3 Ways to Edit a WordPress Theme (One Is Old, One Is Gold)

While there are lots of WordPress themes to choose from, they vary widely in what types of designs and features they offer. This means your chosen theme might serve as a solid baseline, but not meet all of your exact needs. Fortunately, you can edit a WordPress theme to make your site unique.

There are even multiple ways to do this. If you’re a beginner or simply want to keep things easy, you can use the built-in theme settings or the intuitive Site Editor. More experienced users might prefer adding custom CSS and PHP to the theme’s files.

Factors to consider before you edit your theme

Before you edit a WordPress theme, there are some important steps you’ll need to take. It’s easy to accidentally change or remove something vital, so you’ll want to keep your website safe during the editing process.

⚙️ Here’s how:

  1. First, you’ll want to make a backup of your site. When you edit a WordPress theme, you might need to alter important files. If you have a backup, you can easily restore your site to a previous version if something goes wrong.
  2. Additionally, you might want to create a child theme. This inherits the features and functionality of your current theme (the parent). However, you can edit the child theme without affecting parent theme. Plus, you won’t lose any of the changes you make when you update your parent theme.
  3. It’s also a good idea to use a staging site, so you can test out changes to your theme without affecting your live website. Then, once you’re sure the changes are safe, you can easily push them to your live site.
  4. Finally, you’ll want to make a copy of any code that you add to your site. This way, if you lose your changes during the editing stage (or later on), you can just paste in the code again.

By following these steps, you should be able to edit a WordPress theme safely, even if you’re a relative beginner.

Best ways to edit a WordPress theme in 2023

Now that you’re ready to edit a WordPress theme, let’s take a look at three different ways to get the job done. Each method has its pros and cons; we’ll start with the simplest.

  1. Use the WordPress Customizer
  2. Access the Full Site Editor (FSE)
  3. Edit your theme functions file (using CSS and PHP)

1. Use the WordPress Customizer

The WordPress Customizer enables you to alter various aspects of your site, including your logo, site title, home page, and color scheme. It’s also one of the easiest ways to edit a WordPress theme.

To open the Customizer, head to Appearance > Themes. Then hover over your active theme and select Customize:

Access the WordPress Customizer to edit a WordPress theme.

In the Customizer, you can edit any part of your website using the tabs to the left of your screen. Meanwhile, you can see a preview of your changes directly within the editor.

The tabs that you see in the Customizer will depend on the features and options available with your theme. For instance, with Neve you can edit your site’s colors, layouts, form fields, widgets, and footer:

Edit the Neve theme using the Customizer

To edit your theme’s footer, for example, just click on the Footer section. Here, you can change all the content that appears in that area. For instance, you can alter the footer color and copyright link:

Neve footer builder.

Plus, under the Available Components section, you can add content straight from your widget areas. For example, we’ve created an area labelled “Footer One” that contains a search bar widget.

To add this to your Neve footer, all you need to do is drag the component into position in the Footer Builder:

Customize the Neve footer.

Instantly, you should see your theme update in the live editor.

Then you’re able to customize the appearance of your footer by clicking on the pencil icons for each element. You might click to edit the entire footer, the widget, or the search bar itself:

Customize the appearance of the Neve theme

Now you can use the toolbar to change the button position or enable a search icon. Meanwhile, if you click on the plus (+) icon, you can add more widgets to your Neve footer.

Select Publish to update your theme. Then, head over to the frontend to view the changes:

View theme changes.

If there’s anything you’re not happy with, simply revisit the WordPress Customizer from your dashboard.

Check your theme for additional built-in options

Most themes have built-in design options. These enable you to edit aspects of your site’s layout and design in the WordPress dashboard. If these options are available with your chosen theme, you’ll find them listed under Appearance.

This tends to be a feature that’s available with page builder themes such as Beaver Builder or Divi, and with the premium versions of certain themes. Some might also have their own “customizers,” where you can edit anything from colors and typography to widgets and layouts.

2. Access the Full Site Editor (FSE)

The WordPress Full Site Editor enables you to tweak almost any part of your website, including headers and footers. Plus, it uses the same interface as the Block Editor, so it’s familiar to most WordPress users.

