6 Questions to Ask Prior to a WordPress Theme Change

Blogging Tips

6 Questions WordPress Theme ChangesSince I started blogging in 2012, I have witnessed a major shift in reader expectations when it comes to overall blog performance. Prior to being a blogger, I never read blogs. The blogging platform back then was very different. Themes offered readers a messy aesthetic, with crazy animations, heavy and dark backgrounds and unclean sidebars. Today, there is more emphasis than ever before on the overall appearance, usability and performance of blogs–and readers want a more pleasant online experience that’s less distracting and pleasing to the eye.

Thankfully blogs now appear to offer a more simple, magazine-style aesthetic, light and bright backgrounds and perfect font combinations. But before you jump ship from your old theme, there are a few considerations.

Today I’m going to explain why purchasing a new WordPress theme is only part of the answer.

When you buy a new theme — it’s not necessarily the silver bullet that will improve your blog’s performance. A simple theme transfer is laying new code over old code. Work needs to be done to get it looking like the theme you purchased. Here is what a straight-up, theme transfer looks like without me making a single attempt at making it look pretty.

Here is what a straight-up, theme transfer looks like without me making a single attempt at making it look pretty.

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A walk through of a theme transfer


Example 1:

Here is a gorgeous theme as advertised, called Fashionista. I like it’s clean look…and I would highly recommend it to a client. But in order to get it to look this way there is work to be done. Fashionista Theme

Below: here is what my blog looks like immediately after the transfer to the Fashionista theme. Getting the result (above) is possible — and that’s where web designers come in.

Fashionista theme, ingesting my old blogging data
(Above): Fashionista theme, ingesting my old blogging data

The new Fashionista theme is gorgeous. But changing themes is only the first step. Fashionista is ingesting a plethora of old data. And not only that…the new theme is also inheriting my past blogging mistakes–including bad code, images that I forgot to optimize and a variety of functions are lost because it was enabled by plugins. Some themes can reconcile the old content better than others. And the truth of the matter? You don’t often know how much work will be involved until after you buy the theme. Customizations will most likely be necessary – with any theme change.

So when hiring a web designer, be sure to adjust your expectations. Child themes don’t instantly produce a beautiful, functional site. There are some basic configurations that come with themes when you purchase them. Be sure when you choose a theme that you can see that it’s well-supported by its developer and they’re highly engaged with their customers.


Example 2:

Here the theme, Innov8tive, that I purchased in 2013. This was my theme for three years until I migrated on January 7th. 

Innov8tive Theme from Crazy8 Designs

Above: Innov8tive theme, courtesy of StudioPress.com

Here is what my blog looked like after I switched to the Innvo8tive theme. Again, it needs to be edited. There also may be old code that is moving things to where they’re not supposed to be. That’s our job as web designers is to fix these issues.

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 12.25.28 PM

Below is the Innov8tive theme, after all of my CSS customizations were made:

Snazzy Little Things Customized Innov8tive theme

Customizations included: custom color | custom fonts | widened the sidebar | widened content area | changed background color | changed menu | widened top menu | created a sidebar button | changed the logo-header |moved social media buttons (+ many, many more).

I also did site speed testing to improve my blog performance before my latest theme switch.

Here are some basic questions that you can ask yourself before you decide to change WordPress themes.

Questions to Ask Yourself:

Has your site had prior performance issues?

An underperforming site won’t necessarily be fixed as a result of a theme change. You’ll end up with a pretty new site that is merely masking bad data. Focus on things like site speed, security issues, broken links, formatting issues and learn do some basic testing to your site. Web designers are often hired to make sites look pretty (in spite of the back end performance issues). So I recommend doing an honest self-assessment of your blogging habits, and consider changing those habits, along with optimization services as a separate engagement. And if you have to choose between making your site run more smoothly versus a theme change…invest in optimization services. Addressing performance should be a priority, and always a part of your weekly blog maintenance.

Do you understand the basic, administrative functions of your dashboard?

Do you know how to add a menu button? A menu drop down? Test a plugin? Change your header? Move items around on your sidebar? By investing in a WordPress 101 class or a knowledge transfer, you free yourself from becoming dependent on a web designer for these basic functions. Get to know your blog’s back end and teach yourself how to do these things. Do this before you take on any major, technical upheaval to your current blog.

Do you back up your site database, as well as a recent copy of your CSS code?

This is critical, and before I take on any new client, it’s a requirement that they do this themselves. No major site changes should be done unless you have a full backup of your blog, and a copy of your CSS before any changes are made. Period! :) (and this is spoken in the most loving tone of voice that I can muster). Just do it! I do a weekly backup using Updraft Plus (a paid plugin) and it uploads a backup to my hard drive and the cloud.

How will your readers respond to the changes?

If you don’t know, now is the time to ask! I believe my readers are the true “experts” when it comes to my overall site performance — even more than ME. A theme change is essentially a rebranding initiative. Some readers, who have been long-time followers of your blog, may be surprised to find a completely different look upon their next visit. Some will like it. Some won’t. It’s important to communicate the changes to your readers in a newsletter or a blog post announcement. Polling your readers about their reader experience is a critical step when it comes to site redesign and a great way to maintain a pulse on what needs to be improved. After all, you’re doing this for them!

What functionality will you lose?

The plugins you have on your blog today may not work with your new theme. So it’s important that you disclose to your web designer what critical functions you wish to maintain as a result of your transfer. Even if you paid for a plugin, it might not have been tested with your current theme.

Does your Web Designer offer a dev (or test) site?

Consider using a web designer who offers a development (or test) site. (Here is an example of my test site here). A test site enables your web designer to work with your theme and model and test changes before your site goes live. It gives you a chance to see the back-end of your blog using the new theme. If a large company hired me to redesign their site, never in a million years would I do live CSS edits. They’re entitled to know that the code changes won’t crash their site, and that’s wat a test site is designed to do. So, as blogging becomes a powerful business platform, I believe that test sites and web development will become the norm in the industry and live editing to our blogs will become a thing of the past.

Still unsure? Take this test:

You can also check a detailed Genesis Theme review at Collective Ray.

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