If you’ve started your website, but a default WordPress theme just doesn’t cut it for you, you can customize your WordPress theme and add a unique flavor to it. The challenge is selecting the most viable method to do so.
We’ll cover all the different ways how to edit a WordPress theme, starting from the simplest methods to the most advanced techniques. Some are pretty straightforward, even for beginners, while others require some programming experience.
By the end of the article, you’ll be able to decide which solution is best for your needs and learn how to perform it efficiently, step by step.
If you’re new to WordPress Themes, first read What Is a WordPress Theme: A Full Overview and How to Choose One
If you’re ready to install a theme, then learn How To Install a WordPress Theme
But if you want to customize your theme, keep on reading!
- The built-in Customizer is a viable solution for most users
- The Theme File Editor might not be a good option, even if you are good with CSS and PHP
- WordPress page builders are a lifesaver for beginners without experience in front-end technologies
- You can alter the code of your WordPress theme if you have the needed skill and experience
- The best premium WordPress themes enable you to build your ideal website on a budget
When to Customize Your WordPress Theme?
Your WordPress theme sets the base for your visitors’ perception of your content. While it affects user experience, your theme choice also determines how easily you can manage the back end. Some WordPress themes are minimal and flexible, meaning you can add plugins or code, while others are more set in stone and may dictate your overall appeal.
Start with a theme aligned with your website goals in order to avoid heavy editing post-installation. For instance, look for online store themes if you run an online store.
Customization is the only way to make a theme fully compatible with your needs and style. It will change your appearance, boost your performance, enable you to promote your unique style and brand, and stand out from the crowd.
You don’t always need to customize your theme. People often confuse customization and functionality. The thing is, these are not synonymous.
- If you want to change your website design, you should customize your theme.
- If your goal is to extend or add functionality, then you should install a plugin.
Learn more about What Are WordPress Plugins And How To Manage Them?
Options for Customizing a Theme
If you have decided customization is the solution for your needs, you can change and adjust your WordPress theme in several ways:
- Add functionality to your WordPress theme by installing a plugin
- Customize your theme’s fonts, colors, and layout using the Customizer
- Apply instant changes to the whole site using a browser with the Theme File Editor
- Use the features and customization option in your page builder theme
- Extend and customize your theme framework
- Edit the theme code (using the block editor, the Customizer, or by editing the files)
- Use one of the available child themes or create a child theme
How to Customize a WordPress Theme?
1. Using WordPress Plugins
A plugin is more suitable for making changes, such as website performance, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and design elements. You can also incorporate these elements into your theme, however, it makes more sense to use a plugin as they are easier to implement, more powerful, and less likely to affect your site performance.
You can find your Plugins within the Dashboard > Plugins.
Plugins are divided into Featured, Popular, Recommended, and Favorites. All you need to do is find the plugin that addresses your needs and click on ‘Install Now.’ It’s as easy as that!
You can also upload a plugin if you have it in .zip format.
2. Using the WordPress Admin Screens
WordPress Admin screens allow you to make relatively simple and design-focused changes. At this point, you can choose from two options: the Customizer and the Theme File Editor.
The Customizer is a native WordPress tool that allows you, as the site admin, to change your active theme styling without touching its underlying code.
You can access the Customizer in one of two ways.
- If you are logged in and viewing your site, you can find the Theme Customizer in the admin bar at the top of the screen, next to Dashboard, Themes, Widgets, and Menus.
- You can also find the Customizer in the admin screens.
Dashboard > Appearance > Customize
Once you access the Customizer, you’ll view all available actions on the left and a real-time preview on the right. You can also preview your page on different screen sizes, including desktop, tablet, and mobile.
Modify basic features, such as colors, buttons, titles, and taglines, with most themes. Say you want to change the background color.
General Settings > Background
Here, you can easily choose from the color palette or ‘Clear’ to return it to white.
The same applies to all settings. The options are straightforward, even for first-time users. More importantly, even if you update your theme, the modifications from the Customizer will remain.
