How to Customize your WordPress Theme

Last time we installed the Atahualpa theme in How to Install a WordPress Theme. Today I’m going to show you how to begin to customize it!

All customizations are made under Appearance–>Atahualpa Theme Options.

In the first video, I’ll show you how to change the width of your site, thus giving it a little “breathing room” around the edges.

Tip: Whitespace is key to a great blog design! Avoid filling every available spot with something.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

In this second video, I’ll show you how to make your site 2-column, 3-column (even 4-column, though I wouldn’t recommend it) and to change the widths of your sidebars.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

As we move through the process of customization, I highly recommend you get some CSS background. I know it can be slightly intimidating, but here’s a tutorial that walks you through.

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  1. Melissa says

    Hi Amy. Have you used images from istockphoto? I am using a WordPress theme and would like to change the background to an old paper look but #1 am worried it will compromise the function of the theme in some way and # 2 I can’t find a clear answer on what size image would be appropriate to buy for this type if application. I’ve read if its too big it creates problems as well as too small but aesthetically I would really like to change it… Any direction would be appreciated.


  2. Jera says

    I uploaded the Genesis Theme and Child Theme and now my webpage is completely blank white and I can no longer log onto wordpress. Do you have any suggestions on how to fix this?

  3. says

    Amy, thank so much for the videos. I’m confused, though because you said TwentyEleven looks pretty good but it looks like it only has three options for customization: 1) Light or dark background 2) Color scheme 3)Content on left/content on right. I don’t see anything like what you showed in the video about changing width settings, etc. Do I need to install Atahualpa or is there a way to work with TwentyEleven for now?

    • Amy says

      Those are the only customizations you can make via the Appearance menu, however, you can customize all you’d like using the “Editor.” You can definitely work with Twenty Eleven. I’ll try to post more videos too.

  4. Sarah says

    All I am seeing there is custom links, categories and create menu. Everything is frayed out unless I choose “create menu” and then I can click on custom links or categories. I tried clicking on categories but am unable to do anything under that section. Just not sure what I am missing?

    • Amy says

      Have you already create categories and assigned posts to them? You can do this in the right column of the “Add New Post” window.

  5. says

    Ok, I am lost. :) I have blogged before but it was on a free ste that was basically already set up fr me so doing thi from scratch is REALLY differetn! I have my WordPress theme picked out, I instaed and activated my plugins and even canged myheder. However, I have the ost basic question–how do I make my menu bars at the top of the page? I picked the default WordPress Twenty Eleven theme and it came with the “home” button. Yay! Bu how do I add more buttons on that bar (like about, contact, etc)? I also like how you have two menu bars (I am sure they have a real name other than menu bars) one at the very top of the screen and one under your blog name. How do I do thisor find instructions? I have played around in my menu section, my pages section, etc and am having no luck. Seriously, it shouldn’t be this hard right? :)

  6. says

    Hi Amy!
    I’ve worked through some of your setup advice and it’s been very helpful. I did have a formatting question that I was wondering if you knew the answer to. Our blog is a food blog and currently have our recipes listed under the ‘categories’. I’m ok with that, however I’d like to add a page that is devoted just to recipes as well. What I’d like is that the page would be set up similar to how categories are, where I have recipes as my parent page, and then different types of recipes (main entrees, bread, salads, etc) as the child pages. I see that you can do that, however I can’t figure out how to link my posts to the ‘page’ vs. ‘categories’. Does that make sense?

    • Amy says

      Not sure if I’m following you but do you mean link to the page in your navbar? So, you would create your recipe page and that page to the navbar via your Menus? Not sure if that helps…

      • says

        Thanks for the response. Sorry for the confusing question! I’m just learning the lingo, so I don’t always have the correct terms yet. I *think* I figured out what I need. I found a place in the theme options where I can add Widgets to the Header. If I do that, I can add my categories there, which includes my recipes. This would give me the look I’m wanting (I think!).
        I really appreciate all you do with your blog. It’s been a lot of help walking through the set-up. I’ll have times where I get really overwhelmed and then after spending time on your site I figure out how to make the changes I want! So, thanks for your help!

