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Checklist: 15 Things You MUST DO Before Changing WordPress Themes

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Elegant Themes
Checklist: 15 Things You MUST DO Before Changing WordPress Themes

If you have used WordPress, then you have probably switched themes at least once in your life. If you haven’t, and this is your first time, then it is even better. The beauty of WordPress is that it makes it very easy for users to change themes. It is literally few clicks away. But changing themes is much more than simply clicking activate. In this article, we will provide you with a checklist of things that you MUST do before changing WordPress themes. These steps are critical to make sure the process goes smoothly otherwise you can end up losing elements that you did not mean to lose.

1. Take Notes on Your Current Theme

Take Notes on your Current WordPress Theme

Many WordPress users surf the web to find solutions to their problems. Often they find those solutions in form of snippets that they add manually in their theme such as the functions.php or another file. Because these changes were made once, people have a tendency of not remembering them. Go through your theme files and note down all additional code that you added. You also want to check your current theme’s load time because this way you can compare the two. Go to a site like Pingdom Tools or use YSlow to test out different pages (Yes different pages, not just the homepage).

2. Be cautious of the Sidebars

Be cautious of the Sidebars

You must make sure that your new theme is widget-ready. Sidebar widgets are really easy to use therefore a lot of users use it to customize it. We notice that sidebars are probably the most user-customized area of WordPress sites. People make tons of changes such as adding custom texts, images, links, advertisement, and other widgets. If you are using a widget-enabled theme, and you switch to a theme that is not widget-ready, then you will lose all of that. If you are using a widget-enabled WordPress theme, then this is not an issue.

Also anything that you modify in sidebar.php file of your old theme, will be overwritten. So make sure that you add those codes in the new theme sidebar.

3. Don’t lose tracking

Teacup Analytics

Most bloggers use some sort of analytics whether it be Google Analytics, or one of the other services. A lot of us don’t use plugins to add the tracking codes. Some of us open the footer.php file and modify the codes. Some of our themes have a spot to place the adsense code. Whichever one is your case, you want to make sure that you copy and paste your tracking code to your new theme. This is one of the things that is very commonly overlooked by users. Because it is so simple, most of us forget about it.

4. The Good ‘ol RSS are you working?

A lot of us use FeedBurner for our WordPress RSS Feeds. One of the parts of integrating FeedBurner into WordPress is pointing your default feeds to FeedBurner this way you can have analytics on your feed subscribers. A lot of themes like Genesis, Headway Theme, Standard Theme, and others allow you to integrate FeedBurner 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. The main WordPress one, and the FeedBurner one which is taking the info from your WordPress RSS Feed. Except, you will lose count of a lot of the subscriber that you had because they were subscribed using the /feed/ url which no longer points to FeedBurner. Again, this does not mean you lose them, it just means that you can’t see them in the FeedBurner count.

5. Backup!!

Backup your Files

You never have anything to lose by creating a backup. As a precautionary measure, you should backup all of your theme files, plugins, and the database. Although nothing should happen, but you can never be to safe. You can use BackupBuddy to create a full-site Backup for you.

6. Maintenance Mode

Maintenance Mode WordPress

You probably don’t want your users to see while you are making the switch because they will end up seeing a broken site or such. It is best to turn on Maintenance mode for 15 – 20 minutes that it may take you to make sure that everything is working properly. Once you have setup Maintenance mode, you are good to go ahead and activate the new theme.

7. Testing all functionality and plugins

Once you have the new theme activated, you need to make sure that you retain all the functionality and plugins still work. Remember that good ol’ notes list that you created in step 1. This is the time where that can come handy. Go back and add any and all functionality that you want to bring from the old theme into the new theme if you haven’t done so already. Try out all the features including but not limited to the commenting process, single post pages, search, 404 page, archive page, contact page etc. Make sure all of your widgets are still there and are working.

On the plugin front, you just want to make sure that the formatting is still the same. A lot of plugins utilize your existing styles to display their output. So you probably want to make sure that they still look good with the new theme.

8. Cross Browser Compatibility

Cross Browser Compatibility

Test your site in all browsers you have access to. Browsers have a tendency of rendering things differently. Specially Internet Explorer. You want to make sure that your design looks good in major browsers. Some pretty looking themes have a tendency of breaking in various browsers. So if a lot of your audience is using Internet Explorer, then you want to make sure that it is still accessible to them.

9. Make those Third Party Items look pretty

If you are using Google Adsense or another ad company that allows you to format them, then your best bet is to customize them. For example, you previous site was orange, so you had orange links for Google Adsense. Now if it is blue, then you probably want to take that into account.

