If you’re new to WordPress and have never installed or changed themes on your WordPress blog or site, it can be a bit unnerving to change themes when you don’t know what to expect. I commonly get questions and see similar ones in the various WordPress blogging groups on Facebook asking what happens when you change your WordPress theme.
In this post I’m going to cover a few things about changing WordPress themes – what to expect and how to do it, so feel free to jump to the correct section below if you don’t want to read the entire post.
Will I Lose My Posts or Content if I Change My WordPress Theme?
A common question we see in the blogging groups on Facebook and directly to our contact page lots of times centers around the uncertainty of what happens to your content if you change your WordPress theme. Luckily, nothing happens to your content. You won’t lose any of it. Your posts, pages, media, comments, products, or whatever it is you have on your site, will not be lost.
In some rare cases, the content may simply not be visible anymore. This would only generally happen if your theme, or a plugin your theme is dependent on, creates a custom post type that it uses for one of its features. A custom post type is sort of like a regular post, or page, but has a different reference or name. For example, a testimonial, or a portfolio item, or even a product in WooCommerce for example, are all custom post types.
So if you had products in WooCommerce for example, and deactivated or removed the WooCommerce plugin, then you would lose access to those products. But don’t worry, they’re not gone, you just can’t access them. They’re still safely stored in your database.
The same can happen with themes that are using custom posts, but this is usually very rare.
The next section covers what to expect when switching themes, what will be different, what you’ll have to do over, etc.
What to Expect When Changing WordPress Themes
The process of changing a WordPress theme is relatively straightforward, but the initial installation of the theme could make it look like all is lost, so some rebuilding so to speak, needs to happen to get things looking normal again. This usually only takes a few minutes, and we’ll cover that later in this post, but for now here’s what you may notice when changing WordPress themes.
Default WordPress Theme Settings
When you change or install your WordPress theme it will typically default to the theme’s basic settings. It may not always happen this way, but it’s very likely. For example, your site logo, your homepage setting – so a static homepage may revert back to showing blog posts on the home page, menus, widgets, etc. may not be set. Some things like your site title and tagline will be picked up by the theme, but most other settings may not.
The other thing you’ll notice is that your site looks nothing like the theme’s demo the developers pitched and sold to you. This is due to a) the settings above, and b) your content is different to the theme’s demo content. In some cases it may be difficult to figure out how a complex theme works when you don’t have that demo content, so many theme developers do include a demo content feature in their themes.
Your menus, whether you only had one, or several, most likely won’t be set in the correct menu locations. The menus are still there, but you’ll need to go into the customizer and reselect them as your preferred menus.
Again, because the new WordPress theme is most likely from a different developer, the internal references to widget areas may be different and the new theme won’t know where to put your old widgets, so these may not show on your pages. They’re still there, but they’ve been made inactive. You can drag these back to your widget areas to reactivate them again. I’ll show you later on in the post how to do that.
Additional CSS Code
In some cases you may have added some extra CSS code into the customizer or your previous WordPress theme’s settings to change some styling on your site. Because CSS code is theme specific, your current CSS code most likely won’t work with the new WordPress theme, and for this reason the old CSS code won’t be automatically added to the new theme’s Additional CSS section in the customizer.
Page Builder Plugins
A quick note on page builder plugins (like Elementor, Beaver Builder, Divi, etc) – they’re not portable. So if your old theme uses Elementor, but the new one is built with Beaver Builder, you’ll need to rebuild any pages or posts using the new page builder plugin before removing the old page builder plugin. You can usually do this in parallel, so keep the old page builder plugin active while creating the new page with the new page builder. When all the new pages are created, fix your menu items to reference the new pages, then deactivate and the old page builder plugin and delete or make the old pages draft or set to private so they don’t get indexed by search engines. Also, don’t forget to redirect the old pages to the new pages, or change the url slug to match the slug of the old pages.
Because of the above hassle, it’s one of the biggest reasons we cannot recommend themes that use, or the use of page builder plugins, especially for a blog. Can you imagine having to update hundreds of blog posts that were built using a page builder plugin? Not fun!
