WordPress is highly customizable to cater any kind of websites. However, that has some adverse impact when you try to change things that was working for years. Changing the theme of WordPress site is one common thing everyone needs to do after few years. We have changed the theme couple of times in past 8 years. Unfortunately, it is not so easy task as you may think. In order to help you have a checklist, here are the things to consider when changing WordPress theme.
Why You Should Consider Changing WordPress Theme?
There are many good and valid reasons for the site owners to consider changing the current theme.
- Get bored with the theme of your WordPress site after few years.
- Some developers, especially free themes, will not update the theme for years making it obsolete.
- You have very old theme that does not have latest design concepts.
- Negative user experience.
- Increasing ad revenue and sales.
- Current theme does not support features that you want to implement.
- Bloated and loading very slow.
Let us explore all the points you should remember before changing WordPress theme.
1. Custom Sidebar
Most of the themes support creating additional sidebars. You can use this additional sidebar on specific categories so that users can get relevant details instead of generic sidebar navigation. However, when changing the theme all these custom sidebars will get deleted and you should ensure your new theme will support creating custom sidebars. At any case, you need to manually create the sidebar after switching to new theme.
2. Sidebar and Footer Widgets
The widgets on your sidebar and footer area will disappear when changing a theme. You should note down the structure and content of your old site before changing the theme. This will help you to recreate the same setup afterwards. Alternatively, you can keep a local copy or a staging site for reference as well as backup purposes.
3. Menus and Logo
As far as we have tested, the menus will be there on the new theme carried from your old theme. However, new theme should support similar menu structure of your old theme. For example, footer menu in your old theme will disappear if you don’t have a footer menu support in new theme. Therefore, remember to check header and footer menus are appearing properly in your new theme. You also need to create a logo with different dimensions to fit on the header area. Ensure to check and create the logo beforehand so that you can quickly upload on your new theme when switching.
4. Theme with Shortcode
If you are using a theme with in-built shortcodes then you are really struck. When you change a theme, all previous theme’s shortcodes will stop working. In most cases, the page can’t load properly without the shortcode support. It depends on the number of pages/posts on your site to evaluate the impact of removing the unused shortcodes. Unfortunately, you should remove unused shortcodes to avoid users seeing them on the live content. We strongly recommend, choosing a theme that does not offer plugin functionalities like shortcodes.
5. Thumbnail Regeneration
The beauty of WordPress themes come with the thumbnail images. Most commercial themes will generate around 10 thumbnails for each image you upload on your site. It includes three thumbnails WordPress generates by default. You will have two tasks to do with thumbnails when changing theme.
- Deleting all old thumbnails – to free up space on the server
- Regenerating thumbnails for your new theme – to create different image sizes for new theme
This is an essential step to load appropriate image size to improve the page loading time. Otherwise, you will be loading the full scale image on small sidebar / footer widget area affecting the page loading time of entire site. Fortunately, you have a single Regenerate Thumbnails plugin for this purpose to delete and create thumbnails on your site. However, the regeneration task is server resource intensive in nature. Therefore, ensure to do batch by batch when you have large number of images to avoid your hosting company take down your site.
6. Template Changes
The good idea is to always use a child theme when you need to modify the theme files. However, this is a tedious task and will not be much useful when you are moving to a new theme. Note down all the custom template changes you have done on the previous theme and ensure to make the changes on your new theme as well. One good option is to use child theme configurator plugin to do the changes easily.
In addition, some of themes use custom post types and blocks for creating lists and viral content. You need to check whether the content is looking good and the layout is not broken after changing the theme.
7. Custom CSS and Scripts
All modern themes come with a custom theme panel. This helps you to easily add Search Console / Webmaster Tools verification codes, insert Google Analytics and insert AdSense ads on different places. All these stuffs will be deleted when you change a theme and you should remember and do them again on new theme. We recommend you verify the domain ownership using DNS method so that you don’t need to worry about the theme change. Similarly, you can use popular plugins to add Analytics and AdSense without using theme panel or modifying theme’s template files.
8. Delete and Regenerate Cache
When you change the theme, first disable the caching plugins and server side caching of your site. Ensure to delete all cached content and change the theme. This will help you to avoid your site loading with previous theme’s CSS and Script files from the server cache. Remember, some plugins like WP Rocket uses critical CSS for each template on your site’s theme. Also, this type of caching plugins have numerous settings like separate cache serving for mobile devices. You should delete the critical CSS, mobile caching and server side varnish caching for your site to work properly with a new theme.
9. Font Settings
Every theme uses its own font settings. If the new theme uses different fonts that will affect the appearance and readability of your entire site. Therefore, ensure to have same or similar font settings and check the readability on different devices.
10. Bundled Plugins
If you have a theme with bundles plugins, then list down the plugins and ensure you have same plugins on your new theme. Otherwise, you should purchase the missing plugins and install to avoid some features not working. One of the best examples is bundled page builder plugins that come with the theme. This is a worst concept affecting reusability and changeability.
- Bundled plugins like WooCommerce, bbPress or WPBakery Page Builder will have custom design with the theme. When you switch to default plugin, it may look completely different and ugly. You may need to manually customize the look if you want to keep your previous layouts with the new theme.
- If the new theme does not come with the plugin, then you should spend additional money to purchase the plugin.
- All the page builder shortcodes will not work with the new theme without the plugin.
After switching to new theme, remember to delete the bundled plugins of your old theme.
11. Check Mobile Compatibility
Modern themes support Google AMP or separate mobile theme for your site. If this is a case, ensure you have equivalent setup in your new theme before switching. Otherwise, it will highly impact your SEO and results in lower traffic due to page not found errors.
12. Backup Database
Many of you think changing a theme is a simple task that you can do directly from admin panel. However, we strongly recommend you download and backup the content before doing any major changes like theme change.
It is easy to switch a theme for smaller sites. However, it is a hill high task for larger sites. You need to first change the theme in testing or staging environment and test the features and appearance thoroughly. In most cases, you will find some problems like broken layout, visible shortcodes on the browser, etc. Try to resolve the issues one by one patiently and create a checklist of all your activities. This will help you when something goes wrong when changing theme in live site. In most cases, you can switch back to old theme to make your site functional like before. At any case, backup your database and restore to previous theme when needed.