5 steps to take before changing your WordPress theme

If you’ve ever run a WordPress site for longer than a year or two, you know there comes a time when you feel like you need a change. Sometimes you’re just tired of looking at the same layout day after day. Other times, the design itself becomes outdated (flash intros, anyone?) and change is necessitated by evolving sensibilities or functionality.

Making the switch is a relatively straight-forward process, but there are five steps you should take before changing your WordPress theme. Here’s our guide for anyone out there itching for a change.

1. Decide which aspects of your current theme you want to keep

Before you begin thinking about your shiny new theme, make a list of everything you like and want to keep from your current theme. Often, people have made on-the-fly changes to their site’s .php files and forgotten about them, so you should review your current theme’s code and note all the additional bits that have been added.

2. Create a backup copy

Backing up your site should be standard practice, but it’s especially important before making any major changes. If you’re not already using a favourite backup plugin, grab the latest version of BackupBuddy, VaultPress or Updraft Plus, and install it on your site — right now. Once your new theme is running, don’t forget to schedule regular automatic backups so that your site files are always protected.

3. Put your site in maintenance mode

Think of maintenance mode as the velvet curtain you pull over your site while you get it prepped it for its grand debut. Depending on your site’s complexity, getting it up and running could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. The last thing you want is for visitors to glimpse your half-finished, broken-down site before it’s ready.

WordPress offers a boatload of maintenance mode plugins that allow you to display a customized splash page explaining what’s going on and when you expect to be back online. When everything’s just so, you can pull back the curtain and bask in the glory of your brand new theme.

4. Run some tests

Once you’ve activated your new theme, it’s important to check that everything is working as intended. Test all the functionality of your site, including plugins, menus, sidebars and links. If you’ve installed any third party items, such as ads, widgets or buttons, you can also adjust the display colours and sizes so that they integrate seamlessly with your new theme.

Different browsers and devices render theme designs differently, so test your new theme for compatibility. Your site metrics can tell you how your audience is accessing your site. At a minimum, you should check to see that you’ve got the top browsers covered.

5. Tell your users about your new look and functionality

Even though it will probably be abundantly clear to anyone familiar with your site, it’s a good idea to let people know about your new look. Tell them about any new features and ask for feedback. Write a blog post, send a newsletter, or simply invite your Facebook followers to check out the new site. They’re gonna love it. Change is good.

PSA: As of Sept. 29, 2017, you can no longer purchase themes from this website. We will continue to provide limited support, including bug fixes and security updates, until March 31, 2018. Thank you for everything. We'll miss you dearly.