Beginner's Guide

What Is a WordPress Theme and What Is It Used For? (Explained)

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What is a WordPress Theme and What Is It Used For

Are you wondering what is a WordPress theme? Then, we’ll answer your question here.

Simply, a theme is an outer layout that determines how your website looks. Here, we’re addressing the themes that are used particularly in WordPress, one of the best website building platforms

Similar to its general use, the theme in WordPress refers to a design layout that defines the overall appearance of a WordPress site. It controls how your site content appears online and also provides various functionalities to the site.

In this blog post, we’ve explained what a WordPress theme is, why it’s used, its importance, and everything you should know about themes. Let’s begin.

1. What is a WordPress Theme? (Definition)

A WordPress theme is an entire design frame that indicates how your WordPress site appears to the visitors. In other words, it’s the collection of style sheets that gives your website a shape, look, and feel.

A theme consists of the layouts, colors, font styling, position and size of elements, animations, transitions, and other styling details. And, all these entities of the theme can be customized according to the need.

For example, the image below shows how a travel blog created with the Astra theme will look like on different screens.

Astra WordPress Theme Demo Site on Different Screens
– Astra WordPress Theme Demo Site on Different Screens

Speaking of WordPress, it’s the most popular Content Management System (CMS) available on the market. CMS refers to a type of software or tool which lets you create, manage, and publish content online, easily without coding.

In simple terms, we can define WordPress as a user-friendly website creation software. It allows you to easily start a blog, a business site, an online store, or any other type of site.

Getting back to the WordPress theme, it’s something like skin and skeleton of a WordPress-based website that defines how content appears to the viewers.

It controls almost every aspect of a site’s visual presentation. That includes colors, fonts, header and footer options, navigation menu styles, and styling of every page on your site.

WordPress Themes vs WordPress Templates

When talking about themes, you may also see the word ‘templates’ being used frequently. Or you may find ‘theme’ and ‘template’ used interchangeably for one another. 

On the web, people generally use ‘template’ and ‘theme’ as synonyms. But in WordPress terminology, they’re slightly different. A template denotes a page layout i.e. the positioning of elements on a page. Whereas a theme is a collection of these layouts with styling and some minimum functionality for a website.  

Technically, a template is an actual PHP file inside a theme. Whereas a theme is a complete structure designed for an entire website. 


2. Why You Need a WordPress Theme?

Every WordPress site requires a theme to display content online. Without a theme, you cannot show anything on your site; your site will appear as a blank page. A theme in WordPress has this important function of presenting the content stored in the database to the web.  

Due to this, a default WordPress theme will be automatically installed when you first install WordPress. Usually, the 3 latest default themes are pre-installed and the most recent one is activated.

Default WordPress Themes at WordPress Dashboard
– Default WordPress Themes at WordPress Dashboard

The default theme is a minimal theme with basic blogging features. These themes are designed by a team of contributors at WordPress.org.

It’s easy to recognize the default themes as they’re uniquely named after the year they’re released, like Twenty Twenty, Twenty Nineteen, etc. since the Twenty Ten theme in 2010. Explore all default themes.

You can easily change the default theme with any other theme and give a style to your site. And, there are thousands of free and paid themes to choose from. We’ll explain where you can find them in the sections below.


3. Free vs Premium WordPress Themes

i) Free WordPress Themes

As the name suggests, free themes don’t require you to pay any money for using them. They’re free of cost and also free for use on unlimited sites, unlimited times.

There’s an official repository of free themes at WordPress.org website where you can find over 7500 themes created by professionals across the globe. You can download any of these themes and use them on as many sites as you want.

Official WordPress Themes Repository
– Official WordPress Themes Repository

Additionally, you can find more free themes on other third-party theme provider sites. But we recommend choosing free themes from the official repository or trusted vendors like ThemeGrill, aThemes, and ThemeIsle.

If you use a theme from the official repository, then you’ll get free support via the theme’s support forum page on WordPress.org. Also, you’ll get free updates of the theme. Just an important thing is that, use the theme which is regularly updated and developed from the trusted authors. 

Pros:

  • Since free themes cost you no money, it saves a big chunk of your budget.
  • Free themes are comparatively easy to use as they offer minimal features and have a clean code. 
  • You don’t have to worry about the theme malfunction if you’ve downloaded one from the official theme directory. That’s because they’re taken through a strict review process. And, most of the themes are compatible even with all the plugins.
  • For security perspectives, it is checked regularly so you don’t need to worry about security too.
  • Themes from the official repository are completely GPL (General Public Licence)  licensed and have no copyright issues as well. 

Cons:

  • Since the themes are free, they’re also more primitive in comparison to premium themes. 
  • They lack detailed customization options and have little or no live support included.

However, if you’ve just started, then a free theme might be the right option for you as it has just enough features to learn and build a basic website. Some of the best free themes you can try out: Astra, OceanWP, Zakra, Neve, and Ashe.

ii) Premium WordPress Themes

Premium themes require you to pay for them to use which generally has a reasonable price. These paid themes are usually more feature-rich and offer advanced customization options than free themes. And, that’s what you pay them for.

