How to Install a WordPress Theme (via Theme Directory, Upload, or FTP)

Website templates, or themes, are these rare phenoms that benefit both first-time site owners and experienced developers — giving them each the opportunity to save time, money, and headaches on website design. It’s true! While my mother loves the idea of being able to point and click to try out color schemes and slider photos, my freelance dev friends love that they don’t have to start from scratch each time a client requests a new site design.

Quality WordPress themes are designed to make people’s lives easier, but for some, the trickiest part is getting them installed and operational. Here, we’ll cover the different avenues for installing a theme for your newest web project.

First, You’ll Need a Theme & Host

You’ll need a web host before anything else, and if you’re specifically interested in WordPress hosting, we’d recommend selecting from one of the top hosts with WordPress-friendly packages. You can use the official install documentation to install WordPress manually, but the best WP hosts simplify things with 1-click installations or pre-installations of the software:

WORDPRESS RATING
★★★★★ 5.0/5.0
  • WordPress pre-installed
  • FREE SSL certificate and unlimited bandwidth
  • FREE domain, site transfers, and data backups
(read more)
Starting Price/Mo. $2.95
Money Back Guarantee 90 days
Disk Space Unlimited
Domain Name FREE (1 year)
WordPress Hosting Plans www.inmotionhosting.com/wordpress

Our Expert's InMotion Review

InMotion, long known for their shared hosting options, entered the WordPress space with a solid option built upon their reputation for great support and reliability. Costing a small premium over other budget-minded options, they do... read more +

InMotion, long known for their shared hosting options, entered the WordPress space with a solid option built upon their reputation for great support and reliability. Costing a small premium over other budget-minded options, they do include some nice features to help justify that cost difference.

Build on an all-SSD infrastructure, their speeds are very good. We would have loved to see options like integrated staging and caching included in order to help take full advantage of the nice, modern hardware. The choice of datacenters (East or West) is nice however, as it allows you to target your local audience with better load times.

InMotion offers three different levels to their WordPress hosting offerings, which allows you to tailor the hosting to your needs or budget. For those needing eCommerce support, their middle or top offerings have you covered. Their top offering also allows unlimited installs for WordPress, which is great to see.

Each hosting package they offer comes with a free domain, unlimited disk space, unlimited emails, and free data backups for data security. If you need it, each plan also has support for PHP, Ruby, Perl, and Python, and includes SSH access.

InMotion Hosting has made a name for itself on support and reliability. While not the cheapest of the budget WordPress hosts out there, the packages offered are solid in performance and feature sets.

collapse info -
WORDPRESS RATING
★★★★★ 4.9/5.0
  • Formally endorsed by WordPress
  • VPS technology and included CDN
  • ManageWP pre-installed
(read more)
Starting Price/Mo. $2.95
Money Back Guarantee 30 days
Disk Space Unlimited
Domain Name FREE (1 year)
WordPress Hosting Plans www.bluehost.com/wordpress

Our Expert's Bluehost Review

Aimed at personal bloggers and first-time users, Bluehost’s WordPress hosting packages are a great alternative to simple shared hosting. These service come at a premium, compared to Bluehost’s standard shared plans, but the WordPress optimization... read more +

Aimed at personal bloggers and first-time users, Bluehost’s WordPress hosting packages are a great alternative to simple shared hosting. These service come at a premium, compared to Bluehost’s standard shared plans, but the WordPress optimization and platform-specific resources are arguably worth the cost.

Built on top of their VPS platform, Bluehost's WordPress managed hosting, though not as customizable as others, focuses on simplicity and speed. Their interface is easy to navigate and the instant provisioning allows for speedy setup. Integrated features, such as the MOJO Marketplace and ManageWP, are nice touches as well.

Though simple by design, Bluehost isn’t shorting you on some of the more important technical features. Integrated W3 caching, SiteLock security, and a CDN are standard across all WordPress packages. It’s also important to note that data backups are automated and resources are guaranteed.

