What to do before changing your WordPress theme?

Suman Adhikari
Suman Adhikari
Main Dude at WP Dude

If you’re using WordPress then you’ve probably changed themes at least once. If you haven’t done it yet and it’s a first, then even better!

The beauty of WordPress is that it makes theme changes very easy. This can be done (in theory) with just a few mouse clicks. But changing themes under the right conditions requires a minimum of preparation.

In this article, I will offer you  a list of things to do BEFORE changing your WordPress theme . A few essential steps to ensure that the process goes smoothly, otherwise you run the risk of losing some items that you care about without really knowing it..

1. Take notes on your current theme

Many WordPress users surf the web to find solutions to their problems. They regularly find these solutions in the form of small pieces of code ( snippets ) that they add manually in their theme (often in the functions.php). Because these changes were only made once, people tend not to remember them.

So check your theme files and note any extra bits of code you’ve added to them. Don’t forget to check the loading time of your current theme (with Pingdom Tools for example), so you can compare with the new one once it is set up.

Another option to not lose your dear snippets, would be to use MU-Plugins to set once and for all your Custom Post Types, your Taxonomies, your shortcodes, your Analytics tracking or all the other pieces of code not necessarily “updatables” but which will be irretrievably lost in the event of a theme change.

2. Be careful with your sidebars

Sidebar widgets are really easy to use and de facto a large number of users use them to customize WordPress. You will also notice that very often the sidebars are the most personalized area by WordPress users. People make many changes like adding custom texts, images, links, advertisement, etc. If you use a WordPress theme with specific/integrated widgets and you switch to a new theme, you risk losing everything.

Anything you changed in your old theme’s sidebar.php file will be overwritten. Be sure to add these codes to the new sidebar.

3. What about your follow-up?

Most bloggers track their stats whether it’s Google Analytics or another stats service. Many of them don’t use plugins to add the tracking code and modify footer.php file to add the code there. Some premium themes even have a designated place to place AdSense code or banner ads.

Whatever your scenario, be sure to copy and then paste your tracking codes and advertisements into your new theme.

4. Save! Again ! Always !

You never have anything to lose by creating a backup. As a precaution, you should back up all your theme files, plugins, and your database. Even if nothing unpleasant happens, we are never careful enough.

Use your  usual backup system  to create a full copy of your site before any changes.

5. Discreet Maintenance Mode…

You certainly don’t want your readers to see your changes during the migration process. It is therefore preferable to activate a  Maintenance Mode for 15-20 minutes.

Once the maintenance mode is in place, you can calmly proceed to change your theme.

6. Try all your features and Plugins

Once you’ve activated the new theme, you’ll need to make sure your features and plugins are still working. Recall the list of notes you created in step 1. This is where these will come in handy. Check them out and add all the features you want to bring from the old theme to the new one.

Try all these features but also comments, articles, search, 404 page , archive pages, contact, forms, etc. Make sure all your widgets are still there and working. Regarding plugins, make sure that the formatting is in line with the CSS of your new theme.

7. Check compatibility with different browsers

Test your site on all browsers you have access to. Browsers tend to render CSS  in their own way (especially Internet Explorer). Make sure your site looks good in major browsers. Also, if a large part of your readership uses Internet Explorer (God forbid;) then you will need to ensure that your new theme is fully IE compatible.

8. Don’t forget third-party elements

If you use Google AdSense or another advertising network that allows you to format your ads, then don’t forget to (re)personalize them. For example, if your old site was orange, you certainly used orange URL links for AdSense, now that your theme is blue, it will be useful to change the rendering.

The same goes for the Twitter widget, the Facebook “like” button, etc. Adjust these with your new color scheme.

9. What if you let your readers know

Change OK, now turn off maintenance mode and quickly write a post to let your readers know you’ve changed your theme. Don’t forget that you only spent 15-20 minutes checking all the elements of the site, you certainly didn’t see/fix all the bugs. By informing your readers and appealing to them, you can expect to get the most bug reports in the least amount of time.

Ask your readers via Twitter/Facebook to check if the site seems operational to them from their browser. If they say YES to you, then that’s the good news of the day, if they say NO, then please ask them to take a screenshot of the problem, send it to you and all you have to do is ‘to fix…

10. Now we’re cleaning up!

Themes now come with a lot of features. For example, some come with a breadcrumb, others with social sharing buttons, a page builder or even with a native contact form. The concept is simple, get rid of plugins you don’t/no longer need.

Between what is provided by your new brand new theme and some powerful plugins, you will still have to make the right choice or the right sorting to avoid duplicates.

11. Test loading times…

Take care to test the loading times of your old theme (point 1 of this list) and compare them with the new theme installed. If there is a big loss of speed following the installation of the latter, see what you can do to improve the loading time (images, slider, widgets, cache plugins) and make changes (always in small keys) and optimize your WordPress .

12. Watch the bounce rate ^^

After your theme change, don’t forget to monitor your bounce rate. Some themes are simply more user-friendly than others. If your bounce rate has increased significantly compared to the previous theme, then you will have to look into the problem.

To help you do this, don’t hesitate to use widgets, review your various calls to action, your internal navigation and focus on the user experience!

13. Listen to your readers and keep improving!

When a new version appears, (conscientious;) users always have suggestions and/or remarks. They either love one specific feature or hate another. Communicate with your readers using questionnaires or surveys (Facebook for example).

Find out what they would like to see improved, then rework your site to finalize it in the way your readers feel.

And you, do you have a checklist for your theme changes?
If so, please let us know in the comments below…

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