December 07, 2016
Why doesn't my WordPress theme look like the demo? a wood table with paintbrushes in coffee cans showing the challenge of choosing a theme

When I first used WordPress, several years ago, I bought a premium theme from a well-known marketplace. I decided on that particular theme because I liked the way its demo site looked. Most WordPress theme developers and marketplaces provide a demonstration site so that potential buyers can take a theme for a spin before they buy it.

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However, when I installed the theme, I was disappointed to discover that my WordPress site looked different than the demo theme. The basic components were all there, but it looked nowhere near as impressive as the site that had influenced me to buy the theme in the first place.

After several years using WordPress, I understand why this happened. I was recently talking to a friend of mine who was trying to set up a new WordPress site — her first — and she encountered exactly the same disappointment. I’d like to explain why it happens and what new site owners can do about it.

Why Your WordPress Theme Doesn’t Look Like the Demo Theme

Demo Sites are Built to Sell

In the worst cases, demo sites are simply dishonest. The theme developers put a lot of time into perfecting the demo site, which can include adding plugins and features that don’t come with the theme. After all, these are web designers and developers — they know how to make a site look good with or without a theme.

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But it’s not always, or even frequently, the case that a demo site misrepresents a theme. They represent the best possible end result, but it can be quite easy to achieve the same outcome. It all depends on the theme and the developer. Before you spend a cent, take a close look at the theme’s ratings and its support forum, both of which you’ll find on the theme marketplace. Satisfy yourself that there are happy users out there.

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Install the Sample Content

A newly installed WordPress site has next to no content, so even the best themes will look underwhelming compared to the demo site, which is full of text and professional photography.

The best developers make sample content available to users, often the same sample content used on the demo site. If the developer makes sample content available, you should be able to find out how to install it in the theme’s documentation. If not, ask in the support channel.

Installing the sample content will give you a much better approximation of the theme’s appearance and capabilities as you work with it to add your own content.

If the developer doesn’t make sample content available, take a look at the WP Example Content plugin.

Keep in mind, you should not use the sample content on your live site — it may be an infringement of several people’s copyright.

Read the Documentation

Themes come in many different types, ranging from bare-bones theme frameworks to comprehensively designed layouts with almost no flexibility. If you’re a WordPress novice and want to get up and running quickly, I suggest choosing the latter — all you’ll need to do is fill in your content and you’ll be good to go.

Whichever type of theme you choose, make sure that you read the accompanying documentation. Any theme worth the money will come with a comprehensive set of instructions that explain how it’s supposed to be used.

Hire a WordPress Professional

If you don’t have the time or the patience to learn how to set your theme up properly, the WordPress professionals at Nexcess would be happy to help. Nexcess offers WordPress website solutions and WordPress ecommerce solutions that pre-load your site with modern, premium themes. Most of their support team can assist you with installing and configuring a premium theme quite quickly, so it needn’t be an expensive step.

Don’t be discouraged because your site doesn’t look exactly the way you imagined it when you install your theme, with a few tweaks and some great content, it will come to life.


Nexcess, the premium hosting provider for WordPress, WooCommerce, and Magento, is optimized for your hosting needs. Nexcess provides a managed hosting infrastructure, curated tools, and a team of experts that make it easy to build, manage, and grow your business online. Serving SMBs and the designers, developers, and agencies who create for them, Nexcess has provided fully managed, high-performance cloud solutions for more than 22 years.

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