Can You Customize the Theme on a Free WordPress.com Site?

While not allowing custom themes, WordPress offers flexibility for newbies.

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WordPress.com is a great free resource for building your own website. One major drawback, however, is that you cannot upload a custom theme. If you want to use a custom theme, or if you want to use a theme that you purchased on another site, you'll need to host your WordPress site with a different service.

What Is a WordPress Theme?

Generally speaking, a theme is a host visual elements that define the look, style, and appearance of a website. More technically, it's computer code. (This refers to WordPress as well as any other Content Management System.)

Themes control fonts, colors, banner sizes, text blocks, and a variety of other elements. They may also dig a bit deeper into the "guts" of the site. Themes can control how content is arranged on the page, as well as which elements or settings you yourself can customize.

Custom Themes on WordPress.com

Because themes involve lots of code, WordPress.com does not allow you to upload your own; doing so would introduce custom code to what is a proprietary platform. As far as WordPress is concerned, custom themes, like plugins, are too risky.

WordPress does, however, offer more than 200 free themes, many of which offer a high degree of customization. These options allow you to create fairly unique looking sites.

The "Custom Design" Option

You can also buy the custom design option. While this option doesn't allow you to upload your own PHP code, you can tweak a theme using CSS code. (You can also embed custom CSS on individual pages with the <style> tag.)

If you have no idea what PHP or CSS are, then you may need to do some research before diving headlong into web design.

Should You Use a Free WordPress.com Theme?

If you don't know what you want your site to look like then it couldn't hurt to browse through some of the free themes available on WordPress.com.

If you've already designed a mockup of your website or hired a designer, then a WordPress.com site is likely a waste of time. A talented coder or designer may be able to build your vision within the constraints of a free theme using the Custom Design option. But you may eventually want to further customize or upgrade the site, and your options will be limited.