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Beginners Guide: How to Install a WordPress Theme

Are you looking to install a WordPress theme?

There are thousands of WordPress themes available (both free and paid). As a beginner, you may want to try out a few of them on your site until you find the right one.

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll share detailed step by step instructions on how to install a WordPress theme. We’ll cover three different ways to install a WordPress theme, so you can choose the method that works best for you.

Installing a WordPress theme step by step

Before You Install a WordPress Theme

Installing a WordPress theme is easy but keep in mind that if you activate a new theme, then it will change how your website looks and functions.

If you’re switching from an existing theme, then you may want to look at our checklist of things you need to do before changing WordPress themes.

If you are installing a WordPress theme on a new site, then you are good to go.

Bonus Tip: See our list of the best and most popular WordPress themes.

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Install a Theme using WordPress Admin Theme Search

If you’re looking to install a free WordPress theme from the WordPress.org themes directory, then the easiest way is by using the built-in theme search functionality.

The first thing you need to do is log in to your WordPress admin area. Next, go to the Appearance » Themes page and click on the Add New button.

Add new theme in WordPress admin area

On the next screen, you will have the ability to select from: Featured WordPress themes, Popular WordPress themes, Latest WordPress themes, search for a specific theme, or search for themes with specific features.

Add new theme toolbar and search

Clicking on the ‘Feature Filter’ button will allow you to sort themes based on features. For instance, you can sort themes by subject, specific features, and layout.

Filter theme results by feature

Based on your search, you will see a list of themes that met your criteria. In our case, we searched for the popular Astra theme.

When you see the theme that you want to install, simply bring your mouse on top of the image. This will reveal the install button, preview button, and details button.

Go ahead and click on the install button.

Install WordPress theme

WordPress will now install your theme and show you a success message along with ‘Activate’ or ‘Live preview’ buttons.

Activate theme

Click on the activate button, and you’ve successfully installed and activated your WordPress theme.

Depending on the theme, it may add additional settings options that you may need to configure.

For instance, your theme may ask you to install the recommended plugins, download demo data, or review settings.

You can follow the on-screen instructions, or click on the customize button to start setting up your theme.

Customizing themes

Install a Theme by using the Upload Method from WordPress Admin

The first method that we covered only allows you to install free themes that are available in the WordPress.org theme’s directory.

What if you want to install a premium WordPress theme from companies like StudioPress, Elegant Themes, Themify, etc.

Or what if you want to install a custom theme? Well, in this case, you would need to install the theme using the upload method from your WordPress admin.

Start by downloading the .zip file of the theme that you purchased from a marketplace or a commercial theme shop.

Next, go to the Appearance » Themes page in WordPress admin area and click on the Add New button at the top.

Add new theme button

This will take you to the add new theme page showing featured free themes. Since you already have the theme you want to install, go ahead and click on the ‘Upload Theme’ button at the top.

Upload theme button

You will be prompted to choose the zip file that you downloaded earlier. Select the file and click Install Now.

Upload and install theme

Once your theme is installed, you will see a success message along with the link to activate and preview the theme.

Theme installed and ready to be activated

Click on the ‘Activate’ link, and you’ve successfully installed and activated your WordPress theme.

Depending on the theme, it may add additional settings options that you may need to configure either through the theme customizer or through a separate options panel.

Note: The theme upload functionality is only available for self-hosted WordPress.org users. If you’re using WordPress.com, then you will not see this option because it limits you.

In order to use custom theme upload feature, you would need to use self-hosted WordPress.org (See this article that explains the difference between Self Hosted WordPress.org vs WordPress.com).

If you want to switch from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, then read our tutorial on how to properly move from WordPress.com to WordPress.org.

Installing a WordPress Theme using FTP

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to take your skills to the next level, then you can learn about installing WordPress themes using FTP.

Remember, this is not for true beginners because it is a little bit more advanced.

First, you need to download the theme zip file to your computer. After that, you need to unzip the file.

This will create a new folder with the theme’s name on your computer. We downloaded the popular Divi premium theme.

Extracted theme files

Now that you have the theme files, you are ready to upload them to your website.

