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How To Install WordPress Themes (Free and Paid/Upload Method)

WordPress themes are a collection of files and code that govern the overall appearance, styling, look, and feel of a website.

There are plenty of WordPress themes to choose from — both free and paid, so if you’re worried about not having many choices, that won’t be the case.

Which begs the question: When you decide which theme you want, how do you install it on your WordPress site?

Typically, themes fall into two broad categories: free and paid themes. The process to install both types differ slightly, although it’s from the same place inside WordPress.

How To Install a Free Theme in WordPress

Step 1

After you log into WordPress, the first thing you need to do is head over to Appearance > themes. The option of “Appearance” is on the left side panel (the same spot where you get other items also such as dashboard, posts, pages, etc.).

step 1 of installing a wordpress theme - head over to appearance - themes
Step 1 of installing a free WordPress theme: head over to appearance > themes.

Step 2

Next, as your step 2, select the “Add New” button from the main themes window that manifests at the top left.

The add new button - step 2 of installing a free WP theme
Step 2 of installing a free WordPress theme: select the “Add New” button as shown.

WordPress will have its own top navigation on the Add New button click, which are essentially filters, to help you narrow down a theme. The most prominent free theme filters in WP are:

  1. Popular
  2. Latest
  3. Favorites
Common WordPress theme filters
Common WordPress theme filters.

Additionally, the “Feature Filter” option helps you get into more specific attributes that you may want for your theme. Examples are:

  • A theme with two columns
  • A theme that contains footer widgets
  • Themes that are more appropriate for a news website
  • Etc.
the Feature Filter option for WordPress Themes
The Feature Filter option for WordPress Themes.

Step 3

Once you’ve picked out a theme you want to try, you can preview it first by hitting the button with the same name.

previewing a theme in wordpress - before installing it
Previewing a theme in WordPress — before installing it.

Afterward, hit the “install” button if you still want that theme. Doing so will add the theme on your site’s storage/database/backend — what have you, but there’s one final step to making it live.

Step 4 (Final Step)

All your installed themes (however many) are saved at Appearance > themes. So you can either head over there or remain on the Add New theme page and press the “Live Preview” button. Note that this is different than the preview functionality in the sense that with the live option, you can see how your website would look like with this theme.

If you’re happy with everything, the last and final step is to Activate the new theme. There are two approaches to this:

  • Doing so by choosing the blue “Activate” by staying on the Add New theme page
  • Executing so from the live preview page by clicking on the “Activate & Publish” button on the top left.
The Activate & Publish theme button from the live theme preview in wordpress
The Activate & Publish theme button from the live theme preview in WordPress.

As a consequence of activating a theme, all your pages, posts, archives, and more, will adapt to that theme’s look, layout, styling, etc., right away.

How To Install a Paid Theme in WordPress (Also Referred to As the “Upload Method” Interchangeably)

Any theme that is not part of the free theme list in WordPress needs to be uploaded, including paid and any custom themes.

Therefore, it’s not that the upload method is only reserved for paid themes; it’s that — that is one of the ways to install a theme not available in the free section.

Anyhow, to install a paid theme, navigate to Appearance > themes. Then, push a click on the “Add New” button on top.

At this point, things diverge when compared to installing a free theme. Hit the “Upload Theme” button on the Add New theme page.

the upload theme button in wordpress. This is used to install paid themes
The “Upload Theme” button in WordPress. This is used to install paid and custom themes.

As your final step, after you’ve uploaded the theme file, use the “Install Now” button to add the theme. Note that this button will be disabled until a file is uploaded.

the install now button for a paid theme in wordpress
The “Install Now” button for a paid theme in WordPress. As shown, that button will be disabled until a file is uploaded.

Final Step to Installing a Paid Theme in WordPress

Identical to previewing and activating a free theme, the process is virtually indistinguishable for a paid theme as well — once it has been installed.

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It’s All About Them Themes

Themes are an inseparable part of any WordPress website. Sure they can be customized further if you have a developer on hand or personally know to tinker with code, but as mentioned, you technically need to have an “active” theme to even use WordPress.

From the numerous theme options, both free and paid, I am confident you can find something that matches the design vision for your site. If anything, it might not be easy to decide (as a positive thing) because it’s an assortment out there.