How to Customize a WordPress Theme

I’m often asked how to customize a WordPress theme. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy answer because it depends on the theme you’ve chosen. There are literally thousands of WordPress themes available so it varies widely.

Having said that, I recorded this video as I walked through some basic customizations of an older Genesis child theme called Metric.

This tutorial does not address every customization option, but I hope you’ll find this video helpful regardless of the theme you’re using.

Update: While Metric is a nice-looking theme, I would recommend a newer Genesis theme, specifically, one that is mobile-responsive, making it display well on any size device.

Why a paid-for theme can help you customize

As I explained in my post How to Choose a Theme and What I Use, there are definite advantages to using a paid-for theme. One of the main advantages is support.

This is true for Genesis. In the members’ portal, you’ll find theme-specific tutorials, forums and previously-discussed topics and answered questions. It’s a wealth of information and very helpful.

There is a learning curve with Genesis. However, once you start working with it, I think you’ll find it will make sense fairly quickly. And if you can’t figure something out, don’t be afraid to ask for support. That’s what you paid for!!


Can’t see the video? Watch it here.

Note: If you are looking for the tutorials I did many years ago regarding the Atahualpa theme, you can find them here, here and here. I no longer personally recommend Atahualpa, but I link to the video tutorials here for those of you who would still like to reference them.

*There are affiliate links in this post.

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Comments

  1. says

    hey Amy,
    I’ve got a NEWS child theme. And I am unable to customize is as it is shown in the preview of theme. Help me out with this.

  2. says

    Thanks Amylynn,

    I am about to change my theme for my clinic website, this looks like a great theme and good for seo. I have the seo all in one plugin but I guess some people say that some themes are not that great for seo. Anyway thanks for the video, I like your site.

    -Dr.Chris

  3. says

    Hi Amy, thanks a ton for this awesome video. It helped a lot to customize my theme. By the way, could you please start a series post regarding genesis customization? If then, it would be great for those who can’t watch the video, moreover, we can bookmark it for daily access. What do you say?

  4. says

    Been using Genesis for almost over a year now. It’s simply fantastic! With its robust built-in SEO support and easy customization options, its simply the best framework ever. Initially I thought about using Thesis, but then I realized the quality of support, 3rd party resource that are available for Genesis can never be compared with Thesis. Half the time we don’t know where are the Boxes available, unlike Genesis, which can use WordPress plugins like any other. A simple yet useful plugin like Yoast cannot integrate properly with Thesis!

  5. says

    Great article and nice video amy.., but i want some more help about this issue..
    presently i am running the copyblogger child theme with genesis. But the side bar in this is not much wide to support Google’s 300*600 ad unit. so I need your help in manually broadening the side bar..,
    thanks in advance…:)

  6. says

    Hi Amy–

    Well, I have been working for days on my blog, and last night I froze it up.
    I see how you have worked in customizing the theme in this tutorial, and you are very helpful and clear. However, there are times that I find instructions that say “paste this section of code to [location]” and I don’t know where they are talking about. Last night I tried this, and put a code in two places–and removed it when it didn’t work–but now my site is “broken.” I have not found the forums or support in Genesis to be that helpful. A lot of it is over my head. I was having a lot of trouble getting my image/photo into my header where I wanted it. I found the line of code in the place where it says “Never touch this code!” and I just deleted the word “right” (as in, location of widget box) and put in “left.” This solved a problem I had been working on for more than a week. So, my question is, is it always wrong to change any code–and if so, how in the world would you make a change like that otherwise?
    also, I thought this post could serve as a warning for others…. :-)

  7. says

    Great article. I think this is the first thing people wonder about when installing a theme from Genesis.

    I wonder though, have you ever started with just the Genesis framework and customized from there or do you always use a child theme first?

    Trying to figure out how I want a handle a potential future website.

    • says

      You could create your own child theme for sure. I wouldn’t recommend customizing the Genesis Framework simply because it will have to be re-customized when any updates occur. That’s the beauty of a child theme–it applies any necessary updates to the framework but doesn’t touch your child theme where your design is specified. I hope that makes sense!

  8. says

    Help! I purchased the adorable genesis child theme. In the theme demo they show drop down menus from the items in the two navigation bars. I have spend forever trying to figure out how to add those drop down menus. Can you shed any light? Please???

    Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Celeste, I think this tutorial will help. (It’s on the StudioPress website so you’ll have to login.) Basically, you go to Dashboard –> Appearance –> Menus. Name a Menu on the right. Drag and drop menu items into your new menu from the left column (you can choose pages, categories, create your own links, etc.). Save your menu. Then at the top left column you need to assign a menu to your navbars. So choose the menu you just created from the dropdown list under “Primary” or “Secondary.” Also, make sure you have selected the Primary and/or Secondary navbar checkboxes in Theme Options as well. That will make the navbar(s) show up. Hope that helps!

  9. Carrie says

    Hey Amy!
    I purchased Genesis and a Child Theme back in October. I have been using blogspot for my website.

    However, I froze (yelp for over 5 months) after not understanding how to use WordPress, Genesis and the Child Theme. I am back attempting to figure it out, but not with much success. I am logged into StudioPress and I want to read the Child Theme support/ forums. However, it keeps saying I do not have access to any of the forums.

    Do you have any suggestions? Insight? Recommended video tutorials I watch to help me understand- how to set up the website using the Child Theme (I am a visual learner and love step by step guides- I bought News Child Theme).

    Thanks for any suggestions!

  10. says

    Amy, this came at just the right time. I had been seriously asking myself if I could ‘customize’ a child theme. I see somethings I like on one theme that aren’t on another and I’d like both (I hope I can do that.) I can’t afford to pay for a designer, and I have a very wee bit of graphic background, but no web knowledge at all. In fact I was surfing around looking to learn if I could take a child theme I liked and make it mine. And you helped confirm that today. I had also discovered the sale today too! And Blue Host also has a sale.
    I do have another question regarding domain name. Have you discovered that it matters whether you are .us or .net or anything else if the .com is unavailable? And is it best to get the domain name through Blue Host?
    Thanks for your generous sharing.
    Much success!!!

        • Amy says

          You do have some flexibility with fonts but not a whole lot. If you’re looking for something super fancy, you might try a service like typekit.com (I use them).

      • Amy says

        Find one that has the layout you like best. Try to look past the design at first (i.e. what it looks like, color scheme, etc.). You’ll have to do a lot less customizing if you can find one that has the page elements in basically the spot you want them on your site. So, make sure to browse through the demos of the child themes and look at all the links in the navbars etc. For example, a photography site would probably want a child theme that had a large image front and center. A regular blog, on the other hand, might want a magazine-type layout instead. My theme is indeed Midnight, but if you look at the MIdnight demo and click around, you’ll see the similarity. It doesn’t look like the screenshot simply because I’m not using the front page that comes with it. It’s all quite customizable.

    • Amy says

      I would do whatever I could to find a .com name. That’s only because people assume .com and so you’ll be much easier found that way. So, if the name you want doesn’t have a .com available, I’d get a bit creative with the name if I could before going with .us or .net. If you absolutely can’t find .com, I’d go with .net as it’s the second most popular extension. And yes, you could absolutely get your domain via BlueHost.

  11. says

    Hi Amy
    Sorry for second comment but I just noticed that you have a “speaking” menu item.

    I run a Public Speaking blog, so if you get a minute, I would love a comment from you.

  12. says

    Hi Amy
    Love the video.

    I’ve just bought the Genesis Pro Plus package and I’m looking for info on customisation.

    Have you done any videos / posts on using hooks to change the appearance of the home page?

    BTW – love your customisation of the Midnight theme – looks brilliant.

  13. Imran says

    Its Very Very Nice Tutorial. I Love It And Thx For Upload……… Could You Please Tell Me How to Add DropDown Menu With Menu You Created ?????????? Highly Appreciated In Advance……….

  14. says

    Amy, once you buy a theme, do you own the right to use it on more than 1 sight? or I am wondering if the pro package would be a better deal if you were wanting to use a Genesis theme on 2 different websites.

    • Amy says

      Yes, you can use the Genesis Framework and the Child Theme as many times as you’d like. If you want to use a different child theme, you’d have to buy that one (by themselves, they are usually about $25). If you think you’ll use a lot of the child themes for different sites, the developer option might be best.