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Switching a WordPress Theme

Switching your WordPress theme: what to expect, and how to get ready

Switching WordPress themes isn’t difficult but it does take a bit of work, especially if your theme has a lot of custom coding or features. Here are a few things to think about before you hit “activate” on that new WordPress theme.

What to expect

  • Your menus will probably disappear
    Don’t worry–they’re still there. You’ll just need to reassign them. After you activate your new theme, go into Appearance / Menus in WordPress, select the menu you want to use, and then choose its location.
  • Widgets will probably deactivate
    Because of the way widgets and themes work together, some of your widgets will transfer over, and some might not. For example, if your old theme came bundled with custom widgets, those probably won’t transfer over. Also, the widgets that do transfer over might not automatically display. Some of your widgets might still be available in Appearance / Widgets under “Inactive Widgets.”
  • Your homepage might disappear
    If you had a theme-specific homepage, that probably won’t transfer to your new theme, so you’ll need to create a new one. Non-custom pages and posts should transfer, but you might need to go in and relink them.
  • You might need to resize images
    While your image and video uploads will still be available under the WordPress media tab, switching themes might affect how they’re sized or displayed. Many themes come with their own sizes for things like featured images and thumbnails. You might need to resize them to get the exact look you want.
  • Theme-specific shortcodes will stop working
    If your old theme relied on shortcodes for things like formatting, styling, buttons, and sliders, that code will break and those lines of code will show up as text in the middle of your content, for example, [video src=”video-source.mp4”]. Delete the code and relink the assets. If your theme relied heavily on shortcodes, you’ll need to work through your pages and posts to restructure your content.

How to get ready

  1. Backup your website
    If you use a plugin to automatically create backups of your site, make sure your last backup covers your latest changes. JetPack, which comes with your Bluehost plan, creates automatic backups of your site. If you aren’t using JetPack, there are other plugin options (UpdraftPlus is the most popular free WordPress backup plugin). Check out this article for more information on how to backup your site.
  2. Copy unique code and tracking codes
    If you manually added any code to your old theme, copy that code and save it so you can add it to your new theme. If you’re using Google analytics, it will automatically transfer. But if you’ve added tracking code to your theme files or in your settings panel, you’ll want to copy all the tracking codes so you can add them to your new theme.
  3. Take screenshots
    Screenshots of your menus (Appearance / Menus) and widgets (Appearance / Widgets) can make it easier to recreate them in your new theme. Just remember—there’s a balance here. Your new theme might have a different layout or new ways to display information. Be open to changing your site, trying new things, and refreshing your layout.
  4. Set up a staging website or put your site on maintenance mode
    A staging website lets you work on your website in a test environment. When it’s ready, you can push your changes live (Bluehost.com offers one-click staging). You can also put your website on maintenance mode. If you do this, visitors won’t be able to access your site, but you will be able to let them know that you’re making changes to your site. You can work on your website without doing either of these things, but if you have traffic hitting your website at those times, visitors might encounter broken links.

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