Formed in 2003, Bluehost has long been one of the foremost shared hosts on the planet, and they now power more than two million websites. What’s more, Bluehost is on a short list of providers with the official WordPress seal of approval, doled out by the WordPress Core team. With an experienced team, competitive pricing, and always-there support, Bluehost is King when it comes to WordPress hosting services.

collapse info -
WORDPRESS RATING
★★★★★ 4.9/5.0
  • FREE Cloudflare CDN and 1-click installs for WordPress
  • Turbo Server, SSD speed boost, and A2-optimized caching
  • A2-optimized WP plugins for performance and security
(read more)
Starting Price/Mo. $3.92
Money Back Guarantee 30 days
Disk Space Unlimited RAID-10
Domain Name $14.99
WordPress Hosting Plans www.a2hosting.com/wordpress

Our Expert's A2 Hosting Review

If shared web hosting is what you need, A2 Hosting is the perfect host to help launch your site with your choice of CMS, including WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and others. As part of A2's promise... read more +

If shared web hosting is what you need, A2 Hosting is the perfect host to help launch your site with your choice of CMS, including WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and others. As part of A2's promise to emphasize performance, they've concocted several A2-optimized features specifically for WordPress.

Getting Started: cPanel, 1-Click Installs, and Softaculous

A2's shared web hosting plans come with cPanel 11 control panel, where users can access Softaculous auto-installer. Easily install popular web applications, including your choice of CMS, with one click.

"If you land on our WordPress landing page, and order WordPress hosting, we auto-install WordPress and our optimization plugin," Bryan said. "You don’t have to do anything."

A2-Optimized Software and Caching Tools

"We wanted to make these performance enhancements really accessible to people," Andy said, so A2 has come up with several plugins and tools designed to operate in their online environment. These features are available for all users, including VPS and managed services customers.

A prime example of A2's custom performance enhancers would be their exclusive Site Accelerator, which helps A2 users experience page loading up to 20 times faster than that of the average web host.

Auto-Configurations for WordPress, Joomla, & Drupal

A2 has optimized tools to auto-configure popular software, including WordPress, with auto-optimizations like compression and caching. "We're trying to ease all the friction points for the users and make sure we’re solving their problems," Andy told us.

Auto-Configurations for PrestaShop and eCommerce Options

Once you've installed PrestaShop, an A2-optimized cPanel plugin will automatically detect it and allow you to set up all "normal" optimizations. "We'll go in and configure everything the way that we know it will work best on our servers," Andy said.

Other eCommerce features include access to SSL certificates, PayPal merchant accounts, and a Merchant ID with E-onlinedata (with instant activation). When it comes to marketing your site or online store, A2 users can get $50 towards paid ads. Plus, with Attracta, a free SEO tool available in cPanel, sites are listed in Google within 24 hours.

A2-Optimized Enhanced Security

In addition to enhanced speed and performance, A2 Hosting includes "Perpetual Security," which features several custom technologies.

HackScan & KernelCare

All A2 accounts are offered a free hacking detection scan, featuring their own hacker detection mechanism: HackScan. A2 Hosting users also benefit from KernelCare: A2's product for conducting daily, rebootless auto-updates to kernels.

Proactive Protection & 24/7 Network Monitoring

A2 has built another custom plugin for WordPress users to prevent hacking. The software auto-hardens WordPress sites for proactive protection against hackers. Additionally, A2 offers virus scanning, a dual firewall, and brute-force attack protection — not to mention SPAM filtering for emails, which are also IMAP, POP3, and SMTP supported.

Final Words on A2 Hosting for WordPress

A2 Hosting offers 24/7 customer support and tons of A2-optimized features made with WordPress users in mind. Whether you're an online retailer looking to launch a fresh site with PrestaShop, or a moderately web-savvy WordPress user looking for speed and security excellence, we'd highly recommend A2 Hosting.

collapse info -

See more WordPress hosts »

Once you’re set up with your host and WordPress installation, you’re ready for the fun part. Go to the official WordPress theme site, or navigate to “Appearance” and then “Themes” in the WordPress backend, and begin your search. You can filter thousands of designs by popularity, date, layout structure, and commercial or featured.

Some tips when searching for your theme:

  • Use words like minimal, portfolio, shop, business, artist, grid, etc.
  • Make sure the theme is responsive so it works nicely on all manner of screen sizes.
  • If you need a multilingual site, make sure the theme can support that from the get-go.
  • Choose a theme that is well maintained and not too complex to customize for your goal.

