How to Get Started with Your New WordPress Theme

“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.”
-Paul CĆ©zanne

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.

Make 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:

All of our themes are freely available on the official WordPress theme repositoryĀ which means you can install them from directly inside your WordPress dashboard.

To install any of our themes, visit the Appearance menu in your admin dashboard and click theĀ Add New button at the top:

Add New Theme

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:

Search Challenger

Then simply hover over the theme and click theĀ Install button to install the theme.

Install Challenger

Lastly, click theĀ Activate button and the theme will be activated on your site.

Activate Challenger

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 šŸ˜‰

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 theĀ Appearance menu:

Customizer Link

Once inside the Customizer, you’ll see all of the customization tools added by the theme (and a few from WordPress itself):

Customizer View
This is what the Customizer looks like with the Challenger theme

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 theĀ Publish button at the top.

Let’s go over some of the most important customizationĀ options now.

Add your site title and logo

By default, your theme will display theĀ site title in the header. You can modify the title and tagline via theĀ Site Identity section in the Customizer:

Site Identity

This is also where you can upload a logo which will replace the site title (the tagline will remain).

There’s also aĀ 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.

Homepage settings

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.

Homepage Settings

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 SettingsĀ 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:

Posts Per Page

Add menus

Your menu is an extremely important aspect of your site’s design. In theĀ 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 theĀ Create New Menu button to make your first menu:

Create New 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.

Name Menu

Some of our themes have two menus, but Challenger includes just one menu location called theĀ Primary menu.

With your menu created, you can now add menu items by clicking the Add Items button. The menu items can come from:

  • Pages
  • Posts
  • Categories
  • Tags
  • Custom links

Add Menu Items

Once you’ve added all the menu items you want, you can drag-and-drop them into the order you want.

You can visit theĀ Support Center and select your theme to find more detailed menu creation tutorials.

Add widgets

Widget.

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 toĀ 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 theĀ Widgets section in the Customizer and you’ll see the available widget areas.

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 theĀ Add a widget button to add a widget to the selected widget area.

Add Widgets

After choosing a widget, you’ll be able to configure it and reorder any widgets added.

Widget 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.

Social Media Icons

You can then enter in the full URL of any social profile you want toĀ 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 theĀ Blog section in the Customizer, and you’ll find an option to switch to full posts:

Show 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 CenterĀ for more detailed instructions on excerpt customization.

Further customize your theme

The steps above will give you a great foundation to work with.

All of our PRO upgradesĀ can add a lot more functionality and flexibility to your site too. You can visit the Support CenterĀ to find tutorials for using any of the upgrades.

Pro Articles

If you need assistance with any feature, you can contact us via the priority support forumĀ or ask a pre-sale question here.

Conclusion

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.