Never Edit Your WordPress Theme

Editing WordPress themes is dangerous. You won’t kill yourself, but you might kill your website. So how do you get your website formatted the way you want? You could do it the shrewd way, but here is how to format your website the Shrewdies Way.

You have 2 choices: create your own WP Theme, or modify someone an existing one.

The third option of using an existing theme untouched rarely works. Besides which, it makes for very boring articles. Appearance – Theme – Install Themes. That’s it.

That is also the starting point when you want to modify an existing WordPress theme, but first let me discuss creating your own.

Create Your Own WP Theme

If you want a cool, unique, look and feel for your website, creating your own WordPress theme is one way to achieve it. You can avoid the “Just another WordPress blog” look, but you have to work hard to produce something that both looks good, and allows visitors to navigate your site effectively. This is an important aspect of website management, and a trap I have fallen into before. You spend ages getting your website looking different, then your page views per visit drop through the floor, as your poor visitor is confronted with a previously unseen navigation system.

If visitors cannot easily see how to move round your website, they will leave. Unless you are trying to win design awards, it is far better to stick with a popular layout, and dazzle your visitors with fine words, beautiful photographs, and viral videos.

When I get time, I will take you through the steps required to create a WordPress theme from scratch. For now, let’s focus on the key things you will probably need to change if you use an existing theme. There are some very minimal ones, so start with Simplest by trevorturk if you want to do most of the work yourself.

Customize an Existing WP Theme

I will focus on WordPress themes accessible directly within your Appearance – Install Themes admin page. There is an extensive choice, and unless you have really special needs, you are bound to find something that is close to what you want.

I used to like the challenge of taking a really simple theme, and adding just the features I need. This has the advantage of a smaller, faster theme that matches your needs. However, I now doubt that the microseconds of time saved on each page load are worth the hours it takes to write, test, and modify the code. I now look for themes that have plenty of customization options built in, and also have responsive graphics to suit mobile visitors.

For the rest of this article, I present an overview of the required steps. I will publish additional articles to cover each step in detail.

  1. Install One-Click Child Theme plugin
  2. Install your chosen theme
  3. Create a child theme
  4. Use FTP to create a blank functions.php file in your child theme folder, and copy footer.php, header.php, and searchform.php from the parent theme.
  5. Edit searchform.php to add the code for your Google Custom Search Engine, or similar search tool
  6. Edit header.php to add the code for your Google Custom Search Engine, or similar search tool. Also check that header images have a suitable alt tag.
  7. Edit footer.php to add appropriate legalese and change the Powered By WordPress link to point to your favorite Shrewdies site with Supercharged By Shrewdies or similar.
  8. Configure Menus and Widgets

The details may change for some themes. If you need help with a specific WP theme, please ask in the webmaster forum. Be sure to say exactly what theme you are using, what you are trying to do with it, and anything you have tried so far.

At all times, remember not to edit your WordPress Theme, or at least never edit your live theme. Always create a child theme, and work on that. If the theme author issues a newer version, updating your website will destroy your theme changes. When you work with a child theme, this does not happen, though you must still update themes with caution, as I will explain in a future article.

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