To do that, you’ll need to connect to your website / WordPress hosting account using an FTP client. If you need help, then see our guide on how to use FTP to upload WordPress files.

Once connected, you need to go to /wp-content/themes/ folder. Inside, you’ll see folders for all themes currently installed on your website.

Upload theme files via FTP

Select your unzipped theme folder from your computer and then upload it to your website.

Once you have uploaded the theme, you would need to go to your admin area and click on Appearance » Themes.

You should see the theme that you uploaded listed there. Simply bring your mouse on top of that theme and click on the activate button.

Activate uploaded theme

FAQs About Installing WordPress Themes

The following are some of the most commonly asked questions about installing WordPress themes.

1. How many themes can I use in WordPress?

You can only use one theme at a time. However, you can install as many themes as you like. Not all installed themes on your WordPress website are active.

As soon as you activate a WordPress theme, it automatically deactivates your previous active theme and makes the new theme your active theme.

2. What is a child theme in WordPress?

A child theme in WordPress is a sub-theme that inherits all the functionality, features, and style of its parent theme. You will need to install both parent and child themes on your website and activate the child theme.

For more details, see our guide on how to create a child theme in WordPress and how to install a child theme in WordPress.

3. What is a WordPress theme framework?

Theme frameworks are highly optimized WordPress themes designed to be used as parent theme.

Intended for advanced users and developers, these theme frameworks contain several code and speed optimizations that help other developers quickly build upon them.

Genesis by StudioPress is the best example of a WordPress theme framework. For more information, see our article on WordPress theme frameworks.

4. Premium vs Free themes – Which one I should use?

If you are just starting out on a limited budget, then we recommend getting started with a flexible free theme. See our pick of the best free WordPress themes for blogs and best free themes for business websites.

If you can spend a little more, then choose a premium theme. These themes come with priority support which comes in handy particularly for beginners.

For more on this topic, see our guide on free vs premium WordPress themes.

5. How do I choose the best theme for my website?

There are so many WordPress themes out there and most of them are designed by professionals so they look really great.

This makes it a bit confusing for beginners to choose the perfect theme for their website.

We recommend keeping it simple. Choose a minimalist design that comes close to what you have in your mind. Make sure that the theme looks great on mobile and run a website speed test on the demo site.

See our beginner’s guide on how to choose the perfect WordPress theme for your website.

6. Can I use the same theme I have seen on another WordPress site?

If it is not a custom WordPress theme, then you can find and use the same theme on your own website. See our guide on how to find out which WordPress theme a site is using.

We hope this step by step guide helped you install a WordPress theme on your site. You may also want to see our guide on how to make money online from your new WordPress website, and the must have / best WordPress plugins.

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Reader Interactions

115 CommentsLeave a Reply

  1. I need some help. From the appearance tab, I have no option to add a new theme. The site I am trying to update was made with Divi (and no one knows that password for that site) – so I need to update it using one of the WP free themes.

    • It depends on the specific theme, some have demo content and others do not. It does not matter if the theme is free or not.

      Admin

  2. Hi
    I have activated a free theme from the list you provided but the website does not look same as the demo. I get a single blog page “sample page”. No other pages or anything else.

    How to fix this issue?

    • If you want the site to look the same as the demo, you would want to reach out to the theme’s support for if they offer demo content that you can import to your site.

      Admin

  3. If I want to develop a website on localhost server by premium theme,how to install the premium theme?

    • It would depend on the specific theme, you would want to reach out to the theme’s support for how they handle local installs

      Admin

  4. Hi,

    If I install a new theme after loading demo data from the first, but without creating any live content, will I have a problem installing the demo data from the new theme?

    • It would depend on the theme but for the most part, you shouldn’t have an issue.

      Admin

  5. Uhhhh…. I have following ur methods but when I go to Appearance> Theme page… I don’t see “add new” icon…. so what to do???????

  6. hi thank you for the information

    please i have a question about paid themes, could i use my licenses to design my website on localhost and then move it to live because i want to familiarise with the theme and design it the way i want before .

    have a nice day

    • It would depend on the specific theme for their limitations but you should normally be able to do that.

