Selecting, installing and customizing a new WordPress theme is one the most dynamic ways to revitalize and rejuvenate your WordPress-powered blog. Whether you’re looking for a new design or “facelift” for your established blog, or if you’re interested in altering the functionality and creating a “new” blog with the same server installation and archived content, a new theme can help immensely. However, installing a new WordPress theme may not always be an easy or painless process.

The Power Of WordPress Themes

Since 2005, one of the signature features of WordPress has been the ability to customize the appearance of a website or blog with a blog theme. Themes in personal computing are nothing new – also known as “skins”, users have used pre-packed designs to customize the appearance of computer operating systems and applications. In the 2000s, WordPress and other blogging platforms began to include software packages that allowed users to easily customize the appearance and functionality of their blogs without having to learn coding and graphic design. Thousands of themes have been developed for WordPress, and the official WordPress Themes Directory currently lists over 115 million theme downloads!

Types Of Themes

The majority of themes that are available for WordPress fall into three distinct categories: default themes that are considered “official” and are usually included with standard WordPress releases, free themes that are either available completely free of charge or include ad-supported functionality, and “premium” themes which are sold commercially by developers.

Official And Free Themes

The most commonly-used themes are the default WordPress themes included with official releases. Many bloggers choose to disregard the option to customize their blog with a new theme while other bloggers seek out default themes, knowing that the themes have been thoroughly and officially vetted by WordPress developers. Other bloggers choose to use themes that are available for free online, although it is important to note that some free themes – especially ones that are only available outside of the official Theme Directory – can sometimes contain a malicious code or advertisements that benefit the theme’s developers.

Premium Themes

Most graphic designers, professional bloggers and corporate users choose to use “premium” themes – while some may argue that many free themes are just as good as the premium ones, many web designers and professional users choose premium themes because the theme developers often offer superior features, excellent documentation and sometimes even offer personal customizations and technical support.

Why Upgrade?

There are a number of reasons why bloggers, administrators and web designers may upgrade a WordPress theme. Many bloggers want to upgrade their themes on a regular basis with fresher or more contemporary designs, while others may need to expand or alter the functionality of their blog, placing a new emphasis on certain types of content – for instance, if a blogger begins to release podcasts or videos, they may need to upgrade their theme to embed this type of content, or feature it in a more dynamic way. Some themes place an emphasis on photography and visual media, while others may be more suited for a blog with multiple contributors.

No Longer Compatible

For some blogs, a theme upgrade becomes a necessity if a theme is no longer upgraded by its developers to be compatible with the newest versions of WordPress; this is especially true for free themes, many of which are eventually abandoned by their developers, often with little or no advance notice, and become incompatible over time. Premium theme developers often advertise a support window in which they pledge to continue offering updates and upgrades to a theme. Using an incompatible theme with a newer WordPress installation is inadvisable, as the theme may cause WordPress to malfunction or leave significant bugs unpatched, leading to security vulnerabilities.

The Perils of Theme Installation

If you are interested in changing the theme of your website or blog, and you did not install, design or actively administer the blog yourself, do not attempt to upgrade the theme of your blog, no matter how easy WordPress, theme developers or other bloggers may make it sound. Properly installing or upgrading a theme, even on a website or blog with little to no customizations, can break things and cause incompatibilities. Yet an experienced web designer may be able to customize your existing theme in a new way, thereby avoiding the costs and hassles of upgrading to a new theme. Before attempting to do anything with your existing theme, contact your web designer and seek out their advice on the best method to achieve your goals and expectations.