Themes and plugins are a great place to start your journey to a perfect WordPress website or blog – but they’re not without limitations. Sometimes – most often, if we’re honest – when you look for a theme or a plugin, you start with a large number and whittle it down to three or four, any one of which is almost right, but none of them quite hits the target dead center.
And you think: how do I customize WordPress plugins? How do I customize WordPress themes? Don’t you have to know about programming in HTML to do that?
And then you think: Oh, well. This one is almost what I want – don’t suppose I’ll get any closer. I’ll take it.
It doesn’t need to be that way. You can customize WordPress themes. You can customize WordPress plugins. It can be done.
One thing, though, before we start – we’re talking here about self-hosted WordPress sites. Sites that someone else hosts for you are a different ballgame entirely.
But what is a WordPress theme? What is a WordPress Plugin?
WordPress is a fantastic content management system (CMS). Well, if you want a picture of how WordPress dominates its market, take a look at the graph Google Trends provides. WordPress has so many built-in features that you can do just about anything with it. But that can be a problem – because websites have a variety of purposes, and each purpose uses a different subset of that glorious global proliferation of possible features; and also because of not everyone (read: almost no-one) wants to get right down into the nitty-gritty building blocks of HTML.
There aren’t enough web designers to first build and then maintain the more than 1 billion websites in the world today – and, in any case, a good designer may charge ten, a hundred or even a thousand times what you might pay for a theme. So some of those good designers put together themes – ready-made, off-the-shelf websites for you to run. And, because there are at least 80 million WordPress sites around the world, which is more than any other CMS can boast, the number of WordPress themes is prodigious.
That goes for plugins, too – a plugin is something you can add to a theme to give it extra functionality (forms, pop-ups, trackers – the list is endless) and there are roughly 30,000 WordPress plugins, enough to meet every conceivable need.
So some of those good designers put together themes – ready-made, off-the-shelf websites for you to run. And, because there are at least 80 million WordPress sites around the world, which is more than any other CMS can boast, the number of WordPress themes is prodigious.
How to Customize WordPress Themes
The first thing you need to know is:
You Should Create A Child Theme
Sooner or later, whoever wrote your WordPress theme is going to update it. There are many reasons why themes and plugins are updated; it may be to add functionality, to take advantage of some new piece of HTML programming that’s just become available, or simply because WordPress has updated and the theme or plugin needs to be tweaked to remain WordPress-compliant. Whatever the reason, if you have directly customized your theme, when it updates, all your changes will vanish!
There’s nothing difficult about creating a child theme – WordPress tells you how to do it right here.
- The color scheme: background colors, foreground colors, highlight colors – even text colors though that is all part of:
- Typography. How the headers look, how the body text looks, the font and the size – yes, and the color
- The number of columns
- The way images appear
- A long, long list of other things having to do with the way the website appears and the way it behaves.
But, you may feel, why would you want to do this? Because, when you look at the themes that are available, all but the most basic of a variety of ways to adjust these various elements. And that’s true – but a theme may be being used by large numbers of websites (WordPress’s new theme for 2017 – called, oddly enough, 2017 – was only released in December, and already it has been installed more than 60,000 times).
So, if – let’s say – you are offered five different color schemes for a particular theme, all five are likely to have been used many times. If you want something completely different, what better than to create it yourself? And then there’s typography. The theme will offer you a variety of fonts and allow you to adjust the size, but a font can be the very best way there is to say something about you and who you are.
Gadugi is a very attractive font and performs well on screen, but for some reason, it has not been widely taken up for website use. So there’s an opportunity to stand out! Configure your theme to allow Gadugi as body text, and you’ll be doing something that very few other people are doing.
In any case, you’ll need to make some adjustments to a file called Style.css. CSS – cascading style sheets – select and document the HTML elements that will appear on the screen, and using these style sheets instead of making changes on every line of every page will save you huge amounts of work. (If you use Microsoft Office, compare CSS with the styles in your Word documents and think how much more time-consuming work would be if you had to define individually how each header and each piece of text has to be laid out). Once again, WordPress provides the resources you need to know how to change this file.
How to Customize WordPress Plugins
Before you set out to customize WordPress plugins, here’s a piece of advice you may find valuable: Try to get the developer (that is, the person or people who wrote the plugin) onside.
Contact the developer and say, “I’m using your plugin, I’d like to add the ability to do this (whatever it is you think would make the plugin work better for you) and I wondered whether you’d like to collaborate?”
If the developer likes the idea you’re proposing, (and it may even be something the developer has been considering), then you’ll get assistance in a custom job that meshes with the innards of the plugin and will be taken into account when the plugin is updated.
If that doesn’t work, then it isn’t so hard to customize WordPress plugins, but there’s an extent to which the ease (or otherwise) with which you can do it depends on how good the developer is.
A really good developer will have provided custom hooks in the plugin, and all you have to do then is write your own plugin and have it called by a plugin hook. If those hooks aren’t there, try looking for the functions the plugin uses to callback core hooks. Remove those callbacks and write your own in their stead.
So where do I start now?
Before you set out to customize WordPress plugins or WordPress themes, consider using a WordPress theme editor to do the job for you. One comes packaged with WordPress. Click on Appearance and then on Editor and you’ll find it, as long as the theme developer hasn’t disabled it.
Some developers do, and it isn’t just to stop people from messing with their work; they know that editing some of these files incorrectly can result in the user being locked out of the site.
There are a lot of web articles that say, “Just post this code into your x.x file and everything will be tickety-boo,” when the reality is that pasting code isn’t always straightforward and incorrectly posted cold can turn a good, functioning website into a wasteland.
A simple, basic WordPress Theme editor will make some things easier – but you still need to know HTML because you still have to do some coding.
Now that you know how easy it is to about customize WordPress plugins and themes, I would suggest that you start with a theme that best matches your choice. Then, you can tweak it a little to give your dream looks. This would save you ample of time rather than building your theme from scratch.
What’s better… we have with us today a bundle of 140+ WordPress themes to choose from. Some of the cool features of this deal are-
- Lifetime support and updates
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These themes will cost you less than 20 cents per theme, so head out and grab them now.