While this is not a typical guide, all the information you need
to change the WordPress theme of your site is here.
You only need to jump to this paragraph.
Life is harsh. While some WordPress themes are selling like fresh bread, others are doomed to oblivion. This is natural as the theme market is oversaturated with hundreds or thousands of themes. In fact, only a fraction is worth mentioning and actually surviving as the platform evolves and introduces new features. At the same time, it deprecates others as they become less and less popular.
Did you know that Plethora Themes is one of the long-lasting theme authors in Theme Forest? For more than 8 years, we provide top-notch support to our customers and we strive to maintain the structure and durability of our themes.
The WordPress Team has been working very hard to keep the platform fresh for the past few years. And it has succeeded. Despite the lukewarm acceptance of the new Gutenberg editor, WordPress did not halt its evolution. If you review the changelogs you will be surprised at how much the platform has moved forward. Simultaneously, it maintained backward compatibility, to a -at least- reasonable level, while introducing, among others, a new JQuery library set, and a new widget system. It also extended the customizer to a point that can almost work as a complete site builder. On WordPress version 6.0 which was introduced in late May 2022, one can use the Customizer to create or modify the header and the footer areas. A system once imagined has nearly become reality.
So, what about the themes?
For years, themes were the trump card of WordPress. Being able to create a beautiful website with virtually no programming experience popularized the internet to an extent previously unheard. Of course, WordPress wasn’t the first CMS to have incorporated themes “or templates” as other CMS used to call them, but, certainly is the one that made it really easy to add and configure a theme on a website.
It also made it relatively simple to switch between themes. Although the full-site-builder concept for WordPress will sooner or later become a reality, still there are millions of websites using themes and for years to come, themes will continue to be useful for the average WordPress user. Moreover, the themes will never cease to exist; they are evolving to work along with WordPress into a complete website-building system. Therefore, if you have activated a theme that is out of support or has been withdrawn by its authors, maybe it’s time to move to one that does.
The issues that erupt when you switch to a new WordPress theme (and how to resolve them)
Theoretically, you can change themes to any WordPress site anytime. The platform allows for virtually any configuration. Additionally, you can switch back anytime. In reality, switching back and forth is not a good idea. On each implementation, the site is configured in a specific way. For example, you can have a blog, an e-shop, or a portfolio, which, by design, they have different requirements.
This is where the theme makes the difference. “Niche” themes allow for creating a clean-cut site for a standard type of content. On the other hand, “multipurpose” themes offer additional functionality. Switching between different types of themes might add a little bit (or more) extra work. When changing a theme you need to select one that covers your content. The advantage of using a popular multipurpose theme is the amount of feedback you can find from other users. In contrast, a niche theme will help you on adding and configure the content. Because, more or less, the implementation would be ready to go from the very early stage of production.
Change of the WordPress theme
In most cases, the switch will work out of the box. Except if some functionality is heavily dependent on the previous theme, when you click the activate button on the new one, wait for a few seconds and then visit the site.
The first thing you will notice is the menu has gone. Most themes support their own locations for the menus, therefore, it is almost certain when you make the switch the menus are lost from sight. But don’t worry. Go back to the Dashboard > Appearance > Menus and assign the menus to the new locations and they will appear again.
Depending on the theme and the number of widgets you have activated on the site, you may need to make a re-arrangement. To this day, WordPress is using Blocks for adding widgets and it’s up to the theme where to add the widgets. Most themes support locations and some also allow for assigning widget areas to locations. For better results, check the theme’s options to locate where is the place you need to add a widget. The footer is usually no exception, though, the footer bar which is a feature in many themes, in most cases is a separate setting.
A surprisingly nice side effect that happens when you change a WordPress theme; you can re-evaluate the content. It is a good chance to take a look at the pages and the blog posts. Then, keep only what’s usefull or what you can refresh with a little make-over. And, wipe away what is deprecated or outdated beyond any doubt.
Ok! Let’s Change WordPress Theme
- Step one: keep a full site backup. You can do that inside WordPress with a third-party plugin like Updraft or manually via the hosting panel of your provider.
- Step two: add and activate a Maintenance Plugin. This will hide the site for as long as you are making the changes.
- Step three: go to the Plugins section and deactivate all the plugins that came with the theme you want to move away from. Do this to avoid conflicts of any kind, In most cases, requested plugins share the name of the theme or the publisher. Don’t worry about deactivating an extra plugin. As long as you don’t touch the database, if you activate the plugin again everything will be back on track.
- Step four: add the new theme. WordPress allows for adding themes from the repository or uploading via the browser. We are on the premium side so let’s upload our theme. For numerous reasons we always choose to create and activate the child theme. In most cases, you will not need to create the child theme as it is included with the theme package.
- Step five: activate the new theme (or as mentioned, the child theme). Go to Appearance > Themes and click on Activate. Next, follow the notifications on the top area of the Dashboard to finish the installation. Depending on the theme, you may have multiple options. Some offer much more than you need. Just make sure you activate the necessary ones and then choose anything else according to your needs.
