If you use WordPress, you've probably switched themes at least once in your site's life. If you haven't that's okay too. WordPress makes it incredibly easy for users to change their website's theme. Seriously, it only takes a few clicks. However, there is actually a lot more that goes into changing a theme once the activate button is clicked. Today we're going to share what you should actually do before you change your WordPress site's theme. Think of this as a checklist of sorts. Something that we highly encourage you do beforehand. These steps are critical as far as a way to make sure that the process goes smoothly. Because you could lose a lot of elements that you didn't mean to.
Since there are so many themes out there, it can be incredibly tempting to switch themes. For the most part it's safe to do so. However, there are a few things that you need to remember.
- To start off, you should create a complete WordPress backup. Especially before you switch themes, install plugins and import or export data.
- Before you activate a new WordPress theme you should preview it. This allows you to see how it will affect your site. Lucky for you, WordPress allows you to install and preview themes without activating them. Which takes the guesswork and possible disappointment out of it. All you have to do is simply install a theme and click on the Live Preview button under that theme.
Be sure to take note on things that the new theme effects. Browse you site's main page, individual posts, pages and archives. Does the new theme handle things differently? If so, is it something you like or dislike? Next, decide whether you can easily adjust the new theme to keep the features of your old site that you want to keep.
Some of the things that might happen when you switch to a new WordPress theme are:
- Menus disappear. Each WordPress theme defines theme locations where the display menus go. So when you switch your theme, there are new menu locations. Therefore you need to reassign the menu you had before. Simply go to Appearance » Menus. Then select the menu you want to use and check the theme location where you want menu to be displayed.
- Widget settings change. Widgets allow you to place different elements in your sidebars. So, when a new theme is introduced, the new theme's sidebars replaces the old ones. As a result, your previously active widgets are no longer active. However, some will automatically show default widgets. But any widget with a customization will be placed in the inactive widgets section. Don't worry - you can still use those widgets and add them back to your sidebars.
- Theme settings disappear. Each WordPress theme comes with different customization options. These settings include your site's logo, favicon, background image, header, etc. All of these settings disappear when you switch to a new WordPress theme. This is why you should make a list of changes and set them up in the new theme. However, your new theme might not have all of the features that your previous theme had. In fact, it may have even more features. In most cases, these settings don't affect your site's performance on search engines.
Aside from all of the things that might happen when you switch your WordPress theme, there are things that don't. For example, your posts and pages will remain the same. However, the displaying of your posts might look a little different on your new theme. Same goes for images, attachments and pages. This typically occurs when the previous theme is old. All of your media will remain as well. Though some WordPress themes come with their own image sizes for featured images and thumbnails. You may need to regenerate image sizes after a theme switch. The default WordPress settings located under Settings menu will also remain unaffected.
For now... let's start with what you should do before switching themes. Feel free to take some notes...
Things To Do Before You Switch Your WordPress Theme
Go Through Your Theme Files
Write down all the additional codes that you add. Check your current theme's load time. This way you can compare the old theme to the new one. Pingdom Tools allows you to test our different pages. Not just the homepage.
Be Cautious of Sidebars
Do not forget to make sure that your new theme is widget-ready. Sidebar widgets are extremely easy to use and there are a lot of ways to customize it. Sidebars are actually the most user-customize-able area of WordPress sites. People make a ton of changes to these things. Like adding custom text, links, images and even other widgets. If you use a widget-enabled theme and you switch to one that isn't widget-ready - you lose a lot of that customization.
There are consequences if you choose one that isn't widget-ready. Anything that you modify in your sidebar will be overwritten. So make sure that you add those codes into the sidebar of the new theme.
Don't Lose Tracking
Most bloggers use some sort of analytics. However most of us don't use plugins to add the tracking codes. Even though you can open the footer.php file and modify them. Some themes have a specific place to put the ad-sense code. Whichever one is your case, you want to make sure that you copy and paste your tracking code into your new theme. This is often overlooked by users because it is so simple and easy to forget.
