Have you been using a WordPress theme for a while and need to switch? Here’s what you need to know.
Changing themes in WordPress is just a few clicks away. But you need to take care of certain things before changing the theme to avoid any trouble afterward. This includes backing up the website, checking up on widgets, shortcodes, posts, and pages.
In this article, we are going to explain how themes work and why changing your WordPress theme can be a bit tricky.
Then we’ll talk about how to change themes in WordPress. We’ll also provide a step-by-step guide you can follow to change your WordPress theme without losing content.
Why changing WordPress themes is a delicate process
Your WordPress theme controls the look and feel of your website. It is the front end of your website and directly impacts the user experience.
The WordPress theme library has thousands of themes listed and there are thousands of premium themes listed in many other marketplaces.
Almost every theme has different layouts and different elements designed for a certain purpose.
Most users stick with a particular theme for quite a long time. This is because changing it is a significant undertaking that takes planning and preparation.
The more features of a theme you use on your website, the more work you are going to need to do when changing the theme.
Some of the significant effects of changing the WordPress theme include:
- A change in website design, including navigation bar, widgets, and site layout
- Adapting shortcodes and theme-specific widgets
- Migrating meta tags on your web pages if you didn’t use a plugin
- Changes in theme-specific blocks used to build your WordPress website
- Changes in custom CSS
- Missing design elements specific to your current theme
In the following section, we are going to take you through a series of steps that you should follow before, during, and after changing your WordPress theme.
Things to do before you change WordPress themes
We recommend performing all these tasks before you change your WordPress theme.
Note your loading speed
A new WordPress theme might introduce different features that change your website loading speed. Depending on the type of theme, you might see an increase or decrease in page load speed after switching.
It’s always a good idea to check the page load speed before you change WordPress theme so you can compare the difference.
We also suggest checking our article on the speeding up WordPress sites.
Copy your code snippets
If you have customized theme files by adding code snippets to your functions.php file, you need to check if they are specific to your theme or need to be transferred to the new theme from the old theme.
We tend to add code changes pretty early on so they can be easy to forget.
We recommend using child theme for this very reason and recommend their use if you’re changing your theme.
Check your blocks
You can use the default Gutenberg editor in most themes. However, certain themes like Divi or Avada come with a built-in editor that is attached to the theme.
Certain elements that are unique to those specific page builders may not transfer properly when you switch the theme so will need careful planning before you switch.
If you are using any such themes that come with their own editor, you can use software like Nelio Unlocker to help you migrate. Nelio Unlocker helps you make any content or design built with a bespoke block editor incompatible with the default WordPress block editor.
Take note of your widgets
Widgets are important assets for WordPress websites. They might include social links, subscription forms, advertisements, or simple text. Widgets can occupy sidebars or the footer.
If you plan to keep the widgets at the same place after switching themes, take note of them and their positions. After switching, you can return them to their respective places.
Take a backup of your WordPress website
While you will not lose the content, it is always a good practice to take a full website backup before you make any serious changes. This ensures that you can always revert back to the original with minimal effort if anything goes wrong.
You can either take a backup manually or use a WordPress Backup Plugin to make things easier.
Set up a staging site or migrate to a local host
Once you take a complete backup of your website, we recommend changing the theme using a staging environment or deploying the site in localhost.
A staging site is a clone of your website where you can perform the changes and test them out without going live.
Most backup and migration plugins provide staging features. Many web hosting service providers also provide staging environments for WordPress websites.
In SiteGround, you can easily create a staging copy of your website using the site tools.
- Go to Site Tools from your SiteGround dashboard.
- Next go to WordPress → Staging → Create New Staging Copy.
- Fill in the Staging Name and click Create.
You can deploy and test your theme on the staging site. Or with a tool like Local, you can also create a copy of the WordPress website on your localhost.
Using either of the methods ensures that your original site remains safe while you perform all necessary changes to your cloned website.
How to change themes in WordPress without going live
If you followed our advice, you will first change your WordPress theme in the staging environment. Then you can move it to live if everything goes to plan.
In this tutorial we are going to change our current theme with Astra.
In order to do that, go to Appearance → Themes → Add New
Search for the Astra theme and select Install and Activate.
If you have purchased a premium theme you can choose the Upload Theme option and choose the theme file to upload.
