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How to Customize WordPress Themes

How to Customize WordPress Themes

WordPress theme customization helps you uniquely present your brand and differentiate your business from competitors.

Many site owners reach out to professional development services for their WordPress customization. Still, with a good strategy and some diligence, you can learn to edit themes in WordPress yourself. This skill is always beneficial as it puts you in control of your website’s visual appearance and functionality.

In this tutorial, we’ll touch on what is a WordPress theme and why you should customize it. Furthermore, we’ll show you how to modify WordPress themes to your preference using different customization options, so read on.

What is a WordPress theme?

Themes are essential to WordPress; without one, your site wouldn’t be fully functional. Therefore, WordPress comes with a default pre-set theme you can customize or switch when you pick a new one.

It is important to know that only one theme can be active on a WordPress site at a time.

Developers and designers create WordPress themes to aid users in building their websites without any coding. There are tons of free and Premium WordPress themes to choose from and install on your site. Once you are ready with that part, WordPress themes allow you to customize their looks and functionality to best present your brand.

A WordPress theme is a stack of interconnected files – style sheets, templates, images, and code – that form your site’s front-end visual appearance. Most themes allow you to control design elements like colors, page layout, fonts, and widget locations on your website.

There is a difference in theme vs. template – a template defines the layout of one page, while the theme contains various templates you can choose from.

In short, a theme defines your site’s visuals and design. You can tweak and modify a WordPress theme to make your website look exactly like you want it. Moreover, these customizations can help build your brand’s visual recognition and consistency.

Why should I customize my WordPress theme?

WordPress comes with a pre-set theme which you can change later on. There is a plethora of free or Premium themes you can choose from depending on your site’s idea or business. You can find a theme directly from the WordPress Theme Directory or a trusted marketplace.

  • Differentiate your website from your competitors

If you’ve looked through themes previously, you’ve probably noticed that some of them are built to promote specific niches. However, even such niche themes tend to be more generally framed. Thus, you’ll need to edit yours further to make your WordPress website stand out from the mass.

  • Appeal your audience

Your chosen theme may not precisely match your requirements or expectations regarding color, other elements, and functionalities. The right colors and layout can significantly influence how your visitors perceive your brand’s uniqueness. Many brands even trademark the colors they use to instill a lasting impact on their audience’s visual perception.

  • Provide structure and effectiveness

Top-rated websites are well organized and provide intuitive design. With that in mind, you should strive to enhance the effectiveness of your website’s look and feel and generate a positive user experience.

  • Add functionality

Remember that WordPress theme customization is crucial for establishing your website’s overall appearance and style. However, If you want to add more functionality to your website, you can install various WordPress plugins.

The WordPress plugin repository holds numerous free and paid plugins, providing basic or more complex functionalities like addressing WordPress optimization and security features. For example, with the help of a plugin like WooCommerce, you can turn your blog into an e-commerce site.

The bottom line is that by modifying your WordPress theme, you have the opportunity to express your brand’s point of view and make a statement. Your website is arguably one of the most significant branding assets; think of it as the face of your brand. Thus, you should customize your theme in WordPress to get the best out of it with the aim of compelling and sustaining your audience.

How to customize WordPress Themes – options

In this section, we’ll dive into the practical steps of how to customize your WordPress site. Here, we’ll guide you through several different approaches in WordPress to edit a theme, so keep reading.

Edit your WordPress theme with the Full Site editor (beta version)

Full Site Editing (FSE) is a part of the Gutenberg project, which extends the block editing feature beyond pages and posts. You can use this block-based site editor depending on your chosen theme and the WordPress version your site runs on. You need at least WordPress 5.9 (or higher version) and a block-compatible theme to take advantage of it.

For the sake of this tutorial, we’ll use the default theme Twenty Twenty-Two as it is block-based, complementing the release of the FSE beta version.

To access the Full Site Editor, log into your WordPress Dashboard and navigate to Appearance > Editor.

Full site editor WordPress

Once loaded, the FSE screen allows you to customize the layout of your WordPress pages in blocks. In short, all page parts are separated into block elements, and you can create reusable blocks for design consistency.

Several key concepts are covered in the Full Site Editor, and we’ll briefly address them below.

Full site editor blocks WordPress

  • You can add various blocks from the “+” sign button in the upper left side of the screen to format your text content, site logo, and title, add multimedia or other widgets. You can drag and drop blocks to achieve the desired look for your website.
  • From the Block Patterns tab, you can select unique block designs for your pages.

Block editing patterns

  • Load the Styles menu by clicking on the black-and-white circle in the upper right corner to customize further the colors, layout, and typography.
  • Create, edit, preview, and remove templates from the Site Editor by hitting the WordPress logo button at the top right corner. By default, it loads the home page template of your website.

Site Editor Home page WordPress

Note that you can create a page with a single template or combine template parts and block patterns.

  • You can access the Template editing interface from the left sidebar, where you can create and edit post and page templates. For instance, there is a standard template for 404 Error Pages you can modify to align with your design. You may also create a custom contact page, set up a Contact form for your live site, and more.

