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The Home Office Website: How to Customize Wordpress, Part 3

written by: Mary Rajotte•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 7/5/2011

With Part 1 and 2, you learned how to find and install plug-ins, and then which ones are the best for customizing your Wordpress website. Now it's time to customize your look and make your website fun, professional, and appealing.

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    Finding Themes

    If you do a Google search for "wordpress themes," it's a vast understatement to say you'll get a lot of results. Begin at the source: the Wordpress Theme Database. As of this writing, there are nearly 400 themes available there, and they are all free. If you browse the Google search return pages, you will most likely find a lot of the same themes as are available in the database, and you'll also find themes for sale. As you get more advanced in your website use and management, you may need to purchase a more customized theme; however, the free themes are more than sufficient for most users and are the best way to play around with the look of your website without spending any money.

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    Browsing Themes

    Once you are at the Theme Database page, you will notice some options. You can search the themes by any keyword you choose, or you can browse by the "Popular Tags" in the list on the left sidebar. Let's review your basic options:

    • Fixed Width or Fluid Width: a fixed width theme remains the same size regardless of what size monitor is being used to view it. A fluid width theme is set to take up a certain percentage of the screen, so it will be "bigger" to accommodate a larger monitor.
    • Two Columns or Three Columns: a two column theme has one "main" area of the website which displays your posts, and one sidebar, which displays your menus, category lists, and other widgets (more on those below). A three column theme has one "main" area and two sidebars.
    • Color and Preference Options: you can browse or search by different colors or descriptive terms such as clean or simple.

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    Using Widgets

    Widgets are wonderful, fun, addictive little things that can keep you busy for hours. And they can also make your website more interactive and informational for your visitors. Widgets are plug-ins that you put into your sidebar. Some themes are marked "widget-ready" but I've never had any problems using widgets in themes that aren't designated as such. You install widgets just as you would install any plug-in, and then you go to the admin portion of your website, activate the widget (in the plug-in section), then go to the "Design" section and then the "Widgets" tab in that section. There you'll find a list of your installed widgets and an easy interface for adding them and rearranging them in your sidebar(s).

    One note of caution: if your site's appearance becomes unaligned or your site isn't showing up at all (heaven forbid!), don't panic. Just go back to Admin and remove the last widget or deactive the last plug-in you installed. Not all widgets and plug-ins are compatible with all themes.

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    Installing Themes

    Once you've downloaded the theme(s) you want to try, you follow the same installation procedure as you would for plug-ins. If you haven't yet, install the One Click Plugin Updater and use it to install your themes. You will just choose "theme" rather than "plug-in" when selecting the file to install to your site via the Updater's interface.

    Once the theme is installed, go to the "Design" section of your Admin panel. You will see all of your Available Themes, and you choose the one you want simply by clicking on it.

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    Themes can be fun, professional, and reflective of your personality and the focus of your website. As you get into more themes and plug-ins, you'll find that some don't look the way you thought they would, some require additional customization (such as a graphic for the header), and some are incompatible with the way you've set your site up. Remember, you always have options: don't panic! If something looks wrong, just go back and undo the last thing you did.

    Have fun making your home office website look the way you want it to.