How to install a new WordPress theme

Can’t upload the new Wordpress theme you just downloaded or purchased? You may be running the wrong type of WordPress. In this post, I’ll explain the different ways to run a WordPress blog and then show you exactly how to upload a custom WordPress theme.

Three flavors of WordPress

There are three different flavors of WordPress: WordPress.com, WordPress.com Premium, and WordPress.org. Here are the differences that are relevant to us:

WordPress.com WordPress.com Premium WordPress.org
3rd Party Themes x
Free x x*
Hosted x x
Custom Domain x x

* requires a self-hosting plan, more on that later

Note that neither WordPress.com nor WordPress.com Premium allow users to upload their own themes. If you’re in your blog’s Dashboard and don’t see an upload link under Appearance, then you’re probably using WordPress.com’s free or Premium hosted option. You’re going to need to host the blog yourself if you want to use a custom theme.

Still kinda lost? Let’s break it down even further.

The (free) WordPress application

WordPress is an application, just like Microsoft Word, or Google Chrome, or my own app Workburst. Better yet, WordPress is a free application. The biggest difference between WordPress and these other applications is that WordPress runs on the web, while these other applications run on an operating system such as OS X, Windows, or Linux.

If you want to run Google Chrome, you’ll need a computer. If you want your own WordPress blog, you’ll need a web server.

But most people just want a blog and don’t want to worry about figuring out what a “web server” is or how to get one (even though it’s incredibly easy and can be done in less than six minutes). This is where WordPress.com comes into play.

WordPress.com

WordPress knows that most people just want a blog, and don’t care what happens behind the scenes with hosting. That’s why they created WordPress.com, a free, hosted option — meaning they run your WordPress application on their web server for you.

WordPress.com is free for you, the user, but you’re only getting an abridged version of the web application. There are lots of features that are unavailable, such as third-party themes and custom domain names (the URL for free WordPress.com blogs are [your-username].wordpress.com rather than [your-domain].com).

Why is the application limited like this? Because they want you to upgrade to a Premium plan!

It’s the same monetization model as freemium and free-to-play mobile applications. There’s no cost to download and use the app, but you’ll soon discover a number of limitations. Maybe you have to wait until tomorrow for new lives to re-generate, or you find that building the desperately-needed Health Center takes six hours. Or, in the case of something like the podcast player Overcast, paying $4.99 unlocks great features such as Smart Speed and downloading over cellular.

Many people don’t really care about those limitations, so a free WordPress.com blog is all they’ll ever need. But if you want to use a customized theme, or your own domain name, you’ll need to pay some money. That brings us to WordPress.com Premium.

WordPress.com Premium

As you may have guessed, WordPress.com Premium is the “unlocked” version of WordPress.com (but still isn’t the full WordPress application). Just like WordPress.com, the WordPress.com Premium plan is completely hosted by WordPress. You’ll never need to worry about web servers, self-hosting plans, or where your domain name is pointing. You just pay WordPress.com $99 per year, and they’ll let you use a more feature-filled version of the WordPress application, run on their web server.

While this still doesn’t allow for third-party themes, premium accounts do get something called the Custom Design feature, which lets you edit fonts, change styles, and edit your site’s CSS. WordPress.com says that they don’t allow third-party themes because they want to “keep things simple,” but another unspoken reason is security. There are tons of “free” WordPress themes out there that contain exploits or unsafe code.

But while WordPress.com Premium still doesn’t support third-party themes, you’ll now be able to use your own domain name (~$10 per year if you purchase separately, or free with a WordPress.com Premium account). You’ll instantly look more professional.

But we still have one more option to cover, and that’s my favorite: WordPress.org.

WordPress.org/Self-hosting the WordPress application

I mentioned earlier that WordPress is free, but it hasn’t really felt actually free yet. The free WordPress.com blog is extremely limited, and you need to pay for WordPress.com Premium if you want to unlock more features. And still no third-party themes. That’s not exactly free.

Well, technically, WordPress is still free. It’s the hosting that you’re really paying for. Remember how I said both WordPress.com and WordPress.com Premium were hosted options? Well, you have to pay for that hosting somehow. As I mentioned, WordPress.com uses a freemium model in order to make that money.

But if you have your own hosting, then you can install and run the completely free, self-hosted version of the WordPress application, which is available at WordPress.org. You’ll get all the features.

