How to easily install WordPress themes and plugins

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One of the first things you will likely do after creating your WordPress website is to change the theme and add some plugins. These will greatly change the look and functionality of your website. Installation is easy but can be intimidating if you are new to WordPress

What are themes and plugins

Themes control the style and design of a WordPress website while plugins extend the functionality. Plugins can also change design elements of a website but for the most part they are used to add new features.

The default theme the comes with WordPress is pretty basic. The style and personality of website can be drastically changed by installing a new theme.

There are themes for practically every type of website you can imagine. These include blogs, photography websites, online stores, news websites and so much more.

The same goes for plugins, for any kind of feature that could be added to a website someone has likely created a plugin for it. Plugins can add features like spam protection, email sign up forms, ad management, security features, etc.

Where to get themes and plugins

Themes and plugins can come from from multiple places. The first of which being the WordPress Theme Directory and Plugin Directory. These are themes and plugins that have been approved by the WordPress team and must meet certain guidelines to be accepted. The theme and plugin directories can be accessed from inside the WordPress admin dashboard or by visiting the links above. 

Many theme and plugin marketplaces also exist for WordPress. A marketplace is a store to buy themes, plugins, images and other website assets. These include places like Theme Forest, CodeCanyon, creativeminds and TemplateMonster to name a few.

Independent developers also list themes and plugins on their websites. Not all are listed in the WordPress Directories or in marketplaces.

The potential downside to independent developers is that they may not meet the standards of the WordPress directory or marketplaces. In some cases, this can be due to insecure code.  Only purchase and download from a trustworthy source.

How to install and activate themes

How a theme is installed depends on where it is coming from. 

They can be found and installed directly with the WordPress admin dashboard, downloaded from the Theme Directory and uploaded to your website, or downloaded from a marketplace or independent developer and uploaded to your website.

Finding and Installing themes through the Admin Dashboard

The following steps involve finding and installing a theme through the WordPress admin area.

  • Go to your admin dashboard 
  • Go to Appearance > Themes
  • Once on the themes page click Add New
  • From the Add Themes page Browse the list or search for something specific
  • Find a theme and click Install then click Activate
Install a theme or preview it.

That’s it, a new theme has been installed and activated and is ready to be customized. Alternatively, you can preview the theme before installation which provides a generic preview to give an idea of how it looks.

After the theme is installed but before it is activated the Live Preview feature can be used to see how it looks on your site with your current posts and menus. 

Uploading themes from your computer and installing from a .zip

These steps involve uploading a theme from your computer and installing it.

  • Go to your admin dashboard 
  • Go to Appearance > Themes
  • Once on the themes page click Add New
  • From the Add Themes page click Upload Theme
  • Click Choose File and upload the theme.
  • Click Install Now
  • After the theme has successfully uploaded and installed click Activate

Before activating you can use the Live Preview feature to test it on the website.

upload a theme
Upload a theme in .zip format.
theme installed from uploaded file
Live Preview or Activate a theme after upload.

Install themes through cPanel

Themes can be installed through cPanel by accessing the File Manger. A .zip file of the theme will need to be uploaded to public_html/wp-content/themes.

  • Within cPanel to go File Manger
  • Navigate to public_html/wp-content/themes
  • Upload the .zip file of the theme into the themes folder
  • Right-click the .zip and Extract

If you go back to the themes section of your WordPress admin dashboard the theme you uploaded will be installed. 

Install themes over FTP

Theme can also be installed over FTP. The theme .zip file will need to be unzipped(extracted) before being uploaded. After connecting to your website via an FTP client, navigate to 
public_html/wp-content/theme and upload the extracted theme folder. 

Check the plugin area of your admin dashboard and the uploaded plugin will be installed. 

Potential theme installation problems

Some themes will come in a .zip file containing files other than just the theme folder. This may include documentation, demo data and licensing information in the .zip file download of the theme.

If you have problems when uploading a .zip file of a theme make sure you are only uploading the theme itself, not all that extra stuff.

How to install and activate plugins

Just as with themes, plugins are installed a little differently depending on where there are coming from.

They can be found and installed directly with the admin dashboard, downloaded from the Plugin Directory and uploaded to your website, or downloaded from a marketplace or independent developer and uploaded to your website.

Finding and Installing plugins through the admin dashboard

The following steps involve finding and installing a plugin through the WordPress admin area.

  • Go to your admin dashboard 
  • Go to Plugins > Add New
  • From the Add Plugins page Browse the list or search for something specific
  • Find a plugin and click Install Now then click Activate

The plugin is now installed and activated, ready to be configured if needed.

Installing a plugin through the admin dashboard

Uploading plugins from your computer and installing from a .zip

These steps involve uploading a plugin from your computer and installing it.

  • Go to your admin dashboard
  • Go to Plugins > Add New
  • From the Add Plugins page click Upload Plugin
  • Click Choose File and upload the plugin.
  • Click Install Now
  • After the plugin has successfully uploaded and installed click Activate
Upload a plugin in .zip format.
Activate the installed plugin.

Install plugins through cPanel

Plugin can be installed through cPanel by accessing the File Manger. A .zip file of the plugin will need to be uploaded to
public_html/wp-content/plugins.

  • Within cPanel to go File Manger
  • Navigate to public_html/wp-content/plugins
  • Upload the .zip file of the theme into the plugins folder
  • Right-click the .zip and Extract

Go back to the plugin section of your WordPress admin dashboard the plugin you uploaded will be installed. 

Install plugins over FTP

Plugins can also be installed over FTP. The plugin .zip file will need to be unzipped(extracted) before being uploaded. After connecting to your website via an FTP client, navigate to 
public_html/wp-content/plugins and upload the extracted plugin folder. 

Check the plugin area of your admin dashboard and the uploaded plugin will be installed. 

Potential plugin installation problems

Some plugins will come in a .zip file containing files other than just the plugin folder. This may include documentation, demo data and licensing information in the initial .zip file download of the plugin.

If you have problems when uploading a .zip file of the plugin make sure you are only uploading the plugin itself, not all that extra stuff.

Final thought

Installing themes and plugins on WordPress is pretty easy and painless. After doing it a couple of times you realize just how simple it really is.

That’s part of what makes WordPress so great, nothing about it is overly complicated. 

I build and maintain multiple WordPress websites. By using the experience gained from building these sites I help others create and customize their own websites.
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