However, you’ll only have access to the Site Editor when you activate a block theme on your site. These themes are composed of customizable blocks, making their layouts completely flexible.

Once you’ve installed a block theme, you can access the Site Editor by going to Appearance > Editor in your dashboard:

Access the Full Site Editor (FSE) to edit a WordPress theme.

If you go to Template Parts, you can customize areas like your header, footer, and any other components of your theme. Meanwhile, if you select Templates, you’ll see a list of all available page layouts you can edit.

This might include your 404 page, custom post types, or your front page:

Theme templates in WordPress FSE

Select the template you want to edit, and then click on the pencil icon. This will launch the Full Site Editor, where you can customize your theme template using WordPress blocks.

Edit your front page template with the Full Site Editor (FSE)

Inside the editor, you can click on any block in your template to view the available customization settings. Plus, you can add new blocks to the template or remove any elements you don’t like:

Edit a WordPress theme using the Full Site Editor

Additionally, the Site Editor offers a collection of beautiful block patterns. These are pre-designed layouts made up of multiple blocks, so they make for quick theme building.

To access these features, select the + icon to add a new block and click on Patterns:

Use block patterns in FSE to edit a WordPress theme

You’ll find patterns for calls-to-action, testimonials, featured content, and more. If you manage an ecommerce site, you might want to add a banner pattern to the top of your page, announcing a sale or discount. All you need to do is drag the pattern onto your template:

Add a banner pattern to your theme template.

Then, you can use the toolbar and the block settings to modify the color, size, and fonts in your pattern.

Save your changes, and then head to the frontend of your website to view the results:

Add a banner pattern to your theme.

With the Site Editor, you can also apply global styles across your website. Simply click on the Styles icon at the top of the page:

Access global styles in FSE to edit a WordPress theme

Here, you can manage color palettes, change the typography settings for different elements, and more.

3. Edit your theme functions file (using CSS and PHP)

This is possibly the most challenging way to edit your WordPress theme. For that reason, we only recommend this method for those who are comfortable adding and editing code like PHP and CSS. It’s also very important to make a backup of your site before you attempt to edit your WordPress theme in this way.

Your theme functions file (functions.php) contains all the key information for your theme. The code here is used to register featured images, widgets, and more.

You can edit this file by going to Tools > Theme File Editor. However, any changes you make to the file are unlikely to survive theme updates.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to use a plugin like Code Snippets instead.

This method can also be a lot simpler (and less risky) since it doesn’t require you to manually edit the theme functions file. Plus, there are tons of different effects that you can achieve using PHP and CSS.

For instance, you might want to remove categories from your homepage, or hide the WordPress version number. You can even replace the “Howdy” message that users see when you’re logged into your site:

Change the Howdy text.

To do this, you just need to find or create the right code. You can find many useful code snippets in WordPress forums and in the Learn WordPress section.

Add a code snippet to WordPress using a plugin

In our example, we’ve decided to replace the “Howdy” text with “Welcome.” If you want to do the same, go to Snippets > Add New. Give your snippet a name to remember it by, and make sure you’re in the Functions (PHP) tab.

Then, paste in the code snippet:

Add code snippet.

Next, use the options below the text field to determine where the code will run. For example, you can run the code across your entire site, in the administration area, or on the frontend only.

You can also give your snippet a description. This can be useful if you have other users on your site who won’t understand what the snippet does. When you’re ready, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on Save Changes and Activate.

Now, head over to the frontend to see the change take effect:

Chnage the Howdy text to Welcome.

If you ever want to reverse the changes, just go to Snippets > All Snippets and toggle the code snippet off.

Conclusion 🧐

Although WordPress themes can give you a good starting point, they tend to be designed for general uses. This means your chosen design might not always suit your specific needs and preferences.

Fortunately, you can edit your WordPress theme to make your site more unique.

👉 To recap, here are three ways to edit a WordPress theme:

  1. Use the WordPress Customizer.
  2. Access the WordPress Site Editor.
  3. Edit your theme functions file (using PHP and CSS).

Do you have any questions about how to edit your WordPress theme? Let us know in the comments section below!

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