How to change a WordPress Theme in 2021.

Time for a theme update?

Wanna learn how to change your WordPress theme quickly and efficiently, without losing anything important?

In this easy to follow WordPress tutorial, we’ll walk you through how to change your WordPress theme step by step.

We’ll look at some important things you need to know about changing themes, what to do before you get started, how to test out themes before going live and how to install your new theme (without having a mental breakdown).

Caffeined up and ready to get stuck in?

Then let’s do this.

Good to know before you get started.

There is no such thing a seamless theme change.

Changing themes is always going to involve some work.

wordpress theme dashboard

You will lose all of your customizer settings, so be prepared to redo those, as well as your header/footer settings and widget locations.

You’re probably going to need to rearrange content, move around menus and/or sliders and remove or replace certain elements (like the colour for example) that might be specific to your current theme.

But the good news is, that if you follow the advice in this guide you will minimise the amount of work and stress involved in updating to your new theme.

The “before you change themes” checklist.

The biggest worry when changing themes is that you will lose your precious content or somehow wreck your site.

Here’s what you need to do to protect all your hard work and avoid stress when changing themes:

1. Do a full backup.

backup wordpress


This is a no brainer.

Backup before you start, and you can always return to your original site if something doesn’t go well or if you just don’t like the changes.

The easiest way to Backup your WordPress site is to use a plugin.

There are several good ones to choose from, and most will backup your entire site including content, plugins and databases.

Updraftplus, Vaultpress, and Backupbuddy all have good reputations and great reviews.

2. Identify any features that are tied to your current theme.

Some WordPress themes have specific features built-in.

If your current theme has any such “locked-in” features, like social sharing features, a portfolio or a proprietary page builder, for example, you will lose access to those features when you switch.

Before you change your theme then, it’s a good idea to find out what features (if any) are tied to your current theme and to look for alternatives to those features.

Widgets and shortcodes (little pieces of code that allow your website to perform certain functions) can often be theme specific. So, you will need to check for those.

You can find out what features came with your theme by looking at the sale page. Check out the examples below, which show the sale page and list of features for the Co-Porlio theme:

co porlio theme

As you can see, the list of features tied to a theme can be quite extensive.

If your current theme relies on custom widgets or shortcodes, whatever abilities they granted will disappear once you switch.

However, in most cases, you’ll probably find that you can achieve the same results that you are getting from the theme-specific feature(s) by simply using an appropriate plugin instead.

3. Test your load time.



Load time is extremely important for SEO.

Ideally, you want your site to load up either at the same speed or faster after you’ve updated.

You can test your website speed with Pingdom here.

Don’t just test your home page, check some of the other main pages too for a thorough comparison.

4. Save any custom coding.

custom coding

Have you or your developer made any changes to the code?

If so, you’ll need to copy and paste the modified sections of code so that you can add them again once your new theme is installed.

Once copied and saved, modified code can then simply be added to the functions.php file for your new theme.

5. Save any tracking codes.

Some WordPress users add tracking codes to theme files.

To avoid messing up your analytics, make sure that you check whether your tracking codes are embedded directly into your theme files.

You won’t need to worry about this if you are using Google analytics and you installed it via a plugin like Monsterinsights or if you are using the insert headers and footers plugin.

Decide if you want to create a staging site.

A staging site is a replica of your existing site that you can use as a basis for offline experimentation.

You don’t need to do this, as you can just put your site into maintenance mode, create a brand new one and import/export content via a plugin, or make live changes (not for the fainthearted!).

But having a staging site does allow you to safely play around and get a full feel for the changes. The easiest way to set one up is to use a plugin like the ones below:

staging plugins


How to change your theme.

Step 1 – Install a new theme.

From the dashboard, select Appearance, Themes and Add New:

add new theme wordpress

You can also search for a theme name and select install:

install theme wordpress

If you have bought a premium theme, use the Upload Themes option at the top to upload your ZIP file:

upload theme

Don’t hit activate yet! You’ll want to preview it first!

Step 2 – Use the WordPress Customizer to preview changes.

The WordPress Customizer is a cool feature that allows you to look at and tinker with the new theme a bit.

The customizer shows you exactly what your live website will look like so you can see how your new theme gels with your content and tidy up any menus or widget placement. 

To use this tool, first go to the main dashboard and select Appearance, then Customize:

customize theme

Once you hit the blue button to customise a theme, you will see a live preview of the theme you are already using now with this menu on the left:

ocean wp theme

Go ahead and click “change”, then select the live preview option for your new theme.

live preview theme

It might take a minute or 2 to load, but you’ll soon see your unique live preview with your shiny new theme complete with options to make changes:

customize themes

From here, you can see and play around with the individual pages and even each of the blog posts on your site.

Basically, you can preview what the whole site is going to look like and identify any minor placement issues that need sorting.

Pretty cool huh?

Step 3 – activate your new theme.

Once you’ve reviewed all the changes and corrected any menu placement or widget issues you might have, you should now be ready to make the switchover.

If you’re happy with the new theme, that means it’s time for the final step -yey!

If for any reason you’re not happy with the new theme, then you can follow the steps in this guide and use the customizer to preview any theme you like.

You don’t even have to have a theme installed as there is an option when you’re browsing themes to preview any theme, just change from “installed themes” to “ themes”:

wordpress themes

Once you’re sure you’re ready, go ahead and hit that activate and publish button on the top left of the WordPress Customizer page!

Voila! Your theme is now changed!

Well done!

Final thoughts.

While some fully loaded, feature-packed themes can be tempting, the process of changing themes is often made more difficult if you’re using a feature-rich theme.

If you want to simplify the theme changing process in the future, it might be best to opt for a more general theme that does not have a lot of “locked-in” features.

A theme with no “locked-in” features that can accommodate a wide range of plugins (like Astra, Generate Press or Ocean WP) will give you far more flexibility and should save you time and trouble next time you want an update.

I hope that you found this tutorial useful and that you managed to change your theme without too much hassle.

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