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How To Install A WordPress Theme – 4 Methods For All Needs

Last Updated on December 3rd, 2018

Published on November 23rd, 2017

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Struggling with how to install a WordPress theme? Themes are the building block of every single WordPress site, so if you can’t install your WordPress theme of choice, you’re gonna end up stuck on the runway!

Don’t worry, though. Over the years, WordPress has evolved to the point where it’s actually pretty dang simple to install a new WordPress theme.

As is the WordPress way, though, there are actually a few different methods that you can use to install your theme (mostly depending on where you found your theme).

In this post, I’ll show you each method in detail. That means clear instructions and screenshots so that you can easily follow along! Ready to learn how to install a WordPress theme? Let’s get started!

Note – these tutorials apply to WordPress.org sites, not WordPress.com. Read this post for more on the differences between WordPress.org and WordPress.com.

Which Method Should You Use? WordPress.org vs Other Themes

Ok, depending on where you found your theme, you may need to choose a specific option from this list:

  • If you found your theme at WordPress.org, you can use any of these methods (but Method 1 and Method 2 are the easiest for your situation). Skip right to Method 1.
  • If you purchased a premium theme or found a free theme from somewhere NOT at WordPress.org, you’ll need to use Method 3 or Method 4 (with Method 3 being the easiest). Skip right to Method 3.

1. How To Install A WordPress Theme Via The WordPress Customizer

This method works for…themes that you find at WordPress.org.

This method was introduced in WordPress 4.9 and makes it easy to both install your theme and immediately start customizing it via the real-time WordPress Customizer.

To get started, head to your WordPress dashboard. Then, go to Appearance → Customize:

access wordpress customizer

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On the next screen, click the Change button next to Active theme:

change wordpress theme


  • Choose the option for WordPress.org themes
  • Search for your desired theme
  • Click Install & Preview:

how to install a wordpress theme via customizer

You’ll need to wait for a second while WordPress downloads and installs the theme. Then, you should see a live preview of your new theme. You can get started customizing your theme with the WordPress Customizer right away.

Then, to make your new theme active, just click the Activate & Publish button:

make theme active

And that’s it! You just installed a new WordPress theme from WordPress.org.

2. How To Install A WordPress Theme Via Dashboard Search

This method works for…themes that you find at WordPress.org.

While the method outlined above is the newest way to install themes from WordPress.org, you can still feel free to use the traditional method. There’s no real difference in effect between this and the previous method and both are equally simple to perform – it’s entirely up to your preference.

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To get started, go to your WordPress dashboard and click Appearance. Then, click the Add New button:

install wordpress themes via dashboard

On the next screen, search for the WordPress.org theme by name. Then, hover over the theme and click Install:

After a few moments while WordPress installs the theme, that same button should change to Activate. Click it to make your newly installed theme active:

And that’s it! Your new theme is installed and active on your site.

3. How To Install A WordPress Theme By Uploading A ZIP File

This method works for…all themes.

If you purchased a premium theme or otherwise found a theme that isn’t listed at WordPress.org, this is the easiest method for you to install the theme.

To get started, you should have a ZIP file from wherever you found the theme. If you’re struggling to find this ZIP file, I recommend that you contact the provider of your theme, as each provider will have a different process.

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Once you’ve located the ZIP file, here’s how to install it.

Head to your WordPress dashboard and click Appearance. Then, click Add New:

install wordpress themes via dashboard

On the next screen, click the Upload Theme button at the top:

After you click the button, a new interface window will appear:

  • First, click Choose File and select the ZIP file from your computer.
  • Then, click Install Now

install wordpress theme by uploading a zip file

There will be a slight delay while WordPress uploads and installs your theme. Then, you’ll be able to click the Activate button to make your new theme active:

4. How To Install A WordPress Theme Via FTP

In 99.9% of situations, you’ll never need to use this method. But it does come in handy in some situations if the other methods aren’t working for you. Plus, it can help you understand what the more user friendly methods above are actually doing under the hood.

If you’re a beginner – I recommend sticking with the methods above because I’m going to assume a little bit of tech-savviness in my instructions for this method.

To install a WordPress theme via FTP, you’re going to need a few things to get started:

  • Your FTP credentials – you can get these from your hosting dashboard or your host’s support.
  • An FTP program – I like FileZilla because it’s free and does everything that I need.
  • ZIP file of your theme – you won’t upload this file directly, but you will upload its extracted contents.

Once you’ve got everything ready, get started by extracting the contents of the ZIP file to your computer:

Usually, that should result in a single parent folder like this:

Then, connect to your WordPress website via FTP and use the folder tree to browse to the /wp-content/themes folder:

install wordpress theme via FTP

Upload the entire folder that you extracted to that file directory.

Once the upload finishes, go to the Appearance tab in your WordPress dashboard. You should see an entry for the theme that you just uploaded. Hover over it and click Activate to make the theme active on your site:

And that’s all there is to it! While this method does require some basic knowledge of how FTP works, it’s really not all that complicated.

Fun fact – prior to WordPress 2.8 Baker (released in 2009), this method was how you installed WordPress themes. Things have gotten a lot more user friendly since then, right?

Wrapping Things Up

And that wraps up my big guide on how to install a WordPress theme on your site! Remember, here’s which method you should use based on your situation:

  • If you found a free theme at WordPress.org, use either Method 1 or Method 2.
  • If you need to install a premium theme or a theme you found somewhere else, use Method 3 (or Method 4 if you want the more manual approach).

Once you become more acquainted with WordPress, you can even use something called WP-CLI for yet another method of installing WordPress themes!

I hope you found the guide helpful and leave a comment if you have any questions.

Colin Newcomer is a freelance writer and long-time Internet marketer. He specializes in digital marketing, WordPress and B2B writing. He lives a life of danger, riding a scooter through the chaos of Hanoi. You can also follow his travel blog.