There are tons of marketplaces where you can find stunning premium WordPress themes. The biggest theme marketplace is ThemeForest, run by Envato Market. It features over 11,000 premium themes including the widely used themes like Avada, The7, Newspaper, etc.

ThemeForest WordPress Theme Marketplace
– ThemeForest WordPress Theme Marketplace

Other top WordPress theme marketplaces are Template Sell, Mojo Marketplace, and Template Monster.

Not only that, but you can purchase the premium themes also from third-party theme developer companies like Elegant Themes, StudioPress. For example, Divi is a popular premium theme developed by Elegant Themes. Similarly, the Genesis Framework is a popular theme by StudioPress.

Now, let’s discuss the pros and cons of using a premium theme.

Pros:

  • Premium themes are generally feature-rich packages and in some cases, they are the upgraded version of free themes. 
  • Premium theme vendors also offer excellent customer support with the how-to-use guides and documentation. 
  • It provides greater customization options.

Cons:

  • At first, some premium themes are expensive; they might cost higher than the worth of the product. 
  • Premium themes are usually loaded with tons of features, making it complex for beginners. Beginners may feel overwhelmed while using some premium themes.
  • The web page loading speed may decline with the lots of features used. 
  • Some premium themes may lack SEO features due to their complex structure. 
  • Some features provided by the theme may be irrelevant and thus, useless to your website.

iii) Freemium WordPress Themes

Not just and premium, there’s one more very popular category for themes ‘freemium’. The freemium themes are those which are available in both free and premium versions. They usually offer basic features in the free version and ask users to buy the premium version for advanced features.

The Freemium model of theme business is mostly common among theme developers who submit themes at the WordPress.org theme directory. You can see that most of the popular free themes listed there have paid versions on their company sites.

For example, Astra is a highly popular free theme by Brainstorm Force available at WordPress.org theme repository. But the company also sells the paid versions of the theme from its website called ‘astra.com’.

Astra WordPress Theme Free
– Astra WordPress Theme (Astra.com)

Similar to this, here’s a list of some top freemium themes with links to free and paid pages.

  1. Neve – free on WP.org and paid on ThemeIsle.com.
  2. Zakra – free on WP.org and paid on Zakratheme.com
  3. Sydney – free on WP.org and paid on aThemes

In a nutshell, freemium themes are a good choice if you want to know a theme well before investing money on it. You can install the free theme at first, and if you like it and want to all its features, then you can easily upgrade to its paid version. By luck, the free version itself may be good enough for you sometimes.


4. How to Choose the Right Theme? (Things to Look For)

The availability of such a great number of themes is one of the top reasons why WordPress is so popular. More themes mean more design options, which other website platforms don’t have.

Truth to tell, there are thousands of theme choices of every niche, i.e. themes specifically designed for particular types of sites. For instance, blog themes for making blogs, photography themes for photography sites, eCommerce themes for eCommerce websites, etc.

Choosing a theme for your site is a tricky job. You’ll have to pick a theme that is appealing to look as well as you have to consider what features you want with it. Also, you have to make sure that the theme matches your motive.

Here is a list of a few things that you have to look at to pick the right WordPress theme.

i) Responsive Design

Your website needs to have a responsive design. Being responsive means being able to adapt and run on any device screen. With more than half of the internet traffic coming from smartphones and tablets in present times, having a responsive theme has become mandatory.

Responsive Design
– Responsive Design

The good news is that most themes available at WordPress.org are fully mobile-responsive. You can easily preview the theme’s demo to check whether a theme is responsive or not. 

ii) Theme Customization Options

WordPress themes should provide options to modify the layout of your website as you desire. This way, you can make your website look unique, elegant, and aesthetic. Also, it distinguishes your website with others even if the same theme is used.

iii) Support and update feature

Customer support is one of the important features to look for in a WordPress theme (especially premium theme). The theme users should be able to get help from the vendors if any fault occurs in the theme. 

Also, the theme should be updated timely with the latest features. It’s important because WordPress software changes frequently with bug fixes and new features. 


5. How to Install and Use a WordPress Theme?

Now that you know what a WordPress theme is, why you need it, and how to choose the right one, you may want to know how to use it. 

Here,  we’ll briefly explain the process of installing a free theme step by step.

First of all, you need to login to your WordPress admin area. You can do so by going your site login URL like here: www.example.com/wp-login.php.

WordPress Login Page
– WordPress Login Page

Once you’re in the dashboard area, you can just go to: Dashboard >> Appearance >> Themes.

WordPress Themes Option in Dashboard
– WordPress Themes Option in Dashboard

After that, click on the Add New button at the top. It takes you to the WordPress.org theme directory. 

Add New Theme in WordPress
– Add New Theme Option in WordPress

Now, you can see a collection of themes. You can preview the themes, search by the names or keywords.  And, also pick from the given categories: Featured, Popular, Latest, and Favorites.

