There are hundreds of free themes for WordPress sites, and you can easily customize a WordPress theme to create your blog. Many themes have free templates included that make building your site even easier. There is no need to buy a premium theme unless you need some sort of functionality that you can't find in a free theme. Let's explore modifying layouts in WordPress, starting with one of the most important elements: the header.

customize a wordpress theme

Customizing the Header

The header is like the welcoming face of your website. It’s the first thing visitors see, so let’s make it reflective of your brand. Here’s how you can personalize your header:

Changing the Site Title and Logo 

Think of your site title as a catchy tagline that represents your brand’s essence. Simply go to the WordPress Customizer, find the “Site Identity” section, and update your site title with something that reflects your uniqueness. Be imaginative and let your brand’s personality shine!

Add a Logo

Now, let’s give your website a visual identity by adding a logo. You can design one yourself using a graphics program like Canva. Keep it simple and create a logo that embodies your brand. Once you have your logo ready, upload it in the “Site Identity” section, and voila! Your website now has a distinct visual identity.

Adjusting the Header Dimensions and Appearance

Now that your website has a brand-new identity, let’s focus on the visual aspects of the header. We want it to be visually appealing and align with your website’s purpose. Here’s how you can achieve that:

Go back to the Customizer and navigate to the “Header” section. Here, you’ll find options to adjust the size and appearance of your header. Take some time to experiment with the settings until you find the perfect look.

If you prefer a taller or shorter header, feel free to adjust the dimensions. Don’t be afraid to try different combinations until you’re satisfied. Remember, your website is a canvas for your creativity!

Appearance matters too! Choose colors, fonts, and styles that resonate with your brand. Whether you prefer a clean and minimalistic look or a vibrant and energetic one, make sure it reflects your website’s purpose and tone.

Customization is what sets your website apart from others. So, embrace your creativity and infuse your personality into every aspect of your WordPress site.

Now we'll move on to the homepage of your website. The homepage is like the front door to your digital abode, and by personalizing it, you can make a lasting impression on your visitors.

Setting a Static Homepage or a Dynamic Blog Page:

When it comes to the homepage, you have two options: a static homepage or a dynamic blog page.

static homepage settings
This website has a static homepage.

What is a Static Homepage?

A static homepage is like a carefully crafted introduction. It allows you to create a unique landing page that showcases your brand, products, or services. To set a static homepage, first go to pages > add new> and add a page called “Home”. Save it and publish it. Next, go to the WordPress dashboard and navigate to “Settings” > “Reading.” From there, select the option to display a static page as your homepage, and choose “Home”.

What is a Dynamic Homepage?

A dynamic blog page is perfect if you want to keep your homepage fresh with the latest blog posts. This option is ideal for content-focused websites or those with regularly updated news or articles. To set a dynamic blog page as your homepage, go to the same “Settings” > “Reading” section and select the option to display your latest posts.

Modifying the Layout and Content of the Homepage using Widgets or Page Builders

Now that you have your homepage structure in place, it’s time to make it visually appealing and engaging. Here are three popular methods to customize the layout and content of your homepage:

Adding Gutenberg blocks to your webpage
Gutenberg blocks choices with Kadence Blocks plugin

Gutenberg Blocks:

Blocks are the simplest way to create your homepage. Every website is made up of blocks and you can easily add images, text and videos to your page. The Gutenberg block editor is the best way to add design elements to your page without adding a lot of bloat which can slow down your site. And, you can make reusable blocks to add content quickly and easily.

WordPress Page Builders:

Page builders are not necessary to build a website, but some people like more control and flexibility over their homepage design.

Popular page builders like Elementor, Divi, or Beaver Builder provide intuitive interfaces and a wide range of pre-designed templates. They also add a lot of code to your site, and therefore I don't recommend using them. You can make a beautiful, functional site with just Kadence Blocks.


