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As human beings, we always crave for something better. Whether you already have an existing website or whether you are starting out afresh, at some point of time, you would definitely feel the urge or want to change the theme of your WordPress website. The reason might vary, such as: to make it more beautiful, aesthetically pleasing or more creative.
Whatever your reason be for switching your theme, I applaud you for taking such a great step for your website or blog. Before you take this crucial step of changing your WordPress theme, there are some extremely important points to consider. If you change your WordPress theme in a haste, it might result in some parts of your website not working properly which may result in inconsistent or bad user experience. I am sure you obviously would not want to take such a risk with your website. You might also be interested in knowing about “Common mistakes people make with their WordPress websites and how to avoid them ?”
So, Here is the list of 17 things you must do before changing WordPress themes:
1. Take Backup before making changes
It is extremely important that before you take any important step in making changes to your website, you should take a backup. If you do not take a backup, before changing to a new theme, it might result in making your website non functional in certain areas.
Taking backup of your current website will help you to be prepared to return the website to its original state in case something wrong happens to the website.
You will need to take backup of:
- All of your theme files
There are two ways to take backup of a WordPress website. One, you can either take it manually via Cpanel. Or, you can take it automatically by using one of the reputed backup plugins such as Updraftplus, Backup buddy from Ithemes, Duplicator Pro etc.
2. Website Load Speed
When you make some changes in your WordPress website, it might result in impacting your website's load speed. Switching your WordPress to a new theme is a big change for your website, so it might impact your website's load speed. To make sure that your website loads up quickly and that it does not become slower with the new theme, you can note the Website load speed before switching and after switching the theme so that you will be able to compare the load speeds.
You can check page load speed for FREE from tools.pingdom.com
The website loading speed should be as low as possible to make the user experience good. It is very important to make sure the user's experience is good otherwise visitors might leave the site. In fact, if you want to know about why customers leave your website, you can check this article to find out.
In case there is a change in the page load speed, i.e if load speed increases after you switch to a new theme, that means some problem might have occurred while switching the theme, so you can then decide to troubleshoot the problem and then fix it.
The above tool (tools.pingdom.com) will give you a detailed analysis regarding which are the areas of your website that are loading quickly and which are the areas that need attention, so it can help you to troubleshoot and fix the issues. In case, you are not that tech savvy with WordPress, you can ask your WordPress developer to fix those issues for you.
Just as an example, I did a sample test for a website on tools.pingdom website. In the below image, you can see that the tool has graded certain areas of website as B and F. The tool further gives more information on how to work on these areas on clicking the down arrow button on the right side.
3. Check Google Pagespeed Insight Scores
Google gives scores to every website with respect to how fast a website is. You can check through their FREE tool how your website performs in the eyes of google. The tool also gives suggestions that you can use to make your web site faster.
Sometimes by changing a WordPress theme, your google page speed scores might drop.
So, it is a good idea to check your score before switching the theme and after switching the theme so that you can rectify in case your desktop or mobile score gets dropped.
Once you get the score, google page speed insights also tells you which are the areas on the website that need improvement.
4. Your new theme source
It is important to check from where you are getting your new theme. The theme should come from a reputable source. Sometimes it happens that people unknowingly download a FREE theme from a website such as a forum or a torrent site, thinking that the theme would be safe. Unfortunately, if the theme is not from a reputable source, it might contain:
- Potential Security issues such as backdoor Trojans due to which your website may get hacked. Trust me, I am saying this from experience since my website did get hacked. If you want to know, here is what happened my website got hacked and how did I recover it. In fact, if you want to avoid any such mistake, you can check out 13 dangerous mistakes people make and get their websites hacked, safeguard your website with these tips now.
- Support problems (You will not get support from developer if you get stuck, since you have not paid for the theme)
If you are using a free theme, only download it from the official WordPress themes directory (https://wordpress.org/themes/ ) and not from any other source. Even if you are downloading a free theme from the official directory, make sure you check these three important metrics before downloading the theme, so that your theme is not vulnerable to attacks:
The theme should be recently updated
It should have good ratings and reviews >3.5
It should have good number of active installations, the more the merrier.
Whether you go for free or premium theme, choose a company that has a proven track record from reputed companies, otherwise you might have to face issues.
When I started my blogging journey on WordPress many years ago, Initially, I used to use free themes and at times I used to download it from websites from internet, not knowing that it might prove harmful. It was only when my website had got hacked that I realized It was a blunder. I was fortunate enough to have restored my website in a few days, but I learnt my lesson from that incident and since then, I have been only using premium themes on my website as well as I recommend using either only free themes from the official WordPress directory or using premium themes from reputable sources.
I have been using The7 theme from themeforest on bitgog.com. There are hundreds of premium theme providers. I am mentioning below some of the most reputed theme sites from where you can look for multiple options depending upon what you need :
- Themeisle WordPress themes
- Templatemonster WordPress themes
- Studiopress Genesis Theme
- Elegant themes
- Thesis DIY (Do it yourself) theme
5. Note down the custom changes made in current theme
A lot of people search internet to find solutions to the problems they face in their WordPress theme or sites. Sometimes, the solution involves making custom changes in wordpress core files such as:
It also happens that some people prefer installing low number of plugins to their WordPress website and prefer to make small changes in the WordPress files instead of installing a plugin that does that particular functionality. In case you had followed any such advice from an online site and had made any custom changes to any of the WordPress core files, you will need to note those changes so that you can copy the changes from previous theme file and then paste those changes in the new theme files, so that your website doesnt break.