The Theme File Editor
The second option from the admin screens is using the Theme File Editor (note that the tool is called Theme Editor in versions older than WordPress 5.9).
It allows you to edit WordPress files directly on your theme using any browser. You can also edit files you have copied or stored on your PC and upload them later to your website using an FTP client.
You can find the Theme File Editor in:
- Appearances > Theme File Editor if you use a Classic theme.
- Tools > Theme File Editor If you are using a Block theme,
Find the list of files you can modify in your WordPress theme on the right:
- Theme’s visual appearance (theme’s style.css): colors, layouts, fonts, icons
- Theme’s features (functions.php): featured images, picture sliders, widgets
The changes are instant and will apply to the whole site.
Be especially cautious when modifying your style.css file. Some codes and functions are frequently part of other functions on the same page.
- Detect the exact element that affects CSS by using the Inspect option.
- Once you locate and target the web page element, only then can you edit or add CSS to it.
Similarly, you cannot copy codes from the web and paste them into your function.php file. If they contain errors or bugs, you will deliberately damage your website.
To wrap up your customizations, click Update File.
WordPress will not allow you to save if you have syntax errors in your code. Instead, it will locate the error so you can fix it more easily.
Take the following precautionary steps If you decide to edit using the Theme File Editor:
- Perform frequent backups and keep them in a safe place while working
- If possible, work from copies of backup files
- Set the proper file permissions to modify and save files
- Use a text editor for making changes to files outside of the built-in plugin and theme editors
3. Using Page Builders and Frameworks
While WordPress themes provide valuable customization options, you can quickly take things to another level using theme frameworks and page builders. These user-friendly UI tools and plugins eliminate the danger of messing up the code and help you to build a website easily.
Customizing A WordPress Theme Using A Page Builder
A page builder is a plugin that enables you to design your website and change its layout using a user-friendly interface. Most page builders include drag-and-drop functionality. You can use them to create custom pages, headers, and footers.
- Page builders are the best choice for beginners without experience with front-end technologies.
- They enable you to create a professional website without coding because they allow you to make changes and see what you are getting in real-time.
Most WordPress page builders work similarly to what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editors. You can drag around and rearrange elements with the mouse while the builder modifies the underlying code.
Install a page builder compatible with your theme. The best tools work with most themes, but not all do.
The WordPress directory includes many free page builders, including Elementor, Beaver Builder, Zion-Builder, Divi Builder, Themify Builder, UX-Builder, Gutenberg, WP-Bakery Pagebuilder, and Fusion-Builder.
Customizing A WordPress Theme Using A Theme Framework
Theme frameworks refer to themes you can significantly extend and customize. Essentially, it’s a set of files used to develop WordPress themes.
You get one parent theme as the foundation for basic theme functionality and design, plus a choice of child themes to customize the parent theme and tailor it to your specific requirements.
The most popular example of a theme framework is Divi. It’s a visual editor option, similar to page builders. Once you install the Divi theme, you can find Divi within the Dashboard and navigate through the different sections: Theme Options, Theme Builders, Theme Customizer, Role Editor, Divi Library, and Support Center.
Divi allows you to do just about anything, from picking the colors to enabling smooth scrolling, responsive images, and even working with custom CSS.
4. Editing Theme Code
You can edit your theme code by editing files in Appearances > Theme File Editor or Appearance > Customize > Additional CSS. Here, you can modify the Stylesheet, Functions File, and Theme Template Files. We’ve covered these options in detail, so let’s continue with the remaining alternatives.
Customizing A WordPress Theme Using A FTP Client
You can use an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client to edit codes to customize your WordPress theme. It allows you to download and upload your files from the server, shielding you against data loss and breaking your site.
It is a fairly simple process:
- Connect your FTP client (File Zilla) with your web server
- Access and download your theme files
- Change your files on your computer
- Use the same FTP client to upload them to your web server
Customizing A WordPress Theme Using A Child Theme
A child theme is the best choice for editing and adding code to third-party themes.