Widgets are small blocks of content that can be added, rearranged, and customized in the widgetized areas of your theme. These areas can include the header, sidebar, footer, or specific widget-ready sections of your homepage. To access and manage widgets, go to the WordPress dashboard, navigate to “Appearance” > “Widgets,” and explore the available options.

You can add widgets like text, images, videos, social media feeds, or custom HTML to create a unique layout. Simply drag and drop widgets into the desired widget areas, configure their settings, and witness your homepage come to life.

Remember, your homepage is your digital welcome mat, and customizing it allows you to leave a lasting impression on your visitors. Experiment with different layouts, showcase your brand’s uniqueness, and ensure that your homepage aligns with your website’s purpose and goals.

Creating and Customizing Navigation Menus

Navigation menus are like roadmaps for your website visitors, guiding them through the various sections and pages of your digital domain. They should be simple, legible, and easy to follow.

Creating Primary and Secondary Navigation:

The first step in creating a seamless navigation experience is to define the menus for primary and secondary navigation. Here’s how you can do it:

Primary Navigation:

This is the main menu that typically appears at the top of your website, guiding visitors to key sections. To create a primary navigation menu, go to the WordPress dashboard and navigate to “Appearance” > “Menus.” From there, click on “Create a new menu” and name it primary. You can then add pages, posts, custom links, or even categories to your primary menu.

Secondary Navigation:

Secondary navigation menus can be placed in various locations, such as the sidebar, footer, or above the header. They often contain links to additional pages or specific sections of your website. To create a secondary navigation menu, follow the same steps as creating a primary menu: name it secondary and select a different menu location when adding it to your theme.

Adding, Rearranging, and Styling Menu Items: 

Now that you have your menus defined, it’s time to add, rearrange, and style the menu items to create an intuitive and visually appealing navigation experience. Here’s how you can customize your menus:

Adding Menu Items: In the menu management interface, you can add menu items by selecting from the available options on the left-hand side. You can choose pages, posts, custom links, or even categories to include in your menu. Simply select the desired items and click “Add to Menu.” Don’t forget to save your changes!

Rearranging Menu Items: To rearrange the order of menu items, simply click and drag them to the desired position. This allows you to prioritize important sections or create a sub-menu (drop-down menu) by dragging items slightly to the right. Experiment with the order and hierarchy until your menu structure makes sense.

Styling Menu Items: Customizing the appearance of your menu items adds that extra touch of elegance. In the Customizer, you’ll find options to style your menu items. You can change the font, size, color, and add hover effects to make your navigation visually appealing. Play around with the settings to match your website’s design and branding.

By defining primary and secondary navigation menus and adding, rearranging, and styling menu items, you’ve laid the foundation for a seamless and user-friendly navigation experience.

Remember, navigation menus are like signposts that guide your visitors through the various sections of your website. Take the time to plan and organize your menus to ensure a logical flow and easy access to important content.

Modifying Page Templates:

Next, we’ll explore the art of modifying page templates in WordPress, giving you the ability to create unique page layouts. Page templates offer flexibility and control over the design and functionality of specific sections or pages on your website.

Understanding Different Page Templates:

Before we dive into the customization process, it’s important to understand the different types of page templates available in WordPress. Here are a few common examples:

Full-Width Template:

A full-width template allows your content to span the entire width of the page, eliminating sidebars or other elements that might distract from the main focus. This template is great for showcasing visual elements or creating impactful landing pages. 

Sidebar Template:

On the other hand, a sidebar template provides a designated space on one side of the page to include widgets, additional navigation, or supplementary content. This template is useful when you want to provide extra information alongside the main content.

Custom Templates:

Custom templates are page templates created specifically for your website’s unique needs. They can be designed to cater to specific sections, such as a portfolio page, an events calendar, or a team member showcase. Custom templates offer endless possibilities for customization and allow you to align the page layout with its intended purpose.

Applying and Customizing Page Templates:

Now that we have a grasp of the different page template options, let’s explore how to apply and customize them to achieve the desired effect on your website:

To apply a page template to a specific page, create or edit the page in the WordPress dashboard. On the right-hand side, you’ll find a “Template” box where you can select the desired template from the available options. Choose the template that best suits the content or purpose of the page and save your changes.

