So you’ve come to us because you believe your website has outgrown its current theme and would benefit from a new look with some new features. The good news is that working with WordPress themes is a lot of fun. They are customizable, allowing you to change your website’s look and feel quickly.
However, because themes have become increasingly complex and tailored to specific websites, such as eCommerce stores, they cannot be seamlessly swapped for one another. You will need to do some digging if you want to safely switch from one WordPress theme to another. After all, your active theme is so ingrained in the functionality of your site that any change has the potential to break it.
Changing themes without opening the door for errors and without losing website content can take a little longer than simply clicking the Activate button. However, by following a few simple procedures, you can ensure that your site continues to function normally after the switch, and this is what we’re about to discuss.
So, let’s get right into it!
What you need to do BEFORE changing a WordPress theme
While changing a theme is a matter of a few mouse clicks, you should take some precautions before proceeding.
We recommend you go through the following checklist to ensure that your WordPress theme change goes smoothly and that you don’t lose any critical data.
Step 1: Make a complete backup of your site.
Before making any changes to your WordPress themes, you must back up all of your files. This is only a precautionary measure, as changing themes does not automatically result in losing your entire website, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
You can back up your files in two ways. You can either use a plugin or manually back up your files.
Plugins like Updraft Plus and BackupBuddy automatically back up your website’s plugins, database, themes, content, and other files. In addition, backup plugins will typically store your backup files off-site in a secure location, so you won’t have to worry about anyone hacking into your data.
You may also consider doing manual backups if you have a large website. Here’s how to backup manually.
- Log in to your website’s admin panel. Your control panel is through your website hosting provider.
- Select one of the following options: “FTP access,” “FTP settings,” “FTP account,” or “FTP users.”
- Log in and copy the files to be backed up from the correct directory. This is accomplished by entering “ftp:/yourwebsite.com” into a different browser. You’d put your website’s name where it says “your website.”
- Return to the control panel and launch “phpMyAdmin.”
- Select your database. If you only have one website, it should be the only one.
- Export the database. A database export option should be available at this point.
Once exported, you’ll have a manual backup of your site as it was at the time of the export.
Step 2: Copy the snippets from your current theme.
Some WordPress users like to customize their website by adding code snippets to their theme’s functions.php file. Unfortunately, people usually forget about these changes because they were made only once.
If you or your web developer made these changes, go through your current theme files and note all the extra code you’ve previously added. This will allow you to include them later in the functions.php file of your new theme or a site-specific WordPress plugin.
Step 3: Copy your website data tracking.
Some users directly add analytics tracking code to their theme files. WordPress themes also allow you to enter Adsense or Analytics code into their settings panel. When you switch themes, however, that information is lost, and your website will no longer be tracked in Google Analytics.
If this is where your Google Analytics code is, make a note of it somewhere, you’ll remember so you can paste it back into your new website theme’s footer.php files.
Step 4: Keep your website in Maintenance mode.
You don’t want users to see a broken site if they land on your website while transitioning to your new theme. Therefore, we recommend enabling a maintenance mode during the time you will be making the switch. There are numerous maintenance mode plugins to choose from.
For this purpose, we recommend using the SeedProd plugin. It’s a well-known WordPress plugin that lets you easily create beautiful coming soon and maintenance mode pages for your website.
To enable maintenance mode, use SeedProd’s free version. A Premium version is also available, which includes pre-built templates, advanced customization features, and email marketing tool integrations. Install and activate the SeedProd plugin to keep your site in maintenance mode. Simply go to Plugins → Add New, then Install and Activate.
Step 5: Test load time and compatibility with major browsers.
Before changing your theme, you should check your website’s load time to quickly compare the differences in page load time after making changes to your website. You can do so using a WordPress speed testing tool like IsItWP, a free speed testing tool.
Remember that WordPress speed is essential to user experience and SEO, so make sure your new theme is faster than your old one. You should also test your new website theme in all major browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, and Opera Browser.
So, assuming you’ve done everything we’ve just mentioned, let’s look at what you need to do next.
How to install a WordPress theme
Following the preceding precautions, the next step is to install a theme for your website. There are thousands of free and paid WordPress themes to choose from. But you’re reading this article which means you’ve likely found a good theme for your website’s needs.
If you haven’t, however, already chosen a theme, we highly recommend the following ones:
Colibri is a free multi-purpose theme that gives you much design control, unlike most free WordPress themes. As a result, Colibri is among the top 20 most popular WordPress themes.
We recommend you install the Colibri page builder during the theme installation and activation process. This builder will enhance the theme’s Customizer by adding many powerful features and allowing you to create Colibri sites by dragging and dropping.
