Once you’ve selected a WordPress theme, congratulate yourself! You’ve done the hard part. Now it’s time to install the theme! There are 3 ways to do this. Two of them are done within WordPress, and the third method uses FTP (or your webhost’s File Manager area).
It’s fun to explore themes and see how your site will look and behave. You can install lots of themes and test them out. Just remember to backup your site before activating any theme! Only one theme can be active at any given time. Activating one deactivates the previously active theme.
NOTE: For a full explanation of selecting a theme, see my post How to Choose a WordPress Theme.
Methods 1 and 2: WordPress Backend
The easiest way to install a theme is to go to the Themes area. Here, you can install a free theme from the WordPress repository. Or you can upload a theme that you’ve purchased.
METHOD 1. WordPress Repository of Free Themes
- Log into the WordPress website.
- Go to Appearance > Themes. You’ll see a thumbnail grid of the themes that are already installed. One of the themes should be a default theme, like Twenty Twenty-One. You can also view the theme repository without logging into WordPress: https://wordpress.org/themes/
- Click on the button at the top labeled “Add New” or the empty thumbnail labeled “Add New Theme”.
- Both options will bring you to the “Add Themes” page that displays the WordPress repository of free themes. Search for the theme you want.
- When you hover over the theme name, you’ll see the “INSTALL” and “PREVIEW” buttons. Click “INSTALL“.
You could click on the theme thumbnail to review the details and see a preview, then click “INSTALL“.
METHOD 2. Upload a Theme
- Follow the same steps as above to get to the “Add Themes” page.
- Instead of clicking “INSTALL” or a theme preview, you can upload a theme you have purchased.
NOTE: Have the theme’s zip archive file on your desktop so you can find it easily.
- Click the “Upload Theme” button at the top of the screen.
- You can click the “Choose File” button or drag and drop the theme’s zip file.
- Click the “Install Now” button.
Method 3: FTP (or webhost’s File Manager)
FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is the standard method for uploading and downloading files to and from a webhost’s server. Using FTP is a bit advanced and not recommended for novices. You’ll need login credentials, which you get from your webhost account. You’ll also need an FTP client, which is a software program that allows communication between your local machine (computer) and an online server. I use Filezilla.
- When you purchase a theme, download a .zip archive of it to your computer.
- Make sure you “unzip” (extract) this archive so that the theme is in a regular folder. For example:
The unzipped MyTheme.zip archive becomes a new folder named “MyTheme” containing all of the associated files.
FTP Login Credentials
- Log into the your webhost account. Navigate to the area where the FTP login credentials reside (usually in cPanel’s FTP section).
- Make a note of the credentials.
- Enter the credentials into Filezilla. For example, Siteground information may be similar to the following:
— Host: websitename.com or ftp.websitename.com
— Username: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
— Password: (established in the Siteground’s FTP area)
— Port: (can often be left blank)
Upload to WP-Content Folder
- After connecting to the server, you’ll see the Remote site files in the left panel and your Local site files in the right panel (or vice-versa, depending on your settings).
- In the Remote site panel, find the /wp-content/themes/ folder and open it. Inside this folder, you’ll see all of the themes that have already been installed.
- In the Local site panel, find your theme (“MyTheme”).
- Upload your theme folder. Click and drag is my preferred method. You can also Right-Click / CNTRL-Click to get the dropdown menu with the upload option.
- When the upload is complete, you’ll see the “MyTheme” folder in the remote panel.
- Go to the Appearance > Themes area on the WordPress site.
- The theme you just uploaded (MyTheme) should now be listed and can be activated.