You don’t need to upload the entire folder, just the themename.zip file. Your theme should upload to WordPress and appear in your list of available themes.
When uploaded, select Install and then Activate.
How to preview your new WordPress theme
Once installed, you can switch to your new theme immediately. However, you might prefer to see how the theme would look like before activating it.
This will give you an idea about the major design changes and let you check the compatibility of the new theme with your website before it goes live.
Once the theme is installed go to Appearance → Themes → Select the Live Preview in the new theme.
This opens the WordPress theme customizer in which you can test and customize the new theme. All without actually going live.
How to make your WordPress theme live
Once the theme is installed and you are happy with the preview, you can activate the theme to complete the process.
Things to do after changing your WordPress theme
Before you migrate your new theme to a live site, you need to take care of a few things to have a seamless experience.
Add the necessary customization
Once activated, you need to add the necessary widgets and customize your website appearance in your brand colors.
To do this, visit Appearance → Customize.
Here you can change your menus, customize the header and footer, or change the layout.
For example, if the new design has a different layout or shape, you may need to adjust content blocks so they fit. You may also need to adapt headings, calls to action, images, and other elements so they work with your new layout.
Recheck your menus
Sometimes the new theme may change your menu structure. Although WordPress takes care of it most of the time, in certain cases you may face the issue of rearranged navigation menus.
To edit and reassign your menus, visit Appearance → Menus.
You can change the menu by selecting the menu from the drop-down at the top. Then change your header, footer, and any menu that you use in your WordPress Website.
In the Menu Settings option at the bottom, you can assign the location of the menu you like.
Next, you need to reassign the widgets in your new theme. You can add new widgets or reinstate your old widgets in the same locations.
Changing the theme does not delete your existing widgets but they may not appear correctly on the frontend until you reinstate them.
To add widgets, go to Appearance → Menus and select the widget location.
From here you can add or remove your widgets and decide their appropriate locations. WordPress will try to keep the widget settings the same most of the time, but depending on the theme, you might need to take this step.
Redesign the content layout
Although the content of your website will mostly stay unchanged, the layout is controlled by the new WordPress theme.
In this case, you can edit the page-level settings of your blog posts and dynamic content.
For example, you might not want sidebars on blog pages or need a full-width section in the page content.
If you are using Astra, you can change these settings easily by navigating to Astra Settings on every page or post.
You can also change the settings for all your posts, pages, or products, by using the Astra Bulk Edit plugin.
Add schema markup if necessary
Check if your new theme supports the schema markup language. After installing the theme, visit the Google Rich Results Test website to check whether your website supports schema after changing the theme.
If it does, you will see the message, “Page is eligible for rich results” message in the results.
If your WordPress theme does not support schema, you can add it manually.
Follow our detailed guide on how to add structured data to your website.
Remove any unnecessary plugins
Many premium themes come with an inbuilt functionality that might not require the help of certain plugins. Once the theme is installed, you may see that some of your plugins are no longer required.
Unused plugins add unnecessary load to your website and can impact your page load speed.
We suggest removing all plugins that you don’t need to reduce the server load.
Add custom codes and snippets
Before changing the theme, you might have copied the tracking codes or custom CSS codes into a separate file. Now is the time to add those old snippets of codes back into the theme.
For codes that are not related to your theme, we recommend using a third-party plugin such as the free WP Code plugin. That way, you can store all your snippets on the website itself.
Check the functionality of your website
Before you make your website live, you need to test all the different functions of your website. Try changing the screen width of your browser and see how well it adapts to different screen sizes.
You should also check your website through incognito mode and test everything there too.
Some of the important functions include contact forms, subscription forms, pop-ups, blog comments, add to cart, and purchase buttons on eCommerce websites.
Also, verify third-party services like Google Analytics and Facebook Pixel are working properly through their respective dashboards.
Test every element of your website. Test navigation, sliders, widgets, test everything. Only when you are satisfied that everything looks and works as intended should you proceed.
Push your staging website or Localhost website to live
Once you’re happy with your new theme, it’s time to make it public.
If you use a staging site, you need to push the staging site to live. Here, you will be replacing your existing site with the site you created in the staging environment.
The process of migrating from staging site to live site might differ based on the hosting provider or the backup and staging plugin that you used to create the site.
Here’s how you push the staging website to live in SiteGround.
