Understand The Basics Of WordPress Themes

WordPress Themes

About This Lesson

Welcome to my WordPress themes introduction lesson! In this lesson I’ll be going through the basics of WordPress themes, including,

  1. Giving you an introduction to what themes are
  2. Talking about how choosing a theme effects how your site looks
  3. Going through what to expect from themes and some of their limitations

In future lessons I’ll talk about, 1) how to choose a WordPress theme, 2) where to go to search for themes, 3) how to install a theme and everything else you need to know, but for now it’s important you get the basics down!


Before starting this lesson I recommend that you go through the What Is WordPress? lesson.

It’s also worth noting, this is a part of a series of lessons, all to do with installing and setting up your WordPress theme. You can see the other lessons in this series by visiting the links below.

Course Navigation

How To Create A Website Course

This is Step 5 Part 1a – See the full course here!

How To Use WordPress Course

This is Step 5 Part 1a – See the full course here!

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The Basics Of WordPress Themes

If you’re looking to use WordPress to create your website, then you need to understand WordPress themes, as themes control the design and layout of your website! So let’s quickly run through some of the basics of WordPress themes.

WordPress Themes Vs The iPhone App Store

To understand how WordPress and WordPress themes work, we can draw a lot of similarities to the iPhone and the app store.

App Store

When you first get the iPhone, you get a basic set of features, but you can use the app store to download lots of different apps, which expand what you can do with your iPhone. The core of the iPhone is made by Apple, but the apps are made by lots of individuals and companies.

With WordPress, you install the core of WordPress, then you can download themes and plugins to expand what you can do with your website. And these themes and plugins are made by individual developers and companies.

Because you can add themes into the core of WordPress, you have over 10,000 different designs and layouts to choose from, rather then the default 3-4!

And just like with iPhone apps, some WordPress themes are great, some are rubbish! Some are really easy to use, some are more complicated. Some are free, others cost, and it’s usually the better themes that you have to pay for.

(As a reference, the theme I’m using on this site (affiliate link) cost me $89 per year. Themes range in price from free, up to $297. Although most are around $49 – $99.)

Using WordPress themes you can build any type of website, such as,

  • Small business websites
  • Real estate sites
  • eCommerce websites
  • Blogs
  • Directories
  • Portfolio websites
  • Restaurant sites
  • Hotel/B&B sites
  • In fact you can have pretty much any type of website design that you can imagine (There over 10,000 different designs!)

WordPress themes are what I call “pre-coded”, which means the designer of the theme has already written all the HTML, CSS, PHP, etc, so you don’t have to worry about knowing any of that.

Some themes allow you to heavily customize the layout and style of the theme, like the theme I’m using on this site (affiliate link), while other themes are a bit more rigid and don’t allow you to make any changes.

Choose How Your Site Looks By Choosing A Theme

With WordPress, you create your content, then the theme you’re using sets the style and general layout of your site.

(Like I said before, some themes allow you to heavily customize the layout and style of the theme, while others are rigid and don’t allow you to make any changes.)

So for instance, here’s a sample page I created within WordPress.

Page In WordPress

And here’s how that content is styled with one theme.

Formatting With One Theme

Notice how with this theme, I have a floating menu at the top, the content is on the left, with a sidebar to the right and my “heading 2” is blue and centered. (Although this theme gives me the options to change most of that. So I could have the sidebar on the left, I could get rid of the floating menu, etc.)

Here’s how the exact same content looks, when I switch to the flounder theme.

Formatting With Flounder Theme

Notice how with the flounder theme, there isn’t a floating menu, the content is on the right, with a sidebar to the left and my “heading 2” is grey and aligned to the left. Also notice the difference in colors for the whole site. (This theme doesn’t give me the options to change any of that.)

And here’s how the same content looks on a third theme, this time the default WordPress Twenty Fourteen theme.

Formatting With 2014 Theme

Again, it’s completely different. The content remains the same, but how it’s styled changes based on the theme I’m using. And that’s the same for all themes!

What You Can Expect From Themes And Some Of Their Limitations

I usually put themes into three categories, premade, customizable and made for you.

Premade Themes

WordPress Themes

I think of these types of themes as templates really.

You find a design you like and then you simply replace the text and images that are already there, with your own text and images.

