Sometimes it’s nice to mix things up. Maybe try a new route to work, sample a cuisine you’ve never tried before, or start a resolution to finally go to the gym three, twice, okay at least once a week.
When it comes to your website, it’s not uncommon to try something new. Maybe your content isn’t converting as well as you had hoped. Or, perhaps your customers have shared negative feedback about your site’s design. Or, maybe you’re just looking to rebrand, but don’t want to start from scratch and create a whole new website.
Whatever your reason may be, your site’s look, feel, and functionality can all be altered by changing your WordPress theme.
But, before you dive in, it’s important to understand how changing your theme will affect your website. There are a few ways to change a WordPress theme, and depending on how you approach it, you can end up changing your site in ways you may not have anticipated — for better or worse, too.
In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about changing your WordPress theme, including how to do it, and what to do before and after. Before we get started, let’s determine if changing your WordPress theme makes sense for your website.
Should you change your WordPress theme?
To change or not to change your WordPress theme; that is the question.
And the answer is, of course you can. But, you shouldn’t just start flipping between themes without caution. While some elements on your site won’t be altered by a theme change, other pieces may be affected and could impact your WordPress website’s design and functionality.
Here are some things that you won’t have to worry about with a WordPress theme change:
- Blog Posts and Web Pages
- WordPress Plugins
- Account Settings
So long as these elements don’t have any theme-specific features, they shouldn’t be affected by changing your WordPress theme.
On the flip side, these aspects of your website could be affected:
- Code Snippets: If you’ve customized the code of your current theme, you should copy the alterations you’ve made and save them for later use. These changes will not carry over to your next WordPress theme.
- Shortcodes: If they’re theme-specific, they may not carry over when you change your theme.
- Tracking Codes: If you’ve added your website’s tracking code to your theme’s file, this will not carry over to the next one that you use.
- Widgets: If they’re theme-specific, some widgets may disappear after you change your WordPress theme.
- Schema Data: Though it’s rare, changing your theme can interfere with your website’s schema markup.
A good rule of thumb is, if it’s specific to your current theme and not the core WordPress software, it’s at risk of being affected by a theme change.
There’s a lot to consider when changing your website’s theme, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it or that it’s impossible. It just means you need to follow the right steps if you are going to change your WordPress theme.
Let’s review those steps in the section below or you can watch this handy video from WPCrafter:
How to Change Your WordPress Theme
There are a few components to consider before changing your WordPress theme. Do you want your website to go live as soon as you change your theme? Are you worried about losing specific pieces of content when you make the switch? Would you prefer an automated process, or a manual transition of your site?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can start moving towards your next theme. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are still a few more steps to take before we can make the switch.
What to Do Before Changing Your WordPress Theme
1. Backup your WordPress Website.
Backing up your site is like saving your work. It prevents you from losing any data or folders when you change your site’s theme.
To back up your site, you can use a WordPress plugin, or you can hire a third-party, off-site solution that runs automated backups on a scheduled basis.
2. Test your site’s load time.
Different themes have different load times, and since page load speed is an important factor in search rankings, you’ll want to know the difference between your current theme’s page load speed and the theme you’re considering switching to. If your current theme is much faster than your new one, you may want to look for an alternative before switching.
3. Audit your website’s content for theme-specific elements.
Changing themes can change a lot about your website, and it may take some getting used to once the process is complete. If something is missing or not working properly, there’s a chance you might overlook it as you get familiar with the new look and feel of your site.
To make sure nothing gets lost or forgotten, it’s important to conduct an audit of your site’s content. Take note of the sidebar, navigation, tracking codes, and any other customizations you’ve made. If there’s a chance it won’t carry over to the new version, be sure to write down the code and save it so you can upload it to the new theme.
4. Set up a WordPress staging site.
A WordPress staging site is essentially a clone of your site, but it’s offline. You can edit content, add and remove plugins, and test themes without your visitors seeing. That way, you can keep your current site online while you build your new one.
5. Switch your site to “maintenance mode.”
Once you’ve run a few tests and you’re confident in your theme choice, you should set your site to maintenance mode so visitors know you’re making changes and you’ll be back online soon. You can do this with a maintenance mode plugin, like the one in the example below.