Once you have applied a page template, you can further customize its appearance and functionality to match your vision. Depending on your theme and the available customization options, you can modify elements such as colors, fonts, layouts, or even add custom CSS to achieve a unique look.

If you require more advanced customization options or want to create intricate page layouts, you can explore the use of plugins or page builders. Plugins like Elementor, Beaver Builder, or Divi provide drag-and-drop interfaces that allow you to visually design and modify page templates without requiring coding skills.

With these tools, you can easily add sections, columns, images, videos, or other interactive elements to create a stunning page layout. Remember: a page builder is not necessary unless you need to add more advanced design and functionality to your website.

Page templates offer you the flexibility to tailor your website’s design to suit your content, goals, and target audience. Take advantage of custom templates, full-width and sidebar templates, and explore the possibilities offered by plugins and page builders to achieve the desired effect.

Adding and Customizing Widgets:

Let’s look at the process of adding and customizing widgets to elevate the functionality and user experience of your website. Widgets are powerful tools that allow you to add various elements and features to different sections of your site, such as the sidebar, footer, or other widgetized areas.

Understanding WordPress Widgets:

Widgets are small, self-contained modules that add specific functionality or content to your website without requiring any coding skills. They enable you to customize and personalize different sections of your site, making it easier to display dynamic content, enhance navigation, or provide additional information.

Widgets can be used to showcase recent posts, popular categories, tag clouds, social media feeds, search bars, contact forms, and much more. They provide a convenient way to add and manage content elements within your website’s layout, allowing you to create a tailored experience for your visitors.

Commonly Used Widgets for Different Functionalities:

Let’s explore some commonly used widgets and their functionalities to give you an idea of the possibilities they offer:

Sidebar Widgets: Sidebar widgets are placed in the side column of your website layout, often used for navigation menus, search bars, recent posts, and categories. These widgets provide quick access to essential information and enhance the overall usability of your site.

Footer Widgets: Footer widgets are placed at the bottom of your website, offering an opportunity to add additional content, such as contact information, social media links, copyright notices, or a newsletter signup form. Footer widgets provide a consistent presence across all pages and can be customized to align with your website’s design and branding.

Social Media Widgets: Social media widgets enable you to display your social media feeds or links to your profiles. They help increase engagement, build your social media presence, and encourage visitors to connect with you on various platforms.

Recent Posts Widgets: Recent posts widgets dynamically display a list of your most recent blog posts, allowing visitors to discover new content and navigate through your blog easily.

Custom HTML Widgets: Custom HTML widgets provide the flexibility to add your own code, embed third-party content, or create custom elements. This gives you complete control over the appearance and functionality of specific sections of your website.

Customizing Widgets:

Now that we have an understanding of the different widgets available, let’s explore how to customize them to align with your website’s design and goals:

creating and styling widgets

To add widgets to your website, go to the WordPress dashboard and navigate to “Appearance” > “Widgets.” You’ll see a block builder that is just like Gutenberg blocks. Select the area that you want to customize, such as Sidebar 1, and add the available blocks from the right hand column. Configure the settings, add content, and save your changes.

using widgets in sidebar

Many widgets offer customization options to match your website’s design and branding. These options may include changing colors, fonts, layouts, or adding custom content. Explore the settings provided by each widget and experiment with different configurations until you achieve the desired look and feel.

Widgets are valuable tools that allow you to display dynamic content, provide additional information, and improve navigation. Take advantage of sidebar widgets, footer widgets, social media widgets, recent posts widgets, and custom HTML widgets to create a tailored experience for your visitors.

Best Practices to Customize a WordPress Theme: Safeguarding and Maintaining Your WordPress Website

There are three crucial aspects of customization: backing up your website, testing changes responsively, and keeping up with theme and widget updates. By following these practices, you’ll be able to safeguard your website’s data, deliver an optimal user experience, and stay up-to-date with the latest enhancements and security patches.