Same goes for twitter widget, facebook like buttons etc. Adjust those with your new color scheme. If you are going from a light to a dark design, or vice-versa, then you need to make those changes.

10. Let your Users Know

Announcement

Turn off maintenance mode, and write a quick blog post to let the users know. Notice, you only spent like 15 – 20 minutes on checking things. There is no way that you could’ve catch all the bugs. By letting your users know, you can expect to get bug reports. We often ask our readers on twitter (@wpbeginner) for bug testing. Ask your audience via twitter, facebook etc to see if the site looks good in their browser. If they say YES, then its good news. If they say NO, then ask them to please take a screenshot of the issue. You can take a look at the issue and try to fix it. If you can’t fix it, then kindly ask the developer of the theme to fix it. Notice: unless you paid for the theme, these developers are NOT required to fix those issues for FREE.

People have all sort of browsers, screen resolutions, etc, so getting their opinion is important. Don’t forget to remind your RSS readers to visit the site as well, so they can see the goodies.

11. Pruning plugins

Themes are now coming pre-loaded with a lot of features. For example, if you are using Genesis or another theme that has BreadCrumbs, then you can get rid of Breadcrumb plugin of yours. The concept is simple. Get rid of things that you don’t need. One thing you should make sure though is often plugins can do the job better. For example a lot of themes are coming with tons of SEO features. Genesis, Thesis, Headway, Standard Theme, and all others boast their SEO features. We’d rather use a much more powerful plugin like WordPress SEO by Yoast. Make your choices wisely.

12. Take Baby Steps when Changing

Babysteps

You are working with a new theme here, so it is probably best that you make changes carefully. Change smaller elements to make sure that it behaves properly in all browsers. Then once you are comfortable enough, then you can make drastic changes. It’s important to learn the structure and semantics of the new theme before you make huge changes. This will allow you to detect the problem right away.

13. Test Loading Time

Take the load time numbers that you had on your old theme (from item 1 of this checklist), and compare the two. See what you can do to improve load time by checking out Syed’s presentation on Slideshare.

14. Monitor Bounce Rate

After switching themes, you want to make sure that you are monitoring bounce rate. Some themes are just more friendlier than others when it comes to navigating the readers around your site. If your bounce rate has increased compared to the previous theme, then you should probably work on that. Add related posts widgets, popular posts widgets, or simply have a better call-to-action for new readers.

15. Listen to your readers, and IMPROVE

suggestions

When a new design comes out, users always have suggestions. They either love a specific feature, or hate a specific feature. Communicate with your audience using surveys or Facebook Polls. See what they would like to see improved, and then work on getting that done.

Do you have a checklist of your own when changing WordPress themes? would love to hear it if we missed something.


Editorial Staff at WPBeginner is a team of WordPress lovers led by Syed Balkhi. Page maintained by Syed Balkhi.

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Comments

  1. Tor Ivan Boine says:

    nice checklist.
    But, what should I do so I dont loose the facebook and google+ likes and plusses? Is it enough to copy the code i wrote in the header?

  2. Julie Parker says:

    Hello,
    We are currently using Classifier on our community based site and after a trial run are considering switching to FacePress…any idea how time intensive this switch could be? And would it require a shut down of the current site for longer than your suggested 20-30 minutes to implement the change?

    • WPBeginner Support says:

      We would recommend creating an staging environment on your localserver first. Once you know what needs changing you can export those settings (Depends if the theme has theme settings export/import feature) or make a list of changes to implement. The actual time may vary. Each site is different and you may come across an issue that would require more time in fixing.

  3. Imran Faisal says:

    I am beginner and I have already install WORDPRESS using XAMPP/localhost. Now I have a question about wordpress Footer…. If i change the copyright section or powered by section of any WORDPRESS theme. Is that OK ?

  4. abdulazizansari18 says:

    Really Fantastic Post,

  5. Maddy says:

    Hi,
    I have just registered with hostgator and have changed my theme to Hiero. However, I can see the changed theme only when logged in as admin. Otherwise, its just the old Twenty Twelve theme.
    Please advise
    Thanks!!

    • WPBeginner Support says:

      You probably have a caching plugin like “WP Super Cache” or “W3 Total Cache” installed on your website. If this is the case, then you will need to disable the caching plugin and then visit your website. You can reactivate the plugin later.

  6. Tali says:

    Hi,

    I am wanting to change from the Modernise template that has a child theme to the Advocate template. Is this as simple as just changing the template? Do I have to disable the child theme? Create new child theme? All I really want to retain is all the content, and a couple forms. Any help appreciated!!

    Many thanks!!

