WordPress is an incredibly popular CMS. It’s so popular that a third of the internet runs on WordPress.

One big reason is due to its flexibility. The easy-to-customize CMS can be used to build virtually any kind of website, from large-scale news websites to simple one-person blogs.

All you have to do is find a theme that speaks to you and aligns with your brand, then get busy customizing to create your unique website.

Below you’ll learn the ins and outs customizing your WordPress theme to align perfectly with your brand.

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WordPress Themes: The Basics

Before we get into customizing your WordPress theme we’ll dive deep into the WordPress basics, and how customizations are handled within the platform.

With WordPress, you won’t be customizing the WordPress core. Instead, you’ll be making edits to what’s known as a WordPress theme. A theme is a collection of templates and CSS stylesheets which will create a unique design.

Sometimes WordPress themes also have collections of templates. These are pre-built versions of the theme that already have certain customizations, theme settings, and changes in place.

It all depends on the theme you’re using. For example, the theme GeneratePress has dozens of different templates you can install, which are configurations of the stock GeneratePress theme.

different design templates included with generatepress wordpress theme

Generally, the terms WordPress theme and WordPress template are used interchangeably.

Choosing the Right WordPress Theme for You

Even though this post is going to show you how to customize your WordPress theme, it’s important that you start with a WordPress theme that has a final design you enjoy. That way you won’t have to make any large scale structural changes, but instead style-based changes to bring your brand to life.

With that being said, keep the following in mind when you select a WordPress theme:

1. Choose a Quality WordPress Theme

A poorly coded theme can have a detrimental effect on your website’s performance, appearance, and even leave it vulnerable to hackers. Even if you love the design of the theme, it won’t matter if it never loads.

Instead of looking through the codebase yourself–what would you even look for? Consider taking the following approach.

First, look for theme providers that have been on the market for years. Low-quality themes tend to fade out of the marketplace. Second, spend some time reading through the reviews. If there’s a ton of positive reviews about the quality of the theme, you can generally assume that it’s high-quality.

2. Understand Your Needs

The best theme for someone else might not be the best theme for you. Before you start browsing for the perfect theme take stock of your own needs and the type of features you’re looking for.

A theme that’s built for an eCommerce store will have very different features than a theme that’s built to showcase a photography portfolio.

With WordPress, you’ll be able to find themes built for specific niches like lawyers, accountants, boutique shops and more. On the other hand, you have all-in-one themes that can be customized to suit virtually any niche.

3. Look for Quality Support

If you’re purchasing a premium theme, then there should always be a dedicated and responsive support team that comes with. If possible, make sure they offer a method of support that suits your needs best. The most common forms of support include phone, email, and live chat.

If you’re going with a free theme, then you probably won’t receive the same level of support. But, you should still look through the WordPress.org support forums to see how frequently they respond to user requests.

Beyond support, you’ll want to ensure the theme is updated on a consistent basis. WordPress is continually evolving and the theme will need to be updated, patched, and have bugs fixed to remain functional.

Now that you have a foundational understanding of how customizations are made in WordPress and you have a solid theme, it’s time to start customizing.

What You Need Before You Start Customizing Your WordPress Theme

Before you start editing your WordPress theme you’ll want to have certain brand assets. With a solid website style guide in place, you’ll be able to design your site much faster and avoid things like mismatched colors.

Here’s a handful of different design elements you’ll want to have in place:

  • A finished logo. It can be helpful to have multiple versions and sizes, depending on what your theme requires.
  • The list of colors you want to use across your site, including the HEX code, this will look something like #16336d.
  • Any images and graphics you’re going to use across your site

Finally, you’ll want to have a general idea of how you want your site to look. For example, do you want to have a full-page slider underneath your logo? Do you want the header to be left-aligned with a menu to the right? Do you want a parallax-style scrolling homepage?

Spend some time looking at other competitor sites in your niche and pull out design trends and elements you like. This will help you choose a theme that’s in alignment with your design goals from the start, so you won’t have to make any huge changes to the layout of your theme.

How to Customize a WordPress Template

There are a multitude of different ways you can customize your WordPress site.

Below we cover the most common approaches to editing your WordPress site. Every method we highlight below is 100% beginner-friendly, no design or coding skills required.

1. Use the WordPress Customizer

WordPress has a built-in tool called Customizer, which lets you customize your site without having to make any changes to your site’s code. It’s not the most in-depth customization tool in the world, but it will help you make simple customizations, like changing your logo, layout, color scheme, and more. 

You can access the tool by navigating to Appearance>Customize from within your WordPress dashboard. 

wordpress customizer

Once you open up the Customizer you’ll have a menu on the left-hand side, which will show you what elements of your site you can edit. 