For example, if your pages are designed with WPBakery Page Builder it will only complicate things to install Elementor, even if the theme offers a free version of it. Unless of course, your aim is to completely redesign the site. It’s up to you. Eventually, you may need to install some plugins that the new theme offers, as long as they don’t make a huge impact on the site, go ahead and add them. You can always delete them later.
Clear leftovers after you change the WordPress theme
- Step six: after you made the switch to a new WordPress theme you may notice that certain plugins don’t serve a cause anymore. That’s because they were related to the previous theme. As you may already know, each WordPress theme carries its own plugins. Some of them are unique and they are designed to work only with the theme they came bundled with. More on that, some demos require certain plugins and, after switching to another theme they are simply not needed anymore.
To clear up this mess, start with keeping a backup. In some cases, you may not be able to recognize the relationship between some plugins and the site. Note that, it’s common for the plugin authors to change the brand name of their product. Either they practice new marketing strategies or simply because the plugin had evolved to the point it can do a lot more than it was originally designed. In any case, you need more than the name of the plugin to know if it has an active role in the installation or not. To do so, review their settings. Do they make sense for the current configuration of your site? If they don’t consider keeping them out.
Deactivate all those plugins whose names are directly related to the previous theme. It might be the name of the theme or the author team. Next, check those you suspect are not serving a purpose. Every time you deactivate one, review the site and ensure it is working as expected. If it doesn’t, go back and activate it again.
At the end of this process, you should have a number of deactivated plugins on the list. Do not rush to delete them. You may find out later that one was performing an action you didn’t notice in the first place and the site has lost a specific functionality. Let some time pass and then, when you are completely sure they are useless for the site, go on and wipe them out.
Fine-tune your new theme
- Step seven: at this point, your site should be more or less functioning. Yet, your job is not finished. You may need to make some extra adjustments. The first and most important is the typography. You don’t want your site to run with the default font or even if you like it, you may need to set the weight and the size of it on the paragraphs and the headlines. Then there are colors. A premium theme allows you to choose a color for virtually everything on the screen, although, for convenience, they usually have ready color sets to choose from.
In fact, after you change the WordPress theme you will need to make a number of decisions. If you don’t work with a designer or your fellow designer is too busy to get involved, those decisions are up to you. Think of how a real person is going to visit the site.
Take some time to visit it yourself and I’m sure you’ll run into several issues. Themes are not perfect, some elements may require writing extra CSS to make them look nice. If the site is not in the English language (which is the standard one) translating the theme will take some more time because, unluckily, the previous theme’s translations are not valid for the new one.
Optimize the site
Two more things have been left to finish:
- Review and evaluate the image dimensions: when it comes to images, you may need to process them again. It is not unusual, especially on WooCommerce sites, for the new template to have a different setup for image dimensions. In this case, you will need to regenerate the images.
- Fine-tune the database: changing a WordPress theme on a live site could be an intense procedure for the database. Not only does it affect a whole lotta number of files but also forces the database to make a great number of changes, including adding more tables and deprecating others. While the database size can merely affect the performance of your site, the structure and the content of the database surely will. You don’t need to have a database with tens of tables that serve no purpose. Even for an experienced developer is challenging to clear things.
Thankfully we’ve got WP-Optimize, a plugin that not only can help you clear the database from deprecated writings but also includes a neat caching mechanism. With a few clicks, it can clear and optimize the database of your site absolutely safely. You can’t believe what kind of impact has this action had on the overall performance of your website. Furthermore, it allows for activating page Cache and Minifying the scripts (CSS and JS), making it much easier for the browser to load, resulting in a quicker, performing site. WP-Optimize is an example of a plugin that works out of the box, and also needs little or no intervention from the user. You can also program its functions to work silently in the background. This nifty package comes absolutely free.
Wait a moment; you might not need to change the WordPress theme if…
We came this far by describing the procedure of how to change the WordPress theme on a live website. Before closing let’s see some reasons to not change the WordPress theme on a site and pull through unnecessary work.
- It works well and it looks well. Both the admin area and the public view. This is one of the essential laws of mechanics: if it works, don’t touch it!
- Someone has done a ton of custom work on it. Assuming every work has some cost, you don’t need to through away money. And also, are you sure you can keep the functionality of the site as-is even after switching to another theme?
- You haven’t tested all the layouts your current theme is offering. In some cases, authors offer new features or improve older ones when updating the theme. Check the changelog to see if they have introduced something new you can find useful. Try out all the available options of a theme before trashing it and only proceed if it’s necessary.
- You have neglected to optimize the site. If you think that a new theme will improve the performance of your site just because the online demo is fast, think again. WordPress Theme authors, in order to demonstrate their product more effectively, always use best programming practices on the demos. They also have the absolutely necessary plugins activated. If your website has tens of plugins, a new theme will probably not make a difference. It might as well make things worst.
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My name is Vangelis Chirmpilidis and I’m the author of this post. I am a long-term member of Plethora Themes as a Content Creator and Lead Customer Support Agent. I also contribute to the local WordPress community by participating in Polyglots, WordCamp, and other activities.