Here’s what we like about Colibri:
- 90+ free and premium template sites for a wide range of niches. Whether you start from scratch or use a predesigned template, you can easily customize it until it is pixel-perfect.
- 150+ predefined blocks that you can modify as you see fit. Some examples are blocks, features, services, teams, testimonials, portfolios, contact blocks, etc.
- 40+ drag-and-drop components for creating ultimately custom blocks or customizing existing ones;
- Editing a website from header to footer in a single interface;
- Mobile responsiveness;
- Simple and intuitive user interface.
Mesmerize is a free multi-purpose theme that can quickly create a website. It is one of the best customization options (video background, slideshow background, gradient overlays, etc.).
Here’s what we like about Mesmerize:
- It has a lot of content blocks that you can put on a page and combine to make the perfect presentation;
- Mesmerize provides a plethora of header customization options (which are critical in capturing users’ attention);
- The theme allows you to differentiate between front-page navigation, inner-page navigation, and mobile navigation;
- Mesmerize is mobile responsive and looks good on mobile and tablet devices.
Elevate is a free WordPress theme that was released in late 2021. Unlike most of the themes presented in this article, it is block-based, which means you will customize it within the Default WordPress Editor. The other themes are compatible with the WordPress Customizer.
There are two primary methods for customizing websites in WordPress:
- Using the Customizer – as Colibri, Mesmerize, Astra, and other older and popular themes do;
- Using the Default Editor, aka Block Editor, aka Gutenberg Editor. In 2018, this new experience became the norm. However, the knowledge is still fundamental, so products like Kubio were created to level it up and give WordPress users more control over their designs.
What’s great about it is that it suggests installing Kubio while it’s activated. Kubio is a fantastic website builder that will add unique features to the Elevate theme.
Here’s what we like about the Elevate & Kubio combo:
- Designer-made starter sites;
- 170+ ready-made sections are divided into various categories: team, clients, portfolio, and features.
- 50+ completely customizable blocks Drag and drop blocks like headers, tabs, accordions, sliders, carousels, and many more, then customize them in the upgraded Block Editor.
- Font sizes can be specified in PX, REM, or EM.
- To make websites that are easy to remember, use shape dividers, overlays, section overlaps, and parallax.
- You can create your color palette and use it throughout the site.
- Responsiveness on mobile devices. You can customize the colors, backgrounds, text, and spacing across desktop, tablet, and mobile devices.
- Live preview;
- Full-site editing refers to the ability to edit an entire website in a single interface rather than having to return to the WordPress dashboard to make the header, footer, sidebar, and other changes.
After you’ve decided on a theme, you must install it on your WordPress site. You can install a WordPress theme using any of the three methods listed below:
- Using the WordPress theme search option;
- Uploading a theme from your WordPress Dashboard;
- Installing a theme using FTP.
How to switch WordPress themes without going live
You’re ready to switch once you’ve installed your new theme!
However, testing a theme before implementing it on your live website is always advisable. This allows you to test the compatibility of the new theme with your existing plugins and ensure that everything works as expected.
There are two methods for changing your WordPress theme without going live:
1.Change your WordPress theme using the Live Preview option.
WordPress, by default, allows you to preview a theme on your website without changing it. To do so, navigate to Appearance » Themes in your admin panel’s left sidebar.
This page displays all of the themes that have been installed on your site. To preview a theme, move your mouse over it and click the Live Preview button. The live preview lets you see how the new theme will look on your website before activating it, but it is limited. Furthermore, the live preview will not prevent any code conflicts.
2. Change your WordPress theme using the Theme Switcha plugin.
And, since there is a plugin for everything in WordPress, it stands to reason that there is one for changing WordPress themes. You can use Theme Switcha to test your themes on the front end of your site while the active theme is displayed to visitors. This plugin has a few more features, but we’ll concentrate on the theme-switching capabilities for this article.
You must first install and activate this free plugin. Navigate to Plugins → Add New and click Install and Activate. Then, navigate your admin panel’s left sidebar to Settings → Theme Switcha.
On the Settings page, check the “Enable theme switching” box and then scroll down to the bottom of the page to click Save Changes.
At the bottom of this page, this plugin will now display all of your installed themes. Click on your new theme to view it in a new tab of your web browser.
How to change your theme on Live Site
After you’ve tested your new theme, you can begin changing the theme on your WordPress site. To do so, navigate to Appearance → Themes in the WordPress admin panel’s left sidebar.
To change the WordPress theme, hover the mouse cursor over the theme you want to use and then click the Activate button on this page. That’s all there is to it. You can now view the new theme by visiting your website’s homepage.
