The Ultimate WordPress Theme Change Checklist!

As I mentioned in the last post, this blog is now powered by the Genesis framework. The Theme installation – although not as difficult or troublesome as WordPress upgrade itself – can still land you in many unforeseen and difficult situations.

For example, I ran into a compatibility issue between WordPress and the Genesis framework based theme as soon as I switched my theme. This post lists a huge number of checkpoints to care about BEFORE and AFTER installing a WordPress theme. It’s a checklist for me as well for any theme change in the future – You might just want to take a print out of this post prior to changing your theme next time.

Before Changing your WordPress Theme…

Selecting a new theme is probably a tougher task than you think. Bloggers usually tend to fall in love with their current theme that they want everything that their current theme supports plus a lot more. In fact, that expectation is not all that bad and let’s starts right there.

#1 Selecting a theme

Please read tips for picking a WordPress theme before proceeding further. In addition, I would do the following five quick checks before deciding on a theme’s quality:

  • Validation: Validate the XHTML compliance of the theme by running the theme demo URL on the W3C Markup Validation Service. I wouldn’t pick a theme that has a lot of validation errors
  • Size check: Save the theme’s demo page as HTML (along with other linked files from the page) using your browser ‘Save as’ option and check the file size (including sub-directories). I personally wouldn’t pick a theme that’s more than 100 or 150KB in size without ad images and thumbnails
  • Performance: A quick way to check whether the theme is fast loading is check the demo site performance on Pingdom tools. Of course, low end theme services may not have a fast hosting service and hence this test is not foolproof. But this will definitely give you an idea about the site performance

Needless to say, you need to verify the theme for basic needs such as widget support, cross browser compatibility, good after sales support etc.

#2 Create a complete backup or your site

This step should include the following:

  • Database backup using phpMyAdmin or other tools
  • Backup of the entire site folders under the WordPress installation directory
  • Take a screenshot of the active plugins via your WordPress dashboard -> Plugins -> Active option
  • Copy – paste all widget code in a text file and save
  • Copy – paste any header – footer scripts or other custom scripts that you might have in another text file
  • Backup any custom CSS that you might have in your current theme that may be still applicable to your new theme (e.g. contact form or archives or social bookmark styling)
#3 Note down Critical wp-options theme data

This is very important and this is what is going to save you if something goes wrong with the new WordPress theme installation.

You have to open your ‘wp-options’ table (using phpMyAdmin or other tools) and note down the values of the following three option_name fields:

  • template
  • stylesheet
  • current_theme

Just in case the new theme failed to render your blog properly (and you can’t access the WP dashboard), all that you have to do to fall back to the old theme by editing the wp_options table. i.e. Restore the above three option values

#4 (Optional) Create a WordPress Local Installation

This is a completely optional step if you want to spend time customizing your theme. However, a local WP setup can be of great help especially when your new theme is a framework based theme such as Genesis or Thesis that requires you to write some custom hooks and code.

If you are doing this step it is important to have the SAME WordPress version as the theme framework requires and your actual site should be upgraded to that WP version as well.

Theme Switching

There are only two things to remember during switching of the theme:

First, NEVER ever activate a theme without previewing it. This can save you from your site (and even the admin dashboard inaccessible) going down unexpectedly.

Second, it is recommended that you deactivate all your plugin and remove all widgets before switching to a new theme. You can later reactivate them one by one and test thoroughly. The widgets code need to be re-added in different locations anyhow.

At this point, if the theme breaks your site, you may refer to the point #3 above to revert the WordPress theme manually back to the old one.

(Move to the next page for our Ultimate WordPress theme change checklist!)

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  1. Ajith, using a plugin like Theme Tester can also be a good option for testing new themes before switching over to the new one.This plugin also keeps the old theme available for users, until we test the new theme compatibility.

    This post has come at the right time.Iam in the process of testing themes for a design change.

  2. Excellent post bro. I was also thinking of writing such a post on my blog. Normally I would prefer a responsive theme (like W3C validation is also necessary. 🙂

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