MAY | 2017
If you have used WordPress, then you have probably switched themes at least once in your life. If you haven’t, and this is your first time, then it is even better. The beauty of WordPress is that it makes it very easy for users to change themes. It is literally few clicks away. But changing themes is much more than simply clicking activate. In this blog, we will provide you with a checklist of things that you MUST do before changing WordPress themes. These steps are critical to making sure the process goes smoothly otherwise you can end up losing elements that you did not mean to lose.
Many WordPress users surf the web to find solutions to their problems. Often they find those solutions in form of snippets that they add manually in their themes such as the functions.php or another file. Because these changes were made once, people have a tendency of not remembering them. Go through your theme files and note down all additional code that you added. You also want to check your current theme’s load time because this way you can compare the two. Go to a site like Pingdom Tools or use YSlow to test out different pages (Yes different pages, not just the homepage).
You must make sure that your new theme is widget-ready. Sidebar widgets are really easy to use therefore a lot of users use it to customize it. We notice that sidebars are probably the most user-customized area of WordPress sites. People make tons of changes such as adding custom texts, images, links, advertisement, and other widgets. If you are using a widget-enabled theme, and you switch to a theme that is not widget-ready, then you will lose all of that. If you are using a widget-enabled WordPress theme, then this is not an issue. Also, anything that you modify in sidebar.php file of your old theme, will be overwritten. So make sure that you add those codes in the new theme sidebar.
Most bloggers use some sort of analytics whether it be Google Analytics or one of the other services. A lot of us don’t use plugins to add the tracking codes. Some of us open the footer.php file and modify the codes. Some of our themes have a spot to place the Adsense code. Whichever one is your case, you want to make sure that you copy and paste your tracking code to your new theme. This is one of the things that is very commonly overlooked by users. Because it is so simple, most of us forget about it.
You never have anything to lose by creating a backup. As a precautionary measure, you should backup all of your theme files, plugins, and the database. Although nothing should happen, you can never be too safe. You can use BackupBuddy to create a full-site Backup for you.
You probably don’t want your users to see while you are making the switch because they will end up seeing a broken site or such. It is best to turn on Maintenance mode for 15 – 20 minutes that it may take you to make sure that everything is working properly. Once you have setup Maintenance mode, you are good to go ahead and activate the new theme.
Once you have the new theme activated, you need to make sure that you retain all the functionality and plugins still work. Remember that good old’ notes list that you created in step 1. This is the time where that can come handy. Go back and add any and all functionality that you want to bring the old theme into the new theme if you haven’t done so already. Try out all the features including but not limited to the commenting process, single post pages, search, 404 page, archive page, contact page etc. Make sure all of your widgets are still there and are working. On the plugin front, you just want to make sure that the formatting is still the same. A lot of plugins utilize your existing styles to display their output. So you probably want to make sure that they still look good with the new theme
Test your site in all browsers you have access to. Browsers have a tendency of rendering things differently. Especially Internet Explorer. You want to make sure that your design looks good in major browsers. Some pretty looking themes have a tendency of breaking in various browsers. So if a lot of your audience is using Internet Explorer, then you want to make sure that it is still accessible to them.
Take the load time numbers that you had on your old theme (from item 1 of this checklist), and compare the two.
After switching themes, you want to make sure that you are monitoring bounce rate. Some themes are just friendlier than others when it comes to navigating the readers around your site. If your bounce rate has increased compared to the previous theme, then you should probably work on that. Add related posts widgets, popular posts widgets, or simply have a better call-to-action for new readers.
When a new design comes out, users always have suggestions. They either love a specific feature or hate a specific feature. Communicate with your audience using surveys or Facebook Polls. See what they would like to see improved, and then work on getting that done.