WordPress Beginner Tutorial 1: Change Your Theme

Ok, so you’ve installed WordPress on your site and have the username/password credentials. You log into your site…and now what? If you’re new to WordPress, it can feel a bit overwhelming. You don’t know where to start. So much to learn! That’s the purpose of this step by step WordPress beginner tutorial series. Starting right from the point where you install WordPress, to covering security, design and backups – the works.

This tutorial will show you the first thing to do after installing WordPress – changing your theme and making the site “yours”. Some will recommend securing your site before changing the theme, but at this stage there’s really nothing for a hacker to get their hands on. So I’ll delegate security to the second step. Here’s how to change the default look of WordPress and set your blog apart from millions of others.

Step 1: Access the “Themes” Section from the Dashboard

As soon as you log into WordPress, you will be taken to the Dashboard. From here, you can access all WordPress admin functionality. To change your theme, look for “Appearance” on the left hand side menu, and select “Themes” from the sub-menu that pops out:

WordPress Beginner Tutorial - First Step is to change Themes

This will bring you to a screen showing you all of the existing themes on your site. Note that only one theme can be active at a time. A fresh WordPress installation comes with a set of default themes developed by Automattic. They’re pretty vanilla. What we need, is a fresh new theme. The good news is that there are around 2,000 free themes to choose from!

Step 2: Select a New Theme

At the top of the page, click the “Add New” button next to the “Themes” heading as shown here:

add-new

The following screen shows a list of free WordPress themes to install. Using the tabs, you can browse them by “Featured”, “Popular”, or “Latest”. If you want to specify the features your theme must have, then click the “Feature Filter” gear icon on the right hand side.

sort-by-features

This tool allows you to filter you results by the specific features you want your theme to have. As a beginner, many of these will not make any sense. But you can still filter by subject, or if you have an idea of the number of columns you want your new WordPress site to display.

Once you’ve made your selection in the feature list, click “Apply Filters” to display the list of themes that match your criteria. They’re shown in a “grid” layout with thumbnails, so you can get a decent idea of what these themes will look like. Keep in mind that you can customize the colors, the text, the font, and many other aspects of any individual theme. So find one that has the broad look you’re going for. Don’t get too hung up on the specifics of the elements.

Once you’ve found one you think looks nice, you can get a closer look by hovering your mouse pointer over it and clicking “Preview”.

preview-new-theme

In the above example, I’ve selected to preview the theme called “Verbosa”. I like the clean, white text based layout. The preview screen shows you what your blog would look like with the current theme installed with its default settings. Unlike the thumbnail, it’s a much more detailed preview and is specific to your site. Nothing has been installed yet, and you can’t make any specific changes at this stage.

Step 3: Activate your Theme

If you don’t like what you see, click the “X” icon at the top left of the screen to continue browsing more thumbnails. If you want to give the theme a try, click “Install” as shown here:

examine-theme-and-install

This will download the theme files onto your server, but doesn’t activate it yet. If you want to go ahead, click the blue “Activate” button after the installation is complete:

activate-theme

This will make your chosen theme “live”. You’ll be taken back to the dashboard, but you can visit your site in another tab to see what it looks like.

Step 4: Customize your Theme

Almost no-one is satisfied with the default look of their theme. Even if you are, you want your blog to stand out and look different from all others who have installed the same thing. So it’s time to customize. To do this, go back to the WordPress dashboard and under the same “Appearance” menu, click “Customize” as shown here:

customize-theme

This brings up the customization options for your current active them. In this case I’ve just activated the “Verbosa” theme. So I get customization options for it as shown in the screenshot below:

select-aspect-to-customize

The customization options are divided into segments. Right off the bat, you can see that I can modify the default colors, the fonts, the graphics etc. The “Post Information” allows you to select what information to display along with your posts, whether to show excerpts etc etc.

Not all themes have the same customization options. Well written ones provide as much customization as possible. Others, not so much. If you get lucky, your theme will provide you with a wealth of options that you can modify and create a unique look. Selecting one of the segments brings up options related to that area. For example, in the screenshot above I selected “Graphics”. Here are the options for that:

preview-changes-and-save

The true value of the customizations screen comes when you change a setting. The preview display on the right pane immediately changes to reflect what your blog would look like with the new option. The changes are not saved yet – only the preview is modified. You can use the left arrow to go back to other segments and make more changes. They won’t go live until you press the blue “Save and Publish” button at the top of the theme customization panel.

When your customizations are live, visit your site with a new tab and see how it looks full screen. If you want to make more tweaks, just repeat Step 4.

Congratulations! You’ve installed WordPress and have customized the theme to fit your tastes. You now have a distinctive identity on the web and are ready to start adding content. In the next WordPress beginner tutorial, I’ll show you how to boost the security of your site, so that you can be safe from hackers.

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