How to Install a WordPress Theme (4 Methods)

install a wordpress theme

Choosing a WordPress theme, particularly a premium one, is one of the first things you’ll do on a new WordPress site. This means learning how to install a WordPress theme is imperative to your site’s success.

In this post, we’re going to cover four different ways you can install a WordPress theme on your site:

  1. From WordPress.org
  2. Through the WordPress Admin
  3. In Your Host’s cPanel
  4. Via an FTP Client

Method #1: Installing A WordPress Theme from WordPress.org

Many WordPress themes can be installed for free from the backend of your WordPress site. They’re available in the theme repository at WordPress.org, which features a growing collection of thousands of themes.

wordpress.org themes

The great thing about these themes, besides the fact that they’re free, is that you know they’re coded using best practices because each theme goes through a rigorous screening process before being allowed in the repository.

Step 1: Check Theme Stats

If a theme you’re interested has stats, give them a peek.

almia wordpress theme stats

Make sure the theme has been updated within the last two years. This ensures it’s compatible with updates made to the WordPress core, particularly security patches.

You should also consider the theme’s average star rating and read its reviews and support forum.

As you can see with the Almia theme above, it has been updated within the last year, works with WordPress versions 4.4 and higher, and has nothing but 5 stars.

Step 2: Find the Theme in the WordPress Admin

Once you know which theme you’d like to install, log into your WordPress site and go to Appearance > Themes. Then, click the Add New button located at the top.

Enter the theme’s name in the search bar.

search almia wordpress theme

If you haven’t decided on a free WordPress theme to use, you can also use this directory to discover themes.

Step 3: Install and Activate the Theme

Once you’ve found the theme you’d like to install, hover over it and click Install.

install new theme in wordpress admin

The Install button will convert itself into an Activate button once the installation is complete. Click this button to activate the theme on your site. You can also go to Appearance > Themes, click on the theme, and activate it from there.

Your new theme is now being used on your WordPress website.

Method #2: Install a WordPress Theme Through the WordPress Admin

Because many themes you’ll likely be interested in will be premium, and not available at WordPress.org, you’ll need to know the most popular method used to install themes on your site.

This is also the method you’ll need to use if you’re using a free theme downloaded directly from a developer’s site.

Step 1: Download the Theme’s ZIP Folder

No matter where you get your theme from, you’ll be given a copy of it in ZIP format. This is the format themes and plugins must be available in when they’re uploaded through the backend of WordPress.

If there was no download link when you purchased the theme, check your inbox to see if it was emailed to you. You should also be able to download it when you sign into your account on the website you purchased it from.

Step 2: Upload the Theme to the WordPress Admin

Navigate to Appearance > Themes > Add New and click the Upload Theme button at the top.

Click Browse and look for the theme’s zip file wherever you have saved it (e.g., your desktop, external USB drive, etc.). You can also drag it to the upload box.

When it’s there, you’ll see it and a new button labeled Install Now.

upload theme zip

Step 3: Install and Activate the Theme

Once you’ve added the zipped version of the theme to the Choose File box, click Install Now. You’ll be redirected to a page that features a simple explanation of your theme’s installation progress.

activate theme

Click the Activate link on this page to activate the theme. You can also go to Appearance > Themes, click on the theme, and activate it from there.

Now your theme is being used on your WordPress website.

Method #3: Install a WordPress Theme in cPanel

If for some reason you can’t upload your theme through the backend of WordPress, you can still install it by accessing your site’s file system and installing it there.

Your site is comprised of a few different components, a file system being one of them. In fact, all the themes you install on your site are contained within a folder named “Themes.”

This is the folder you need to access to install themes manually on your site.

Step 1: Download the Theme’s ZIP Folder

No matter where you get your theme from, you’ll be given a copy of it in ZIP format. This is the format themes and plugins must be available in when they’re uploaded through the backend of WordPress.

If there was no download link when you purchased the theme, check your inbox to see if it was emailed to you. You should also be able to download it when you sign into your account on the website you purchased it from.

Step 2: Access cPanel

Next, access cPanel if your host uses it. cPanel is a hosting control panel that allows you to manage several aspects of your site with ease from your host’s dashboard.

Not all hosts support cPanel. Some offer their own control panels but still offer a way for you to access your file system. cPanel and these alternative control panels are most often used by shared hosts.

Other hosts, namely managed WordPress hosts like WP Engine, don’t give you a way to access your file system at all. If that’s the case, you cannot install a theme on your website using this method.

One common WordPress host that uses cPanel is SiteGround. To access the cPanel, all you need to do is log into your hosting account, click on the My Accounts tab, and click the red Go to cPanel button.

siteground cpanel

Consult your host’s documentation if you aren’t able to find their access point for cPanel or their equivalent control panel.

