One of the great things about WordPress is the ability to customize your Website by using Themes. WordPress themes provide much more control over the look and presentation of the content on your Website. A WordPress Theme is a collection of files to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a Website. A Theme modifies the way the Website is displayed, without modifying the underlying software.
With WordPress, you can effortlessly and completely change the look and feel of your Website by changing themes. You can try out new themes right from the start, playing with different layouts and styles. A few weeks ago I added 2 more themes to my visitors to choose from (see Change Theme widget in the right sidebar) and I am working on a third theme for my users. I am sure many of you have also gone through the process of changing themes, and it can be frustrating because always the “devil is in the details”.
Therefore I decided to document the steps I took before switching themes. Below is my 17-point checklist that You MUST do before switching WordPress themes. These steps are critical to make sure the process goes smoothly. If you are thinking of changing your theme, remember the Checklist below — it can save you a lot of time and trouble.
When To Change Your WordPress Theme | Advantages of a New Theme
- When you don´t like it anymore and when you think that your current theme is getting old and has its limitations.
- New themes tend to have cleaner code and (hopefully) adhere to current coding standards.
- New themes with better, leaner code can mean faster loading time.
- New themes can integrate new WordPress functionality.
- New themes can integrate more SEO functionality.
With all that said, I don´t think it is a good idea to change themes often. You could also give your visitors a choice from few set themes, like I did for this blog.
Check 1. Choose an Appropriate Theme
First things first. Selecting an appropriate theme is very important. The new theme should match the niche of your blog. Choose a theme that is user-friendly, optimized for SEO and usability, lightweight, loads fast, highly customizable and with many options.
Look for themes that are recently developed and continually maintained. Before you decide on a theme, test several ones first.
A new theme usually means new options and settings, so get familiar with the different options and settings available.
There is an (almost) endless choice of themes. For free themes I will start with WordPress Theme Directory and for paid ones I will start with the references below and you should also do a google search for WordPress themes.
Check 2. Complete Backup of Your WordPress Website
Rarely something will go wrong by just switching themes, but better safe than sorry. It is always a good idea to do a Complete backup of your WordPress Website (database and files), if you haven´t done so already and regularly. I wrote a great and detailed tutorial on how to do a Complete back up your WordPress Website listed in the reference below.
Always keep a backup copy of your old theme files. Just in case a unexpected problem arise with your new theme and you want to revert back.
Check 3. Take Notes (and Screenshots) of Your Current Theme
Before you switch to your new WordPress theme, go through your current theme files and take notes of all additional coding that you added. It is always a good idea to keep documentation of the changes you made on your current theme. Also take screenshots of your current theme and all the changes you made.
Check 4. Test Page Load Speed
Page loading time is critical for best user browsing experience to and keeping your visitors longer on your Website. What´s the point of having a new attractive theme only to find out that your traffic is down because of slow loading pages.
Use the references below to test the loading speed of different pages (and not just the homepage)for your new theme. You also want to check your current theme’s load time so that you have a basis to compare the two.
Check 5. Inspect Your Sidebar(s)
Make sure that your new theme is widget-ready. People make a lot of changes to their sidebars such as adding custom texts, images, links, advertisements, etc. If you are using widget-enabled WordPress theme this will not be an issue, because widgets are not affected when the theme is changed. But if you made changes manually you will have to redo them. Make sure all of your widgets are properly displayed and are working.
Check 6. Add your Analytics Code | Don’t Lose Tracking
Most bloggers use some sort of analytics (a tracking script) whether it is Google Analytics or other tracking services. This is usually done with a snippet of code found in the header or the footer of your theme. When you change your WordPress theme, the header and footer files will be overwritten, so you need to re-apply these code snippets. Make sure that you copy and paste your tracking code to your new theme. Otherwise your Website will no longer be tracked.
If you use an Analytics plugin for WordPress, then this step is not necessary.
Check 7. Watch your Footer and Header
Check your header (header.php) and footer (footer.php) files for other customizations that you might have done. And if so carry-over the changes to your new theme.
