Recently, I changed a theme on my blog for what could be the 10th time in this blog’s existence… Perks of being a web designer, huh? Anyhow, in the process of it, I realized that there really is a lack of helpful content regarding how to prepare for and change WordPress theme. So let’s look into that!
This blog post will be the perfect fit for those who already have self-hosted WordPress websites but you’re looking forward to changing the theme of your site.
If you don’t have a self-hosted WordPress site just yet, start with this simple 5 step guide to set up your website!
Table of Contents
Two ways to change WordPress theme
Before we dive into it, let me warn you that there are TWO different ways how you can redesign your website and, therefore, also two different ways how to prepare for and change WordPress theme.
(1) The safest option is to create a completely new website (new WordPress installation), install a theme there, then export the content from your existing website and import it in the new install.
- You can take as much time as you need to set up your new theme. It is especially great for those who don’t have as much experience or understanding of what they’re doing.
- It’s safer. You won’t be losing any content along the way – you can even save the old website later on. You can easily import/export all of your content whenever you’re ready. As well as take a step back when necessary.
- You can take as much time as you need to set up your new theme. Yes, you read it right. It’s also a con. I’ve seen in my own experience – if I know what I want and how to do it, it’s a lot more effective if I pressure myself to get it done ASAP, instead of changing it all slowly. Because slowly can turn into never!
- You’ll have to reinstall all of the plugins and re-do all of the setup. Website description, settings, all e-mail marketing plugins, any safety setups. EVERYTHING.
- Sometimes when the theme is being changed, your export files might not work for it as good. I mean, you’ll still be able to import everything but your old files might not align with your new theme so you’ll need to re-do many small details. For example, for one import – none of my Media files were correct for the new theme so I had to upload all of my blog’s images again (+ find and recreate them where necessary). It was a whole lotta mess and one of the main reasons why now I’ll be reviewing the second option.
(2) Install the new theme on your existing content. This means that you just install and activate a new theme on your live website and your website will be a bit of a mess until you set it all up.
- All of your settings and installations will stay active. All of the plugins, descriptions, etc. It’s #1 reason why I chose to go with this option.
- You won’t need to export/import your blog content, it’ll all be there and, most likely, there won’t be any issues since it’ll automatically align to the new theme.
- It’s an unnecessary pressure for starters. If you have no idea what you’re doing or the whole theme change makes you a bit nervous, don’t do it this way.
- Unless you redirect or pause your website, all and any changes will be visible by anyone who visits. It’s not that important if your blog hasn’t got that many visitors yet. But if you have a big traffic and you rely on your website working properly at all times, make sure to choose the first option instead!
How to change WordPress theme
In this article, I will be reviewing changing a WordPress theme in the second case – when you decide to install the new theme on your existing content.
Anyhow, the tips provided will also be helpful for those who prefer any other method.
Choose this install option if:
- You want your change to be QUICK
- You’re ready to spare a day or, at least, a few hours to set it all up properly
- You’re not scared what your readers/followers might think after seeing a bit of a mess on your blog (a quick fact: usually, it’s just an hour of a complete mess and doesn’t matter as much)
- You do have a previous experience with WordPress theme setup
- (or) Your website is really new and nothing special has happened on it yet
Let’s get started, shall we?
The process of WordPress theme change, step by step
STEP #1 Find, purchase and download your new theme
First of all, you should prepare your new theme to make sure it’s ready for the install.
Here are some more resources you might find helpful:
STEP #2 Export all of your existing content
Just for the sake of it, create a backup for all of your existing content.
To do this, go to Settings > Export and Export all of the options TOGETHER and also, do the separate export for Posts + Media. Especially if that’s the most important part of your website (like it was for me).
Once you’ve done the export, make sure to review the files, name them correctly and store properly.
WordPress export creates very generic file names so make sure you understand what’s in each file before you move any further.
STEP #3 Understand the (possible) damage
There are several things that could be somewhat damaged/get lost when the new theme is exported.
Usually, this doesn’t happen and the new theme only ADDS new files, not deletes old ones. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If possible, write down all the plugins you’re actively using and any other systems that might need a double-check after the new install is in place.
This would include any redirections and subdomains, e-mail optins, landing pages, sidebars, widgets and similar features.
STEP #4 Install the new theme
First, you’ll need to download a ZIP file of your theme. Usually, this can be done in the site you purchased the theme, sometimes you might get it in your email.
Once you have a ZIP file with your theme, log into your WordPress and on the left Menu panel choose Appearance > Themes.
On top of the page, you’ll see “Add New” button and on the next page there’ll be another button “Upload Theme”. Go ahead and upload your ZIP file there.
Once the upload will be finished, you’ll get a notification of successfully uploaded theme.
To finalize the process, make sure to follow the notifications. Many themes will request for you to Install and Activate new plugins before you can start editing.
STEP #5 Install new theme’s demo content
Different themes have a different way to set up a theme’s Demo content. To get the exact instructions, you should check the theme’s documentation.
However, usually, you can find the Demo install nearby theme’s title on your Menu Panel.
Demo content is the design as you saw it in the promo photos of the theme. Basically, Demo content is a “dummy text” and stock photos laid out in a website.
I’ve always used Demo contents setup to get started with. It allows you to delete all the unnecessary content afterward but, at least, you have a clear skeleton of the page and there is no need to built it all from zero.
That’s what WordPress themes are for so make sure to install Demo content before getting started.
A typical rookie mistake is skipping this step.
STEP #6 Exchange new theme’s demo content for your own content
This is the most time-consuming part!
Once you install new theme’s demo content, you’ll have an additional website’s content that is not necessary:
- New blog posts
- New images
- New pages
- Anything alike
Therefore, the part where you actually have to act the fastest is the exchange of the demo content to your own content.
Don’t just delete it all (!!!!!!). But do make sure your content is placed in the demo contents location.
On a Homepage, you might have a list of recent blog posts AND a special feature for posts of a specific category. Once I installed this theme, there were Latest Posts, as well as Lifestyle and Fashion categories. I changed Lifestyle feature to Online Income and Fashion – to Blogging tips. So now on the Homepage, I have Latest posts and MY categories, instead of Demo contents samples
(It’s just an example, it’s not the layout I decided to use).
STEP #7 Delete Demo content
Now, once you’ve made all of the changes, it’s time to delete Demo content.
Once again, be careful. Don’t use the option to Uninstall Demo since it will mess up with your layout!!!
Instead, delete each Demo’s blog post in your Posts page;
Delete Demo’s Media files in your Media folder;
Delete Demo’s newly created Pages that you might not need.
Step by step and instead of the Demo content you’ll have your own content and the page will be ready!
Where to go from there?!
Once you’ve done the most important setup and your website looks, at least, reasonable, you can start tweaking and updating each specific page.
Obviously, this is worth a completely another post.
The most important tip from me is to RELAX. No interrupted website is the end of the world. Even if something is not working at first or is taking a bit too much of your time, relax, take a deep breath and make sure to check theme’s Documentation.