With the launch of my new themes, I’ve received quite a few questions about how to properly switch WordPress themes. The process can seem scary. Often, when people have changed themes in the past, they were either just starting out or did a transfer, so the process itself seemed more frightening than what it entailed.
Content: Before You Begin
With my custom work clients, I spend a few weeks cleaning up content. When people DIY their blog design, they often skip this process. Unfortunately, rebranding is the perfect time to improve your past content!
When most bloggers started, they tried different things for pages, categories, and even posts! As they grew their blog, those things stayed but never got updated to reflect what they’ve learned.
- Update your blog categories and tags. I’ve written pretty extensively on blog organization since it can influence your page views significantly. Check out these posts before you update your categories and tags:
- Update and clean up your pages.
- Delete any pages that are not currently active. Redirect anything that you potentially linked. For example, did you have three different variations of a Recipe Box page? You only need one, redirect the others. Useful post: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding WordPress Redirects
- Update your page content. For most of my clients, they created pages that were not SEO optimized, so they go back to these pages to add more content, headings, and links. You might find these post helpful:
- Clean Up Blog Posts
- Update your YOAST scores to make sure that posts receive greens in both SEO and Spelling & Grammar. If you have hundreds or thousands of posts, I recommend focusing on your last 30 days of posts and then your most successful posts in the last year. Useful post: Yoast SEO for Your Blog Posts and Pages
- Add updated affiliate widgets to your most favorite posts. When you are updating your most popular posts, you want to make sure all the affiliate widgets and links are up-to-date so that you are receiving the full monetization from them!
- Reshoot anything that warrants reshooting. Several of my food blogging clients are reshooting old content to reflect their new photography style. If their permalink structure does not include a date, then they are republishing this content as well!
- Remove Any Additional Styling. Bloggers will change fonts/colors in the post from time to time. This practice is awful for a cohesive brand presence and design. Using the eraser tool in the visual editor, you can quickly remove this extra styling!
Assessing Your Current Theme
Once your content is ready, it’s time to evaluate your current theme. Personally, I like to put my notes in a Word Document, and put any files, backups in a folder with that document. I take screenshots of the current theme, especially certain features that are important – sidebars, menus, etc.
- Note Google Analytics: Do you have it setup through your theme or plugin? If it is set up through a theme, you need to make sure you set it up with your new theme. Also, note the day and time when you have the lowest engagement. You want to perform your install on this day.
- Double check your RSS feed. What’s your main link? Feedly? Bloglovin? All WordPress sites have a generic feed at yourdomain.com/feed, but I like to promote Feedly and Bloglovin since they are popular blog readers.
- Assess your plugins. Which plugins are you actively using? Which ones are questionable? If you have any inactive plugins, delete those. You can download a backup of your plugins folder using the FTP.
- Conduct a reader survey. Even before you start the design process, find out what your readers prefer about your existing design and content. Identify what they want to see more of, as well!
- Test Loading Time. Assess how quickly your site loads with your old theme. You want to compare it with your new theme to make sure you are improving on site speed!
Back-Up Your Site
Once your content is ready to go, and you’ve assessed your site, backup everything – not just content. Vaultpress is my go-to for WordPress backups. It’s $39/year price is well worth it! I’ve used it for years with no issues. I have had clients in the past use free backup plugins only to realize too late that the plugins were not backing up their content.
Installing a Theme from a Zip File
Before you are ready to install your theme, I recommend setting up a Coming Soon Landing Page. This way, you can launch your new site when you are ready. Setting up the theme might only take no more than 10 minutes, but you don’t want your readers to see that process.
If you purchase one of my themes, you will receive an email with a zip file in it. This zip file is a general one, and not for the theme. Once you open up the zip file, you will see another zip, favicon image, and pin it button image. This zip file is your theme file.
- Go to APPEARANCE < THEMES. Select the ADD NEW button at the top of the screen.
- Click on UPLOAD THEME button at the top of the screen. The theme upload form will appear. Simply click on the CHOOSE FILE BUTTON, and locate the zip file on your computer.
- Once you have selected the zip file, press INSTALL NOW. WordPress will upload the zip archive from your computer to your website.
- Once installed, it’s time to activate and apply it! Go to APPEARANCES < THEMES, select the ACTIVATE button over the theme you just installed. Now the theme is activated!
- At this point, I also like to make sure that if the theme has any recommended plugins, I install them. Go to APPEARANCES < INSTALL PLUGINS.
Setting Up and Customizing Your Theme
Now that your theme is activated, it’s time to set it up to your blog needs. If you took the preparatory steps with your content, then this process should go pretty quickly. You will only be focusing on setting up your Menus, Widgets, and Theme-specific customizations.
- Menus: I like to set up the menus first. It’s usually easy to do. Under APPEARANCE < MENUS, create a menu for each menu location in the theme. In my themes, there are multiple menus, but each comes with the standard four – Primary, Footer, Mobile, and Social. Social Menu is the one with the social media icons. You can reach more about WordPress Menus here or check out the theme-specific documentation on menus.
- Widgets: Each of my themes come with StudioLMH specific widgets: About (ideal for profile picture), social media, category, popular, and recipe box. These are optional to use, but they designed specifically for the theme. I recommend the Popular and Category Posts widgets since they update with new posts, adding dynamic content to your site. Useful Posts: 5 Things Your Blog Sidebar Can’t Live Without and How to Use WordPress Widgets and Widget Areas.
- Customizer: In my themes, the customizer is where you can change colors and turn features on/off. Once I have the menus and widget areas setup, I like to make the customizations. If I do this stage before, then I often have to return to it. It makes more sense to do this step last. If I know my brand colors, I often keep those handy, so I can easily copy and paste them into the customizer tool.
- Additional Scripts: Before I remove the coming soon page, I install any extra scripts to the theme, such as Google Analytics codes and affiliate network scripts. In my themes, you can do this under EXTRA SCRIPTS.
- Once everything is setup, I remove the landing page. If I’m launching a new (re)brand, then I follow these steps to promote the launch!
You might also like How to Install WordPress Plugins and How to Start an Awesome WordPress Blog from Scratch!
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