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How to choose and change a theme

Choosing a theme

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Choosing a theme can be overwhelming from the number of choices out there. A few things to consider are:
  • Make sure the theme is responsive, meaning it automatically adapts to different screen sizes. With the huge increase in mobile usage, themes should look great on cell phones, tablets and desktop devices
  • Free isn’t necessarily better or worse than paid. See what features it offers. If it needs work to set up is support included?
  • Narrow down the selection by thinking about features you want. Do you want a large logo? Single columns or two or three? Do you want built-in eCommerce support?
  • Is there a demo of the theme that looks the way you want it to? How much work is it to get the theme looking like that on your site?
  • Does the theme need a lot of plugins to work? Do this increase complexity or cost?
  • Are your theme’s settings configured in the WordPress Customizer? Test it in Appearance > Customize.
  • Lastly, the Gutenberg editor is coming to WordPress core in the near future. You can already test how your theme handles it by installing the plugin.
If you see another site that is running on WordPress and you like their theme, there are websites like WordPress Theme Search that can try to look up what theme a site is using. While we recommend Storefront, and have several guides out there to help you, choosing a theme is a personal choice and depends on many factors, such as those discussed above. Alternatively, the Jetpack plugin includes over 100 themes for free (and over 200 in the Professional Plan) that you can try and see if any suite what you are wanting to achieve with your site.

Changing a theme

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If you already have a website, and you’re changing themes, then, of course, you want to be careful with the migration. Following these steps will help you towards a successful migration.

Planning the move

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Your first step is to plan the move. That will involve finding a new theme — see above for some help with that — but has a few other things included as well.
  • Staging. Set up a staging environment that uses a copy of your current database and do not test these changes on a live site.
  • Features. Make a list of all the features and aspects you like about your current theme and you definitely need in the new one.
  • Codebase changes. Find a solution to migration hiccups. For example, a lot of themes use shortcodes. Those only become visible after you’ve changed the theme. Is your theme using that

Migrating content features

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On your staging server, start by activating your new theme. It would be near impossible for everything to look good straight away, so you might want to break it up. First, focus on the content features of your theme. Visit all different post types you have (posts, pages, products, etc.) and make sure they are styled as you want them. If you were using a theme that was heavy on shortcodes, then you will have to do an edit on that and either find a solution to display them correctly in your new theme, or alternatively, remove them from the content.

Migrating custom features

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Next, you’ll normally have a theme with some custom aspects that do not focus on the post types, but have a few specific templates to offer for bringing that content together. For example, most themes will have a homepage template, and it’s important to migrate your old homepage correctly into the new theme, at least those features that you want to have migrated. If your new theme includes this functionality, great, it’ll be a matter of configurations. If that’s not the case, you have two options:
  1. You code it yourself (or find someone to do it for you).
  2. You look for plugins that do something similar. For example, with WooSlider you can add a slider to the homepage.
Also have a look at the custom fields on different post types. You can find them when you’re editing those posts — or if they aren’t showing, activate them under Screen Options > Custom Fields at the top right when you’re editing a post. Some of those custom fields might have had a display or functionality role in your previous theme. Maybe you want to migrate those as well.

Post-migration tweaks

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Finally, test and test and test again. When you’ve gone through the previous steps, your site should look ready to go, but it’s better to take it slow and test all the different pages and the different functions you have, especially those that are the focus of your site. For example, if you run a webshop, make sure that your customers can go through the whole process without problems. Make sure that your site works well on different devices, but also on different browsers. Most themes will be responsive these days, but small tweaks with the media queries might be necessary in the CSS for example. When you’re done, and if it’s a WooCommerce site, do not forget to submit your site on the WooCommerce Showcase.