You can install multiple themes and activate and evaluate each one more in depth later. If you don’t find any free themes that strike your fancy, you can try for a commercial theme (great options for $25-$75) or visit a third-party theme site. Below are some of the best third-party theme providers (free and commercial):

Once you’ve found the theme of your dreams, you can choose one of three options for installation: the WordPress directory, ZIP file, or (S)FTP. We’ll walk through each option next.

Option 1: Download & Install From the Official Directory

This is, by far, the easiest way to install a WordPress theme. Once you’ve selected your design template, note that you can preview the look and layout on your site.

Caution: If you hit SAVE while previewing a theme you will update your site automatically!

You can preview and install a WordPress theme directly from the WordPress backend.

To install a theme directly from the Theme Directory in the backend, click the Install button on the theme tile. After a successful installation, you can activate the theme for your site!

Option 2: Manually Upload a Theme .ZIP File

Alternatively, you can manually download and install zipped archives that contain all the files needed to implement a theme (.ZIP files). If you found your theme on a third-party site, this installation option may be required; however, themes on the WordPress site can also be downloaded manually.

Before installing any WordPress theme .ZIP file, you should always consider the following:

  • Evaluate whether you really trust the theme provider (if it’s not the official WordPress site).
  • Check out the reviews of the theme and the specific theme provider.
  • Make sure the file is truly a .ZIP file once it’s downloaded: You can right-click on the file and unzip first, instead of double-clicking (which could execute an unknown executable!).

Now, to install the theme .ZIP file, go to the Appearance sidebar menu and click “Themes” in the backend. The newly loaded page should feature an Add New button. Click! Next, you’ll see an Upload Theme button. Click! You’ll then see a Choose File button, which allows you to choose your downloaded .ZIP file before clicking the Install Now button. Voila!

From the Appearance menu in the WordPress backend sidebar, you can navigate to add a new theme.

Once the installation is complete, you can click “Activate,” and the theme will be live on your site.

Option 3: Install a Theme via FTP

(S)FTP access is an alternative means of manually uploading your theme. Whether you need to use plain FTP or, the more secure, SFTP depends on your web hosting service. The uploading process itself is the same, though.

Note: The (S)FTP upload method might be needed if you only have access to your web server via (S)FTP without direct access to the web server file system itself.

You can use FTP or SFTP to upload your WordPress theme — the installation process being identical for both.

To install a theme via (S)FTP:

  • Download the theme .ZIP file from a theme site.
  • Extract the .ZIP file locally.
  • Use an FTP client (e.g., FileZilla) to access your web server via FTP.
    • Select the extracted file directory in the left pane.
    • Select the target directory, “wp-content/themes,” on your web server in the right pane.
    • Upload files to your web server by right-clicking them and selecting “Upload” on the left.

Now your WordPress installation will pick up this new theme. When you now go to the Appearance tab, you will be able to see and activate it.

Now You’re Ready to Modify & Launch!

Let the customization begin! Whether you’re designing for yourself, a client, or a friend, you’ll find WordPress themes can be an invaluable time-saver. Plus, you get to experiment with some amazingly creative works from other web experts.

For the beginners reading, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the basic tricks to customizing a WordPress site, and the documentation for your specific theme is also worth a look-over. The docs will explain how to customize the template in the most maintainable way.

Finally, check out the 50,000-some-odd WordPress plugins for the full breadth of functionality for your site, and maintain regular backups in case the worst should happen. Happy designing!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alexandra Leslie

Alexandra Leslie serves as Tech Vertical Manager of Digital Brands Inc, spearheading the charge to deliver technical expertise and thought leadership to our rapidly growing audience of developers, engineers, and website owners here at HostingAdvice. You'll find her engaging with leaders in web hosting and tangentially related industries, enjoying honest discussions of their cutting-edge technologies. She loves getting her hands dirty with comprehensive reviews of popular hosting platforms and services, and she's a die-hard WordPress fan. Alexandra leads the HostingAdvice team with a passion for translating technical jargon into digestible action items anyone can use to build, monetize, and scale a web presence.