In this article we explain in very general terms how to switch themes in WordPress. Before you start, it’s important that you have a good understanding of what you’re getting into. Don’t just jump in. Things can go wrong. Prepare yourself.
First of all, replacing a WordPress theme is usually much simper than rebuilding the entire website and it may look simple, but it will take more than a few clicks. By understanding what can possibly go wrong, you will be able to reduce the chances of running into trouble.
We’ve compiled this checklist of essential steps to switching themes in WordPress. This list is not exhaustive. Instead, the list provides a quick summary of the steps involved in switching themes.
How to switch themes in WordPress
1. Remove all unnecessary plugins
Now is as good a time as any to remove any plugins you no longer need. This will simplify the troubleshooting process if anything goes wrong when you activate the new theme. Ongoing maintenance will be easier too, and you may even see a performance boost.
2. Backup all the site files and the database
There are many plugins designed to help with backing up a WordPress website. Some web hosts offer backup services, and there are external services, too. Our favorite backup plugins are BackUpWordPress and Duplicator, but for most sites we use CodeGuard for offsite backups.
3. Put your site into maintenance mode
The easiest way is to use a plugin, such as WP Maintenance Mode.
4. Note any custom coding
Make a plan to test and revise any custom code your website uses. This will ensure that it works with the new theme.
5. Install the new theme, but don’t activate it yet
Instead, use Live Preview to get a sense for which elements of your site will need additional work. The most common are navigation menus and widget areas. For any issues you see, make detailed notes or take screenshots of how each item is set up with the old theme, so you can recreate it after activating the new theme.
6. Check any forms
If you used the old theme to create any forms, take screenshots with the old theme active, then rebuild the forms using a plugin. That way you won’t have to rebuild them again the next time you switch themes. For simple contact forms, the Jetpack Contact Form module may be good enough. For more complex forms, our favorite plugin is Formidable Forms.
7. Check your Google Analytics code
If you used the old theme to insert Google Analytics tracking code, install and configure a suitable plugin instead. We usually use GA Google Analytics.
8. Test Test Test
After activating the new theme, test the entire site on multiple browsers, including mobile devices. When you’re done testing, take the site out of maintenance mode, then ask others to test it, too.
To learn about our WordPress Theme Replacement services, please visit our Website Design and Development Services page.