Backing up Your Website:

One of the golden rules of customization is to back up your website regularly. Backups serve as a safety net, protecting your valuable data in case of any unforeseen issues. Here’s what you need to know about backing up your WordPress website:

  1. Choose a Reliable Backup Solution: WordPress offers several plugins that simplify the backup process. Look for a reputable backup plugin, such as UpdraftPlus, BackupBuddy, or VaultPress. These plugins enable you to schedule automatic backups, store them in remote locations, and easily restore your website if needed.
  2. Create Regular Backup Schedules: Set up a consistent backup schedule that aligns with the frequency of your website updates. This ensures that you always have a recent backup to rely on. Additionally, before making any significant changes to your website’s design or functionality, it’s a good practice to perform a manual backup.
  3. Store Backups in Multiple Locations: It’s crucial to store backups in different locations to prevent a single point of failure. Consider storing backups on external drives, cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive, or using dedicated backup services. This redundancy reduces the risk of data loss and increases the chances of successful recovery.

Testing Changes Responsively:

When customizing your WordPress website, it’s essential to ensure that your changes are responsive and display correctly across various devices. Here are some best practices for testing your website changes responsively:

Responsive wordpress design
  1. Embrace Responsive Design Principles: Responsive design ensures that your website adapts to different screen sizes and devices. As you make customization changes, prioritize responsive design principles such as fluid layouts, flexible images, and media queries. Test your website on different devices, including desktops, tablets, and smartphones, to ensure a consistent and user-friendly experience.
  2. Use Browser Developer Tools: Modern web browsers provide developer tools that allow you to simulate different device screen sizes and test how your website responds. Tools like Chrome DevTools or Firefox Developer Tools enable you to preview your changes, debug issues, and fine-tune the responsiveness of your website on mobile devices.
  3. Conduct Cross-Browser Testing: Your website should be compatible with multiple web browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. Perform cross-browser testing to ensure consistent rendering and functionality across different browsers. Identify and fix any layout or compatibility issues that may arise.

Keeping Up with Theme and Widget Updates:

To maintain a secure and optimized website, it’s crucial to stay up-to-date with theme and widget updates. Here’s how to ensure you’re benefiting from the latest enhancements and security patches:

  1. Update Themes and Plugins Regularly: Developers release updates to address bugs, introduce new features, and strengthen security. Regularly check for updates in the WordPress dashboard and install them promptly. Before updating, ensure you have a backup in place, as a precautionary measure.
  2. Check Theme and Plugin Compatibility: When updating themes and plugins, it’s essential to verify their compatibility with the latest version of WordPress. Outdated or incompatible themes and plugins can cause conflicts or functionality issues. Check the theme and plugin documentation or contact the developers to confirm compatibility before updating.

Best practices for Updating Themes and Plugins:

Test Updates on a Staging Environment: Before updating your live website, it’s wise to create a staging environment—a replica of your site where you can test updates without affecting the live version. This allows you to identify any potential issues or conflicts before applying the updates to your production site.

Backup Your Website: As mentioned earlier, backing up your website before any major changes is crucial. This includes updating themes and plugins. In case an update causes compatibility issues or unexpected errors, you can revert to the previous version using the backup.

Update Themes and Plugins One at a Time: To minimize the risk of conflicts or errors, update themes and plugins one at a time rather than all at once. After each update, check your website’s functionality and appearance to ensure everything is working as expected. This approach helps pinpoint the source of any issues more effectively.

Stay Informed: Being proactive and staying up-to-date with the latest information allows you to make informed decisions about when and how to update your themes and plugins.

By following best practices for customization, such as backing up your website regularly, testing changes responsively, and keeping up with theme and widget updates, you ensure the safety, functionality, and longevity of your website. Remember, backing up your website protects your valuable data, testing changes responsively guarantees an optimal user experience, and staying up-to-date with updates helps maintain a secure and optimized website.

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