Step-By-Step Guide to Changing Your WordPress Theme
In theory, installing and activating a new WordPress theme should be relatively easy. However, while the process can be completed with a few mouse clicks, you will be making a fundamental change to your site. A theme change may go off without any hitches. But the most likely outcome is that the process will require more than merely installing and activating the theme.
The bulk of the work required to ensure a successful theme change comes before and after the switch. The more thorough the preparation, the less likely it will be that you will hit any insurmountable problems. Here is a step-by-step guide to changing your theme.
Changing the theme does not affect the basic functionality of WordPress, and your content will remain intact. However, the new WordPress theme may have different functionality from the old one, and some settings and customizations will be overwritten. Different page widths and default image sizes may also affect the content layout. Consequently, much of the preparation is documenting current settings so they can be re-implemented once the new theme is installed.
Document Customizations, Sidebars and Widgets
If you have customized the current theme, you will need to document those changes if you want or need them replicated in the new one. For example, copy CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) snippets so they can be used again with the new theme. If you have used custom colors or fonts and want to retain them, these should also be documented.
Your new theme may have different widget areas or use different naming conventions for these areas of the site. Some of the widgets you have used may also be theme-specific. Consequently, when installing the new theme, you may find that some widgets disappear or are no longer functional due to incompatibility. Therefore, it’s advisable to document the contents of sidebars and other widget areas, such as headers and footers.
Copy Tracking Codes
You may have added tracking codes for Google Analytics and Ads. Any tracking codes added directly to the header section of the current theme or in the options panel will disappear when you install the new one. These will need to be copied and added back once your new theme is installed.
Document Current Performance Metrics
Installing a new theme will most likely improve the speed of your site. Indeed, since speed is crucial for SEO, also known as search engine optimization and UX (user experience), installing a theme that degrades performance would be a mistake. Make sure to run performance tests before changing the theme to compare with the post-change metrics.
Backup the Site
It’s good practice to back up a WordPress site daily, and it’s essential to have a backup before changing the theme. Complete a fresh backup before the switch or check that your regular backup was successful.
The best practice for a new theme installation is to test it first on a staging (URL) environment to be safe. This task consists of cloning your live site onto the staging URL and making it NOINDEX to prevent Google from crawling that test version of your site.
Installing, Activating, Post-Launch and Testing
Once you have completed the preparatory work, you are ready to change your theme. Install the new theme for the WordPress library, or upload the files if you have purchased a premium theme. WordPress themes can also be installed via FTP (File Transfer Protocol) if you have the technical know-how. Finally, activate the theme. Once the new theme is activated, you can begin configuring it and testing the site.
Of course, the first thing to do is check that nothing catastrophic has occurred. Ensure that the site is operational and navigate through a few pages and posts to ensure that content is displayed correctly.
Familiarize Yourself with the New Options
You undoubtedly will have done your research when you selected your new theme. Nevertheless, now would be an excellent time to explore the options available. You will probably want to customize the colors, for example. You may have new widgets available, and there may be options for multiple headers and footers. You will also have to choose how many sidebars you want and resize sidebars and pages to suit existing content.
Reinstate Customization and Tracking Codes
The new theme may contain built-in functionality that eliminates the need for some coded customization. If not, you will need to reinsert the code snippets you copied from the old WordPress theme. Code snippets are best inserted via the theme’s options panel or a code snippets plugin.
Tracking codes for analytics and advertising will also need reinstating. Again, this is best done using a plugin designed for that purpose, such as Header and Footer.
Test Plugins, Functionality, Browsers and Devices
Some plugins may be affected by installing a new theme. So, the next step is to check that all plugins are functioning correctly. You may also find that some functionality previously provided by plugins is now provided by the new theme. If that is the case, deactivate the appropriate plugin, test the theme’s alternative, and if OK, delete the plugin. Testing all critical functionality, including forms and eCommerce features, is also advisable.
A modern WordPress theme should be responsive and compatible with all the commonly used browsers. Still, you don’t want to find that your new WordPress theme doesn’t live up to expectations in this respect months down the line when you have lost traffic. So, it’s advisable to test the site on browsers such as Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Safari, and Chrome. Check the appearance and usability of the site on various devices, too. Fortunately, plenty of cross-browser testing tools and device emulators are available for this purpose.
Repeat the previously mentioned performance tests and compare the metrics to the results with your old theme. Hopefully, the new configuration will provide faster page load times and fewer performance issues. If performance has worsened, you will need to investigate possible causes, such as caching or firewall problems.
Go Live and Monitor Key Metrics
Once you are happy with the results, you can transfer your staging environment over to your live URL, and your site will be back up and running again. You might also at this stage want to notify regular visitors that you have upgraded your website and ask for their feedback.
The final stage is to monitor key metrics. Higher bounce rates, for example, might indicate an issue with page load speeds or navigation. Longer-term, a drop in traffic would cause concern, too, because it may suggest that people are not returning to the site.
Changing the WordPress theme is not overly challenging and will usually go off without a hitch. You will probably have to get used to new features and customize the site’s appearance. And you will need to re-implement customizing code snippets and tracking codes. It is also advisable to test the website to ensure that the new theme meets expectations. But if you follow the above tips, you shouldn’t have significant issues. Nevertheless, you will still need that all-important backup to be on the safe side. Our team at Proactive SEO Solutions can help with changing your WordPress theme. Call us today for assistance.
20 years experience in the online marketing sector, including agency, ecommerce and entrepreneurial ventures.