Templates editor interface

  • To create reusable structural blocks that are usable within templates, navigate to the Template parts editor. From that section, you can customize your WordPress site’s header and footer parts.

Editing WordPress Theme Template parts

Since the Full Site Editor is block-based, the Theme Customizer and Widgets are hidden by default. They appear under Appearance only when your site has a plugin requiring these features.

Overall, the block editor is an innovation in WordPress theme customization as it allows beginners to create beautiful websites without coding. Although block-based themes are not very common yet, theme developers will eventually catch up.

Use the Theme Customizer to edit your WordPress theme

To customize classic themes like Astra, which do not support the full site editor yet, you can use the WordPress Theme Customizer. This legacy tool allows you to modify WordPress themes in real-time. Depending on the theme you’re using for your WordPress site, there are different sets of changes you can make to your site from within your admin panel.

You can access it from Appearance > Customize or from Appearance > Themes > Customize button in the active theme’s thumbnail.

Editing WordPress Themes with the Theme Customizr

This loads the Customize page from which you can apply changes to your WordPress theme and see the result immediately. You can choose from various customization options available in the left sidebar.

WordPress ustomize theme

From that sidebar, you can access and modify all features included in your theme. The most common ones among classic WordPress themes are homepage settings, color schemes, and backgrounds.

How to Modify your WordPress Title and Tagline

The theme customization page lets you modify your site’s title and tagline and see how it will look on your site immediately. Expand the Site Identity group of settings and alter the text to do this.

Edit Site title and Tag line WordPress

You will see the new text showing up in the preview on the right side as you type. Once you’re happy with the result, click on Publish, and the changes will be implemented.

Additional WordPress Theme Customizations

Depending on your theme, there might be additional options on that page. For example, Astra includes header and footer builders. With these builders, you can add certain elements to your site header and footer and create unique designs.

You can also code Additional CSS customizations or check how your changes look on different screen sizes.

Additionally, you can create Navigation menus and add Widgets through the Theme Customizer. There are also other customization features to improve the overall performance of your WordPress theme.

For example, the Astra theme lets you enable local Google Fonts loading. Locally loaded fonts can significantly lower the number of external requests your site generates to display your content formatting. As a result, this improves your overall WordPress website performance by speeding it up.

Customize your WordPress theme with a Page Builder/Framework

WordPress is a powerful CMS that allows you to customize your theme using a page builder plugin. A popular and easy-to-use page builder plugin is the Elementor plugin, which is a visual drag-and-drop editor. With its intuitive design, anyone can build professional-looking and pixel-perfect websites without a single line of code.

Elementor gives you complete control over every website element and includes over 40 widgets and features. You can accelerate your site-building process even further by taking advantage of the designer-made website kits and templates.

The Pro version of Elementor allows you to edit elements from your WordPress themes like Header, Footer, Single Post, and Archive Page.

Editing WordPress theme with Elementor Theme builder

The plugin is Gutenberg-ready, fully responsive, and offers tools and enhancements to help you create a stunning website.

Another popular website-building framework is Divi by Elegant themes. In essence, that is a WordPress theme that incorporates a wide range of features for creating websites. Divi has a visual editor option, over 800 premade layouts, and a split-testing feature.

Divi WordPress Theme

This Premium theme includes a What you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) builder that helps you create uniquely designed websites. You can also edit each element of your site straight on the screen, seeing the changes immediately.

With Divi, you can create your own layouts and save or export/import them on other Divi sites. Another feature of Divi is the Color Manager, which suggests palettes based on your previous selections. That helps you maintain design consistency in your website’s look and feel. Divi’s flexible and intuitive platform allows you to create beautiful interactive designs to compel your target audience.

Edit a WordPress theme from the Theme File Editor

The theme files of WordPress are stored in your web hosting account space. You can access and edit them using the File Manager in your hosting provider or directly from your WordPress Dashboard Appearance > Theme Files Editor.

Editing WordPress Themes with the Theme file editor

Note that in order to edit the theme files, you’ll need a certain level of PHP or CSS proficiency. Moreover, WordPress advises against editing the files directly on your live site since changes can break your site or get lost upon a theme update.

WordPress Theme files editor

Even if you are enthusiastic about code editing, we wouldn’t recommend doing it on your live site (known as “cowboy coding”). Instead, we suggest editing the theme’s code on a Staging site or creating a Child theme.

The Theme files editor allows you to alter all files related to your WordPress theme from the respective interface. All themes contain the following files that you may edit to adjust their design: style.css, functions.php, and template files. Custom themes may include additional files depending on their feature set.

Stylesheet (style.css)

The style.css file contains all design-related features of a theme, like fonts, colors, and layouts. You can alter the appearance of your website by adding custom CSS and making changes to this file.

Functions.php

The functions.php file defines the functionality and features of a WordPress theme. This file has all custom menus, logos, widgets, and featured images coded in PHP.

Theme template files

Theme template files combine HTML, PHP code, and template tags to define your WordPress page layouts. Changes to these files will affect how your custom 404 page, post pages, and archive pages are displayed.

