How to Change a WordPress Theme ‒ A Step-by-Step Guide + How It Can Help

With 75% of visitors judging a brand’s credibility based on its company website’s design, it’s important to create a visually appealing site from the get-go. Fortunately, changing the appearance of a WordPress site only requires installing a theme ‒ a collection of files responsible for a website’s look and feel.

There are plenty of free and premium WordPress themes available in the official theme directory and various marketplaces. Those with a tight budget can opt for a free WordPress theme, while performance-oriented users may want to look for a theme built with speed in mind.

This article will show you how to change WordPress themes along with the prerequisites for the process. We will also explore different issues that switching themes can solve.

Video Tutorial on Choosing a WordPress Theme

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Before Changing Your Theme

Before changing your WordPress theme, make sure to save the following data from the old theme:

  • Code snippets ‒ include all the code that isn’t part of your plugins or the core WordPress software. Alternatively, install a code snippet plugin to keep track of the existing code in a few clicks.
  • Google Analytics tracking code ‒ this practice is particularly important if you’ve added analytics code to the current theme. Otherwise, you won’t be able to track your site’s performance after changing themes.
  • Sidebar and widget content ‒ each theme has different sidebar and widget areas, so changing WordPress themes can mess up their visibility or positioning. This step includes making notes of any custom code previously added to these areas.
  • Website backup filebacking up your WordPress site is not necessary if you’re working in a staging environment.

Additionally, check your website’s current load speed and performance to ensure the new theme performs better than the previous one.

Pro Tip

We recommend testing the new theme in a staging environment before installing it on a live site. Besides providing space for trial and error, a WordPress staging site lets you discover and solve critical errors without risking the live site’s functionality.

4 Steps to Change a WordPress Theme

Once you’ve taken care of the prerequisites, follow this step-by-step guide to change your WordPress theme.

Step 1. Enable Maintenance Mode

Putting WordPress in maintenance mode tells site visitors that the website is unavailable due to ongoing maintenance. This status helps preserve your brand’s credibility during the transition, especially if the changes make a couple of the features non-functional. 

The easiest way to do it is by using a plugin like WP Maintenance Mode. Alternatively, create a maintenance mode page with a landing page builder plugin or enable maintenance mode from your web host control panel. These methods do not require coding.

Pro Tip

If you choose to change themes using a staging site, feel free to skip this step.

Step 2. Install the New WordPress Theme

This tutorial applies to installing free themes available on the WordPress theme directory. To install a premium theme, you’ll need to upload the theme files manually.

  1. Navigate to Appearance -> Themes from your WordPress dashboard. Click on the Add New button at the top of the page.
The Add New button at the top of the WordPress Themes page.
  1. Find your desired theme using the WordPress theme search option.
The Search themes option to find your desired WordPress theme.
  1. Another way to narrow down your options is by using the Feature Filter function. Press Apply Filters after specifying the criteria.
The Feature Filter function to help you choose a WordPress theme.
  1. Hover over the chosen theme and select Install.
The Install button.

Step 3. Preview and Activate Your Theme

After the installation process is complete, you’ll see Live Preview and Activate buttons when you hover over the theme.

Clicking Live Preview will open the theme in the WordPress theme customizer, allowing you to preview how the website will look with it. To use the theme right away, select the Activate button.

The Activate and Live Preview buttons.

Pro Tip

Switch between your installed themes by navigating to Appearance -> Themes from your WordPress admin panel.

Step 4. Fix Errors and Re-Add the Custom Code Snippets

Since the new theme will be free of modifications, you’ll need to restore all the data, custom code, and settings from the previous theme. The following checklist will ensure you do all the necessary setup before pushing the changes site live.

  • Code ‒ add code snippets, theme-specific shortcodes, tracking code, and sidebar content. The layout of the sidebars might also change, so check and re-adjust the positioning of widgets accordingly.
  • Pages ‒ check and re-adjust the layout and formatting of the widget areas across the WordPress site.
  • Favicon ‒ make sure the favicon is working properly. Otherwise, re-add it via the WordPress customizer.
  • Schema markup ‒ if you used a plugin to add and manage the data, the theme transition shouldn’t affect the schema markup. Otherwise, you’ll need to re-configure the new theme manually.
  • Plugins ‒ since some themes come with pre-installed plugins and theme-specific features, you’ll want to ensure they don’t clash with your existing plugins.
  • Website content ‒ changing themes shouldn’t affect the site’s existing content, but you should still make sure everything is in its place.
  • Cache ‒ open your WordPress website in several browsers and clear the cache. Doing so will flush out any static files of the site before the theme change, ensuring a good user experience once it goes live.

Pro Tip

If you tested the new WordPress theme without going live, remember to copy the staging site to the main website and then push it live.

What Problems Can Changing Your Theme Solve?

Installing new WordPress themes can give more than just a new look for your site. This method is also effective for solving the following problems:

  • Outdated design ‒ more new themes with newer designs populate the marketplace today, allowing you to keep up with the latest UX trends and maintain a fresh look across the entire site.
  • Theme limitations ‒ your currently installed theme may not have the functionality the site needs, calling for a new WordPress theme. 
  • Slow loading time ‒ installing an optimized WordPress theme can improve the site’s speed and performance.
  • Security concerns ‒ switching from a nulled theme to a licensed one is a great practice to secure your WordPress website. Avoid nulled themes as they often contain malicious code that creates vulnerabilities upon installation.
  • Incompatibility with WordPress and PHP version ‒ if updating the active theme doesn’t solve compatibility issues, WordPress users are encouraged to switch to a theme that’s compatible with their current updated WordPress and PHP version.

Conclusion

Sticking with the same WordPress theme for an extended period may be simple, but switching to a new theme will bring many benefits to your site. Besides giving your site a fresh look, a new theme can solve a number of problems and provide your site with new functionality.

For instance, changing your WordPress theme can optimize your site’s performance. Make sure to also optimize your site speed by using a high-quality WordPress hosting plan.

We hope this article has helped you understand how to change your WordPress theme properly. Good luck.

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Jordana Alexandrea

Jordana is a Digital Content Writer at Hostinger. With her Information System and website development knowledge, she aims to help aspiring developers and enterpreneurs build their technical skills. During her free time, she travels and dabbles in freestyle writing.