  7. Paige says

    Thanks for everything! I am learning so much & i am really stumped if I should do thesis, genesis, or pay someone to design a blog (thesis) for me (around $300). There’s also Headway. Whew! I am overwhelmed! I know for sure that I am a quick learner and I want the ability to change things periodically, and want it to look smashing. Can you point me in the right direction?

    I loved the Tell your Time ebook from last year and I look forward to being an affiliate when my awesome blog is up!

    Okay, I’ll be quiet now so you can comment. Thanks again!

    • Amy says

      Thanks so much Paige.

      I haven’t use Headway except for a brief look at it, so I can’t speak about that (although I believe there’s a new version coming out soon which looks great—just watched the intro video yesterday in fact).

      A designer is always nice, but if you’d like to be able to tweak things yourself along the way, I would personally recommend Genesis (affiliate link). I started using Genesis recently and while there is a bit of a learning curve, I have thoroughly enjoyed it. And the support forums offer good assistance so far. (The Prose (aff) child theme has more Design Options than the other child themes so it’s where I started.)

  8. says

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for the great videos. I’m just a little confused about the difference between and – I have had the latter recommended to me over the former. What are the differences?

    I’ve also had recommended StudioPress / genesis framework recommend – again thoughts and advice?

    Many thanks for this great blog you are providing for us IT-challenged people!


  9. says

    Hi Amy —

    I am enjoying your site very much. Thank you. I am wondering about the CSS Tutorial. I clicked on the link, but cannot find anything that walks me thru a free tutorial. I can only see places where I can sign up and pay to join the library site.

    Any suggestions?


  10. says

    Forgive me if this is a hopelessly ignorant comment. But one of the things that makes me resistant to moving from blogger to wordpress is the fear of losing the current theme. I use a blogger template, and I really don’t want to change my look, it has become ME. Is there away to keep it and still switch to wordpress?

    • Amy says

      Nope, not a hopelessly ignorant comment! :)

      Yes, you could absolutely have the same design in WordPress, however, there’s not way to simply transfer it from Blogger to WordPress. It would have to be recreated in WordPress.

  11. says

    I would appreciate your knowledge on the background and header. I would like to remove the image in the header and put text in it. I look forward to more tutorials!
    Thanks so much!

  12. Angela says

    Hello. I have followed every step of your tutorials & am so thankful for your help! However, I have struggled for some time in figuring out how to change the background image and/or header. I have researched & read countless tips online, but can’t seem to find anything that explains quite so clearly as you do. So… I would be greatly helped with a tutorial on this as well. : ) Thanks again!

  13. says

    Well, I figured out how to be rid of WordPress’ links and put yours as my first link and working with Categories but my question is the same as the writer above. I have sat here for over an hour and I am trying to figure out where to find the place to input a New Header image. I am on my way to reading your CSS Tutorial link but I also learn by trial and error. Anyway, thank you so much for this step by step guide :)

    • Amy says

      Oops! OK, I just replied to your last comment before I saw this one. :)

      Well, I’m thinking I should do a tutorial on this (replacing the image) because several people have asked me the same thing….

  14. says

    Hello! I’m VERY new to all this and am trying to follow your instructions above to add Google Analytic – but can not for the life of me figure out how your doing this – looked for the Atahualpa theme and it appears they no longer offer it – so I chose Vigilance – but can not find where to add my code… any advice? THANK YOU!

    • Amy says

      Hi Christina,

      Hmmmm…I can see Atahualpa as a theme option, but you should still be able to input your Google Analytics code in your footer (Appearance–>Editor–>Footer), but an easier way to insert your code in that case (i.e. without having to edit your code directly) is to install the Ultimate Google Analytics plugin. (Directions to install plugin via Dashboard here.) Hope that helps!

  15. says

    Hello Amy! So, I’m doing pretty good with all of this…BUT…how do I change the header picture? I don’t see anywhere in Ahutula….ya know, the theme you are showing us…where I can upload a pic. It just talks about how to make the current picture rotate, etc. Please help! I’m almost at a place where I can get started…and I’m soooo excited!