What you need to do AFTER changing the theme
After changing the theme on your website, you must complete the following tasks before exiting maintenance mode:
Test your website.
First, ensure that all functionalities, plugins, and widgets are operational. You should also test your website and inspect various elements such as posts, comments, images, and contact forms.
Don’t forget to check cross-browser compatibility as well. Certain things are displayed differently by different browsers.
To ensure your website looks good in all major browsers, test it in multiple browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.
Add your tracking code.
You should add your analytics and Adsense tracking code to your site after you’ve tested the features and cross-browser compatibility.
To add the Google Analytics tracking code, use the MonsterInsights plugin. This lets you properly configure analytics and view detailed website statistics directly from your WordPress dashboard.
Turn off Maintenance Mode.
You can make your site live by turning off the maintenance mode. For example, if using the SeedProd plugin, go to SeedProd → Pages in your WordPress dashboard and toggle the maintenance mode to ‘Inactive.’
Test loading time & bounce rate.
Some tools allow you to measure your website’s loading times by observing how long it takes for its pages to load. Pingdom Tools is one of our favorites because it’s simple and offers multiple test server locations. Enter the URL of the page you want to test and select a server to use Pingdom Tools. There are four servers to choose from, including two in the United States.
Because most popular hosting providers have data centers in the United States, you may see better results when using those servers. However, it would help if you also ran tests on the Australian and Swedish test servers to understand better how quickly your site will load for users in those countries.
It’s also important to note that you should keep an eye on your site’s bounce rate after switching themes. If your new theme is unfriendly and difficult to use, it may increase your site’s bounce rate.
You can include related posts, a popular posts widget, and breadcrumbs to reduce bounce rates and increase page views.
Ask for feedback.
And, perhaps most importantly, user feedback. Request feedback from your users on how to improve the design of your website. You can use survey forms or an online poll to collect user feedback.
You can use an email marketing service to share the new design with your subscribers and solicit feedback. This will help you get ideas on what they would like to see improved.
Things to check out on your website once you switched themes.
Besides testing your website and adding tracking codes, there are still quite a few things to keep an eye on, such as:
Certain website design elements are critical and directly impact visitor engagement and user experience. Here are the top few you should look at as soon as the theme change is finished:
- Homepage: Is the right page being displayed as the homepage? Some themes have dedicated homepages outside the WordPress page hierarchy, so you must specify which one is the correct homepage. For example, if the old theme had a custom homepage, it would be saved in Page drafts, and the new theme’s default homepage will appear instead.
- Menu: Menus may need to be recreated if they have vanished. First, examine each of the links to ensure that they function correctly. Also, double-check that all of the links from the previous theme are still visible. Some may have vanished due to design constraints, for example.
- Custom CSS: Custom CSS is code snippets inserted into the site theme to alter the website’s appearance in addition to the underlying theme. It is a simple method for making bulk changes to templates. This is one of the things that will not be carried over automatically to the new theme because custom CSS is theme-specific. In any case, given that you’ve just deleted the old music and replaced it with a new one, you should consider whether you need the custom CSS in the new theme.
- User experience: One of the most noticeable differences between themes is the user experience. Although most pieces now display correctly across browsers, this is not always the case. The ability for a site to render correctly on different screen sizes is a cornerstone of modern web design. Check the site’s loading time as well. Has the installation of the new theme impacted load times? Speed is essential in SEO; as a general rule, you want the new theme to load faster than the previous one. In addition, it enhances the user experience.
- Other elements: Posts, comment sections, images, pages, forms, and so on must all be checked for consistency.
Errors that may occur when switching WordPress themes
In our experience, several things can go wrong with newly installed WordPress themes. Here is a list of potential errors:
- The new theme imposes its own layout, causing your existing layout to break;
- The theme is incompatible with an installed plugin;
- The theme is inconsistent with the current PHP version;
- Custom widgets are removed;
- The navigation menu may lose links without warning.
- Contact forms have stopped working;
- Sections within pages may break;
- Any shortcodes added by your previous theme are removed;
- Errors in schema data.
This list is not fully comprehensive, but it gives you an idea of the mistakes to avoid. That is why it is critical to install a theme on a staging site first and resolve any issues before making changes to your live site.
And there you have it! After you’ve taken steps to prepare and protect your website, changing your theme isn’t as intimidating or scary anymore. People frequently outgrow their site themes and want to replace them, and WordPress themes are excellent ways to give your website a facelift without starting from scratch.
We hope this step-by-step guide will assist you in changing your WordPress theme quickly. Now off you go to get it done!
Gabriella is a Content Marketer with a zeal for all-things WordPress. When she's not writing and editing upcoming articles, you can find her hiking with her four-legged buddy.