When enabled, your visitors should see a page like this appear on your home page:
Now we’re ready to get started. Below are a few different ways to safely change your WordPress theme. We’ll review how to switch themes without losing content, how to switch themes without going live, changing themes on a live site, and, finally, we’ll explain how to change your theme manually so you can manage the transition from start to finish.
How to Change Your WordPress Theme Without Losing Content
1. Start with small changes.
It can be tempting to get carried away with customizing every single aspect of your new theme. But, it’s better to start with a small change and see how it works before moving on to the next item. If something doesn’t work, you can stop, assess it, and correct it before it becomes a more significant issue down the road.
2. Explore your theme’s compatibility with various web browsers.
One factor that you should always account for during a theme change is compatibility with web browsers. Not all web browsers function the same way, and some support certain widgets and elements while others won’t. To ensure you don’t lose any content with your new theme, you should test your pages in a few different browsers to make sure all of your site elements are present.
3. Test functions and plugins.
Along with testing web browsers, you should also test the different functions and plugins on your website. Remember, theme-specific customization will most likely not carry over to your new theme. So, it’s important to double-check that all of your site elements are working properly even if they still appear on your pages.
4. Compare content on your staging site with your original site.
Remember those notes we took down about your original site? This is when they come in handy.
Use your notes to compare your staging site with your original site. The better notes you take, the more likely you are to catch anything missing in your staging site.
5. Customize your WordPress theme before uploading it.
It’s best practice to customize your new theme before uploading it. That way, you can double-check that all site elements are there and working as expected. If you upload prior to customization, visitors might be confused as to why the site keeps changing every time they refresh the page.
6. Replace any missing elements and fix any broken ones.
If you do notice something is missing or broken, be sure to correct it before going live. After all, you don’t want any broken links in your content or have site features that just don’t work. Not only can this damage user experience, but it can also affect your ranking on search engines as well.
How to Change Your WordPress Theme Without Going Live
- Choose your new WordPress theme and testing environment.
- Install your WordPress theme.
- Preview the theme using the “Live Preview” option.
- Customize the settings of your WordPress theme.
- Repeat to test different themes.
1. Choose your new WordPress theme and testing environment.
When you’re picking a WordPress theme, it’s perfectly fine to choose a few that you like and test out each one. Once you find the one that works, you can customize it after you install it into your WordPress account.
You can look for new themes by navigating to Appearance, then select Themes and then click the option to Add New.
From there, you’ll see a marketplace full of different WordPress themes. Each has an option to preview and includes a brief description of the theme. There’s also a star rating, so you can see how other users rate each theme.
2. Install your WordPress theme.
Once you’ve settled on one or a couple of WordPress themes, click Install to add them to your account. From there, you can navigate back to the themes interface by clicking Themes in the sidebar.
3. Preview the theme using the “Live Preview” option.
After the installation is complete, you can see how the theme looks on your website by choosing the Live Preview option. This should direct you to a page that looks similar to the one below.
4. Customize the settings of your WordPress theme.
At this point, you should see a sidebar on the left side of the screen. These options allow you to edit the settings of your new theme. These can range from design settings to SEO.
5. Repeat to test different themes.
If you have a few themes that you want to test out, you can repeat this process for each one. So long as you don’t hit the Activate and Publish button, your changes will not be pushed live.
How to Change a WordPress Theme on a Live Site
1. Backup your website.
We mentioned this step in a previous section, but a little reminder doesn’t hurt. Be sure to backup your website before activating a new theme. If anything goes wrong, you can always revert your site back to the original so long as it’s backed up.
2. Select and install a WordPress theme.
Navigate to your WordPress themes by selecting the Theme option under Appearance in the lefthand sidebar. Here you should see all of your existing themes as well as an option to add new ones. Pick your desired theme — or download one if needed — and select the option to Live Preview.
3. Preview the theme and customize it.
Once in the Live Preview, you’ll have plenty of options to customize your theme. There are different settings you can modify and you can view how your site looks on various devices.
4. Test your website before going live.
In the Live Preview mode, you can not only add and edit elements on your website, but you can test them as well. It’s best practice to test all of the functions and features on your website to make sure they work before pushing your site live.