Otherwise, if you update the new WordPress theme, those changes might get lost.
A better solution would be to use a theme wherein you do not have to do these changes manually. I have been using The7 theme from themeforest since a long time, the7 theme has a theme options panel that allows you multiple options to make changes in your website without using any coding. Here is a small screenshot of the panel.
6. Maintenance Mode
While you are making a switch to the new theme, users might still be visiting your website. During such time, They should not see a broken theme or a broken website. It is best to turn maintenance mode on your website when you are switching your theme to make sure everything is working smoothly.
You can use any of a good recently updated Free Plugin from the official WordPress plugins directory(https://wordpress.org/plugins/) to do so. For example, you can use either of the below plugins :
7. Preserve Statistics via correct Google analytics tracking
A lot of people prefer to use Google Analytics plugin to measure traffic and conversions on their WordPress site. If you are not using Google Analytics, I would suggest you read this to get to know how it can help you grow your online business. If you do not have much idea about conversions, I would suggest you read about journey of a customer online and how it can help you improve your online marketing efforts.
Some people make changes to the file footer.php and add the tracking code given by google analytics in it. If this is something that you have done, you will need to add the analytics code again since the new theme’s footer.php will not have that code.
Just to give you an example, I read about this in google discussion forums a while back. While configuring google analytics, some people copy pasted the google analytics tracking code in their footer tag. After some months, they updated the theme and forgot to add the analytics tracking code again in the new theme. Hence, they were not able to see any visitors in their google analytics dashboard. That is when they realized, they had made a mistake.
I would recommend using Google analytics plugin to add the code. In such a case, when you change the theme next time, you will not have to worry about editing your theme’s footer.php again
8. RSS Feed pointing to correct feed
A lot of people use Feedburner for configuring wordpress RSS feed. Sometimes, changing to a new theme might cause an error in RSS feeds. If your website has subscribers, update the RSS feed to point to the same feed url. So that all those subscribers who had subscribed will continue to get updated when new posts are created and posted on the site.
Sometimes, there are certain builtin functions in one theme which may or may not be present in your new theme. For example, I am using The7 premium theme and it gives me multiple options to customize my website, See in below screenshot:
Similarly, other premium themes also offer such customization options wherein you do not need to know coding and simply customize your website through those customization options. So, If your theme offers any such options and if you switch to a different theme, then the new theme may or may not have the same options.
You will need to do two things:
- Check for any functionality that was builtin previous theme and is not there in the new theme – You will need to install a plugin that provides this functionality.
- Check for any functionality that was not there in previous theme and is built in the new theme – You can remove the plugins that you were using earlier to provide that functionality.
10. Page Layouts
Some themes provide drag and drop layout functionalities. so that a user does not have to hire a web designer and such that the user can make changes in the layout without the need to make any changes in the code. In case your previous theme had a drag and drop layout and the new theme does not have it, then the layout of pages or posts might appear broken. So, you will need to check if your new theme provides any such functionality, if it doesn't provide this functionality, then you might need to adjust the layout accordingly in the new theme.
Sidebar widgets are fairly simple to customize, therefore a lot of WordPress users make changes to it. People make a lot of changes to sidebars such as adding custom html(hyper text markup language) texts, images, links, widgets.
If your previous theme was a widget-enabled theme and the new theme is not widget-ready, then you will lose the content on the sidebar. If your new theme is a widget-enabled WordPress theme, then this would not a problem.
In case you have made any changes manually to sidebar.php, those changes can be lost once you switch to the new theme. It is important to check regarding this in your existing theme. In case you had made any such changes, then you would need to copy and paste those changes either to sidebar.php of the new theme or to- Sidebar widgets of the new theme
12. Ad Code design
A lot of website owners show ads on their sites by having a tie up with advertisers, so people might showcase ads such as Google Adsense, Buysellads, Outbrain, Taboola etc. Each advertiser has their own set of codes and design. You need to put this item in the checklist so that once you switch the theme, you remember to check that the advertisement looks good on your new theme design and that it doesn’t break on the new design.
13. Post thumbnails
In some themes, this feature is in-built that while you are creating a blog post, you can select the thumbnail image that will appear for that particular post. But in some cases, the first image in the post is automatically displayed as post thumbnail. In some themes, this functionality is not built in the theme and you need to use a plugin to do this. So, you will have to check what type of functionality regarding this is in your current theme vs the new theme.
14. Test Cross Compatibility across multiple device
- Extensively test the new theme on as many devices as possible.
- Test it on your laptop, your mobile phone etc. Also, test on different mobiles using different operating systems. For example test it on an android phone as well as on Apple Iphone, Ipad.
- You can try inviting a few people such as friends and family or even your blog audience to check out your website and test it. Request them to provide feedback to you on the new theme
15. Test Cross Compatibility with multiple browsers
You need to test that your new theme is compatible in multiple browsers so that you do not lose out on any audience because of browser incompatibility.
Test it on most popular browsers such as:
16. Extensive Testing
Make sure you rigorously test your site before going live. Test different sections of your website such as:
- Home Page url
- Post url
- Page url
- Category Pages
After doing extensive testing and rectifying any errors, Once you are sure that your site is working perfectly fine after switching to the new theme, then you can remove the Maintenance mode.
17. Remember to take feedback from your website users
You can keep this in mind that you need to take feedback from your website visitors once you have switched to the new theme. You can ask for feedback and suggestions on the new look from your website visitors audience.
I hope the above 17 points are helpful to you while making the decision to switch your wordpress theme.