“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.”
Knowing where to start is often the hardest part of a creative journey.
Whether you’re logging into your WordPress dashboard for the first or thousandth time, customizing a new theme always comes with a learning curve.
In this guide, you’ll find an actionable, step-by-step plan that will show you how to fully customize your site from start to finish.
By the time you finish following along, you’ll have a completely personalized website that you’ll be excited to share with your friends and followers.
Let’s begin with the one thing you need to do first…
Is your site ready?
Do you have live WordPress website online yet?
If you don’t already have your own domain with WordPress installed, check out our guide on creating your first site.
In that guide, you’ll learn:
- How to pick a great domain name
- Where to get affordable hosting
- How to choose the perfect theme
After following those steps, you’ll be ready to install any of our themes on your site.
If you’ve already got a WordPress site online, you’re prepared for the next step…
How to activate the theme
Once your WordPress site is running, the next step is to get one of our themes installed. And I’ve got some good news:
To install any of our themes, visit the Appearance menu in your admin dashboard and click the Add New button at the top:
On the next page, you can search for one of our themes by name in the search bar. Here I’m searching for the Challenger theme:
Then simply hover over the theme and click the Install button to install the theme.
Lastly, click the Activate button and the theme will be activated on your site.
That’s all there is to it!
You can repeat this process to install any of our themes on your site.
Customize with the “Customizer”
Now it’s time for the fun part 😉
When you’ve got access to simple and powerful customization tools, personalizing your site is easy and enjoyable. Most of the tools you need to customize your site are available in the WordPress Customizer.
You can access the Customizer via the Customize link found in the Appearance menu:
Once inside the Customizer, you’ll see all of the customization tools added by the theme (and a few from WordPress itself):
Each panel in the left sidebar contains a few settings for changing the design, and the site preview on the right will update as you make your changes. This is just a preview, so your visitors won’t see any of your modifications until you click the Publish button at the top.
Let’s go over some of the most important customization options now.
Add your site title and logo
By default, your theme will display the site title in the header. You can modify the title and tagline via the Site Identity section in the Customizer:
This is also where you can upload a logo which will replace the site title (the tagline will remain).
There’s also a Site Icon tool which you can use to upload a favicon. A favicon is the small icon that displays in the browser tab when people view your site.
Your homepage can display all of your posts or one of your pages. The Homepage Settings section is where you can choose the content to display.
If you choose a static page, you’ll be able to choose from any of your pages and also assign a second page to display all of your posts.
Change the post count
The Homepage Settings section doesn’t include an option to change how many posts display on the homepage. You can modify this via the Reading Settings menu in your dashboard:
Your menu is an extremely important aspect of your site’s design. In the Menus section of the Customizer, you’ll find the tools you need to create new menus and assign them to locations in the theme.
Start by clicking the Create New Menu button to make your first menu:
Give your menu a name (for your personal reference only), select where you want it to display, and click the Next button to continue.
Some of our themes have two menus, but Challenger includes just one menu location called the Primary menu.
With your menu created, you can now add menu items by clicking the Add Items button. The menu items can come from:
- Custom links
Once you’ve added all the menu items you want, you can drag-and-drop them into the order you want.
You can visit the Support Center and select your theme to find more detailed menu creation tutorials.
It’s a uniquely vague word and a lot of WordPress users don’t understand exactly how they fit into their site, so here’s the big picture:
You can publish “posts” which display on your blog, and you can publish “pages” which do not show up on the blog.
The one other way to add content to your site is with widgets. WordPress comes with 17 default widgets including image, video, audio, and text widgets. The plugin repository has thousands more to choose from allowing you to add any type of content you can imagine.
So where can you include widgets on your site?
You can only add widgets to widget areas and widget areas are added by your theme. Some of our themes, like Mission News, have lots of widget areas so advertisements can be included throughout the design. As a single-column theme, Challenger is simpler and includes just four widget areas.
How to add widgets
Click on the Widgets section in the Customizer and you’ll see the available widget areas.
The Widgets menu in the dashboard (Appearance > Widgets) displays all of the widget areas, but in the Customizer, you’ll only see the widget areas that are available on the page you’re currently previewing.
Select any widget area and then press the Add a widget button to add a widget to the selected widget area.
After choosing a widget, you’ll be able to configure it and reorder any widgets added.
Social Media Icons
All of our themes let you add icons for your social profiles and support more than 50+ different social sites.
To add your social profiles, start by clicking on the Social Media Icons section.
You can then enter in the full URL of any social profile you want to include on the site. Social icons will be added to the header and displayed on every page.
Display full posts on the blog
Most blogs display excerpts with links to the complete post, but you can easily change this with any of our themes.
Click on the Blog section in the Customizer, and you’ll find an option to switch to full posts:
The other settings you’ll find here will depend on which one of our themes you’re using, but you will also find a setting to change the word count in the automatic post excerpts.
You can visit the Support Center for more detailed instructions on excerpt customization.
Further customize your theme
The steps above will give you a great foundation to work with.
With WordPress and a well-designed theme, you can create a beautiful website in a short period of time.
If you’re a new WP user, it will take some time to familiarize yourself with the dashboard, but none of these steps require much technical know-how.
If you’re looking for more ways to customize your site, take a look at our WordPress customization guide for some more options.