5. Activate your new WordPress theme.
Once you feel your site is ready to go, it’s time to publish it. You can do so by clicking the Activate and Publish button in the top left.
How to Change WordPress Theme Manually
In some cases, you won’t be able to use the processes above to automatically update your WordPress theme. In which case, you can follow the steps below to manually change it.
1. Connect your website using an FTP client.
If you want to change your theme manually, you’ll need to work through your WordPress database. To do that, you’ll need to connect your website to WordPress using an FTP client.
2. Go to the themes folder and select a theme.
Once you have access to your FTP client, you’ll need to navigate to the /wp-content/themes/ folder. It should look something like this:
Here, you can see all of the themes you have installed and you can add new ones, too. Make note of the folder you want to use as you’ll need that information later in this process.
3. Access the cPanel of your web hosting account.
4. Open phpMyAdmin.
Once you have access to your cPanel, scroll down to Databases. There should be an option called, phpMyAdmin. This tool stores the database for your WordPress website.
If you don’t see this option, you can download phpMyAdmin for free here.
5. Edit the template and stylesheet.
When you open phpMyAdmin, you should see a list of databases. Click on the one that your WordPress website is using. It should provide you with a list of tables. When it does, click wp_options.
On the right side, some files should appear. Look for one that reads Template in the Option_Name column. Choose the Edit option.
Now, we need to change the Value in the Option_Value row. Remember the name of that folder we told you to write down? This is where you’ll need it. Add the folder name to the textbox on right under the Value column and click Go.
Next, repeat that same process for the file that reads Stylesheet in the Option_Value column. Once both edits are made, you should see the changes pushed live on your website.
What to Do After Changing Your WordPress Theme
Now that you have your new theme, you can just sit back and relax, right? Wrong. There are still a few more tasks to complete before we’re all done.
1. Remove any unnecessary or duplicate plugins.
A lot of WordPress themes come packed with built-in plugins and features. Many of which can replace existing plugins that you’ve previously downloaded. To keep things neat and organized, you should remove any plugins that you’ll no longer need with your new theme.
2. Test your website’s functionality.
While you should do your testing before your site goes live, it’s also a good idea to test it again once the changes are published. This lets you experience what your new site is like as a visitor coming to it for the first time.
3. Compare page load speed.
Now is also a good time to retest your page load speed and compare it to your original site. Remember, page load speed is a ranking factor on search engines, so you’ll want to make sure you’re not sacrificing a significant amount of page speed for added features and stylish designs.
4. Add theme-specific code.
If you had custom, theme-specific code that you want to add to your new theme, this is the perfect time to do so. We would advise adding them in small batches, so you can test to make sure they work properly with your new theme.
5. Turn off maintenance mode.
If you turned on maintenance mode, you can turn it off once your new theme is live. After all, I’m sure your visitors are eagerly waiting to see what your new site looks like.
6. Let visitors know your site is live.
It also doesn’t hurt to put the word out about your site changes. Post on social media, mention it in your weekly email newsletter, and encourage customers to check out your site when they purchase products in stores.
You could also run a promotion through your website. Not only would this encourage visitors to purchase products and submit contact information, but it would also introduce them to your site’s new features and design.
7. Monitor site metrics.
Pushing your site live almost feels like a moment of truth. Will your visitors love the changes? Or will they want you to go back to the drawing board?
The best way to find out is by checking your site metrics. Look at bounce rates, time spent on page, and how much visitors are engaging with your content. This will be a good indicator of whether your theme change was a success.
8. Ask for feedback from visitors.
Another way to find out how visitors feel about your new theme is to simply ask them. Send out a survey or embed one on your website using marketing software. This will give you direct feedback that can help improve your site.
Finding a WordPress Theme for Your Website
When it comes to WordPress themes, it feels like there are countless options available. Each has its own pros and cons so why not test them all and find the perfect one for your website?
You just need to be mindful of your site’s current design and follow the steps outline in this post. This will ensure none of your content gets lost or broken along the way, so you can keep growing your website and your business.
Originally published May 6, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated September 30 2021