6 Essential Steps to Change a WordPress Theme Safely

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The visual appearance of your WordPress site is controlled by a WordPress theme. If you want to change theme for your WordPress site, there are 6 essential steps you should follow in order to change it safely. Remember, one wrong change can lead to site malfunction. By changing theme, most of your regular site elements will remain the same, including:

  •  Your posts and pages
  • Any core WordPress settings such as a static homepage
  • Basic site information such as your site name and description
  • Any plugins that you are using as long as they are not tied to your current theme

However, if you are using any functionality that is unique to your theme, rather than part of a plugin or the core WordPress software, you will probably lose those things when changing themes.

Step 1: Take notes on your current theme

Many WordPress users add custom code snippets manually in their theme. Since these changes were made once, people forget them easily. Before you change theme, you should go through your theme files and note down all additional code that you added. You may also check your current theme’s loading time using Pingdom tools and compare it with your new theme.

Step 2: Select a new WordPress theme

When you choose a theme, always ensure that the new themes have all the functionality you need and that it is compatible with your current setup. Otherwise, unwanted problems will arise. There are thousands of free and paid WordPress themes that you can install on your site. Free themes are available for download in https://wordpress.org/themes. If you are looking for paid WordPress themes, you can check out popular premium theme marketplaces such as ThemeForest, Elegant Themes, etc.

Step 3: Backup your website

Changing the appearance of your whole website is a major step. We highly recommend that you create a complete backup of your site, including all of your theme files, plugins and database before making any changes. If something goes wrong, you can restore your site to its last working state easily. Website backups can be done manually or by using plugins like BackupBuddy. You can also ask your hosting providers to backup your website if needed.

Step 4: Clone your website

The next step is to clone your website for testing purposes. It is also known as a staging site, where you can test out any alterations without affecting your real site. The public cannot access to your staging site unless you push it to live server.

Step 5: Install and test the new theme on the clone website

Now you can turn on logging and install the new theme on your staging site. Once you have the new theme activated, you need to make sure that all the functionality and plugins you retain still work.

Check out the notes you have marked in step 1. Go back and add all functionality that you want to bring from the old theme into the new theme if you haven’t done yet. Enable WP_DEBUG to help you list the issues with your theme. Go through each of your webpages, plugins and 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. It is also a good idea to check on different browsers as websites act differently on different browsers. Browse your staging site on mobile phones as well to make sure the new theme is rendering correctly in mobile devices.

Step 6: Install the new theme on your live website

If you are 100% satisfied with the change in the staging site, you can either move the staging site to the live site, or simply install the new theme on your live site directly. When you do so, do not forget to enable maintenance mode, which can tell your visitors about the change ahead of time.

If you want to learn how to install WordPress themes, you may take a look at our knowledgebase.