As a WordPress user, you’re probably more or less familiar with switching themes, but in case you’re not, this article will do a better job for you.
Changing themes is the most beautiful part of using WordPress, and it’s designed to be executed with few clicks so that even beginners won’t have a problem doing it. However, there is a checklist of critical steps one has to perform before changing the theme, and failing to do them may lead to an unresponsive site or losing elements that are crucial to it.
Let’s see which are the key steps to do before switching to another theme:
Create a checklist of features that need to stay on the website
Taking notes on the website is essential, so think about it. Decide which widgets, colors, links or menus are indispensable, and try to imagine them in the new navigation structure. Remember that you don’t have to change the basics if you are satisfied with them, but a few extra ideas for improvement won’t do harm.
Another thing to take care of is functionality, because the two themes may not have the same plugins, and you will probably have to add or remove few of them.
Nowadays, it doesn’t even take that much creativity to come up with ideas. In fact, most users turn to the web to discover solutions, and they learn how to add/remove files manually. The thing is that you shouldn’t forget about the changes you’ve made, and you need to update the site regularly. Therefore, keep track of the additional codes you’ve included, and check the loading time in order to compare. You can test your pages using software like GTmetrix, Pingdom Tools, etc.
Backup is always a great idea
Of course, switching themes on WordPress isn’t that risky because the system allows you to go back to your old theme whenever you want, but backup is still a good bet because you never know when things can go wrong. Certain backup services, such as CodeGuard, do backup automatically, and you can even use their dashboard to save content on demand. Or you can use the backup option of your theme, if it has one enabled, like The Core.
If nothing else, back up will make you feel better, and will reduce the stress of performing huge changes on the website.
Check the tracking codes multiple times before you launch the new theme, either on Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools. You will need the codes to evaluate your performance, track the conversion rates, or simply view data to understand how the website is doing.
Take care of sidebars
The new theme has to be packed with all necessary widgets, which makes sidebars ones of the most important elements you need to customize. Actually, that’s where you get most customization freedom, and you can do hundreds of changes on images, text, colors, advertising, etc. If your theme is already widget-enabled, but you want to switch to one that is not, you’re about to lose the widgets, and you will have to install them yourself.
The easiest way to do modifications is overwriting the sidebar.php file, and adding all the necessary codes inside.
Keep RSS feeds up-to-date
RSS feeds are critical for websites that do subscription, and in case you change the theme without updating them, subscribers won’t be notified about your new posts. You could also ask them to add new RSS feeds, but it’s much better to automate the change, instead of losing subscribers because they don’t have time to do it.
Test the theme
When we say the theme, we mean everything that is related to that theme. You can ask any person in your surroundings to help you do it, or even potential users. You need to see how the website is going to function when used, and how potential users are going to respond to it. This is especially important when running a new beta theme, where everything needs to be adapted accordingly. Keep notes of what you’ve noticed, and use this information to prepare a product’s manual.
Go on maintenance mode
Depending on the type of website you’re running, you can build a maintenance mechanism that is very simple or very complex, and you can use it spending either a couple of hours or few days. Place the website in maintenance mode while you’re modifying it, because otherwise it will appear broken to your users. There are many plugins you could use for the purpose, but the most popular ones are Maintenance Mode, Rocket Maintenance Mode, Coming Soon and WordPress maintenance mode.
Test the plugins too
In case you’ve decided to keep the old plugins in the new theme, you have to check whether they are fully functional. You can use the notes you’ve made prior to switching the themes to see the exact portion of functionality you wanted to maintain and to check whether it’s still there. Among the features you should definitely check are posting pages, the 404 page, the search filter, the commenting fields, the contact page, the archive, etc. Once you confirm all plugins are functional, go live.
Another thing to keep in mind is to check formatting, and whether it can still be performed in the same manner. Most of the plugins rely on existing styles to expose their outputs, and you will, therefore, need to check only their appearance.
Test the theme on various devices
Users will check your website on the go, and you need to make sure that your content is accessible from all types of devices they may be using. Perform the testing on as many devices as you can, and ask users to review the theme. Having a mobile-friendly theme is a guarantee that bounce rates won’t increase, or at least that you will keep current users on board.
Update the ads
If you’re using Google AdSense or similar advertising forms, keep in mind that ads will remain the same as they used to be on the old blog and that you need to update them. Work on the colors to make them look more professional.
Final thoughts: Don’t keep the secret
If you’re making a change, let users know! Inform them that the website needs to go down for maintenance, and predict a date when it will be on again. In such way, they won’t be confused when they can’t access it, or even surprised when they see the new looks. Make sure to perform all the above action before switching to your new theme to prevent any disruptions or potential damages to your website.