How to Install a WordPress Theme: 5 Different Methods Explained

I bet you didn’t realize there are at least 5 different ways to install a WordPress theme. Well, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. In this beginner’s guide on how to install a WordPress theme, I’ll walk you through it step-by-step.

You’ll likely only need to use the first method, but in case you have a unique situation, I’ve included instructions for installing a WordPress theme in the following ways:

  1. Install a WordPress theme from the admin area (easiest & most common)
  2. Install a WordPress theme from ThemeForest
  3. Upload a theme to WordPress (free or premium .zip file)
  4. Install a WordPress theme using cPanel (more technical)
  5. Install a WordPress theme via FTP (most technical)

You might also want to have a look at our theme installation FAQ or troubleshooting common problems.

Before installing or activating any WordPress theme, we always recommend making a backup of your site.

01How to Install a WordPress Theme from the Admin Area Most Common

This is by far the easiest & most common way to install a WordPress theme, however, it can only be used for free themes in the WordPress repository. This method will not work for premium themes purchased from a third-party.

  1. Navigate to your WordPress admin area (yoursite.com/wp-admin/)
  2. Go to Appearance > Customize. This will launch the WordPress Customizer.
  3. In the top-left, next to where it says “Active theme,” click the Change button
  4. On the left, click on WordPress.org themes
How to install a WordPress theme from the admin area
Installing a WordPress theme from the admin area

From here, you have a few options:

  • Choose one of the first 100 featured WordPress themes
  • Use the search bar to type in the name of a theme
  • Use the Filter themes button to filter by subject, features or layout
WordPress theme installation search & filter
Search & filter WordPress themes

As of December 2017, there are over 2,700 free themes to choose from.

Once you’ve found what you’re looking for…

  1. Click on the Install & Preview button next to the theme name

WordPress theme Install & Activate button

You’ll now be previewing what your site will look like with the new theme you’ve chosen. From here, there are 3 more things you’ll want to do:

WordPress theme installation steps
1) Customize theme options. 2) Preview theme. 3) Activate & Publish your theme.
  1. Customize Theme Options – Each theme comes with a different set of options, but you can customize your theme using the left panel.
  2. Preview Your Theme – On the right, you’ll be able to preview your site. Click around to different pages & make sure everything looks good.
  3. Activate & Publish – The final step is to click the “Activate & Publish” button. This will officially activate the new theme on your site.

Congratulations! You just installed a new WordPress theme for your site.

02How to Install a WordPress Theme from ThemeForest

ThemeForest is a popular WordPress theme marketplace where you can purchase premium themes. These themes then need to be uploaded and installed on your WordPress site. I’ll show you how to do just that.

  1. Login to your ThemeForest account
  2. Navigate to your Downloads page
ThemeForest, access your downloads
How to access your ThemeForest purchases
  1. Click the Download button
  2. Choose to download the “Installable WordPress file only”
ThemeForest, download WordPress file only
Click “Download,” and choose the installable WordPress file only

This will provide you with the .zip file that you need to upload your theme to WordPress. The next section tells you exactly how to do that. ↓

03How to Upload a Theme to WordPress

There are a few reasons why you might need to upload a theme to WordPress:

  • You purchased a premium theme from a third-party (most common reason)
  • You downloaded a free WordPress theme from github, or any other location besides the WordPress.org repository
  • You created a custom theme of your own

If you find yourself in any of these situations, you’ll need to upload your theme in the following way.

NOTE: Your theme must be packaged in a .zip file. WordPress does not support any other file format.

Upload a theme to WordPress
How to upload a theme to WordPress (.zip file)
  1. Start by logging into your WordPress admin area
  2. Navigate to Appearance > Themes
  3. Click the Add New button at the top
  4. Click the Upload Theme button at the top
  5. Click on Choose File
  6. Select the .zip file from your computer, or drag & drop it into this area
  7. Click Install Now

Preview and/or Activate Theme

Now that you’ve uploaded a theme to WordPress, you still need to activate it to start using it on your website. You’ve got two options, and I recommend you follow them in this order:

Installed WordPress theme next steps
Options after uploading a theme to WordPress
  1. Live Preview – This allows you to see what your uploaded theme will look like, and make some customizations to it before activating it.
  2. Activate – This will immediately make your theme live, and all of your visitors will see the new theme.

Reminder: Before activating a new theme, I always recommend you make a backup first.