Search WordPress Themes to Install
– Search WordPress Themes to Install

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you can simply click on the  Install button. For example, we’ll install Astra theme which the most popular theme from any third-party company except for default themes.

Installing Astra WordPress Theme
– Installing Astra WordPress Theme

Finally, you can click on Activate to publish the theme on your website.

Activating Astra WP theme
– Activating Astra WP theme

Once done, the new theme will be active on your site. You can open your site in a new tab to preview how it looks.

Astra WordPress Theme Activated
– Astra WordPress Theme Activated

WordPress allows the basic customization of themes easily. It means that you can make more changes to your site’s design yourself. You can simply click on the ‘Customize’ button next to the ‘Active’ status in the screenshot above. Or you can from ‘Dashboard>>Appearance>>Customize‘.

From the Customizer, you can easily change the colors, background, menu items, header, footer, icons, links, and other stylings.

If you want to install a WordPress theme from other platforms, then you need to upload the theme file to your WordPress site. It’s a bit of a different process. 


6. Where to Get the Best WordPress Themes?

Records show that over 18,000 themes are available on only 2 repositories – WordPress.org and ThemeForest. Likewise, there are tons of other theme stores with both free and premium themes.

But as a beginner, you may be confused about which places to visit and unfamiliar to the theme vendors, directories, and other possible sources of those themes.

So, here we’ve presented a list of some of the best sources from where you can get your WordPress theme.

1. Visit WordPress.org Theme Directory for Free Themes

Official WordPress Themes Repository
– Official WordPress Themes Repository

For the record, the WordPress theme directory is the largest and safest place to pick free WordPress themes. Providing a collection of over 7,400 free themes, this platform has themes for every kind of website.

The advantage of using this directory is that the themes belong to the official WordPress.org. So, you don’t have to worry about failures as they have gone through a standard review process.

2. Theme Marketplaces 

There are other third-party marketplaces which also provide the best WordPress themes. They have a large collection of themes from where you can pick beautiful themes that suit any kind of website. Among the theme vendors, some of the popular WordPress theme marketplaces and shops are:

  • ThemeForest
  • Template Sell
ThemeForest WordPress Theme Marketplace
– ThemeForest WordPress Theme Marketplace

3. Theme Developer Companies

There are several independent third-party theme developer companies for WordPress. They’re mainly for commercial purposes but, they also serve a significant number of free themes to the users.

These companies usually have a freemium model of business. It means that they offer both free and premium versions of those themes. Usually, they provide free themes from WordPress.org and sell the premium version when any user needs more features. 

Some of the popular WordPress theme companies are: 

  • Elegant Themes
  • ThemeIsle
  • ThemeGrill
  • Themify
Elegant Themes
– Elegant Themes

4. From Other WordPress Theme Developers

If you have other ideas for themes, you can also hire developers to make a theme for you according to your specifications. You can go for freelance developers or a WordPress-based web development company to make a suitable theme for you.

On the other hand, if you are a developer yourself, having coding knowledge of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP, then you can create and use your own theme on your site.


7. WordPress Themes vs. Plugins

A Plugin is a software that can be installed on your WordPress site to add new features and extend functionalities to it. Every plugin comes with its own special capabilities that could range from a small adjustment to a huge transformation.

Similar to free themes, there are thousands of free plugins available at WordPress.org. Precisely, a lot more than themes, 57,000+ free plugins are available at the official WordPress plugin repository.

WordPress Plugins Official Repository
– WordPress Plugins Official Repository

And, you can find tons of more plugins at other third party sites and marketplaces. CodeCanyon.net is the larget plugin marketplace where you can find thousands of paid plugins.

The differences between WordPress themes and plugins are pretty clear. The theme is the main website layout that defines how your site appears on the web. Whereas plugins are for adding features to your site so that your site is capable of carrying out more functions.

Another difference is that you can use only one theme per WordPress installation but you can have several plugins at once as per the features you want on your website. 

Actually, a theme is mandatory for every WordPress site to show content online. But you can run a site even without a single plugin installed. 

However, there are some overlaps between those 2 terms. Sometimes, we come across themes that provide unique features as plugins do and removal of the theme also removes the features. On the other hand, some plugins can also facilitate managing the layout of the website.

But, their sole purposes are pretty obvious. Plugins are for adding features to the site whereas; themes are focused on how the sight appears.


Conclusion

That’s it. We hope that you are now familiar with what is a WordPress theme and how you can use it. If you’re already using a custom theme, then please share your experience with us.

If you have any confusion or problem, then please notify us in the comment section below. We’ll be happy to help you.

Also, check this helpful article on the best WordPress themes and templates.

At last, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more useful articles.

Written By SiteSaga Editorial
SiteSaga Editorial is a team of highly experienced writers, marketers, and web developers. We're here to help beginners get online with their self-made websites or blogs and succeed.

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