A child theme allows you to implement changes without affecting the parent theme (the original one), similar to a staging site. It has the same style, appearance, features, and functions as the parent theme. However, changes to the child theme don’t affect the parent theme and vice versa. WordPress will read all archive.php files from the child theme, not the original one.
It can shield you against data loss during WordPress customizations or updates, making it the best way to add your custom codes or snippets risk-free. The update will affect the parent theme only, while your customizations remain intact with the child theme.
Here’s how you can create a child theme:
- Use the File Manager to access the wp-content folder and open the theme file (File Manager > public_html > wp-content/themes)
- Create a new folder in the theme folder, a directory for your child theme (name it using the parent theme’s name and add -child in the end)
- Create a Stylesheet for your child theme and provide WordPress with information that this is a child theme with a particular parent theme
- Copy the files from the parent theme and edit them in the child theme
- Activate the child theme on your website
Full Site Editing Using The Block Editor
Last but not least, WordPress’s latest update allows for full site editing using the block editor.
You can find it in Appearance > Editor.
On the right, you can find Typography, Colors, Layout, and Blocks to customize the appearance of specific blocks for the whole site. Here, see elements like Paragraph, Heading, List, Quote, etc.
You can also choose a Visual and Code editor or export your theme with updated templates and styles.
Best Practices for Customizing WordPress Themes
Now that you have learned how to edit a WordPress theme let’s cover the best practices for doing so. After all, you want to carry out the process safely without losing your code, breaking your site, or making it vulnerable to attacks. The best way to do so is to have a plan and a strategy in place.
Try to Customize Your WordPress Theme Without Editing the Code
Customizing your WordPress theme without touching the code is always more reliable. It would be best to always start with the Customizer in the admin screens and try installing plugins, page builders, and so on, whatever works for you.
Editing delicate theme files always impose an extent of the danger. If you don’t have the skill and experience with CSS for the stylesheet and PHP for the theme files, you should not play around, as you can harm your site performance and stability.
Use Version Control To Track Your Changes
Version control allows you to keep track of changes in the code which comes in handy if a change causes an issue. This way, you can easily roll back to a previous version. It’s especially beneficial for teams because it promotes continuous communication, collaboration, and a simple way to develop software.
The best way to do version control is by using a specialized tool like GitHub. However, you can also change the theme’s version number and keep copies of both versions (i.e., before and after the changes).
Create Responsive & Accessible Designs
Optimizing your website for different screens is a must to cover a broader audience. If you change your theme, you must ensure it works equally well on Desktop, Tablet, and Mobile. It should look clear and responsive, which is especially important for styling and layout changes.
An unresponsive theme will negatively affect your SEO rankings and conversion rates. Search engines give significant weight to optimization since more and more people use their mobile phones for browsing.
The WordPress built-in Customizer allows you to view your theme on different screens.
Another thing you need to pay attention to is web accessibility for people with disabilities or sensory impairments. Your customizations, including font sizes and color schemes, should be easily accessible so everyone can read and interact with your content.
Fortunately, many high-quality web accessibility tools and checkers can help you along the way.
Always Test Your Changes Before Going Live
Live editing on your website can present some risks.
A local WordPress installation is always the wiser alternative. You can export your theme and content on your computer to test changes before publishing them, including a new custom theme, plugin, or design.
Mirroring your live website will help you eliminate all customization shortcomings. After you run all tests, you’ll be confident to push your site live. It’s safer, quicker, and won’t disturb your visitors with real-life changes.
Use a staging site to test your local site performance for extra security. A local website usually differs from a live website because they are on different servers; these two servers might utilize different PHP versions and tools, leading to minor differences. Due to this, a staging site might be the best way to ensure everything works as it’s supposed to before pushing the changes to your live website.
Follow the WordPress Coding Standards
Say you are using a well-structured third-party theme. All you need to do is maintain the same standard to be compliant. Always add comments when you make changes so that you or any other person working within the same environment can track changes.
