WordPress Themes Explained

This tutorial explains what WordPress themes are, what makes WordPress themes unique, and the benefits of using WordPress themes to improve the design of your website or blog.

WP For Newbies - An Overview Of ThemesThe introduction of website publishing systems like the WordPress Content Management System (CMS) has truly simplified web design and web development for anyone wanting a website.

This is terrific news for businesses thinking about running a digital presence that is easy to manage.

Prior to blogging and the development of sophisticated content management systems, if you needed a web site, you would have to wait until both the web development and web design processes were fully completed. This process could take weeks, sometimes even many months!

WordPress themes helped change all this. In this article, we explain what WP themes are, how they save you and your business money on website design costs, and how WP themes help you easily customize your site.

Web Design Revolution

More website owners today have benefited from an evolution in web design that has been going for a number of years now. If you own a small business, you may want to learn more about this, because it could save you thousands of dollars on website development or website design costs.

Let’s review what used to happen before WordPress came along:

The first step would be to discuss your project with a web developer or web site designer. After that, the actual “web design” itself had to be decided upon. This required time and money being spent with a professional website designer going over areas of the site such as the layout, colours, styles, graphic elements, content, etc.

Every page of your website then had to be individually created with your design elements and codes written into your content. The pages were then assembled into a web site using hyperlinks and custom coded navigation menus and uploaded to your server, along with every other file required to make your website work – script libraries, graphic images, media, etc.

Themes - An Introduction

(image source:adobe.com)

Only once everything had been tested and worked how it was supposed to (and looking the way the client had imagined it to look), was the website considered to be completed and ready to go live.

Then, website “templates” were developed”. A web template allows design elements of the web site to be created separately from content on the page. Having template elements helped make the process of developing web sites faster and resulted in reduced costs of production. This also enabled web development agencies to work with businesses with less money to spend …

Understanding Themes

(image source: www.dreamweaver-templates.org)

As more small businesses started using “template-based” websites, templates started being developed that could provide clients with various customizable options, like color palettes, the ability to pick different layouts and styles, etc …

As web sites and web building applications developed, web templates also started to evolve into web template “systems” that allow users to manage the design aspects of a site.

And then, a “blogging” tool called WordPress came along and helped to kick off a new business website revolution …

Understanding Themes

(WordPress – A Content Publishing Revolution)

To learn more about content management systems and the benefits of the WordPress CMS, see the tutorial below:

The WordPress Theme

A WordPress theme expands the idea of a web template system even further.

A WordPress theme controls and integrates every aspect of your web design. It lets you add a “skin” over your site much like a web template system does but it also also provides users with more control over the management, appearance and customization aspects of all template settings.

As the official WordPress site explains it …

A WordPress Theme is a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog. These files are called template files. A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software. Themes may include customized template files, image files (*.jpg, *.gif), style sheets (*.css), custom Pages, as well as any necessary code files (*.php).

(source: WordPress.org)

As stated above, a unique and revolutionary feature of WordPress is that how your web site looks to visitors is a different thing from how your website is configured in the backend to handle areas like content management and functionality.

Basically, what this means is that a theme lets you modify the design of your website as much and as often as you like without modifying your site’s content and all the work you’ve put into it. For example, if your website has been set up for e-commerce, replacing the theme won’t affect the content or the functionality of the site. All e-commerce features, settings and product information will remain unaffected, but your site will look completely different.

This is huge! Why?

Because when you use WordPress, you no longer have to spend weeks or months waiting for your site to be completed. You can get your business website built simply and get started with any WP theme you want, and change the entire look, feel and design of your site in a few minutes, whenever you choose … and as often as you like!

Even better, you can easily replace any theme on your WP site with no website code development knowledge required. Simply choose any theme you like, upload it to your site and activate it. WordPress lets you change your website design and customize elements like header images, layout, typography and more with just a couple of mouse clicks …

A Newbie's Guide To Understanding WordPress Themes

As WordPress is distributed as open source software, commercial website design companies can design themes specifically for the WordPress platform using the WordPress templating system.

This means that thousands of high quality WP themes are made available to WP users. Themes are generally distributed freely under the terms of the GNU License Definition, or sold as Premium (paid) themes.

The WordPress development team keeps a FREE WordPress Theme Directory which gives WordPress users access thousands of great WP themes at $0 cost …

A Newbie's Guide To Understanding WP Themes

(WordPress.org – Free WordPress Theme Directory)

As WordPress becomes more popular, more designers are now starting to develop themes for a wider audience of web users.

WP themes vary from professional-looking, to designs that are visually breathtaking and would typically cost many hundreds of dollars to design. Surprisingly, most premium themes can be bought quite inexpensively, especially when compared to what it would have cost you if a web designer had to develop it from scratch.

You can see a number of WordPress theme galleries containing various examples of themes here:

Browse Thousands Of FREE WordPress Themes!

(Browse Thousands Of FREE WordPress Themes!)

Benefits & Advantages Of Using WordPress Themes

Here are just a few of the benefits of choosing WordPress themes over using traditional web template design:

Be Up And Running In No Time

WP themes are really easy to install on your site. Just upload a zip folder containing the plugin to your Plugins folder via your admin area and activate. Even easier still, you can install any of the themes listed in the free theme repository at WordPress.org) directly inside your WordPress dashboard.

A Newbie's Guide To Understanding WP Themes


  • WordPress has a growing community of commercial theme developers who, collectively, contribute thousands of professional WP Themes available to WordPress users. Thousands of these themes are completely free to use!
  • Themes give sites a unified and consistent “look and feel” across all of your site’s elements, i.e. pages, headers, footers, layouts, etc …
  • A “theme” works independently of your blog’s content. This means you can replace WordPress themes as often as you want without changing your underlying content.
  • Many WordPress themes provide additional features and settings that let you easily customize the site’s style and design properties and create a unique look to suit your business.
  • Many WordPress themes are built using a framework that enables users to update the theme to newer versions without losing any customizations (e.g. CSS styles)
  • WordPress lets you search, upload and install WordPress Themes automatically right within the dashboard.
  • Themes lets you save hundreds of dollars on web design costs. Free WordPress themes cost nothing and most “Premium”themes are normally quite inexpensive.

About Responsive WordPress Themes

Many theme designers are now developing WP themes that incorporate “responsive” web design.

A responsive theme allows a website to automatically reconfigure the layout to display smoothly over different screen sizes and resolutions, as well as different devices (e.g. laptops, iPads, mobile phones, etc.) …

Themes - An Overview

A responsive theme is also optimized for different types of devices. Users can navigate, read and display a site on all devices without having to readjust their browser settings, or requiring website owners to have installed additional display elements.

Note: When searching for WordPress themes, it’s a good idea to choose a responsive WordPress theme. Not only will a responsive theme ensure that the content and layout of your site will work correctly on all of your visitors’ devices, it also means that the theme is newer than non-responsive themes and therefore should comply with the latest standards of website design and web coding.

We hope that this post has given you a good understanding of themes, what themes are, how themes can help your business save money on website development costs, and how WordPress themes make it easy to customize your site.

To learn where to find great themes for your blog, go here:


"If you're new to WordPress, this can stand on its own as a training course and will stay with you as you progress from beginner to advanced and even guru status." - Bruce (Columbus, Ohio)


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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the owner of WPCompendium.org and the author of The WordPress User Manual. WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE tutorials that show you how to use WordPress to grow your business online with no coding skills required! Get our FREE "101+ WordPress Tips, Tricks & Hacks For Non-Techies" e-course with loads of useful WordPress tips!

Originally published as WordPress Themes Explained.