How to Fully Customize Your WordPress Theme (Without Being a Developer)
Custom WordPress themes allow organizations to align their most important digital asset – their website – with their brand’s style and voice.
Whether you’re tweaking an existing WordPress template or looking to create a custom template in WordPress, this is an easy-to-follow guide to get you started.
Custom WordPress Themes: Getting Started
More than 455 million websites are built on the WordPress platform, and, no two look the same. That’s because WordPress offers a catalog of free and paid themes that can reshape your website in just a few clicks while also allowing you to add site styles like font, brand colors and other functionality.
For businesses and organizations with specific or complex needs, WordPress offers custom themes for ecommerce, scheduling, account management and other functions as well as for matching a brand’s style in minute detail.
How Can I Customize My WordPress Theme?
In most cases, you’ll be able to make general stylistic changes to all WordPress themes, but every theme is different. Some factors that impact the level of customization without having to edit code include:
- Paid, free, or custom theme
- The version of WordPress your theme is running
- The type of editing tool or page builder (Elementor, Avada, etc.)
These editing tools and tactics allow you to make changes to your website without needing to implement or change any code.
How to Edit Your WordPress Theme (Without Code)
You can make substantial changes to your site’s appearance without knowing how to code. Some of the site elements you can change are:
- Site logo
- Site favicon (the small graphic that appears by your domain in the URL at the top of the page)
- Site tagline
- Site colors
- Menus (this refers to the dedicated main navigation as well as links in the footer)
- Font size
- Font colors
Depending on your theme, other site elements can be customed as well, including site animations. Here’s how …
How to Customize Your WordPress Theme Using the Built-in (or Default) Customizer
Right now, WordPress users can make these changes by selecting:
The New Editor Tool: Appearance > Themes > Edit
Depending on the version of WordPress you’re using, you may also have access to the new Editor tool. This feature mimics the functionality of other “drag-and-drop” website editors like Squarespace and Wix.
This feature is accessible from the Appearance tab in the main menu. If you don’t see that option, contact your site administrator to make sure you have the right permissions!
Both of the options above allow for the same level of customization but go about it in different ways.
- The default editor makes site-wide changes based on user interaction in a control panel.
- The new Editor tool makes site-wide and page-level changes to specific page elements, like photos, text blocks or widgets.
In most cases, the new Editor is easier to use for the non-developer crowd out there, but there are limitations to what you can do. As you work with the Editor, always save your work so you can revert to a previous version history if things don’t work correctly.
Customizing Your WordPress Theme Editor vs. The Default Editor
Newer WordPress themes offer more versatile customization options for specific page elements. This allows users to make substantial changes to their site without needing to access the Theme Editor, which is where users can access their website code.
The Theme Editor is a section of the WordPress dashboard where the files that make up your site live. Think of them as the DNA of your website in that they tell every page, every post, every letter and exclamation point where to appear, what to look like and what to do when clicked.
Think long and hard before you mess with your DNA!
If you aren’t comfortable writing CSS or PHP files, we don’t recommend using WordPress’s Theme Editor to modify your site’s appearance. Even small changes to your site’s code can cause issues with how content is displayed, how your site functions and if it even loads properly.
Even users with considerable coding experience should think twice before diving into the Theme Editor. That’s because …
- You may lose site appearance changes if you’re using a third-party theme the next time you update. Theme updates are necessary to ensure version compatibility with WordPress, site security and overall performance.
- One wrong character or piece of code could break your site. Custom changes aren’t tracked and won’t be reflected on previous versions of your site that you totally backed up and saved, right?
Using the Theme Editor is so risky that WordPress issues users a warning when they access the Editor page.
How to Edit WordPress Code: Don’t (Unless You Know What You’re Doing)
If you’re comfortable with code and feel bold, you can create custom templates in WordPress as well as custom pages and post-types.
How to Customize Your WordPress Theme with Code
If you do know how to code and are comfortable getting under the hood of your site, there are three types of files to edit in WordPress:
- The Stylesheet – The stylesheet is a folder that contains all the style settings that apply universally through your site. This is written in CSS and is identifiable as style.css in your Theme Editor.
- Functions – Function.php is the boss! The function file informs how site elements work, when to display and how they interact with other aspects of your website. In most cases, users won’t need to edit the function file. Instead, consider using a plug-in to add functionality to your site in a separate package that can be easily transferred if you end up choosing a new theme in the future.
- Theme Template – Theme template files are like the skeleton of your website. They inform template hierarchy and determine what content is displayed on each page. Editing the theme template in WordPress is the riskiest type of file; we don’t recommend touching this unless you’re a professional web developer (and we know a few who can help).
WordPress Customization: Words of Wisdom
Ready to create a custom template in WordPress? We love that can-do attitude! Before you start clicking, a few final thoughts:
Don’t Code If You Don’t Need To. Reduce the risk of breaking your site by using the default editor to make aesthetic and style changes whenever possible.
Use a Staging Site. If you do choose to edit code, access a staging site to create a no-risk environment to build and test your custom code before pushing the new version live on your site.
Keep Your Site Accessible. Customizing your WordPress site opens up a lot of possibilities but be sure those changes are accessible for all users. Use high-contrast color combinations and easy-to-read font sizes and run your site through the accessibility checker to ensure a positive user experience for everyone, including those with visual impairments.
Have a Lot of Changes to Make? Want a Whole New Site? – Hire Experienced Pros
Oneupweb works with you to create a website that reflects your brand’s style and meets your business objectives.
Build a new WordPress site from the ground up or tag us in to improve UX; either way, you’ll get an experienced web development team – one backed by SEO, graphic design, video and strategy experts.