- Go to your Site Tools → WordPress → Staging.
- Here you will see the staging websites that you have created. If you are happy with the staging site, you can choose Full Deploy.
If you created the website in localhost, you need to migrate it to the live site. In this case, you need to take a backup of your website on your computer and upload it into your live site.
Here is how:
- Install the All-in-one WP Migration plugin on your local WordPress install.
- Click on “Create Backup” to save your WordPress website in the supported format.
- Install the same plugin on your live website.
- Go to WordPress Admin Panel → All-in-One WP Migration → Import.
- Drag and drop the backed-up file to your live website.
Best multipurpose WordPress themes
Multipurpose themes come with versatile WordPress templates that you can use to build websites on any niche you want. They are highly customizable and easy to use.
Here are our top 7 recommendations.
Astra is a beautiful and powerful WordPress theme that is perfect for creating business websites, portfolios, eCommerce, and blogs. It has powered more than a million websites so far and its popularity is growing continuously as the number of WordPress users keeps increasing.
One of the best features of Astra is that it can be fully customized by any page builder. This versatility makes Astra the most user-friendly theme. It has 150+ ready-made website templates built with Elementor, Beaver Builder, Brizy, and Gutenberg. You can find a template on pretty much any niche and import any type of website with the click of a button.
Astra comes with Schema Markup and Native AMP ready. This ensures that all major SEO requirements of your site are taken care of. Astra websites have the potential to rank very well among all search engines.
StudioPress themes are trusted by over 200,000 users and are lightweight and multipurpose themes. They are a group of themes under the umbrella of StudioPress, powered by the powerful Genesis Framework. All themes listed under StudioPress bunch of high-performing and SEO-friendly themes. They are beautifully designed are mobile-friendly.
The Genesis framework is the builder through which you can customize any of the themes. These themes are designed for many niches that include eCommerce, business, blogs, education, lifestyle food and drinks, and many more.
They are trusted by over 200,000 users and come with a good support team.
Divi is a multipurpose theme that comes with a drag-and-drop page builder. You can actually build any type of website you want with this intuitive builder. It comes with 200+ completely designed layouts that you can use in pretty much any niche. You can also create your own layout from scratch.
Divi is a completely mobile responsive theme with beautiful designs and functionality. It works very well for business websites that want to showcase their services in an elegant way.
Read more: How to style Divi forms
Jupiter has a massive library of 450+ readymade templates on various niches. Once installed, you can import any of these templates with the click of a button. The theme is highly compatible with elementor and the templates are built with elementor as well.
The theme comes with unlimited header and footer options. Being so compatible with elementor, it lets you customize each and every aspect of its design.
The Ultra theme comes with 42 premade themes targeting specific categories. All the templates are beautifully designed. Ultra uses the Themify WordPress page builder. You can use this builder to customize the design of your website.
You can choose to either install one of the themes from their library or build your website as per your custom design.
Read more: How to use custom forms in Themify Ultra
Hestia WordPress theme has a modern slick material design. It is a fast and elegant theme. Developed by Themeisle, it is built for its good looks and performance.
Hestia Pro works with all popular page builders including Elementor, Divi Builder, Gutenberg, Brizy and Visual Composer. You can also use one of its many premade layouts to design your own website.
OceanWP is a highly customizable theme with 150+ demo templates that you can import. It works seamlessly with any page builder and maintains good performance. It comes with multiple add-on plugins that you can use to build your website. Some of the popular ones are Sticky Headers, Popup Login, and Elementor Widgets.
Change your WordPress theme today
Are you ready to change your WordPress theme yet?
Although changing a WordPress theme might seem like a simple task, it’s not. Especially if your site contains a lot of customizations.
In this article, we have outlined the best possible methods to use before, during, and after changing your WordPress theme.
The additional effort that you take here ensures that your switch is successful with all your major settings intact.
For the best website performance, we recommend using Astra theme. It is a lightweight and flexible theme, suited for all sorts of websites.
Have you changed your WordPress theme lately? Switched to Astra? Have any tips or tricks to share when migrating to a new theme? Share your thoughts below!
Sujay is CEO and Co-Founder of Brainstorm Force, the company behind Astra. He is a diehard entrepreneur, father of a daughter, and a YouTube addict. Get in touch with him on Twitter @sujaypawar.