All you need to do is to download and change your WordPress theme – and you have a completely new look. Changing themes in the WordPress backend is not difficult by itself; what is challenging is doing so without any website downtime or losing your customized settings and content.
In the rest of this article, we shall discuss how you can change a WordPress theme without losing content or website uptime. First, let us look at what you need to do before you decide to switch to a new WordPress theme.
Things to do before changing themes in WordPress
When you think about it, changing WordPress themes is just a matter of uploading a new theme to your site and activating it. As easy as this may sound, a WordPress theme switch often causes problems such as:
- Causing certain website elements to stop working
- Losing any customization that you may have done for the existing theme
- Altering the display of some web pages from their previous state
- Increasing the website load time
To avoid such problems, here are some things that you must do first:
Back up your WordPress site
The "golden rule" for WordPress sites is to take a complete backup before performing any major task, which includes changing themes. The idea is that something could always go wrong – but if you have a backup, you can restore your site without any damage.
The easiest way of performing backups is by using a backup plugin like BlogVault or Updraftplus that can automate the backup and restore process.
Note the custom changes made in your theme
Many WordPress site owners like to make customized changes to their website theme. If you have also made any theme changes in the functions.php file, make a note before changing the theme so that you do not lose all the customized changes.
The easiest way is to copy the customized code in the current theme files into the new theme file.
Test the page load time
All WordPress themes are not optimized for fast loading and can increase the loading time of your website. Before switching WordPress themes, be sure to test the current page load time to know the load time difference after you make the switch.
You can test your page loading time using a speed testing tool like GTMetrix or Pingdom.
Make a note of sidebar content and widgets
Sidebars are typically used to add different website widgets like online ads and external social links. If you use sidebars in your WordPress site, take note of its content before changing your current theme.
If you have added customized content into your sidebar, copy-paste the content into the new theme sidebar.
Make a note of tracking codes
Before changing your WordPress theme, you need to check if it contains any tracking code that is used for website analytics. For instance, many WordPress themes allow your admin user to add AdSense or Analytics codes to keep track of your traffic from the theme settings.
Just like sidebar content, you do not want to lose these tracking codes or website traffic data once you have changed the theme. Hence, we recommend that you take note and copy the codes into your new theme.
Keep your website in maintenance mode
Although this is not mandatory, it is a good practice to put your WordPress site in maintenance mode when you are changing the WordPress theme. This is the accepted mode of showing websites to online visitors when they try accessing them – so that they build a negative perception about your brand.
The easiest way of putting your WordPress site in maintenance mode is by installing the SeedProd plugin.
Next, let us look at how you can change the WordPress theme safely.
How can you change the WordPress theme safely?
Here are three methods on how to switch WordPress themes safely:
- Using a staging site
- Without going live
Let us discuss each of these three methods in detail.
How to change your WordPress theme using a Staging site
A staging site or environment is a copy of your live website. You can use the staging site to test any WordPress theme before merging the changes on the live website. This way, you can test for any negative effects of changing the theme without risking your live website.
The following steps are typically how you can change your theme using staging:
- Set up the staging website.
- Install the new theme on this staging site.
- Test the overall functioning and resolve any errors.
- Upload or merge the staging site changes with the live website.
How do you set up a WordPress staging site? There are multiple ways, including:
- Approaching your current web host provider to configure and set up a staging site.
- By installing WordPress staging plugins like WP Staging or Duplicator.
- If you already have the BlogVault backup plugin, you can use its inbuilt WordPress staging functionality.
How can you change the WordPress theme without going live?
The next method is to change the WordPress theme without going live. This method is recommended if you want to completely test a new theme before applying it to the live website.
Here are two ways of changing a theme without going live.
Using the Live Preview functionality
The Live Preview functionality enables users to preview any theme on your current WordPress website. Here is how you use this option:
- Sign in to the WordPress dashboard using your admin credentials.
- From Appearances > Themes, you can view all the themes currently installed on your site.
- For the theme that you wish to preview, click "Live Preview."
- Using the WordPress theme customizer tool, test your new theme.
Subsequently, you can apply the selected theme on your live website by clicking "Activate."
Using the Theme Switcha WordPress plugin
The other method is by installing and activating the Theme Switcha tool on your WordPress site. This plugin is designed to preview new themes without activating them on the website.
Here is what you need to do:
- Install and then activate the "Theme Switcha" plugin.
- From your dashboard admin panel, navigate to this plugin settings and select the "Enable theme switching" option. The plugin provides a preview for all installed themes.
- Select the theme and preview it on your browser tool.
How can you change the WordPress theme manually?