What you can do for example, is use the page builder plugin only for static pages – like your About Me or Contact pages. This way if you do need to change later on, it’s only a handful of pages. In fact, that is what we do here are Blogger2WP.com at the time of writing this post. We use the Extra theme, which is made by Elegant Themes, and it uses the famous (and our favorite) Divi page builder plugin. We love Divi, but due to the previously mentioned issues, we only use the builder on a handful of pages, and use the default WordPress editor (did I mention I LOVE Gutenberg) for ALL posts.
Changing Back To Your Previous WordPress Theme
In case you don’t like your new WordPress theme, and want to go back to the previous one, it’s even easier. Because all of your theme’s settings (menus, widgets, css, etc) are all stored in your WordPress database, reactivating the old theme brings it all back as if nothing was ever changed.
Free vs. Premium WordPress Themes
This is always a tricky one to decide on when you’re first starting out. There are a few decent free themes out there that will work well for a basic blog, but they will lack a few things, or will fall into the “Freemium” category. That means the theme is free, but has limited options or capabilities, and you would need to pay for an upgrade to get those options.
Another reason free themes can be limiting is the support. Since they’re free, the developer is most likely not in a hurry to update, provide fixes, or answer support questions about the theme (perhaps not true with “freemium” themes) as they’ll be doing it on their own time with no financial reward. This can be frustrating if you’ve setup your site using a theme and later find out it won’t work with a plugin you really want to use, to then have to go and find another theme and start over again.
For decent free themes, you can try the free themes from Automattic – these themes are used on WordPress.com by millions of users, and since WordPress.com is a paid service, they are reasonable well kept.
By going with a paid or premium WordPress theme, you’ll not only get themes that are usually updated regularly to keep up with the latest WordPress software versions, you’ll also get additional features as well as priority support from the theme developers themselves. They know their themes better than anyone else, so this is the best place to get help!
Where to Get Premium Themes
There’s literally an ocean of premium WordPress themes out there, so how do you go about choosing? It certainly can be overwhelming, and there’s a few WordPress theme market places you can go to. One of the more popular ones is ThemeForest.
However, we’re not really fond of ThemeForest, and here’s why – ThemeForest is not responsible for the themes on their site, the independent developers (and there’s lots of them) are, and many of the themes are outdated and suffer from a lack of support. A poorly coded theme, or one that is a few years old, may not work properly with modern and forever changing browser technologies and it’s not easy to fix that. The developers may not give great support because of this either. I’m not saying there aren’t good themes on ThemeForest, I’ve bought a few myself – both good and bad ones – but choose carefully! Look at the ratings, the number of downloads, the last time it was updated (the more recent the better), and how long it takes for support requests to be answered.
It’s for that reason we prefer to stick to the larger theme developers who consistently update their themes and provide exceptional support. The price may be more than you’ll pay at ThemeForest (not always), but you will definitely get your money’s worth, I promise you that! Here’s a few of our favorites:
Elegant Themes makes the famous Divi theme and Divi page builder, and several others. Here at Blogger2WP.com, we use their Extra theme, so we know first hand the capabilities, support, and quality of their themes.
Bluchic themes caters to the female entrepreneur or blogger looking for stylish, feminine oriented WordPress themes that are designed for the do-it-yourselfer without having to be at all techy or pay unreasonable amounts to get a stylish, well coded theme. Theme support is outstanding, and their theme support section has answers to most of the questions you’re likely to have.
StudioPress themes are built on the Genesis framework, and are coded to be fast and lightweight, and compatible with all modern browsers. The framework is the main engine that powers your site or blog, while the themes sit on top of that framework to provide the look of your site. With more than 40 WordPress themes to choose from, StudioPress has the perfect design for your website or blog.
Blossom themes is another theme developer focused on making beautiful feminine styled WordPress themes. Easy to use, SEO friendly and mobile responsive, with tons of features suited to the fashion, beauty, or lifestyle blogger.
Restored 316 is another developer designing and focused on feminine WordPress themes geared toward female bloggers and entrepreneurs. Restored 316 themes is based on and requires the Genesis Framework, so you know they’re well coded and fast! They also have an extended documentation page that covers most issues you can expect to encounter, as well as a responsive support system for those trickier problems you’re probably not likely to encounter.
Pretty Darn Cute Designs is another theme developer building themes base on the Genesis framework, and focused on feminine styled themes. Their goal is to make your WordPress site or blog easy to setup, and help you get launched as quickly as possible.