The site elements you can change will depend upon the theme you’re using. However, you’ll typically be able to change the following things:

  1. Logo and title. Here you’ll be able to upload a logo and change the size, change your site’s tagline, and more. 
  2. General layout. Here you can make adjustments to your navigation menus, sidebars, headers and more. You can change the size and appearance of these layout elements. 
  3. Color scheme. Here you can adjust the color scheme across your entire website, you can change body text color, header colors, link colors, background, and much more. 
  4. Typography. In this section, you can change the typography across your site. Be careful not to get to font crazy and stick to two fonts across most of your site. 
  5. Menus. Here you can add new menus to your site, choose where you want them to display, and even create new menus. 
  6. Widgetized sections. The widget sections you’ll be able to customize will depend upon your theme. Here you can add new items to widgetized sections and customize these areas however you desire. 

As you can see, the WordPress Customizer is pretty powerful and allows you to make a ton of changes to your site. Plus, the changes will appear in real-time, so you can see if you like the changes before you publish them live. 

2. Use the Built-in WordPress Theme Customization Options

This customization option will differ depending on what theme you have installed. Some themes will have built-in options that will let you customize virtually every aspect of your theme, while others will be bare bones.

You’ll access these theme options from within your WordPress dashboard. You should have a section on the left-hand side that’s the same name as the theme you have installed.

Click this and you’ll be able to see which customization options your theme has available.

For example, here’s what the theme options panel looks like on the GeneratePress WordPress theme:

generatepress customize wordpress theme menu

As you can see, there aren’t a lot of modifications you can make within the theme settings panel. Most of the site changes you’ll make with this theme will use the WordPress Customizer.

3. Make Changes via CSS

CSS is what controls the appearance of your site. Think of things like site colors, spacing, typography, and more. Your site’s CSS code controls more of the appearance of the site than your theme’s core files do.

Before you move forward, make sure that you’re not changing the core CSS file. It’s easy to make mistakes and compromise the design of your site. 

Instead, use the WordPress Customizer if you want to make changes to your site. You can access the Customizer by following the steps in the first section, then select ‘Additional CSS’ from the bottom.

Here you can enter your CSS code to make changes to your site. These changes should show up automatically in your editor. 

If you don’t want to use the Customizer, then you can make CSS changes to your site with a plugin like SiteOrigin CSS.

siteorigin css plugin allows you to customize wordpress theme

This plugin has some super useful features that make it much easier to edit your CSS, even if you’re a total beginner.

For example, it has a built-in inspector tool. This allows you to highlight certain portions of your site and see the exact CSS code you’ll need to make changes to.

There’s also a visual editor too. So, you can make CSS changes and see how they reflect in real-time. The editor also has advanced features that’ll help you write clean code that doesn’t have any errors.

Just install the plugin, and you’ll be able to start editing your CSS quickly and easily.

4. Use a WordPress Page Builder Plugin

WordPress page builder plugins add drag-and-drop functionality to WordPress. This is a common feature on a lot of other website builders on the market today (including the Gator Website Builder).

This makes it so beginners have complete control over the design of their site, without having to touch any code. As you add and rearrange certain website elements, the plugin will automatically create the underlying code. 

WordPress has a ton of different page builder plugins you can use to add this functionality to your website. 

Here are some of the most common:

Beaver Builder

beaver builder wordpress plugin

Beaver Builder is a very fast and easy to use drag and drop page builder. Just drag different site elements to the editor, and change any element via the built-in options panel.

It’s equipped with a ton of different site elements like content blocks, buttons, sliders, background options and more. It also has over 30 different templates that you can use to create website layouts super quickly.

Divi Builder

divi page builder plugin for wordpress

Divi is both a theme and a WordPress page builder. The page builder plugin used to only be available for use with the Divi theme, but today it exists as a standalone product.

You can use the plugin with third-party themes, as well as any theme in the Elegant Themes collection.

Once you install this plugin you’ll get access to the super-powerful editor. The Divi Builder plugin gives you a powerful drag-and-drop editor, real-time editing, and built-in responsive design. It’s also equipped with tons of different pre-built modules, and even entire websites you can quickly customize. 

Once you install one of these plugins you’ll be able to edit your site’s pages and layout via a drag and drop builder. However, these plugins aren’t compatible with every theme out there. So, if you’re having issues using the plugin it might be a problem with your theme’s compatibility. 

The changes will reflect in real-time and once you’re satisfied, just save the changes. Virtually every page builder plugin you use will have similar functionality.

What’s the Best Approach for Customizing Your WordPress Theme Design?

By now you should have a better understanding of how you can edit your WordPress theme to match your brand. As you can see there are a lot of different approaches you can take to make changes to your WordPress theme.

The approach you take will differ depending on your existing skills and what you feel comfortable with.

Some website owners will be fine just making a few changes via the Customizer and their sites will be complete! While others might prefer making a ton of changes via a WordPress page builder plugin.

Feel free to try multiple approaches until you find one that works best for you. Remember, if you don’t want the world to see your website as you’re busy building it, then you can install a WordPress coming soon or maintenance mode plugin.

Kevin Wood writes about technology and human potential. You can find him at his virtual homes Wooden Writing and Counter Culturist.