Today on The Magpie Blog I’m continuing a series on getting your WordPress website up and running.

If you’re following along with this series then you already have a domain name and self-hosted website and you have installed WordPress on it.

This week we’re talking about making it look pretty, which means we will be discussing choosing a WordPress theme.

What a theme is

Websites have two major parts: the inside, called the content management system, where you go to put your content in (like, say, a blog post), and an outside, where people visit and interact with the content.

Once you would actually have to go and modify the code of your website every time you needed to do an update. Today things have evolved to be considerably more awesome and user-friendly.

Not only are there better ways to put your content into your website (such as WordPress), but there are so many more things you can do with that content.

That’s where your theme comes in.

WordPress themes are built by designers to talk to the data inside your website, find what you want to display and then make it look pretty on the front end.

Finding themes

When you first arrive inside your own WordPress dashboard, you will see a link on the left-hand side that says “Appearance”. Under the Appearance tab there is a link called “Themes”.

The Themes link has two options. First, it shows you the themes you currently have installed on your own website and which theme you are currently using. For fresh WordPress installs this will be the default theme called ‘Twenty Eleven’.

At the top of the page there is a tab called “Install Themes”. Clicking there will take you to the WordPress free theme directory. These are themes that have been created by the WordPress community and added to the free theme database.

You can choose any of them you like.

What makes a good theme?

When you’re looking through the theme directory it can be difficult to see what you might need or what might be good.

Remember that theme developers have set up their display theme to look its best, so you need to look past pretty images and fonts to see the bare bones.

Think hard about what you want your website to do for you and then try to see things in blocks of content.

For example, a theme that looks like this:

Actually looks like this when you break it down to bare bones:

Take time to evaluate the different content areas and determine what might go there before jumping in to a theme that looks pretty.

Installing the theme

To install a theme from the WordPress theme library, click the “Install Now” button under the image of the theme.

You will definitely need to do some configuration, but themes from the theme library are usually fairly simple to configure. You will be looking for a menu item called “Theme Options”, or something similar.

A word of caution on themes: not all themes are created equal whether they are free of you pay for them. You’ll need to be patient and understand that your theme is not magic. If you are unable to write code or make changes on your own, you’ll need to find a theme that has most of what you’re looking for, since it’s unlikely you will find it all.

You’re almost there! Come back next week when we look at the basic settings you will need to configure your WordPress install and then all you need is content!