Highly Customizable WordPress Themes
Customizable themes are all you’ll ever need to reflect your vision and create a professional-looking website on a budget. Still, checking the thousands of available WordPress themes might not be the smartest move.
So, here’s our selection of the top 10 easiest and most effective themes that make customization a piece of cake!
Divi is one of the most popular choices among users for a reason. It’s a powerful multilingual theme that will grant you all the customization features you can imagine, starting from its native page builder to drag-and-drop functionality, superior extras, visual appeal, and high-quality customer support. It includes SEO optimization, lightning-fast speeds, draggable widths and in-line editing, over 40 website elements, 800 pre-made designs, and 100 full website packs.
Simply put, Divi’s intuitive front-end editor and various animation effects make beginners feel like pros. The best part is that you can experiment as much as you like and toggle elements across your pages before publishing your changes.
Astra is a multipurpose WordPress theme with two available versions – free and pro. It is lightweight, complies with the best coding standards, and requires less than 50 KB resources, meaning you can expect high-end performance on a budget. Since Astra loads in seconds, it can significantly boost your Google and SEO rankings.
Astra is also user-friendly and compatible with the most popular page builders, including Elementor and WooCommerce. It also allows you to import a demo version, customize it, and publish it live in no time.
Astra comes with a library of over 300 ready-made templates, multiple site layouts, a global color palette, typography, a series of header and footer options, a custom sidebar, paragraph margin, schema, and more!
Avada combines a theme and WYSIWYG builder; a kind of pay for one, and get the other free. It features many pre-built site demos for various niches, making it suitable for all kinds of businesses. As a bonus, all demos are WooCommerce-compatible. So, you can easily add a powerful store.
Avada offers all customization tools to create your unique design, including pre-designed layouts, SEO functionality, slider and custom fields plugins, drag-and-drop page builder compatibility, and advanced typography. You can also insert videos in the background or add various widgets to sidebars and pages.
Yet, Avada’s one-of-a-kind feature is the Fusion Builder. It’s incredibly lightweight and beginner-friendly, meaning it can help you build attractive content hassle-free.
Jevelin is yet another multipurpose theme with over 40 element animations and hover effects. It’s compatible with the WPBakery and Elementor page builders, and you’ll get the Contact Form 7 and Slider Revolution plugins bundled in as a bonus.
With Jevelin’s stunning designs and options in your pocket, you can compete with the best of the best on the market. Jevelin grants you a bunch of styling options, WooCommerce integration, 1-click demo installations, automatically responsive elements, the perfect plugin set, social icons widget, a live drag & drop builder, and wide and boxed layouts.
Neve is highly customizable, flexible, and lightweight. This multipurpose theme comes with dozens of features to make your dream website a reality. It loads quickly, is mobile responsive, and is compatible with major page builders, including Elementor, Brizy, and Beaver.
What makes Neve superior is its live customizer option. Apart from it, you will also get over 120 demo websites, custom layouts, Adobe Typekit fonts, WooCommerce integration, and a unique Element booster feature with various animations, premium widgets, and a content switcher.
Its free version is sufficient, but if you want to take things to another level, you can always upgrade to its premium one!
Blocksy is a free, GDPR-compliant WordPress theme that can help you create your attention-grabbing site in no time. It is compatible with the Gutenberg block editor, meaning you can seamlessly publish compelling content. You will also benefit from its seamless WordPress live customization feature, allowing you to track changes in real time.
This highly customizable theme comes with a color scheme editor, nine header elements, five archive types, live search, pagination types, sticky sidebars, custom widgets, a social sharing box, and a cookie consent notice.
In addition, Blocksy comes with excellent customer support and is compatible with popular page builders, including Beaver, Brizy, and Elementor.
7. Hello Elementor
As the name implies, the Hello Elementor theme is built by the same team behind the popular page builder. It’s a free, fully customizable, barebones theme, making it an excellent starting point. It’s built by Elementor for Elementor, meaning it’s 100% tailored to the page builder.