  16. says

    Hi, this is my first comment on your blog, but I wanted to say that I’ve found it very helpful, and I’ve read most of this series! I’m working on starting a blog soon which I do plan to put a lot of effort into, and hopefully eventually earn just a little extra income from it. (The blog I link to in my comments is not new, in case anyone is wondering, but it is my personal weight loss blog and I don’t have plans to monetize it at all.) My question isn’t directly related to this post, but how do you get the videos where you are just showing your computer screen like the ones in this post? I’m assuming you’re not actually pointing a camera at your screen, but somehow are doing it from your computer.

  17. says

    Hi Amy! I have thoroughly enjoyed your guide! However, still having some difficulties in spots. I wanted to use the TwentyTen that they gave me initially. I like the picture at the top for what my site is about. I did not have the ‘options’ however to customize my columns and so forth. Can I somehow use the Atahualpa and change the top picture?

  18. says

    Amy you are the Atahualpa angel! I have a question. I followed your instructions to adjust my page as decribed in the video however, the background (to the left and right of my page) is grey. I know there is a way to change that color and even to have a little wallpaper look to that area but I can’t seem to find it. Does this theme allow that? Any information is appreciated! :)

  19. says

    I guess I have a newer version of the Atahualpa theme downloaded and active on the above site, so I was wondering if you could take a moment and see if that tutorial on CSS that you mention in your video for Step 15, is still available. I’ll admit to ya, if something is “right in front of my face”, I just won’t see it, and I just don’t see it. )=-/

    Thanks for your help! I really am enjoying your tutorial videos thus far!
    ~Anne Elizabeth =-)

    • Amy says

      Hi Anne Elizabeth,

      Are you wondering if the tutorial will work on the new Atahualpa? CSS is universal, so the tutorial should still be applicable.

  20. says

    Thanks so much for your helpful site, Amy!

    Question: Do you recommend upgrading the Atahualpa theme (or any theme) once you’ve installed it? I notice I’ve installed version 3.4.9 (as I’m following along with your steps) and they’re already up to 3.5.3. Also, does it matter WHEN we upgrade? Do we lose any settings by upgrading?

    • Amy says

      EXCELLENT question, Katrina. Depending on your theme and how much editing you’ve done to it, upgrading can undo what you’ve created. However, there’s no need to be alarmed. :)

      I recommend two things:

      1. Always back up your theme files before making any changes or upgrades. You do this simply by using FTP to drag your theme file from the server (right side of screen) to your computer (left side of screen). Here’s how to use FTP. Then, if you make a change and you want to switch it back, you can just go in there and do the exact opposite in reverse.

      2. An even better idea, though, is to set up a test blog on your server. To do this, you would follow the same steps I outlined in How to Set Up Hosting and WordPress, HOWEVER, you would not need to purchase hosting a second time. Instead, you would just log into your hosting account and follow the same steps to install WordPress, except this time you would install WordPress in a subfolder. Did you notice in the video I showed you how to install WordPress in the “root” directory of your site so that if someone goes to, they see your WordPress blog. A subfolder would look something like: Make sense? Now, you wouldn’t share that subfolder address with anyone as its purpose would be to test things out (like update your theme!) before making a change to your main site. Then, if all goes well on your test site, you can make the change on your main site.

      So, how do you create a subfolder? Easy peasy. When you get to the part in the WordPress installation where it asks you where you would like to install WordPress, you’ll just add a subfolder right in the field available at the end of “”. You can name it what you like (so it’s not easily found by others) and it will automatically be created for you.

      Now, it’s good to keep in mind that these are two separate WordPress blogs entirely — not connected to each other at all — but hosted on the same server. I’ll say again that you do should not pay for another hosting account. The process of setting up a test blog in a subfolder is free. Also keep in mind that because they are two separate blogs, when you make a change to one, the other will not change. I recommend putting a few dummy posts in the test blog to give it some structure and so you can see how things will look. Then you can do all sorts of things on that test site and never touch your “real” site until you’re satisfied with what you’ve done!

      Hope that helps!

  21. Tammy says

    Wouldn’t you know it? I have no options under my theme to customize columns. Bummer!

    • Amy says

      All themes vary. For many, customizations must be made in the Stylesheet (Appearance–>Editor) which requires more code knowledge. That’s why I recommend Atahualpa. You could still install it!