You can upload as many themes to WordPress as you’d like, but I recommend you keep your installed themes to a minimum. You really only need your current, active theme and maybe one other that you are testing. The more themes that are installed, the higher your risk of getting hacked, or finding malicious code on your server.

04Install a WordPress Theme using cPanel

Some hosts (ex: SiteGround) use cPanel for their WordPress hosting platform. cPanel is server software that makes it easy to accomplish common tasks, such as installing WordPress, uploading files, creating backups, and more.

There aren’t many reasons why you’d need to use cPanel to install a WordPress theme, but some reasons might include:

  • You cannot login to your WordPress admin area
  • You want to install multiple themes as fast as possible

CAUTION: cPanel is typically a tool reserved for more experienced web professionals. Please be careful when following these instructions.

Instructions

  1. Login to your cPanel dashboard
    This process will differ, depending on your WordPress host
SiteGround go to cPanel button
How to access cPanel using SiteGround
  1. Scroll down to the “Files” section and click on File Manager

cPanel's File Manager button

  1. Navigate to the public_html folder

cPanel public_html folder

If you only have one website on your hosting plan, simply follow the next steps. If you host multiple websites, double-click the folder for the domain in which you want to install the WordPress theme(s).

  1. Navigate to /wp-content/themes/
cPanel navigate to wp-content/themes folder
How to navigate to the wp-content/themes folder in cPanel
  1. Click the Upload button in the top toolbar
  2. Then click Choose File, and select your theme’s .zip file
  3. Once your file has been uploaded, click the link to “← Go Back”
  4. Now select the .zip file you just uploaded by clicking on it one time
  5. Click the Extract button in the top toolbar
  6. Click the Extract File(s) button

Now your theme’s folder will appear in the list. It is successfully installed. Here’s a little animation.

Upload & extract file with cPanel
How to upload & extract a theme .zip file in cPanel

To keep your server clean, you should delete the .zip file when you’re finished. It is no longer needed.

05Install a WordPress Theme via FTP

Before you can install a WordPress theme via FTP, you’ll need to install a free FTP client on your computer. If you already use one, you can skip this step.

I recommend FileZilla, which you can download here.

Setting up an FTP client is beyond the scope of this tutorial, so I won’t be covering it here. If you’re using FTP to upload WordPress themes, you should have some level of technical experience, so I’ll assume you know how to connect to your site via FTP.

Install a WordPress theme via FTP
How to upload a WordPress theme via FTP using FileZilla
  1. Open your FTP client
  2. Connect to your website
  3. In your local files, navigate to wherever your theme folder is located
  4. On your remote server, navigate to /wp-content/themes/
  5. Click, hold & drag the theme folder from local to remote

NOTE: You should unzip your file first, and upload the actual folder, not the .zip file.

You can select multiple themes (folders) and upload them at the same time. Using FTP is the fastest way to install multiple WordPress themes on your site.

WordPress Theme Installation FAQ

Now I’ll briefly answer a few common questions about how to install a WordPress theme.

Install vs. Preview vs. Activate – What’s the difference?

  • Install – The process of uploading all the theme files to your hosting server. This must be completed before you can preview or activate.
  • Preview – After you’ve installed a theme, you can use the Customizer to preview it. Only admins can see the preview, and it will not be available to your site visitors yet.
  • Activate – Activating a theme is the same as making it live. All your website visitors will now see your new theme.

Can I install multiple themes?

Yes. You can install as many themes as you’d like, but you can only have one active theme at a time.

Where can I find more WordPress themes?

  • WordPress theme repository has over 2,700 free themes
  • ThemeForest has 11,000 premium WordPress themes ranging from about $15-$200
  • StudioPress is another popular site for premium themes
  • MyThemeShop is a theme shop with quite a few premium options
  • ProteusThemes offers a membership with 10 strikingly beautiful themes for a low, monthly price
  • Themeum also has some excellent options
  • Array Themes has several beautiful themes for creative professionals
  • Creative Market is another marketplace with over 3,000 themes from many different authors

Building an ecommerce site?

Our own list of the best WooCommerce themes is a great place to start.

Installing WordPress Themes: Common Problems

You can help us create this list by leaving a comment with your problem. We’ll investigate your issue, and try to respond with an answer within 48 hours. The more details you provide, the better chance we’ll be able to help.


I hope this guide was helpful in your quest to learn how to install a WordPress theme. If none of the above options work for you, please let me know in the comments and I’ll try to help out.

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