Hello Elementor is lean and light, meaning it can make your site run fast. You can expect dazzling performance; your theme requires only 6 KB of resources and will load in the blink of an eye – approximately ¼ seconds.
It also grants you total design freedom with powerful visual editing tools, the versatility of over 100 widgets, a drag-and-drop editor, customizable headers and footers, a WooCommerce builder, and more. It’s also responsive for all devices and compatible with most WP plugins.
Porto is popular among beginners and professionals alike. It’s a multipurpose + WooCommerce WordPress theme with over 130 niche demos and the go-to solution for new business websites and eCommerce stores.
Porto is a powerful theme option that features super high performance and doesn’t require any coding knowledge. It is compatible with popular page builders, including Gutenberg, Elementor, and WPBakery.
It includes hundreds of pre-built variations for drag-and-drop headers, footers, navigations, and page headers. You can also expect a powerful admin panel, premium plugins and features, live AJAX search on the search box, display condition, templates builder, and options for any type of layout, including dark style, RTL, and much more.
Salient is a creative multipurpose theme. Most of all, Salient is suitable for freelancers and bloggers. It features a lightweight design with over 350 templates and many optimization options. It also includes a drag-and-drop feature, WooCommerce integration, and compatibility with the WPBakery page builder.
Salient includes a built-in Mega menu, off-canvas menu, multiple blog styles, over 900 Google fonts, an unlimited color palette, AJAX search, multiple layout designs, infinite scroll, and cascading images feature.
You’ll also benefit from mobile-friendliness, frequent updates, and excellent customer support.
Zita is a lightweight, modern-aesthetic WordPress theme with over 50 professional ready-to-use templates to choose from. You won’t need any coding skills, as Zita comes with full control over pages, posts, and WooCommerce. The theme is also compatible with page builders such as Brizy and Elementor, and you hold significant love for the latter as you will also get advanced Elementor add-ons.
You’ll also benefit from super easy website import, lightning-fast speeds, a drag-and-drop editor, structure control, white label, footer styles and layouts, and post layouts.
What to Do If You’re Unable to Customize Your Theme in WordPress
You have learned how to customize your WordPress themes and best practices. Still, it doesn’t seem to work in practice. The Customizer is showing errors, the theme has some issues, and neither grants you options for fixing it.
Here are the most common obstacles you might face and what you can do about them.
You Have An Old WordPress Version – Update or Reinstall
You might frequently anticipate bugs or error codes if you have an old version of WordPress core files, themes, or plugins. After all, that’s the whole point; WordPress issues new releases to fix bugs, improve performance, add features or enhance existing ones and stay up to date with new industry standards.
If you don’t update your WordPress theme, you miss out on new improvements and put your security at risk.
It would be best to check all elements on your WordPress site to detect the main culprit and immediately update them to the latest available version. While an outdated release might not be the only malefactor for being unable to customize your theme, it can also lead to cybersecurity attacks or security breaches of similar nature, making updates the highest priority.
You Are Facing Compatibility Issues – Prioritize Your Plugins
If you continuously download all kinds of plugins, you will eventually come to a point where the scripts conflict. A plugin can also be incompatible with a theme. And the reality is, you don’t even need all those extras. Install and activate only the necessary plugins for your theme.
What if you have plenty of plugins, and most are necessary? Should you delete them all?
Not really. It would be smarter to deactivate all plugins. But before you do that,
- Clear all caches and disable caching for your site if you’re using caching plugins or server cache.
- Next, clear your browser history and go to Appearance > Customize. You probably have a conflict on your site if things work as they should.
Activate the plugins one by one, starting with the plugins of the highest priority, and check for compatibility. Once the Customizer displays an issue, you’ll learn your culprit.
You can double-check by keeping only the plugin that breaks your WordPress Customizer activating and deactivating all remaining ones. Visit Appearance > Customize. If it doesn’t work you have detected the plugin. But if it works, you are most probably facing a lack of server resources.
A single plugin isn’t always the issue. You might be facing issues due to several plugins.