    • WPBeginner Support says:

      Changing themes is not supposed to affect your site or plugin’s data. So you can switch among themes and see if you like another one better. If you don’t, then you can always revert back. However, whenever you are making the switch make sure you have backed up your WordPress site.

  7. femi iyaomolere says:

    I really love this forum. I am new to wordpress and I need mentors to look up to. I am working on a theme called corpo from wordpress.org. I have almost finish the project then I started having issues like. When I paste content and save or update it won’t appear in the font end. Then recently some when I click on some of the pages it will bring up. 404 msg that the page cannot be found.
    Is it a hosting problem or theme problem

    • WPBeginner Support says:

      To find out if its a theme problem, try switching to a default theme like twenty thirteen or twenty twelve and see if you can reproduce the problem.

  8. Kara says:

    Hi,
    I just found your article which came at a great time because I’m thinking about switching from WP Twenty Twelve to a Genesis Theme. But I’d like to know whether my posts that I already have on my blog will be automatically updated when I make the switch. Or, do I have to manually update and publish each post when the new Genesis theme is installed?
    Thanks,
    Kara

    • WPBeginner Support says:

      Switching a theme does not affect your posts in any way. When you will switch theme WordPress will automatically display your posts with the new theme. In case if you don’t like your new theme, you can always deactivate it and reactivate your old theme.

  9. Nargis says:

    I am NARGIS,
    I’m trying to learn something about WORDPRESS -
    After WordPress installation I have successfully INSTALLED THEME ZIP file that (NOT IN FREE SITE) in an own hosted site,
    but some of the contents, such as original MENU / original IMAGES / original IMAGE SLIDER are not showing in any browsers!
    Where is my fault/mistake …! Or do I need to do some work …!
    I wanted to show WordPress theme originally that it’s look a like.
    If you do have suggestions or tutorial from that I will be helpful !

    Regards;
    NARGIS

    • WPBeginner Support says:

      Sometimes premium themes display images and sliders in their demo which are actually not included in your theme. You have installed your theme correctly. Please contact the theme developer for support.

  10. Bel says:

    Hello there,

    I am so glad that I found your blog. I am new to wordpress.org and I’ve never used their software before. Although I am a bit familiar with blogspot.com but since joining wordpress it’s a big transition.

    I have just hosted my sites with hostgator and I really like their customer support and the cPanel.

    Anyway, my main questions are the following:

    1) I am about to start building my blog on wordpress but because this will be a long term investment and I wasn’t sure whether to select one of the free wordpress themes that allows me to customize once installing them or buying a wordpress paid theme. However, if I decide to change my theme in future (e.g: if my site becomes successful and if I’ll be able to monetize) I might want to change to a paid theme. Is this going to be a hassle changing from a free wordpress theme to a paid theme? If this can be done in future, do I have to backup all the time? My hostgator package will back up my sites everyday. Is it necessary for me to back up still on BackupBudy before installing to a new wordpress paid theme? Obviously, I don’t want to lose any of my contents.

    2) I am also worried about using the wordpress free theme because I’ve read everywhere that whenever wordpress updates its software the current free theme that people are using may not be compatible with the new wordpress update. However, I went to wordpress.org/freethemes there are quite a few reliable free themes that provides support and developers are also up to date with their themes to keep up with the compatibility with wordpress and therefore wordpress users are satisfied too.

    To conclude, would you suggest that I would use wordpress free theme for now (as I am still a beginner and still trying to build my site on wordpress) and change to a paid theme later once it becomes successful? Hostgator backs up my contents all the time, do I still need to backup before changing to a new theme? That’s all for now, thank you very much for providing these information. It’s very useful for newbies. :) I hope you can reply to my questions above as soon as you can.

    I am your new reader from now on and will be bookmarking your site.

    • WPBeginner Support says:

      Bel, welcome to the WordPress community.

      1. Backup. Yes you should still backup your site. If you do not want to invest into BackupBuddy right now, then you can create a complete WordPress backup for free with BackWPup. However, BackupBuddy comes with premium support and we highly recommend it.

      2. Free themes can be very reliable too, themes in WordPress theme directory go through extensive testing before getting approved. Create a child theme to customize your WordPress theme so that when there is a new version for your theme available, you can update it without loosing your changes.

  11. Blackie Swart says:

    Thank you for an excellent resource. I took the plunge and started building my site myself at the beginning of this month. You were an awesome help as I am not all that PC literate. I am now seriously considering changing my theme as my initial goal with the site has changed since getting a feel for word press. I suppose that ones goal should determine the choice of theme? Therefore asking for advice on cool themes may be a waste of my time? Should I rather concentrate on functionality than looks?