Make Sure the RSS Is Working
For those who use FeedBurner for WordPress, it's important to integrate FeedBurner into WordPress. Don't forget to point your default feeds to Feedburner so you can have analytics on your subscribers. Themes like Genesis and Standard Theme allows you to integrate this right from their settings panel. You need to make sure that you keep the feed directed to FeedBurner. Otherwise there will be two RSS feeds for your blog; which is annoying.
Backup Your Files
Always backup your files. As a precautionary measure, backup all of your theme files, plugins, and the database. Even if nothing happens, it never hurts to be ahead of the game. Seriously, you have nothing to lose. Because when something does go wrong, you're covered.
Test All Functionality and Plugins
WordPress plugins are pretty amazing. But once your new theme is active, make sure that all the functionality and plugins still work. Reference your notes and compare. Go back and add any functionality that you want to bring from the old theme to the new one. Try out all of the features including the commenting process, search, 404 page, single post pages, the archive page, contact page, etc. Verify that all of your widgets are still there and properly working.
As for plugins, make sure that the format is still the same. A lot of plugins use your existing styles to display their output. So you probably need to see if they still look good with your new theme.
Test Different Browsers
Your site's visitors might use a plethora of browsers. So you need to test your site in all browsers that you have access to. Browsers have a tendency to render things differently. Especially Internet Explorer. Make sure that your design looks good in all major browsers.
Let Your Users Know
It's time to turn maintenance mode off and write a quick post to let the users know. Keep in mind that you only spent about 20 minutes checking things. There's no way that you caught all of the bugs. When you let your users know, you can expect to get bug reports. You could even ask your audience (via social media) to check your site and to let you know if it looks good in their browsers. If they say yes, awesome! If they say no, ask them to take a screenshot of the issue and send it to you. This way you can see the issue and try to fix it. If you can’t fix it, you can ask the developer of the theme to fix it.
But remember: unless you paid for the theme, these developers are NOT required to fix those issues for FREE.
People have all sorts of browsers, screen resolutions, etc, so getting their opinion is important.
It's best to make changes carefully. I mean you are working on a new theme here. Therefore it's better to change smaller elements first. Make sure that it works properly in all browsers. Then, once you are comfortable enough, you can make the big, drastic changes. It's important to learn the structure of the new theme before you make huge changes. It's the semantics that you should be concerned with. This allows you to detect the problem right away. Which as a result, saves a lot of time down the road.
No one wants to play catch up when a huge change occurred and there are a thousand things that need to be fixed.
Monitor Your Bounce Rate
After switching themes, make sure that you are monitoring your site's bounce rate. This is important because some themes are just friendlier than others. Especially when it comes to navigating the readers around your site. If your bounce rate has increased, compared to the previous theme, you should probably pay attention and fix it. This isn't hard to do, so don't worry. You can add related post widgets, popular posts widgets, or opt for a better call-to-action for new readers.
Listen To Your Readers, and Improve
When a new design happens, users typically have suggestions. They either love or hate specific features. The key is to communicate with your audience. You can communicate with your audience through surveys or polls. This can even be done through social media. Which makes it easier for everyone. Give them a chance to voice their opinions, see what they would like you to improve, or what they want you to add. No one wants visitors to be disappointed in a new site change.
If they hate it enough (for example if the navigation is atrocious) it might mean that they stop visiting your site. Which is a terrible situation. Listen to your readers and improve your site the best you can.
We know all of this can get a little overwhelming and if that's the case you don't have to do it alone. We have two posts dedicated to helping beginners create a killer WordPress site... one & two. And if you're new to WordPress we suggest you head over here for some awesome tips. If you still need help, we offer a variety of WordPress services, so you can breathe a little easier.
We hope this post have come in handy for you. If you decide that changing a theme is for you, just make sure to go slow. Follow these steps and remember that when it comes to changing your WordPress theme, it shouldn't be done hastily. Take your time, follow these steps and you should be good to go!
If you have any questions or comments, let us know in the section below, so we can discuss! Still need more WordPress support? We offer it – 24/7!