Step 3: Open the File Manager App

Your version of cPanel may look different from the version shown throughout this tutorial, but don’t fret. They all still function more or less the same.

cPanel apps are organized into several different categories. Scroll down to the Files category, and click File Manager.

siteground file manager

A pop-up should appear when you attempt to open the app. Select Web Root (public_html/www).

file manager directory

Then, click Go to enter the File Manager.

Step 4: Upload the Theme to the Themes Folder

The files and folders you see in File Manager are part of your site’s file system. If you see folders named “wp-admin” and “wp-content,” you’re in the right place. Double-click the wp-content folder to open it, and do the same to the Themes folder.

When you do this, you’ll see all the theme files of WordPress themes that already exist on your website.

theme files in cpanel

Now it’s time to upload your new theme.

File Manager’s uploader is only able to upload files, which is why you need the zipped version of it even though the file system itself uses extracted versions of themes.

Click the Upload button located toward the top of File Manager, which should redirect you to a new screen.

click upload button

Click Browse and then Choose File on this new screen, and choose your theme’s ZIP folder to upload it.

upload theme files

The uploader will let you know when it’s finished thanks to the progress bar located in the bottom, right-hand corner of the screen.

When you see that it says Complete, click the Go Back link to return to your file system.

Step 5: Extract and Activate the Theme

Your themes folder needs the extracted version of your theme in order for it to work properly.

To do this, select the zipped version of your theme, and click the Extract button.

extract theme files

Click Extract File(s) when the modal window appears, and refresh the page once the extraction process completes.

extract files button

You can now safely delete the zipped version of the theme from your Themes folder.

To activate your newly uploaded and extracted theme files, log into your WordPress website and go to Appearance > Themes.

Here, you’ll see the theme that is currently active on your website, and the new one you just uploaded. Click Activate to switch themes and start using the new one.

activate new theme in wordpress

Method #4: Install a WordPress Theme via FTP

If you can’t upload your theme through the backend of WordPress and your host doesn’t offer a way for you to access your file system, you can always use an FTP client. This will allow you to access your site’s file system from your computer using an FTP server application.

For this tutorial, we’ll use the popular and free FTP client FileZilla.

Step 1: Extract the Theme’s ZIP Folder

No matter where you get your theme from, you’ll be given a copy of it in ZIP format. This is the format themes and plugins must be available in when they’re uploaded through the backend of WordPress.

If there was no download link when you purchased the theme, check your inbox to see if it was emailed to you. You should also be able to download it when you sign into your account on the website you purchased it from.

Since FileZilla allows you to upload folders to your file system, you can extract your theme files and save them on your desktop or external USB drive for the next steps.

Step 2: Install FileZilla

Next, you’ll need to install FileZilla on your computer. Head to the application’s homepage and click the gray Download FileZilla Client button.

download filezilla

This will redirect you to a new page that automatically detects which version you’ll need based on your operating system. Click the green Download FileZilla Client button after that to install the FTP client.

Step 3: Access Your Site’s Files Through FileZilla

When FileZilla is ready to go, you’ll need to enter your host’s FTP credentials to connect it to your site.

filezilla login

These are the same login credentials you use to access cPanel. If you’re not sure which credentials to use, be sure to consult your host’s documentation for help.

Here are some typical cPanel-friendly credentials for shared hosts:

  • Host: Domain name without “www”
  • Username: cPanel username
  • Password: cPanel password
  • Port: 21

Once you’ve entered your FTP credentials, click Quickconnect.

Step 4: Upload Your Theme to the Themes Folder

Once logged in, look at the bottom two panels in FileZilla.

Use the one on the left to find the extracted version of your theme in your computer’s file system.

Use the one on the right to open your site’s Themes folder (double click to open the folder up). When you do this, you’ll see the existing contents of your Themes folder listed.

ftp connection

Drag the extracted folder from the left panel over to your Themes folder in the right panel.

Wait for the status box at the bottom to say the transfer is complete. Then, click the refresh button at the top of FileZilla.

To activate your newly uploaded theme, log into your WordPress website and go to Appearance > Themes.

Here, you’ll see the theme that is currently active on your website, and the new one you just uploaded. Click Activate to switch themes and start using the new one.

activate new theme in wordpress

Final Thoughts

And there you have it! You now know four different ways to install a WordPress theme.

In the end, it doesn’t matter which method you use to install a WordPress theme on your website. Just use the strategy that you find the easiest and go from there.

If you’d like to continue your WordPress training, be sure to check out our tutorial on user roles in WordPress to ensure the the right people have access to your site’s backend and only those you have authorized have the ability to make changes.

Which method do you prefer to use when you install a WordPress theme on your website? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!

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Editorial Team

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