Understanding the Anatomy of a WordPress Theme

Even if you don’t know a thing about HTML or cascading style sheets (CSS), you can still create a beautiful, functional website. WordPress.com is filled with nearly 300 free and premium themes you can access, whether you want to build an online presence for your photography business, start a personal blog, or anything in between.

In addition to careful design, each theme boasts certain core elements that website owners need to promote their content or business. Here’s how those back-end elements come together to form the anatomy of a WordPress theme.

The anatomy of a WordPress theme

Each WordPress.com theme is comprised of template files for each element that appears on a visitor’s screen. For example, there’s an index file for the homepage, a template file for the posts on your site, another for individual pages (like the “About Us” or “Contact” pages), and other template files for the header, footer, archives, sidebars, and more.

Though some of these features vary slightly and may look a bit different depending on the theme, the core components you’ll find in each theme typically include:

1. The header

The header is located across the top of your website. It usually includes the name of your website or business, and an image or logo. It also includes a navigation menu that directs visitors to the different pages on your site, like your blog, portfolio, or products and services.

A sample header image on a WordPress.com website

The header is always visible to anyone who visits your site, regardless of what page they’re viewing.

2. Hero image

The hero image is the main image that visitors see when they land on your site. Think of it as the digital equivalent of a billboard. A hero image can be a standalone photo or even an animation. It’s meant to make a statement, capture readers’ attention, and hopefully pique their interests enough so they’ll want to check out other pages on your site.

3. The footer

The footer is located on the bottom of your website. It can include links to your social media channels, copyright information, your site’s privacy policy or terms of use, images, or even a more detailed navigation menu leading to other featured pages on your site.

A sample footer on a WordPress.com theme

4. Sidebars

Sidebars are usually located on the left or right side of the page in each WordPress.com theme, and feature complementary information that you might not want to highlight in your main header or navigation menu. They can display lots of different things, including recent and most popular articles, site categories, and widgets.

What a sidebar looks like on the Atlas theme

5. Widgets

Widgets are chunks of portable HTML code. You can add widgets to your website for increased functionality and features. For example, there are widgets for recent posts, calendars, social icons, contact forms, and more. Adding widgets allows you to customize your chosen theme, so that your site has all the content it needs.

Adding to the anatomy of a WordPress theme

The great thing about WordPress.com themes is that they give you a foundation for your site — even if you don’t have the technical know-how to create one from scratch. All you have to do is pick a beautifully designed theme that showcases your business or brand, and then populate it with relevant information.

If you know a bit of HTML and purchase a WordPress Premium or Business plan, you can add to your desired WordPress.com theme by using CSS to customize it. Even if you don’t want something uniquely your own, a WordPress.com theme should be enough to get you started and, with a little promotion, drive more online awareness for your business or blog.

Thousands of small businesses and online stores call WordPress.com home.

Whether you’re looking to promote your business or share your story, we have a plan that’s right for you.

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Satta Sarmah Hightower

Satta Sarmah is a writer, editor and content marketing manager who launched her first personal website a decade ago — on WordPress, of course.

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