One of the great things about WordPress is that it gives you the ability to change the entire look of your site by simply changing themes. It literally only takes a few clicks and your site can look totally different. However, if you don’t want to wreck your site then you should do these 6 things before changing WordPress themes.
1. Take Notes On Edits To Current Theme
Depending on how long you’ve been using your current theme chances are you’ve manually added bits of code to it at some point. Whether it was Google Analytics, Google Adsense, or the Facebook open graph there are all kinds of snippets you may have added. If you haven’t been doing it all along then going forward you should take note of every bit of code you manually add to your theme so that you can put it back when you change themes. Go through your theme files and study them closely for any additional code you added. Pay special attention to the theme header file.
2. Is Your New Theme Widget Ready?
Take note of what sidebar widgets are being used in your current theme. Will those transfer to the new theme? If your new theme is not “widget ready” you will lose all your sidebar customizations. As long as your new theme is widget-enabled then your sidebar data should transfer to the new theme without any problems. The vast majority of themes these days are widget-ready so this will probably be a non-issue for you but it’s still good to check just in case.
3. Remember Your Tracking Codes
There are lot of tracking codes that are added to WordPress sites these days. Most people use Google Analytics, but there many others to remember as well. Take note of all the stuff you’re tracking on your current theme so you can copy and paste them to your new theme. Tracking can include Google Analytics, Google Adsense, Facebook Analytics, and any other 3rd party tracking codes.
4. Don’t Forget To Backup
This seems obvious but you would be surprised how many people skip this step because they don’t think the odds of something going wrong are very high. That could be true, but why take the risk? If you’re wrong you stand to lose everything you’ve worked so hard on. So backup EVERYTHING. As I’ve noted in previous posts you should have automatic backups set anyway so that you’re always protected in case something goes wrong, not just when changing themes.
5. Test Everything
Once your new theme is activated you need to test everything. Don’t just assume all the functionality on your site is working as intended. After you copy over all the tracking and code edits from the old theme to the new one make sure all that stuff is working again. Use a site like Pingdom Tools to test your page load speeds for the new theme compared to the old one. Here’s a few things to pay special attention to:
- Test all tracking codes
- Test your contact forms
- Test commenting process
- Test Search feature
- Check single post pages
- Check archive pages
- Check contact page
- Check formatting on all pages
6. Use Maintenance Mode
You don’t want your users to see the new theme until you’ve finished setting it up completely and tested everything. Otherwise they might come upon a broken site and be turned off. You want your new theme to work as good if not better than your old one. So activate Maintenance Mode to put your site behind a curtain letting your users know that the site is undergoing work and will return shortly. There are some excellent free maintenance mode plugins for WordPress that have nice looking predesigned splash pages to let users know what’s going on. All you have to do is activate the plugin and then tweak the settings how you want them.
Changing themes can feel like a daunting task when you’ve been using the same one for a long time. However, it’s also super exciting when you do it right because it feels like having a brand new website. After your new theme is live ask your users for their opinion on it? Do they like it? Is there some functionality they wish it had? Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
As long as you take your time and do these 6 things before changing your WordPress theme it will probably be a smooth transition.