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WP Basics: The 4 Ways to Edit the Appearance of Your Blog

WP Basics: The 4 Ways to Edit the Appearance of Your Blog

WordPress message boards and forums are often dominated by two types of users: Know-nothings and know-it-alls. Some ask questions, some answer them. But as WordPress has grown in popularity, a large intermediate class has emerged: the “know-a-little-bits.” They might know a little HTML, a little CSS, maybe even some PHP. Sound like you or someone you know?

As someone who might still qualify as a “know-a-little-bit,” at least compared to the programmers and developers around here, I sympathize. So here’s a basic bit of knowledge for the semi-noobs, knowledge I would have appreciated when I first started to tinker with WordPress: The four places where you can edit the appearance of your blog.

  1. The WordPress admin panel
  2. Your theme’s built-in control panel (designed by your theme’s developer)
  3. Your theme’s PHP and HTML source files
  4. Your theme’s CSS files

The WordPress Admin Panel

There is a wealth of information available online about how to work with the WP admin panel. We’ll just trust you and Google to find this info together. Start with the WordPress Codex, which is by far the best database of knowledge on how to use WP.

Your Theme’s Built-in Control Panel

If you’ve acquired a pre-made theme for your site, as many do with WP, the designer has most likely crafted his own control panel. This varies from theme to theme, and your designer should provide tutorials on how to use it. Most likely, you’ll find the interface under “Appearance” on the left hand side of your WP admin panel.

Your Theme’s HTML and PHP Source Files

If you’re going to edit your theme’s source files, it will be worth your while to spend a little time learning the structure of a WP theme. This phenomenal infographic will help, as will the Codex’s explanation. In brief, you’ll find the source files by clicking “Editor” under the “Appearance” section of your admin panel.

Before you edit these files, we highly recommend you create a “child theme,” or a sub-theme that inherits all the characteristics of your original theme. It works like a backup and safety measure. Make all of your customizations and edits to the child theme, so that when and if the parent theme is updated in any way–usually via WordPress’s automatic updates–your customized child theme remains untouched and unaltered. The WordPress Codex recommends this tutorial for creating a child theme.

Your Theme’s CSS

You can edit your theme’s CSS in via the same “Editor” page in your admin panel (making sure, once again, that you edit your child page’s CSS rather than the original theme’s). Look for the document “style.css”.

In addition, most advanced theme providers will add an area for you to enter your own CSS within the theme’s built-in control panel (all of our themes have this feature). This CSS file will load last of all the CSS files contained in your theme, which means whatever you put in it will trump other styles that came before it. This is the easiest and best way to customize your theme.

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