      Admin

    • It would depend on the specific theme. If you reach out to your theme’s support they should let you know their licensing limitations.

      Admin

  7. Hey,

    When I try to do this, the web tells me that I have to upgrate to a paid version, is there any way I can install this theme on my free account?

  8. When i download my themes for some reason it seems I am missing something. For instance the last them i downloaded and installed had a graphic next to the page title and that wasn’t there, there was a graphic on the side bad, again not there…. as well as the background color. Which was sorta lavender and as well that was not their either.. What am i doing wrong?

    • Not all themes have their demo content as their defaults. If you reach out to your theme’s support they can let you know if they offer their demo content.

      Admin

      • Ok. The themes that are with WordPress should have all the demo content there right? or is that also just for demo

        • You would need to reach out to each theme for if their demo content is available.

  9. I want to know how to open a theme on my desktop so I can work with it here as a “Local Server” and then either copy/paste a page to my WordPress site or upload with FTP. I have the theme in a zipped folder on my desk now but how do I open it and put it to work learning my way around it?

    Please help: Advanced Thanks

  10. Hello,

    I followed the instructions to upload my custom theme, however, there isn’t an “Add New” button. Any ideas?

  11. How do I maintain the graphics that comes with a theme? Themes will look very beautiful on vendor’s site but after installation, it’ll be looking boring. I’m sure there’s something I’m not doing correctly.

    • You would want to reach out to the theme’s support for if they have a method to replicate their demo content for how much of the demo content is available

      Admin

  12. Not Found

    The requested URL /index.php was not found on this server.

    Additionally, a 404 Not Found error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.
    Please I need some help guys

  13. Thankyou. Unfortunately (i wont mention the website), dosent actually show you how to install the themes properly. They give you a brief look over, but not actually how to do it step by step. Sometimes, its what you need, thanks again.

  14. Hi, I uploaded a new theme and activated it. But i am unable to visit the particular site. One default theme is showing. Why? How can i visit the site which i uploaded?

  15. Pity you don’t make it very obvious at the start that you are ONLY working with WordPress.org

  16. So I just followed these instructions to add a theme and after the theme uploaded successfully and I clicked “Activate”, I received a Parse error. How do I now undo this issue? Thanks!

    • Hey Morgan,

      You can undo this by connecting to your website using FTP or File Manager in cPanel dashboard. Once connected, go to wp-content/themes/ folder and delete the theme you were trying to install.

      Admin

  17. I have dowloaded the Pro version of my basic free wordpress theme because the Pro version unlocks more features for colours and design. In my free theme it said : Go Pro. So that’s what I want to do.
    However when I upload the pro version through WP theme installer, it says installation failed because there is already a folder with that name. Do you think the Pro zip file has the same name as the free basic version?
    What should I do? Use an other theme for a few minutes and de-install the free basic theme first? And then install the pro zip file? I’m unsure what to do. And will deinstalling it from my wordpress theme collection also deinstall it from my host server?

    • You would want to first reach out to the theme’s support to ensure they do not have a recommended method to change to the pro version as it could have the same name.

      Admin

  18. Hi
    I found a new theme that I have downloaded and subsequently installed onto my WordPress site for under Add Themes> upload theme. I want to activate it and move no contents from the existing site. I intend to have it the way it is. Any advice?
    Thanks in advance

  19. I bought a premium theme which I tried to upload to WordPress localhost. It keeps giving me this message;

    Warning: post content length of 26678057 bytes exceeds the limit of 8388608 bytes in unknown on line 0

    Are you sure you want to do this?
    Please try again.

    What could be wrong? And how can I rectify it?
    Thanks

  20. Hi, I am having issues here.. I have followed all this site’s steps to get my website on wordpress.org. I have a domain I bought a while ago, transferred it and have it successfully hosted now on BlueHost. I just purchased a WordPress premium theme for $125 (which is p expensive..) and I can’t get the .zip file anywhere.. Also, it auto installed onto the example.WORDPRESS sites instead of my wordpress.org Bluehosted nerdvegan.com and I have no idea how to switch it since there is nowhere to download the .zip file. Also, having multiple sites listed in and of itself is messing me up, how do I get rid of everything but just the example.com that is on wordpress.org? please help!~ thank you in advance!!

