In terms of ‘under the hood’ changes, switching your WordPress theme isn’t a big deal. Themes are (or should be) about appearance not functionality.
So let’s just get one thing straight:
Switching WordPress themes will not delete any of your posts, pages, or comments*
* Unless you have the shittiest theme in the world.
That data remains perfectly safe. It’s completely unrelated to how your content is presented.
Now with that out of the way, I’ll walk you through a few things that you want to check up on before you make the big switch.
Be prepared to lose any shortcodes from your theme.
This is actually a wonderful example of why themes shouldn’t have shortcodes at all. You become dependant on them.
Think of it like this:
- The code that creates those shortcodes and makes them work lives in the theme.
- If you deactivate that theme, the code inside that theme isn’t being run at all.
- Therefore, the code that powers those shortcodes is no longer being triggered.
- So the shortcodes will just appear on your page in plain text (like
Now at this point you might be shitting yourself. Maybe you’ve used tons of shortcodes from your theme and you don’t want to lose them all. Maybe you’ll use this as an excuse to not switch themes at all.
Don’t let that happen.
Don’t let the fear of losing shortcodes stop you from switching themes.
This is a problem—yes. But it’s not one that should be avoided. It needs to be tackled head on.
If you avoid this problem, you’ll make yourself a slave to this theme. You’ll be tying yourself to it forever. That’s a bad position to put yourself in.
Go through your old posts and fix the problem. Better now than another two years down the line.
- First, find plugins to replace the shortcodes from your theme. There are tons of plugins that create shortcodes for columns and such. You can surely find one that does buttons and anything else as well.
- Go through your old posts and pages and find any instances where you may have used the theme shortcodes. Replace them with new ones from your plugins, or just remove them completely.
- If going through all posts and pages feels too daunting, prioritize your most important and most popular content. Go through your pages first (since those are likely in your navigation menu), then check out your most popular/visited posts. Those are the most important ones to keep operational and organised.
- Then make a huge note to yourself to not use any shortcodes from themes ever again. That’s plugin territory.
Check to see if any of your widgets are coming from your theme.
Just like with shortcodes, you will lose any widgets that are bundled with your old theme.
Go to Appearance > Widgets and check to see if any of the widgets in your sidebar are from your theme. This might be hard to check, since it’s not always obvious.
- Look for the theme name in the widget’s name. Typically widgets come with some kind of prefix or indicator of where they’re coming from. An example from a theme called “Eliza” might be: “Eliza – About Me Widget”.
- Or, try to work backwards. Make a list of all your widgets that are in use and then figure out where they’re coming from. For example:
Copy any important text widgets.
The one piece of data that can sometimes disappear into the abyss is your configuration of widgets.
- Your widgets can be thrown out of your widget area (since widget areas are made by themes) and placed into a “holding zone”. If this happens, you just need to drag and drop them back into the widget area again when you activate the new theme.
- But sometimes entire widgets can just go poof. Even if it’s a default WordPress widget. Your saved instance of that widget can just disappear. This usually doesn’t happen, but I have seen it once or twice.
#2 is the main one you want to be prepared for. It’s easy enough to drag a new “Search Widget” into your sidebar, but what about Text widgets that might have tons of custom content?
If you have any that you CANNOT LOSE, just copy them down and save them in a text document. That way you have backups if necessary.
Put your site into maintenance mode.
A lot of themes have a bit of a set up process. You may need to configure new pages, play with the settings panel, and so on. It’s helpful if you take your site ‘offline’ during this process so you can get everything ready privately.
To do this, you can use a plugin like Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode. This will make it so anyone not logged into your site (like all your readers) will see a maintenance page. But you (when logged in) will see everything going on behind the scenes.
Ready… set… go!
With all your preparation in place, you’re free to make the big switch!
Looking for a new theme?
Try out Tweak Me v2. It’s my most popular theme, with over 150 different customization options. It even comes with five ready-made designs bundled into the theme for you to use as a starting point.