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Michigan State University

Building a Website with Wordpress: Themes

This guide walks you through how to build a website using WordPress. It covers web hosting, installing WordPress, installing themes and plugins, and using the in-browser editor to adjust the theme (header image, colors, fonts, etc.).

What to look for in a theme

In general, here are some basics you want to look for in a WordPress theme:

  • Is it free? 
    • There are lots and lots of excellent free themes out there. Sometimes it's worth paying for one, but usually only if you know you have specific needs and you can't find a good free theme to meet them.
  • Is it well-maintained?
    • Has there been an update in the last year?
    • Is it compatible with the current version of WordPress, or only slightly behind?
    • Can you tell if there are answers to questions folks have had about it?
  • Is it responsive? Is it accessible?
    • Most of the newest themes are, but it's worth filtering by the "responsive" or "accessibility ready" features to double-check
  • Last but not least, try to look past the gorgeous photography and see the nuts and bolts of how it's laid out. If the pictures were gone, would the site still look good?

Choosing a new theme

Once you're in the "Appearance" menu, you'll notice that there are a few themes pre-installed; the theme called "Twenty Seventeen" should already be activated. 

To choose another theme from the ones that are installed:

  1. Mouse over the theme
  2. Click "View Details" if you want to see a description of the theme's features, or "Live Preview" if you want to get a sense of what it'll look like enabled
  3. If you like the preview, you can click "Save and Activate" at the top left
  4. If you don't like the preview, hit the back button and try a different theme

To search for themes beyond the pre-installed ones:

  1. Click "Add New" at the top left, just above the existing themes
  2. You should come to a new page with lots of themes
  3. Use the menu at the top "Featured," "Popular," etc. to browse available themes
  4. If you have a specific feature you need, use the "Feature Filter" option at the far right of that top menu to look for it
Megan Kudzia's picture
Megan Kudzia
Michigan State University