Premade themes normally offer you very few options to change them. Although some of these themes will give you some customization options, such as changing the main color scheme and maybe the font sizes. Premade themes can also come with multiple designs you can pick from.

Some of the advantages of premade themes include the fact that you can save time, as you’re not trying to design webpages, you’re just using what’s already been created. (Normally these designs are done by professional designers, so they look good!)

Also, if you’re like me and you don’t have an eye for design, you can use a premade theme and save yourself the hassle of trying to create something that looks nice.

But the biggest downside is obviously the fact that you’re stuck with how the theme has been designed and even making minor design changes might require the help of a pro, or you needing to learn some basic html/css/php.

So if you choose one of these types of themes, you just have to accept their limitations.

Customizable Themes

Customizable Themes

Then you have customizable themes, which are a lot more powerful.

There are many different types of customizable themes, but the most popular are probably what’s called “drag and drop” page builders.

These types of themes give you a lot more control over the layout of your pages and let you place blocks of content, or different elements, within your pages. (Like the theme I’m using on this site (affiliate link))

These themes can give you control over details such as sidebars, menus, borders, margins, paddings, background colors, etc.

Also, a lot of these customizable themes come with premade layouts and designs. So you can get the benefits of a premade theme (saving time by using a template/not needing an eye for design), while also having the options to customize more of the design, if you wanted to!

The only downside that comes to mind, is the fact that these types of themes give people the impression that because they have so many options, they’ll have 100% full control of their design or that they’ll be able to do anything they want. Which unfortunately is not the case.

That’s not to say these themes aren’t powerful, because they are.

Super powerful!

In fact a lot of these customizable themes will give you all the control you really need and might even overwhelm you with the amount of options you have.

But you only get the customization options that the developer chooses to put into the theme.

So there are limits and it’s decided by what options are in the theme!

Made For You Themes

The final type of theme, is the type of theme where you hire a WordPress designer/developer, to build a WordPress theme to your exact needs!

This is the only type of option where you’ll get 100% of what you want and you’ll be able to ask for more advanced and unique things.

You’ll also be using the skills and experience of someone who’s a professional!

The downside to these types of themes is that they obviously cost a lot more then the other options. After all, the premade themes and customizable themes are being sold to tens of thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands of people, so they can charge much less per theme, as they’re building something for the masses.

Where as a designer/developer will be working on your custom theme, creating something that’s unique to you and fits exactly to your needs. Which means it’ll cost you more!

A $99 premade or customizable theme isn’t going to give you the same results that a developer could for $5,000 – $10,000. (Although you probably don’t need something 100% unique, see below!)

Which Is Right For You?

That’s really a personal choice you have to make for yourself!

I will say that I’ve never personally paid for a “made for you” theme as I’ve always been happy with what I’ve been able to create with a customizable theme.

This has meant that at times I’ve had to compromise on my design and accept that it’s not perfect. In fact in most cases it only does about 80% of what I want it to do. And I’m O.K. with that, because the other 20% is lots of small features I would like it to have, but that aren’t really vital to the site!

Also, because I’m not a designer or design minded, I know the designs of my site don’t look as amazing as they could do. But again, that’s just a comprise I’ve been willing to make.

I also know that because I’m using WordPress, sometime in the future I can hire a designer to build a custom design for me and then I can switch to that custom design, while still being able to use my WordPress site and all the content I’ve already created.

And that’s it for this lesson. That’s the basics of WordPress themes!

(If you want help choosing a theme, don’t forget to check out my other two lessons, 1) How to choose a WordPress theme and 2) Where to search for WordPress themes.)

Next Steps

This lesson is a part of Step 5 in creating your website and learning how to use WordPress. Step 5 is all about installing and setting up your WordPress theme.

I’ve broken this step into two parts.

In the first part, we cover the basics of WordPress themes, which you can see in these four lessons,

Then we move on to the second part, setting up your theme.

Now because there are 10,000+ different themes, all with different options, it’s impossible for me to show you how to set them all up!

However I can show you how to setup the following,

  • WordPress Menus: – See how to change the links within your navigation menu and also see how to create a drop down menu
  • WordPress Widgets: – Learn how to use widgets to customize what gets displayed in your widget areas, such as your sidebar and footer
  • WordPress Plugins: – See how to add extra features and functionality to your site, such as a contact form, a slideshow, a coming soon page, etc