How to Install a Free WordPress Theme from the Admin Area of Your WP Website
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From this guide, you’ll learn how to install a free WordPress theme from inside the admin area of your website or blog.
It’s possible to do this without any additional software.
So, when you’ve started your first blog or built a website, you can learn the ropes without spending a lot of money on a premium WordPress theme (yes, typically they’re better but you don’t need one when you’re starting out).
The themes in the admin area come from the WordPress theme directory. It’s an official source for verified and trustworthy themes. You can be sure the themes here were vigorously checked for viruses and malware and should work on all WordPress setups.
Themes from other sources around the internet may contain bugs, viruses, and malware so buy/download with caution. They can’t be installed using the method described in this article.
Some WordPress themes require you to upgrade to the premium version to access all features
All of the WordPress themes available from the admin area are free, however, some have a premium version available for a small annual or one-off fee.
Popular themes that work this way include Kadence, Astra, and GeneratePress.
The free versions of each of these themes are good enough to get you started. But once you learn the basics, you might want to upgrade to a premium WordPress theme to access all of the advanced features.
How to install a free WordPress theme from inside WordPress
To get started installing a new theme, navigate to Appearance > Themes
In a brand-new WordPress installation the page looks something like this:
From this screen, there are two ways to install a new theme.
- Click on the Add New button at the top of the screen (indicated by a blue arrow)
- Click on the Add New Theme icon (indicated by a red outline)
When you hover over the icon, it changes colour and looks like this:
Whichever option you choose, you end up at the Add Themes page, which looks something like this:
From here, you can start exploring the many thousands of free themes available inside your WordPress website.
Choose from the links at the top of the page to find a theme you like. The options are as follows:
- Popular (default)
- Feature Filter
- Search (not shown in the image below)
Let’s take a look at each of these options.
Popular WordPress themes
This is the default setting when looking for a new theme, making it the best starting point for any WordPress newbie.
What you see here are the most popular WordPress themes at that moment.
You’ll notice a number to the left of the options menu. This indicates the number of available themes in each section.
The number of popular themes is much lower than the number displayed when you click on Latest.
This list includes the default themes that are automatically installed with WordPress (they release a new one every year, which is named after the year of its release).
Some people never delete these themes, which is why they remain popular.
Scroll down the page though, and you’ll start seeing WordPress themes created by third parties. This is where you’ll typically find the good stuff.
Are there any issues with default themes? No. They are perfectly fine. You just tend to get more options and features with third-party themes.
Latest WordPress themes
In this section, you’ll find thousands of themes displayed by release date, with the newest at the top. These themes are so new, that they often have zero ratings or reviews.
WordPress adds new themes all the time, so this list is always changing.
You’ll need a WordPress.org account to use this feature. The ability to mark themes as a favourite is not available on your own website.
This is how it works:
- Log into WordPress.org to view the themes (they’re displayed in exactly the same way as they are in the admin area of your site)
- Click on the More Info button for the themes you like
- Click the heart icon to add a theme to your favourites list
- Go back to your own site
- Enter your WordPress.org username into the box provided and hit Get Favorites
You’ll now see all your favourited themes inside your own website.
Finding WordPress themes using the Feature Filter option
If you have an idea of the type of theme you’re looking for or the kind of feature you want it to include, you can apply filters to limit the results.
So say you want to create a website about photography and you want the ability to add custom colours, you’d check the boxes Photography in the Subject column and Custom Colors in the Features column.
This is the result.
If you want to add more filters or remove what you’ve already used, click on the Edit Filters link to do that.
Finding a theme using the search function
To the right of the main options, there’s a search function. You can enter keywords, theme names, or author names into this box.
If you’re looking for a theme that contains blue as the primary colour, enter the word blue.
What to do when you find a WordPress theme you like
So far we’ve looked at the various options for finding WordPress themes from inside the admin area of your website. Next, we’ll look at what to do when you find a theme you like.
It’s easy, really.
Each of the thumbnails is clickable, so click on one to learn more about the theme. When you do that, you’re taken to a page that looks like the screenshot below.
Notice the star ratings to the left?
This gives you an idea of what the theme looks like, but it’s just a starting point.
Many themes have options you can customise so it’s often better to install the theme on a site that has content (read the guide on how to add content to a WordPress website) so you can see how it looks when you make changes. This gives you a better idea of the theme’s capabilities.
For example, the theme highlighted here is called Kadence.
When you have a theme in preview mode, use these buttons to navigate back and forth between themes or close the preview window.
When you find a theme you like, click on Install.
When you do that, the Install button changes to Activate.
If you’re ready to make the theme active, click on Activate. If you’re not, leave it alone for now. The theme is installed on your site, just not active.
You can install as many themes as you like, but only ever have one active at any time.
What happens next depends on the theme. Typically, you’re taken back to the themes page and given the option to customise or set up the theme.
However, some themes add an additional block that contains more information. In the case of the Kadence theme, it tells you about the free starter templates and includes a link to those templates.
Take a look at the screenshot below.
If you’re using the Kadence theme or any other that offers free templates, it’s a good idea to download them to see how they’re put together. You’ll learn a lot about building pages by doing so.
The Kadence templates are available via a plugin that is freely available here or via the admin area of your website. Check out how to install a WordPress plugin. At the time of writing, there are more than 30 templates available to download.
Here are a couple of examples.
Customising your theme
If you have done everything properly and activated the theme, it will be active on your site.
The Themes window will look something like the image below, with the thumbnail for the active theme in the top left corner.
At the bottom of the thumbnail is a Customise button. Clicking on it takes you to the WordPress Customiser. This is where you can adjust the various settings so your website works the way you want it to.
The range of customisation options varies from theme to theme.
Free themes tend to have fewer options, while premium themes let you customise just about everything. If you’ve downloaded a freemium theme (a free one with a paid upgrade), you sometimes find the upgrade link inside the Customiser.
These are the Customise options for the free Kadence theme, which I’m using on this site and most of the others I run.
Each theme is different, so there’s a good chance your list won’t look the same as this one.
As you can see, though, there are lots of customisation options, but only some of them relate to the theme. Others are WordPress-specific.
Now it’s time to start having some fun!
Start working on the various options such as layout, colours, and fonts to see what works for you. It’s a good idea to create content to see how your site looks. Write a few articles and start building out your site. You can make tweaks to the design as you go.
That’s it for installing a WordPress theme from the theme directory. I hope you found this guide useful.
- WordPress Theme Directory
- Commercial WordPress Themes
- Kadence Theme: Free version at WordPress.org and official website
- Kadence Starter Templates
Hey, I build websites for small businesses in the UK. I also run a few websites of my own, including WordPress Made Easy, which is aimed at beginners and newbies.