To run this free version of WordPress, you’ll need a web server. You can get access to your very own web server by purchasing a web hosting plan and then installing the WordPress application. It sounds more complicated than it is — I created a video that shows you how to buy a domain, hosting, and install WordPress in less than six minutes.

Here are some perks to self-hosting your blog:

  • Bluehost’s Shared Plus hosting is $83.40/year (less than WordPress.com Premium)
  • Includes a free domain name (just like WordPress.com Premium)
  • Ability to use third-party themes
  • Unlimited email addresses
  • Unlimited domains

It’s the last point that really does it for me. Not only is self hosting your blog cheaper than WordPress.com Premium, you can also have an unlimited number of websites without purchasing more hosting.

Let’s say you launch your WordPress blog, and everything is great. But you suddenly come up with a new idea for a website. With a self-hosting plan, it’s easy. Just buy the new domain name (~$10), point it at your current hosting plan, and voila! You can then install the free version of WordPress on the new domain and run it completely independently, and you only paid for the domain.

I have a single hosting plan, which is currently hosting sixteen different websites, including:

It also allows me to throw up a quick landing page, on a custom domain, if I ever want to test out a startup or app idea. I can just purchase a domain and theme from Themeforest, then be up and running in minutes.

If you do decide that you want to go the self-hosting route, I’ve got a full free course showing you exactly how to do it. All I ask is that you use my affiliate link if you decide to use Bluehost. It helps me continue to create free content such as this post and that course!

Installing a WordPress Theme

And finally, here’s how to install a purchased WordPress theme. It’s video seven from my free course. Check out the other videos to learn all about WordPress.

Correction: In the original version of this article, I stated that WordPress.com Premium account allowed for the uploading of third-party themes. This is not true, and the article no longer contains this incorrect information.

12 Comments How to install a new WordPress theme

  1. The Cake Love

    Hello, I am planning to move to wordpress theme. I wanted to know how can i customise the theme? means themes i purchase from theme forest can not be use as is. In which tool i can customise it? Also is there any CMS where i can update my website regularly?

    Reply
    1. Dann

      If you’re self-hosting your blog (using WordPress.org) then the answer to all your questions is yes.

      If you’re running your website through WordPress.com, then your theme customization options are a bit more limited. Premium accounts have the ability to: “Customize the fonts in your theme with ease, apply a custom color palette and background pattern, or dive into CSS to make all the presentational changes you desire.”

      Both options have a CMS that allow you to update your website regularly.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
      1. The Cake Love

        Hello Thanks for the info,

        Yes i would be hosting the website mostly in go daddy bacon my domain is with them.

        1. Get wordpress hosting from lets say go daddy
        2. Purchase wordpress theme from theme forest

        where can i customize the theme? do i have to upload it somewhere so i can customize it? Who will provide CMS tool? What all i can change with that CMS tool?

        Reply
        1. Dann

          You’re hosting it yourself: awesome! You’ll be able to do everything you need!

          First of all, check out my free tutorial about installing and setting up WordPress. You can skip the first video (which talks about purchasing a domain, hosting that domain, and installing WordPress) and go directly to #2. Tutorial #6 and #7 will also be particularly relevant to you.

          http://novicenolonger.com/launch-your-own-website/

          With most premium themes, there’s a link that appears in your dashboard’s sidebar for customization. Each theme has a different customization menu, so I can’t give you any real specifics. But you’ll be able to do a LOT from there.

          You can also edit a theme’s HTML/CSS in the Editor (available under the Appearance tab in the sidebar). However, if you are going to edit the HTML/CSS, you should definitely set up a child theme. I haven’t created a tutorial for that yet, but here’s a great one: https://www.elegantthemes.com/blog/resources/wordpress-child-theme-tutorial

          Hope that helps!

          Reply
    1. Dann

      Did you purchase the theme from Themeforest? If so, the zip file that you’re supposed to upload might actually be INSIDE the zip file that you downloaded from Themeforest.

      Themeforest often packages extra stuff, such as documentation, wireframes, and instructions all together with the theme. So the zip file that you download from their website contains these extra files, along with the zip file containing the theme.

      If you accidentally uploaded the zip file containing all those extras, and not just the theme’s zip file, you’ll get errors.

      Reply

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