If you'd like to get your hands dirty and change the theme manually on WordPress, you can do so using the phpMyAdmin tool and an FTP tool like FileZilla.
Here are the steps you need to follow:
- Using an FTP tool, connect to your WordPress site.
- From the "wp-content/themes" folder, view all the themes installed on your WordPress website. Make a note of the theme folder that you are planning to use.
- Next, from your WordPress web hosting account, connect to cPanel > Databases > phpMyAdmin.
- From the phpMyAdmin tool, connect to your WordPress database and click the "wp_options" database table.
- Next, you need to edit or modify the "template" and "stylesheet" rows (for the selected table) to your chosen theme name.
- Once you have made the changes in both these rows, save the changes by clicking "Go."
The selected theme will be applied to your live website.
As you can see, this method is fairly technical, and we recommend it only if you have a technical understanding of the WordPress backend files and the tools you need to use.
Now that we know about changing the WordPress theme let us next see the typical issues that you may face after applying a new theme and how to troubleshoot them.
Troubleshooting WordPress theme issues after switching
Here are five of the common issues faced after applying a new WordPress theme and how to solve them.
The theme on your homepage looks different from the demo.
Solution: This happens when the front page display settings for your activated theme are set to "static page" for your home page. You can either change your frontpage settings or select "your latest posts" on Settings > Reading.Problem: 404 Error
Solution: The 404 error is common for WordPress themes using custom post types. To fix the issue, click the Save button on Permalink settings – or update the .htaccess file.
Problem: Blank menus
Solution: This is a common issue if you have installed a new theme after many years. To fix this issue, navigate to Appearance> Menu and either create a new menu or select the menus to be displayed in the "Display Location" option.Missing stylesheet
Solution: Upload the "root theme" folder again using the unzipped theme folder on any FTP tool.Data import errors
Solution: This happens when you try to upload a sample XML file provided by the theme developer. Ensure that the theme is active and contains the post types (reported on the error).
You're almost there! There are still a few things you need to look into. Let us talk about them next.
Things to do after changing the WordPress theme
Here is a checklist of 7 things to do after changing your WordPress theme:
Turn off your maintenance mode
To go "live" with your new theme, you need to first turn off the maintenance mode, which had been enabled before switching themes. If you are using the SeedProd plugin, toggle the setting to "Inactive" from the WordPress dashboard to disable the maintenance mode.
Test your website
Next, you need to ensure that all functionalities of your WordPress site with the new theme are working efficiently. Spend some time on testing your website widgets and plugins using best principles of testing. Additionally, make sure all your website posts, comments, contact forms, and email messages are working as previously.
Check for cross-browser compatibility
Online visitors open your WordPress site on different browsers. Popular browsers include Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and Microsoft Internet Explorer. To ensure browser compatibility, you need to test if your "new" website looks and functions consistently on all these browsers.
Add tracking code
After you have tested both the website functionalities and cross-browser compatibility, you can now add the tracking code for Analytics and Adsense. The best way to add Google Analytics code is by using the MonsterInsights plugin. This plugin can smoothly configure website analytics on your WordPress site – and enable you to track analytics data in your WordPress dashboard.
Add custom changes
After applying the new WordPress theme, you can now make the customized changes in its functions.php file that are designed for your brand and website look. If these changes have already been made by you/your developer in the previous theme, you need to note and copy the changes from the functions.php file of the older themes folder.
Test your webpage loading time
Another checklist item that you should not forget after switching to a new theme is to retest your website loading speed and time. Check the loading time using the same speed testing tool (like GTMetrix or Pingdom) that you used before applying the new theme.
If there is a major difference, you should consider using themes from StudioPress or Themify that are optimized for fast loading.
Remove all unwanted plugins or themes
Unnecessary plugins and themes can be uninstalled as they can impact your website performance and security.
If you have installed plenty of WordPress plugins and themes on your site, this is the best time to take stock and retain only those that you will require in the future. For instance, you don't need to retain too many themes on your WordPress installation. Hence it is best to remove the old and unused themes.
Whether it is to create a new site or revamp your website, WordPress offers an impressive collection of free and paid themes. To make the most of them and change your WordPress website theme, all you need to do is pay attention to the best practices we've recommended in this article.
We also recommend that you always keep a backup of your latest' best' version in case you find yourself wanting to go back to an earlier theme. To do this, you can use a backup plugin like BlogVault that has scheduled and automated backups in addition to unlimited on-demand backups. So, right before a theme change or a theme update, make sure that you have a backup version whose performance and Appearance you're happy with.
Are there any additional measures that you have used to update your WordPress theme and create professional website? Please share your experiences by connecting with us.