One of the benefits of WordPress is the ability to change themes as often as you want. You can use themes and plugins to extend the functionality of your website so that you can get the site of your dreams, and with thousands of themes in the WordPress repository and elsewhere, there is practically no limit to the number of themes you can install.

However, before you jump right into changing themes, there are a few crucial steps you need to take to ensure that the whole process runs smoothly and you do not lose vital information on your website.

Take notes about your current theme

When you replace your WordPress theme, a lot of things will likely change, such as appearance, arrangement, and page structure. If there are aspects of your website you don’t want to lose, such as colors, links and navigation elements,  you need to take note of them.

If you made manual changes to the core of your current theme that affect the functionality of your website, you may need to do the same on the new theme. You need to keep track of all the code you added, and any CSS changes, and record your website’s load speed time to compare it with the new theme. Don’t forget a website theme can affect your page load speed and regardless of how much functionality a new theme gives you, you need one that is very fast.

Backup your site

Switching between one WordPress theme and another is a relatively safe and simple process; however, you can never be too safe. “It is always a good idea to have a backup of your website, regardless of how easy or complex the changes you want to carry out are,” suggests Brenden, tech expert at Open Host. “There is the possibility that the theme you want to install may not be compatible with the version of  WordPress you are using, or the plugins installed.”

When there are incompatibility issues, you can experience what is known as the ‘white screen of death’, or you can lose your website completely. If nothing else, having a backup makes you feel more secure, and will reduce the stress associated with carrying out changes on your website.

Don’t forget tracking codes

A lot of website owners use one form of analytics or another to keep track of the performance of their website. While most website owners use plugins to add tracking codes, others manually add the codes in the footer file. Some themes carry provisions for Google Adsense and other types of monetization codes. For others, you need to hardcode it into the theme’s files directly.

Whichever method you use, ensure that you copy and paste these codes into a safe place so that you can use them in your new theme. This is one aspect that most website owners overlook, or totally forget to do.

Go in maintenance mode

Before you move from one theme to another, it is important that you place your website in maintenance mode. You don’t want visitors coming to your website while you are making changes and seeing a broken page. Placing your website on maintenance mode tells visitors that you are carrying out crucial updates on your website and it will be back up in no time. If visitors experience downtime on your website without any logical reason, you will lose credibility.

There are some themes that come with the maintenance mode function inbuilt. However, you may need to install a plugin for this purpose. It is best to send out a note to your subscribers, or put up a site-wide message 20 to 30 minutes before you begin maintenance. Try your best to give an estimate of when work will be finished so that your visitors know what to expect.

Test all functionalities

The most likely reason for changing your WordPress theme is because you want a different feature from what you have already. It naturally follows that after installing and activating the new theme, you should check that everything is working perfectly. Check for broken links, broken images, 404 error pages, and every other aspect of your website’s functionality. After this, you will need to look at the notes you took at the beginning of the process. Add the code that provides the functionalities you had in the old theme that you want to use in the new theme.

You also need to check that all the installed plugins are working properly. If you find that you are having problems with your new theme, deactivating plugins one at a time and refreshing your page will help you identify the culprit plugin.

Test across devices

After confirming that your website is okay on your end, it is vital that you do the same across multiple devices. More visitors access online content via their phones and mobile devices, so you need to make sure that your new theme shows your website properly on those devices.

Apart from testing across all devices, you may need to test across platforms and browsers also. Some themes are cross platform/browser compatible, while others are not. Carrying out this test will let you know if your website will look the same to all your visitors regardless of device or platform.

Update ads and third-party content

If you use digital advertising on your website or have any form of third-party content, bear in mind that these ads and content will appear the same way they were on the old website. If your new theme has a different color or appearance, you will need to update the ads and content to reflect your new display.

For instance, if your old theme gave your website an orange color and your ads had orange links, but now your new theme is green, you may need to change the colors of your ads and content to reflect this new design.

Let your visitors know you are back

Once you are satisfied with your new theme and design, the next step is to go off maintenance mode. However, you may not have caught all the bugs in your new theme, so you need to let your users know about the new change, and tell them to keep a lookout for bugs.

If you are using a premium theme, you can contact the theme developer about any bugs you come across. In some cases, they can take a look at it for free. In other cases, you may need to pay to have these issues fixed.

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James is an experienced senior manager who runs a UK writing company, DailyPosts, with staff around the world. He builds websites across a wide range of niche and currently has over 40 WordPress properties. He is an expert at developing functional requirements for businesses and helping developers turn them into technical specifications to make them a reality.

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