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How to Install a WordPress Theme

WordPress allows the use of custom themes for a blog. There are a couple of options for obtaining custom themes to use on your WordPress site:

  • Option 1: Search and install a theme via the WordPress Dashboard Themes section.
  • Option 2: Download a theme from the internet onto your local computer, upload it via the themes directory, then activate the theme via the WordPress dashboard.
It is recommended to create a backup of your website before making any changes. CodeGuard creates an automatic backup that you can count on in case you need to revert to the previous version of your website!

We created this complete tutorial on building a WordPress website, and below, we've queued up the portion about the different methods available to add a theme to your site and some basics on modifying them as well.

You can start the video from the beginning to see the full tutorial on how to build a WordPress website!

Option 1: Search and install a theme via WordPress dashboard

To search and install a theme:

  1. Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
  2. In the left-side navigation menu, select Appearance, then click Themes. It will display all themes you have installed already.

    HostGator wp Dashboard Appearance Theme

  3. Search for a theme using the search box at the top menu beside the Add New button.

    HostGator wp Dashboard Add New Theme

    You can also click the Add New Theme block at the bottom of the page, then use the quick search options - Popular, Latest, or Favorites - or the search box to the far right to look for themes.

    Search options

  4. Hover over a theme's thumbnail, then click Preview to see a preview of the theme, or click Install to install the theme.

    WordPress theme thumbnail

  5. Once the theme is installed, you'll have the option to Activate or do a Live Preview of the theme.
    • Clicking Activate will replace your current theme.
    • Clicking Live Preview will let you see what your site would look like using that theme without making any actual changes to your live website. If you like the theme's look, you can modify it in the editor, then click Activate & Publish to apply the theme to your live site.

Option 2: Downloading and installing a theme

You have the option of purchasing or downloading themes from a third-party website. After downloading a theme, there are two possible ways to install the theme on your WordPress site.

Note: Not all WordPress themes are compatible with the latest version of WordPress. Be sure the theme is compatible with the current WordPress version you're using.

via WordPress themes installer

To install a downloaded theme:

  1. Log in to the WordPress dashboard.
  2. From the left-side navigation menu, hover over Appearance and click Themes.

    HostGator wp Dashboard Appearance Theme

  3. Click the Upload Theme button next to Add Themes

    HostGator wp Dashboard Upload Theme

  4. Select and upload your theme by clicking Choose File.

    HostGator wp Dashboard Upload Theme

    Themes should be uploaded as a .zip file. Do not extract the file before attempting to upload it.
  5. Click Install Now.
  6. Once the theme is installed, you can Activate, do a Live Preview of the theme, or Return the Themes page.

    WordPress Theme Successfully Installed

    • Clicking Activate will replace your current theme.
    • Clicking Live Preview will let you see what your site would look like using that theme without making any actual changes to your live website. If you like the theme's look, you can modify it in the editor, then click Activate & Publish to apply the theme to your live site.

via Manual install

If the WordPress themes installer experiences issues, it is possible to manually install a theme by uploading it directly to your server.

Step 1: Upload theme into your themes directory

To manually install a WordPress theme, you need to upload your theme .zip file to your WordPress themes directory:

  1. Go to the File Manager in cPanel or connect to your server with an FTP client.
  2. Open your website's document root, then go to the themes directory inside the wp-content folder.

    HostGator wp Dashboard Upload Theme File Manager

  3. Hit Upload in the top menu, then click the Select File button.

    cPanel Select File to Upload

  4. Upload the .zip file of your theme. Once the file is uploaded, the progress bar will turn green and show 100%.
  5. Return to the main File Manager window. Select the file you uploaded and click Extract.

    cPanel Extract File

  6. You will need to add the name of your theme to the end of the directory string. So change /public_html/wp-content/themes to read /public_html/wp-content/themes/nameOfYourTheme and then click Extract File(s).
  7. The extraction results will display. Close the pop-up box and refresh your page to see the new theme in the folder.
  8. Finally, delete the zip file or move it to another folder; otherwise, you may have a file show up as a theme in the WordPress dashboard.
Step 2: Activate the uploaded theme

After successfully extracting your theme into the WordPress themes folder, you can activate it using the following steps:

  1. Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
  2. Hover over Appearance, then select Themes from the left-hand side menu. You should see the theme you just uploaded in Step 1.

    HostGator wp Dashboard Appearance Theme

  3. Hover over the theme you uploaded. You will have the options Activate and Live Preview.
    • Clicking Activate will replace your current theme.
    • Clicking Live Preview will let you see what your site would look like using that theme without making any actual changes to your live website. If you like the theme's look, you can modify it in the editor, then click Activate & Publish to apply the theme to your live site.

Refresh your website. Your website should now show the new theme.


You may also visit our What is WordPress? article and click the tabs for specific information about the different functions of WordPress.

Better yet, you may watch our "Building your First WordPress Website" video series for an in-depth tutorial on how to build a WordPress site!

If blank pages are encountered after installing a new theme, please refer to the WordPress Blog Blank Pages article for additional details.