Still, before considering editing your WordPress theme files from your Dashboard, know that even security plugins prevent access to them. Since the Theme Files Editor provides direct access to your theme files, many security plugins (like SiteGround Optimizer) disable it to prevent hackers from injecting malware.

Customize your site using a Child theme

Using a child theme to customize your WordPress theme is considered as best practice when editing your theme’s code. Using this approach, you can safely implement changes without worrying about losing them after updating your theme. More so, you’ll avoid breaking your site since your changes will affect only the child theme and not the parent.

Even if you’re learning to code and want to experiment with your theme’s PHP, CSS, and/or JavaScript code, it is best to opt for the child theme.

What is a WordPress Child theme

A WordPress parent theme is every theme that holds a complete stack of theme files and assets. At the same time, a WordPress child theme inherits all features and functionality of the parent theme.

According to the WordPress Codex, a child theme in WordPress has the following definition:


A child theme inherits the look and feel of the parent theme and all of its functions, but can be used to make modifications to any part of the theme. In this way, customizations are kept separate from the parent theme’s files. Using a child theme lets you upgrade the parent theme without affecting the customizations you’ve made to your site.


Child themes allow you to make portable and replicable modifications to your theme while keeping them separate from the parent theme.

To create a child theme, you must set up style.css and functions.php files in a separate folder within your WordPress file structure. In that folder named after your Child theme, you can create templates and apply various modifications. When the parent theme is updated, the alterations you made in the Child theme will remain intact.

The most hassle-free method of creating a child theme is to use a plugin like the Child Theme Wizard. After you install it, it gets activated automatically, and you can find it under the Tools section in your Dashboard.

Child Theme Wizard plugin WordPress

In there, select a parent theme from the drop-down menu, fill out the name you want to give to your child theme, and hit the Create Child Theme button. A few seconds later, you’ll see a “success” message that your Child theme is created.

Child Theme Created success message

Then, head over to Appearance > Themes and activate your Child theme. That’s it! You can start customizing your WordPress by implementing changes on the Child theme.

7 Tips and tricks for Editing WordPress Themes

  • Tip 1.Always backup your website before editing

    To be on the safe side, make sure to back up your site before customizing your WordPress theme. This way, if anything goes wrong, you can restore your site from the backup and have it working again in no time.

  • Tip 2.Try to Customize without Code Editing

    Try to avoid messing with your WordPress theme code if you are not a professional developer. Theme files are delicate, and a simple coding error can deteriorate your entire website, making it inaccessible. Thus, it’s safer to use user-friendly options like the Theme Customizer or a page builder to customize your WordPress theme.

  • Tip 3.Use a Staging site for customizations

    The safest way to apply WordPress theme customizations is by creating a Staging environment for your site. A Staging site is a copy of your website, where you can perform tasks like updating and testing new plugins or designs without affecting your live site.

    If you are a SiteGround client, you can take advantage of the WordPress Staging tool in your Site Tools. With it, you can effortlessly create a Staging site, manage it and push it to replace your live site when you are ready.

    When editing your WordPress theme on a Staging site, your live site will remain intact even if something goes sideways.

  • Tip 4.

    Since smartphones, tablets, and devices of all screen sizes are a big part of web browsing, creating a responsive theme design is essential. Your site must maintain a consistent appearance across all devices to sustain your target audience. Therefore, remember to check whether your changes in the design and functionality of your WordPress theme look appropriate in all screen sizes.

  • Tip 5.Accessibility

    On another note, if you want to reach a larger audience, you should also strive to customize your theme for accessibility. Studies show that 8.1 million people have some visual impairment, requiring screen magnifiers/readers or higher contrast pages that suit color blindness. Over 62% of adults with disabilities use a laptop, and 72% use a smartphone.

    However, many websites fail to provide accessibility modifications to make their pages available to people with certain disabilities. Apparently, over 97% of the world’s top 1 million websites don’t offer proper accessibility. As a consequence, over 60% of screen readers report that web content accessibility has gotten worse.

    Key tips to ensure higher accessibility of your site are avoiding low-contrast text and adding alternative text for your images. Make a difference, and remember to test whether your customizations meet the needs of this broad audience.

  • Tip 6.Follow WordPress Coding Standards

    All approved WordPress themes follow the WordPress Coding Standards, hence if you’re editing your theme’s code – ensure you do, too. Making a mess of code snippets in your theme files may cause you lots of trouble in the long run.

    Thus, try to add comments for your code edits and structure them appropriately, maintaining a neat and organized look. This way, you’ll be able to identify previous changes quickly.

  • Tip 7.Version control

    Last but not least, you should establish version control of your WordPress site. You can do this with a plugin like WP Rollback, which lets you roll a plugin or a theme back to a previous version. We advise maintaining your site up to date; however, sometimes, a plugin update may break your website. Thankfully, with WP Rollback, you can revert back to a working version of your website.

Wrap up

Now you have everything you need to design a stunning website and grab your audience’s attention. Gain recognition by customizing your WordPress theme with any of the methods we described. Use the tricks we shared to polish your website’s appearance to stand out from the crowd.

We hope our tutorial got you excited and that you are ready to entice your audience with your awesome website!

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