    • Hi Kristy,

      Please contact the theme shop you purchased the theme from to help you find the ZIP file you need to install. Once you are certain that you have the theme’s zip file on your computer. Go a head and login to your WordPress website where you want to install the theme. Go to the Appearance » Themes page and then click on the Add New button. Next, you need to click on the upload button to upload the theme file from your computer.

      Please see the screenshots in the article above.

      Admin

      • I am on WordPress right now and there is no button to add a theme as the screenshots show. Did their pricing models change? Does it require a premium version now to be able to do this?

  21. I will installed wp in my Linux fedora 24 64-bit laptop wp theme add button is hide never to see my localhost site

  22. hi i tried using all the options but still installation of new theme fails, what might the problem be???

  23. I am using a free plan wordpress theme. And i have download a new theme I liked. When I tried to install the new, there was no upload button. How can I install the new one?

    Thank you

  24. I just purchase my premium plan with my domain name and storage space (that whole package). When going to appearance>themes, there is no add new button? Recommendations?

  25. Thanks for the article. I have a few questions as I’m a bit confused. I already have a live website hosted by Inmotion hosting. I wanted to change the design so I found a theme on Envato by Themeforest, the provider was Themezaa – and I bought the theme I liked. It was a wordpress theme. After I bought, I realised I don’t know the difference between a normal theme and a wordpress theme. I found out that I can only use this wordpress theme I bought from a wordpress editor – which is fine by me as I’m not a coder (I only received a 3 month online course on html and css circuits) so I know a bit about editing html and css. Now that I bought the wordpress theme, I’m thinking, can I simply download the wordpress editor, keep my existing host (inmotion hosting), install this new theme, edit the contents and colors and then when I’m done simply connect my domain to my new website?
    Is this how I’m suppose to do it?
    or do I need to cancel my existing host, and start paying wordpress.com to host my website as I’m using their editor? Can you please let me know how this works?
    Selin

      • Hi
        I also I found a theme on Envato by Themeforest that I have downloaded and subsequently tried to upload onto my WordPress site for under Add Themes> upload theme and it does not want to install. It just says: “Error: fail to upload.” Any advice?
        I then went to load it through the C-Panel- I loaded the Zip file, unzipped it and went to my dashboard. The theme box comes up empty, I pressed activate and the theme shows up only as HTML.
        Suggestions?

        Thank you
        Lorna

        • Hi Lorna,

          Please see your theme’s installation instructions. Some theme developers on themeforest actually send you package which has documentation, PSD files, and theme itself is a separate zip file inside the main folder.

  26. If you don’t have the domain name or hosting still can you make the website on WordPress? After finishing the design can we buy the hosting and domain? Is it possible?

  27. It doesn’t matter what one believes they know. Or .. How much of whatever it may be they THINK they know.

    With an open mind to receive an understanding. One may even amaze themselves of how easy life can be. :-)

    I Didn’t realize just how easy it was to install a theme I purchased. I’ve been at this marketing THING 8+ years. And I still don’t know everything there is to be successful online/

    Thanks!

    WP Beginners for simplest advice for installing my “purchased” theme.

  28. I have clicked in appearance>theme. But i didn’t found add new button. Please help me sir. Make new and updated article.

  29. Thank you a bunch! All articles thatI have read and video tutorials I have watched here really helped me a lot. Congratulations to all the people behind this. It’s really amazingly helpful.

  30. How long does it usually take to down load your theme? I’m importing demo data & it’s been 4 hours. I’m thinking something is wrong.
    Thanks

    • Hello Nancy,

      There is something wrong. I bought some themes from themeforest and they are all 60 to 90 mb in size. It took me about 20 minutes to download them. So i think that the 4 hours download (which still did not completes), there is something wrong.
      You should contact the website admin from where you are downloading the theme.

      Kind regards,
      Yogi

  31. Hi…

    i have theme in my local machine which i am trying to upload on my wordpress (also on local machine) but everytime i try to upload theme.. it shows me error saying ” are you sure want to do this?” and link saying please try again which will jump me back to previous page…

    anyone know how can i tackle it???

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