What is a WordPress theme?

Theme is a common term for experienced WordPress users. However, a WordPress newbie who soon comes across this term cannot imagine much under the term theme. That’s why many WordPress beginners stick with the pre-installed default theme.

This article explains the term theme and deals with the most important questions and answers about the WordPress theme.

What is a WordPress theme?

WordPress and theme are inseparable. A WordPress blog or a WordPress website only works with an installed theme. WordPress is what is known as a Content Management System (CMS). You can find the definition in the glossary and more information in the article Classic website or a CMS?

You can picture it very simply: WordPress is the building with different rooms, the inventory is the database for the content and the theme determines the appearance of the building. The building can be a simple family house, a villa or a high-rise building. The house can shine in bright colors or be a dull gray. The windows can be small or large, with flourishes or plain. With each renovation, you can make the house different, regardless of the furnishings. The frame of the house remains. That is, the framework and content are separate from the design.

A WordPress installation contains WordPress files, theme files, images and a database. The theme files contain all information about the look of the website and additional functions. You determine the arrangement of the text and images, colors, font, etc. You determine whether the blog has a sidebar, what the footer looks like, where the menu is located and much more. Additional functions would be, for example, an event calendar or a members’ area.

Why is there a theme?

WordPress is a very popular and widely used CMS. If the structure and design were not separate, all websites would look the same. That is not desirable and would also be boring. After all, everyone wants to have an individual website. Every industry has certain requirements for a web presence. A photographer’s website needs a different design and functionality than a lawyer’s website. A personal blog has different requirements than a news magazine. In addition, the design is subject to fads. If you compare older and modern websites, you will see that the design has changed over time.

Theme or template?

These two terms create confusion. With WordPress, Theme is the design of the website. Template is a template for the look of a WordPress site. In a theme there is a default page and individual pages for specific needs. A template is created for these individual requirements. Templates have their own page design and are part of the theme.

In other CMS, the term template is used instead of theme.

Default themes in WordPress

Every new installation of WordPress comes with WordPress’ own default themes, with the latest theme activated. WordPress creates a new theme every year that adapts to modern requirements.

Install and manage themes

The management of the themes is located in the dashboard menu under Design.

Dashboard menu

Install theme

Under theme the themes are installed, activated or deleted. In each case, the active theme and the currently installed themes are displayed. For better performance, it is advisable to delete the inactive themes so as not to carry any unnecessary ballast with you.

If you’ve never installed a theme before, the new Install WordPress Theme tutorial will show you exactly how to do it. (updated 04/27/2016)

In general, you should store a copy of the original theme on a separate server. It is also advisable to create a current copy of the theme you have customized.

Select theme

Take your time to find the right theme. The less knowledge you have of HTML and CSS, the more the chosen theme has to fit. Keep in mind that only the default customizations will then be available to you. Additionally, you can rearrange the widgets and use different plugins.

Before you start a blog, think about which functions you need and only then think about the appearance of your blog or website. Check out the live demo for each theme. In the description you can read about the possible adjustments. This allows you to quickly determine the scope of the changes needed and see if the theme is right for you.

Customize theme

Each theme offers individual adjustments. However, the customizations and options that are possible vary greatly from theme to theme. The more professional the theme, the more customization options are available.

For further adjustments and changes, at least knowledge of CSS is required. A custom CSS plugin is sufficient for this. If you need additional functions than those offered by default, various plugins are available to you. In many cases, however, a child theme is the better solution. A childtheme is a subtheme you create. For this you need at least knowledge of HTML and CSS, preferably additional knowledge of php and possibly Javascript. This means that if you’re a beginner, only the default customizations are available to you.

In the theme I use zuki from Elmastudio, I just wanted to adjust the design a bit and installed the Simple Custom CSS plugin.

It is best to make major adjustments and changes in a test environment. If you want to learn more about WordPress, set up a test environment with XAMPP (Windows) or MAMP (Mac). In this test environment you can practice and test to your heart’s content.

Theme Editor

Of the editor is for quick editing of the theme files. In some WordPress installations, the editor is disabled by the administrator and is not visible to the normal user. Making changes to original files is not without risk. Even small changes can lead to undesired behavior. Apart from the required knowledge of HTML and CSS, the changes are lost when the theme is updated.

Theme update

WordPress is constantly updated and you should always use the latest version. A theme is developed with a specific version of WordPress. In order for everything to work properly with the new versions, changes to the theme are also necessary from time to time.

If a theme update is offered, you should update your theme as soon as possible. Make sure to back up your data beforehand. Remember, changes you made to the original files will be lost!

change themes

The separation of content and design makes it possible to change a theme once selected. To avoid misunderstandings, you can’t just switch back and forth between different themes and then decide on one. You should think twice before changing the theme.

If a theme is deactivated, almost all adjustments and changes made will be lost. Every installation of a theme requires new adjustments.

But before you decide to exchange a theme, you should definitely make a complete backup and save all files on a separate server. You should be aware that every theme reacts differently and there can be unpleasant surprises. I can only advise you to try out a new theme in a test environment before you put it online.

I will summarize everything that needs to be considered when changing the theme in a separate article.

Free or paid themes?

As already mentioned, WordPress is a very popular software and accordingly countless free and paid themes are offered.

The range of themes ranges from reputable agencies to “self-made” themes. The quality of the offered themes is very different. Therefore, it is very important for a WordPress newbie to trust the theme provider. WordPress itself offers a large selection of free themes in addition to the standard themes.

Various WordPress themesChoice of free themes

Experience has shown that the demands on a theme increase with blogging. Paid themes usually offer more features and are better optimized. Premium providers usually also offer free themes that offer good quality.

Individual themes

All themes are developed for as many WordPress users as possible. The standard WordPress themes are used the most and are therefore often encountered. The same also applies to popular premium themes.

An individual design has the advantage that your own wishes and special requirements can be implemented. An individual theme contains only the elements that are really needed.

If you need a professional blog or website, find a web designer who specializes in WordPress. He will advise you on choosing the right theme and can customize a premium theme for you.

Individual themes that are newly developed by an agency are correspondingly expensive. If you have the necessary knowledge in WordPress development, you can write your own theme.

Photo: ©senoldo – Fotolia.com
Screenshots: ©Kristina Marino