can be done with the theme.

We have listed some of the best Free and Premium WordPress themes based on our preference. This will be a good starting point to start searching for a theme for your site.


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