Check 8. Assess Which Plugins You Need | Test all Other Plugins
It is always best to keep your plugins at the absolute minimum. Every plugin may not be necessary or required for your new theme. So reassess your plugins and delete (and not just deactivate) the unwanted ones. You may also want to get rid of unnecessary plugins that the new theme includes by default. There are many things that you can do by custom coding your theme without the need of plugins as I discussed in my Plugin Killer tutorials.
After you have decided on the plugins that you want to keep, make sure that the remaining plugins are compatible with the new theme. Test your plugins to make sure that they are properly working.
Check 9. Watch For Your Ads | Check Third Party Services
Make sure that your Ads match with your new WordPress theme. If you have google AdSense or any other form of advertising. Make them look professional by making sure that the style and colors match your new theme.
Same applies for your Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google+ and other Social buttons that you may have on your Website. Adjust those to fit the style of your new theme.
Check 10. Verify your RSS Feeds and Email Subscriptions
Because RSS feeds and Email subscriptions are important, verify that they are still working and functional. Make sure they are receiving your Website´s updates in a timely manner.
Check 11. Test for Broken Links
Changing your theme should NOT affect your links. However; since links are very crucial in any Website, and dead links show unprofessionalism. It doesn’t hurt to rectify for dead links. Use the W3C Link Checker below to check your links.
Check 12. Verify Your Images
If your images are located in your current theme´s folder, then you will need to transfer them to the new theme. Otherwise they will NOT be visible with the new theme switch.
Also check that the Favicon (if you have one) is visible.
For easier Website maintenance, all images that did not originally come with the theme should be stored in a folder outside of the theme´s folder. For instance you could create an uploads folder in wp-content folder and store your images by year and month.
Check 13. Test All Secondary Features, Functionality and Design
With the new theme, you need to make sure that you retain all your Website´s functionality. Check your Notes (and Screenshots) that you created in Check 3. If you haven’t done so already, add any and all functionality that you want to bring from the old theme into the new one. Test all features including but not limited to: commenting, single posts, menu items, custom page templates, search box, archives (by category, by month, etc), 404 page, contact forms, and any other custom coding that you added to the functions.php file like for example, if applicable: Breadcrumbs, related posts, pagination, tag clouds, etc.
Also migrate to the new theme any changes that you made to the old theme´s style.css file. Also tweak the design of the new theme (colors, fonts, etc.) by modifying the CSS file (style.css).
Also make sure that your Logo is visible in your new theme.
Check 14. Test Your Theme in Multiple Browsers
Don´t forget to test your new theme for cross-browser compatibility. At least check how your Website renders in major browsers: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, safari and Opera. Make sure that your Website design, layout and functionality is not compromised in major browsers.
Check 15. Validate for HTML, CSS and Accessibility
Validation is the process of checking the code against formal guidelines published by the W3C. If valid code is important to you (and I hope it is), use the tools below to validate. There are many reasons to write valid code as I discussed in my previous post below. I understand that some validation errors and warnings are beyond your control like when you use third-party services or some attributes used in the core WordPress code, but at least fix what you have control of.
Check 16. Timing to Go Live
For the least disruption, it is best to switch to the new theme when there are the least visitors on your Website. Check your analytics, and make the switch at a time when your Website has typically low visitor´s traffic.
Check 17. Inform your Visitors and Improve
Make sure you tell your visitors that you have changed the design. Ask them for feedback. Visitors are viewing your Website from different devices and with different screen resolutions, browsers and setups. By letting your users know, you can expect to get few suggestions. See what improvements they like, and get them done.
How Best to Test Your New WordPress Theme
If you already have daily traffic to your blog, you don’t want your visitors to experience difficulties while theme change is being made. The best way to test your new theme is by either Creating a Theme Viewer as I discussed in details in my tutorial below, or follow the Test Driving WordPress tutorial below. In either case you can test the new theme without any fear or harm.
Your Turn to Talk
The advantage of my checklist is that it keeps you on track and not having to remember everything. By following this 17-step Checklist you can ensure a smooth transition to your new WordPress theme, with less interruption and frustration from your readers. Hopefully this checklist will be useful when you are executing a theme change.
This checklist may not provide a solution to every detail for your specific case, but it should be a good starting point.
Do you have a checklist of your own when switching WordPress themes? Do you think I missed something that I need to add to the checklist? please share your opinion in the comments section below. Your opinion matters, unless it is a Spam.