Have you ever installed a theme in WordPress that looks great in the demo, but then you wonder how on earth the site was made? How did they do that home page? Starter Templates shows how.
There are 8,836 free themes for WordPress and there are many paid ones. The total number of themes is probably over 10,000. It is easy to find and install themes, but then you may run into problems. Not with the theme itself, but getting your website to look like you want it to.
Themes always have a thumbnail image showing what the homepage could look like. They often have a demo site that lets you see and explore what your finished site could look like. The demos often look amazing, but when you install the theme you may be left wondering what to do next. The demo looks brilliant, but how do you get your own site looking like it does in the demo?
It is common for WordPress beginners to install a theme, perhaps a page builder too, and then go onto Facebook groups or other forums and ask what to do next. They got Astra and Gutenberg or Astra and Elementor because that is what they hear everyone is using these days, but then discover that actually creating a site using them is far from easy. They are stuck. How are sites actually built?
If you are lucky, a theme may have demo content that you can import, but not all themes provide them. Many just leave it up to you to work out how to build a site and it isn’t easy or obvious from looking at a demo. Starter Templates is the solution.
Get started with WordPress
Starter Templates is a free plugin for WordPress that aims to get you started with a website fast by installing the basics of a website. A few mouse clicks is all it takes to have your own great-looking website that actually looks and works just like the demo without the pain of actually having to build it.
The Starter Templates plugin provides access to a growing library of website templates and there are currently several hundred of them available. These templates are not themes and they are basically ready-made websites containing several pages with text, images and other content.
After installing and activating the free plugin in WordPress, click See Library on the Plugins page or go to Appearance > Starter Templates.
Choose a page builder for WordPress
The first time the plugin is used, you are asked to choose the page builder you want to use. This is not a permanent selection and you can switch to another page builder at any time. Gutenberg is built into WordPress, but the others require you to have the plugin – free versions of these plugins are available. I will select Gutenberg, which is becoming increasingly popular as a page builder these days and no plugin is needed.
Browse the starter templates
Click the All item at the top and you can choose to view templates from a few basic categories. The most important options on this menu are All, Free and Premium. There are dozens of free templates and hundreds in total if you count premium ones too.
Templates do not contain everything you might need for your website and they only contain the basics, such as a home page, a contact page, information, product or services page, and maybe one or two more. It depends on the niche the template is designed for.
Preview a template by clicking it and the pages it contains can be viewed. Click a thumbnail on the right to view a larger image on the left. At the bottom of the page are buttons to preview the site, import the complete site or import just the template. I found it best to import the complete site.
A template is designed to be compatible with most themes and to work with whatever theme you currently have installed in WordPress. However, it is not guaranteed to be compatible with everything. Astra is the recommended theme to use and if it is not already installed, it can automatically be added to your site’s themes and enabled. A template may require extra items, such as plugins or widgets and if it does, they will be included and automatically installed too.
Use Starter Templates
There are two uses for Starter Templates and one is to provide ready-made pages, the essential ones like Home, Contact and a few others. You will need to replace the dummy text and images with your own. This is fairly straightforward and only requires a basic knowledge of WordPress. Some page sections are populated automatically, such as a list of the latest posts, if you have them.
If you already have content on your website, it is not deleted, but you may find that it is hidden. For example, the old menu you had before will be replaced by a new menu in the template, which has different menu items. You may need to add your existing pages to the new menu to make them accessible again. Links to your old Contact or About pages may be replaced by ones in the template and you may need to copy your content to them.
Using a starter template with your site solves the problem of how to design the home page and other basic pages. They are made for you and you just have to fill them with your own content.
Starter templates can also be used to learn website development and they are great examples of how to build good looking pages. In the screenshot above is a page for the Gutenberg page builder (built into WordPress). Opening the List View shows how the page is constructed using groups, columns, images, paragraphs, buttons and so on.
If you are not sure how to build pages in Gutenberg, Elementor or the other page builders, I recommend you install a few free templates and see how they are built by examining the example pages provided. You can learn a lot and if you need extra pages, which you probably will, the structure of the examples can be copied.
Looking at other sites is a good way to get started with website development. Normally you only see them from the front end, but starter templates lets you see how pages for sites are constructed.
Backup and test
Do not install templates without backing up your website because they can change things which might be difficult to undo if you are not an expert. Installing a new template gives you the option to delete everything installed by the old template, but even so, back up just to be safe.
I installed these starter templates on a test site running on my computer. Use Local or one of the others to run WordPress on a PC or Mac. It gives you somewhere safe to install and test themes, mess around with code and so on. You can get to know a template before installing it on your real website.