    • Editorial Staff says:

      Functionality always trumps looks in our eyes. Yes asking for cool theme suggestions is a waste because beauty is in the eyes of beholder. Also you are the only person who knows exactly what you want in terms of functionality.

  12. Oğuzhan İsa Temiz says:

    Thanks nice article :).

  13. Scott Webster says:

    I recently changed my theme and didn’t take note on my google analytics code. So now every time I look into my analytics it comes up with a flat line on zero. What can I do to retrieve my old code?

    Thanks
    Scott

  14. Dice says:

    I am hoping to change my theme to ‘Made’ theme this Weekend.

    This article is really good. I hadn’t considered many of the issues you have raised.

    Thank you for coming up with such a useful guide.

    Many thanks.

  15. David Price says:

    Currently going through a WordPress one-on-one bootcamp with a seasoned WP developer. I’ve hit three of his WP-Black-Holes and “Changing Themes is Easy” is the third one. Changing themes is easy if you have a simple theme with minimal customization BY THE DEVELOPER. If a theme has 8 custom admin areas for sliders, additional menus, special content areas within the post area or sidebar, etc, and you switch themes to something you think “looks nice” you are in for a nightmare. DEFINITELY not “just a few clicks.” “Changing Themes is Easy” is a total myth. Just read this article and ask yourself, “Does it sound like just a few clicks?” Really?

    WordPress would be better if there were more honesty from the development community about the realities of using it as a CMS. Still a great checklist for what to watch for when changing themes.

    • Editorial Staff says:

      Any developer that tells you that changing themes is easy is probably NEW or do not understand the reality themselves. Blaming the entire community based on your experience with a few is not fair. We created this article for this vary reason.

  16. Divyansh says:

    Great read!
    One more thing to keep in mind is to check the behaviour of theme by testing it locally using something like wamp server, to be sure that the end product is user friendly

  17. Carmen says:

    I just downloaded a new theme, but can’t install unless it is a zip file. How do I do this. I tried by selecting all and compressing, but nada. thanks.

  18. Anurag Rathod says:

    A nightmare has happened to me when I changed my popular theme to a new theme.
    Most of my nice sidebar widgets are gone forever and I have to again create them.

    Still I am missing lot of them.

    • Editorial Staff says:

      Yes if you are using a theme that registers its own custom widgets, then you will lose them upon switching. There is no way around that.

  19. jamielee841 says:

    Can you elaborate more on the RSS portion of this? I redirected everything..so I thought..but I went from 1500 subscribers to 500ish. Initially it went down to 47 but then I used a feedsmith plugin and it went up to 500. I’m at a loss for what to do and could use some help! :)

    • wpbeginner says:

       @jamielee841 You have to make sure /feed/ of your domain name is pointing to the feedburner feed. Other than that, not sure why u r losing subscribers.

  20. Harry says:

    Really helpful suggestions! Some of them I really overlooked. I use Lubith in order to design and change my wordpress themes so most of the compatibility problems I haven’t yet encountered. It’s a very flexible and intuitive editor, you work directly in the browser which means you can test immediately the compatibility between the editor and your WP site or between your theme and your browser and you can quickly make the required modifications.

  21. designbuddy says:

    Thanks for the checklist…will prove helpful tomorrow when I change my theme. I am a bit concerned that old files from my older themes will linger when simply changing themes. Does anyone know if this happens or does switching themes wipe everything clean? I just want to make sure I’m starting with a clean plate.

    Also, you mentioned “WordPress SEO” by Yoast. Is that better in your opinion than “All in One” or “Platinum SEO”? Thanks for any response.

  22. ChristopherAnderton says:

    Just one word of advice on using some of the Maintenance plug-ins. Some of them (be sure to check out WordPress forum feedback) tend to bog down servers, resulting in unreachable WP Admin, and in the worst case scenario have your host shut down the account or charge you extra.

  23. BGR says:

    i read somewhere that theme change kills google rank. If installed correctly like from twenty eleven to thesis, and GA code intact, should there be any penalty for changing a theme?

  24. codesignllc says:

    @GraphPaperPress that IS a good #wordpress checklist.

  25. Liz Bismore says:

    Wow is THIS helpful! I’m getting ready to change themes on my new blog already! It took actually using WP for a few weeks before I knew what I was looking for in a theme and now I see that I need to plan wisely before switching. Thanks!

  26. Jal says:

    Can you keep those images a little smaller.. or at best not use them at all. Doesn’t really serve much purpose.

    • wpbeginner says:

      @Jal Images are eye candy… when you read sites that doesn’t have them in longer articles, it looks dead. Just trying to keep the article lively.

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