So, check all plugins, from first to last. Once you detect all culprits, you can:
- deactivate the plugins,
- delete them
- or roll back to older versions that didn’t display any conflict.
We highly recommend skipping the third option as it might cause other issues.
Your WordPress and Site Addresses Differ – Make Them Identical
If your WordPress URL differs from your website URL, the preview might not load, meaning they have to be identical.
- Visit Dashboard > Settings > General.
- Edit the WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) options
- Save Changes
- Finally, visit Appearance > Customize to check whether it works properly.
You Might Have Invalid Menu Items – Remove Them
Missing or invalid menu items might also prevent the Customizer from working.
- Visit Appearance > Menu to check for invalid menus.
- If you have an invalid menu, it will appear in red.
- Click the arrow, Remove, and Save Menu.
The Customizer Loads Without CSS – You Have Several Solutions
If you see blank HTML output in the Customizer, it’s loading without CSS. While it’s a rare occurrence, it can happen.
Here’s what you can do to try and resolve it:
- Disable all plugins
- Add define ‘(‘CONCATENATE_SCRIPTS’, false);’ to the wp-config.php file of your WordPress installation
- Check hosting environment issues, including insufficient file permissions
- Contact the support team of your hosting company for an in-depth analysis
Other Browser Browser Problems
WordPress might not be the issue for your Customizer not working; it might be your browser instead.
Several common issues include the browser extension breaking the Customizer. Your server might also use an old PHP version, you might have insufficient server resources, or PHP is unable to process the request.
When Nothing Else Works
You have tried each of our solutions, but nothing seems to work, not even fixing your browser.
Our final recommendation is to insert remove_action(‘shutdown’, ‘wp_ob_end_flush_all’, 1); to the file functions.php of your child theme or by using a plugin.
In today’s highly competitive marketplace, you must opt for uniqueness and competitive advantage for a bigger and more stable market share. And what better way than by pursuing your brand identity and Internet presence with a customized WordPress theme? Needless to say, it is a prerequisite for success.
Fortunately, there are various ways to achieve this, but no one size fits all. You have to find what works for you.
While some prefer the simplest plugins, theme frameworks, and page builders, many prefer the popular Customizer, and others even like to challenge themselves and play with CSS and PHP codes. It’s no competition; all will get satisfactory results, and so will you!
Next Steps: What Now?
- Pin down a flexible theme in your initial theme hunt
- Add onto the theme’s design with your customizations
- If you are a beginner, start with plugins and the built-in Customizer
- If you are an experienced user, edit WordPress theme files with caution
- Create a child theme to test changes before you issue them live
- Frequently update your WordPress elements to reduce security risks
- Limit the number of plugins you will install to reduce the chance of error
Further Reading – Useful Resources
- What Is a WordPress Theme: A Full Overview and How to Choose One
- How To Install a WordPress Theme In 3 Ways
- What Are WordPress Plugins And How To Manage Them?
- WordPress Security Guide: How to Defend Your WordPress Site
- Best Website Builders for WordPress 2022
- Customizer Custom Controls
- The WordPress Customizer – A Developers Guide (Part 1)
- The WordPress Customizer – A Developers Guide (Part 2)
1. Can you customize WordPress themes for free?
Yes, you can. All the solutions we have listed in this article are entirely free of charge. You can install free plugins and page builders, use WordPress’s built-in tool, the Customizer, or edit WordPress files theme’s style.css and functions.php in real-time.
2. How do I edit a WordPress theme without coding?
You can utilize plugins, user-friendly WordPress website builders, the Customizer, a theme framework, or the visual editor in full site editing.
3. Are all WordPress themes customizable?
Yes, you can customize any WordPress or third-party theme. Depending on your skills and experience, you can choose from multiple solutions, from beginner to pro level.
4. Can I create my own WordPress theme?
Yes, you can create a custom WordPress theme from scratch. Since WordPress offers many beginner-friendly tools, almost anyone can do it.