I recently changed the theme for this website. Did you notice? Maybe not, because I wanted it to look like the previous theme.
So why did I change my theme? To get more features and better support when I have questions. But of course, some people change their theme to make their website look different.
I’m not much of a fan of spending a lot of time searching for the right theme. In my experience, it doesn’t make much difference and the search can be a big time sink. But the right theme can create a brand — a look — that sets you apart.
If you want the site to look the same, take a screen shot of all of your pages. Even if you want it to look different, that’s a good idea so you’ll have a basis for making decisions. In fact, write down or sketch out what you want your new website to look like. Make a list of changes that you want to make.
Next, check all the settings in your theme. Where you find these settings may vary according to the theme. In your Dashboard, see if there’s a menu item for your theme. If not, choose Appearance and see if there’s a setting there. That’s what I have, as you can see on the right.
Finally, choose Appearance, Theme and you might find the settings there.
Write down or take screen captures of all of the settings. There may be settings that you’ll want to change that you haven’t thought of and having a list of current settings will make it easier for you to get exactly the look you want.
Now you’re finally ready to make the change.
Choosing a theme
I can think of 3 ways to choose a theme:
- Go by a recommendation from a colleague or advisor or use a theme that you see on a website you like. You can often see the theme name at the bottom of a website. Then go to Appearance, Themes and click Add New. In t;he Search box, enter the name of your theme and press Enter.
- From the Dashboard, choose Appearance, Themes and then click Add New. On the next screen, use the Feature Filter to find a theme by color, columns, layout, and more. These WordPress themes have been checked and inspected, and are free for downloading.
- Use a “framework.” A framework is a theme that has lots of options, so that it is very customizable. It’s like a chameleon; you can configure it to get almost any result you want. Examples are Weaver II (which I use for this website), Atalhualpa (which I use for my 2 blogs on EllenFinkelstein.com, and Thesis.
Try not to spend days (or weeks or months) choosing a theme.If it’s taking you that long to choose a theme, you may be procrastinating getting your website done and your online business launched!
If you have the budget, by all means hire a web designer that works with WordPress themes. You probably don’t need a programmer; the web designer will be able to choose and modify a theme to your specifications. Many web designers use frameworks to accomplish this. A web designer will also design a banner and other graphics for you.
Make the change
Once you have chosen a new theme and have documented your current website design and settings, you’re ready to start the process of changing your theme. If your theme provides installation instructions, be sure to read and follow those instructions.
You can install a theme manually by uploading its file, but in most cases, you can use WordPress’ interface. If you downloaded a zipped copy of a theme, you can use the Upload link at the top, after choosing Add New on the Themes page.
- Use the 1st method I explain above and enter the name of the theme in the Add New box.Press Enter.
- The theme should appear in the search list. Choose it and click Install Now. Don’t sweat! Installing a theme doesn’t change your theme — it just uploads the theme to the proper location on your webhost’s server. You should now see an image of the theme in the list of installed themes. Click Theme Details for more information.
- Click Live Preview to see what your website will look like. Prepare to be shocked! Remember that even simple themes with few options need some customization.
- Look for the customization options.As I explained earlier in this post, they can be in a number of locations, depending on the theme. Start making the changes you want. In the next section, I list some of the more common customizations you’ll make. Preview each change.
- When you think you have it right, click the Activate button. This actually applies the theme to your website.
- Open a new tab and view your website. Carefully check all of the pages. You’ll almost always see something you need to change. Just go back into the theme’s options and make the change. Check each change by refreshing the tab that displays your website.
Common options to change
Your new theme is in a separate folder from your old theme and all of the settings are in this folder and its subfolders. Each theme has its own settings for how the components of your website look — menus, headings, text, columns, colors, images, and more.
Here are some of the components that you’ll need to configure:
- Banner image or other sitewide images: You can copy these from one theme to another using an FTP program. Or you can upload them again from your computer. If necessary, you can usually save them directly from your original website (right-click and choose Save Image As, or something similar). If you need to, you can always re-activate your original theme to display those images and download them.
- Heading and body text font, color, and size: You may want to change these items to get the look you want, especially if you have changed them to match your branding.
- Background color: This has a big impact on the look of your website and is usually easy to change.
There are innumerable other items to change — some themes give you more options than others. So poke around and see what you can change.
A word about CSS
CSS (cascading sheet styles) is code that your theme uses to determine how your website appears. Usually, you don’t have to muck around in the CSS, but if you have added to or changed the CSS in your current theme, you want to copy that code and then add it to your new theme.
Choose Appearance, Editor in your Dashboard to find the theme’s CSS file. Some themes have a “safe” place to add CSS but if not, you can add or change CSS code in the editor. If you change existing code, keep a record of it, because any time you update or change your theme, you’ll lose that new code!
As an example of a safe place to edit CSS, Weaver II has this warming placed in the CSS file (which you see when you go to Appearance, Editor):
*** WARNING *** *** WARNING *** *** WARNING *** *** WARNING ***
>>>> DO NOT EDIT THIS FILE! <<<<
The Weaver II Theme has been designed so that editing style.css is no longer required! If you need to make changes to the styles rules, add Custom CSS rules from the Advanced Options tab of the Weaver II admin panel.
What is your experience with WordPress themes?
Have you had a good or bad experience changing a WordPress theme? Which theme do you use and why? Leave a comment to share your experience with others who want to know!