WPZOOM develops themes for a variety of blog niches, including photographers, ecommerce, small businesses, artists, blogs, and a whole lot more. Their themes are well coded, SEO friendly, and easy to install and setup. You can buy individual themes, or sign up for one of their packages and get access to download all of their themes, plus support and automatic updates for a whole year.
Thanks to the open source nature of WordPress, many themes and plugins are based on code that is freely distributable, and this even goes for some premium themes. We talked about this here already, but you can get some premium themes and plugins from Nobuna for a fraction of the cost. This is a good way to test out themes before committing to a full purchase. If you do like a theme from Nobuna, it would be great if you could go to the original developer and buy the theme from them when you’re ready. This ensures the developers get credited for their hard work and continue to make great themes.
How to Change or Install a WordPress Theme
There’s a few ways to install a WordPress theme, and these include; from the Appearance menu in the dashboard for free and premium themes, FTP, and CLI.
I’m not going to cover the FTP or CLI methods as these are a bit overkill for most WordPress users and bloggers. In the two sections below I’ll cover installing free themes from the WordPress repository, and uploading a theme (this can be a free or premium WordPress theme).
Install a WordPress Theme From the WordPress Repository
I talked above about the free WordPress themes available at WordPress.org where you can view and download themes for use on your WordPress blog or site. These are all available at https://wordpress.org/themes/. If you weren’t already aware, all of the themes you can find at that link are also available directly from your WordPress dashboard in the Appearance section. So let’s step through how to install a free WordPress theme from there.
From your WordPress dashboard, click on Appearance -> Themes.
In this section you’ll see all of the themes currently installed on your site, plus the Active theme will be highlighted as such.
If you mouse over any of the themes, you’ll see a Theme Details link popup. You can click on this to get more information about that theme.
You’ll also note you can update and delete themes from here as well except for the active theme. If you want to delete your active WordPress theme, you’ll first need to make another theme active since WordPress requires a theme for your site to be functional.
It’s also a good idea to delete any unused themes as those themes will still require updates, and older un-updated themes can pose a security risk. I always tend to keep a couple of the default Twenty Nineteen or Twenty Seventeen themes around just in case I need to switch to those temporarily to troubleshoot issues.
Anyways, back to installing a WordPress theme from the repository. At the top of the Appearance -> Themes screen, click on Add New.
Feel free to search for or check out the Featured, Popular, Latest, etc to find a theme you think you might like.
For now, let’s try to find a theme so you can see how the search works. In the search bar, type in Feminine as a search term, and mouse over the theme Blossom Feminine to highlight the Details & Preview link.
Clicking on this will give you more information about the theme as well as a brief preview of the theme, though most of these won’t have any images. Occasionally in the description the developer may provide additional demo links you can open to see a fully populated and functional preview of the theme.
From this window you can click on the install button at the top, or click on the X to close the window.
The install option is also available when mousing over the theme in the search results. They both work the same way, so feel free to use either method.
Let’s go ahead and install the Blossom Feminine theme so we can see how it’s done. Click on Install.
It only takes a few seconds, and when the theme is installed, you’ll notice the Install button changed to Activate. Go ahead and click on Activate.
With some free themes that would be it, but this theme recommends some additional plugins to enhance it. Note these aren’t required, just recommended, so it’s not mandatory to install them. Also note the notice about the theme documentation. The theme docs can be very helpful, especially on more complex themes, or ones with unique features.
Lets go ahead and install those recommended plugins. Click on the Begin Installing Plugins link.
On the Install Required Plugins page click on Install under each recommended plugin to install and activate each one.
After the plugin is installed, you’ll see a success message. Click on the Return to Required Plugins Installer link to return to continue installing the other plugins.
When all the plugins are installed, you can start activating each one. Click on the Activate link each one. Occasionally, after activation, you may be redirected to the plugin’s settings page. You can use your browser’s back button to get back to the previous page and continue activating the other plugins.
And that’s about it for installing the theme. Your next step would be to check the theme’s documentation to begin setting it up and exploring the theme’s features and options. Every theme’s settings and options are usually different, so the documentation guide is extremely useful for helping you getting to know and use your theme to the fullest of it’s potential.
Install a WordPress Theme by Uploading a Theme Installation File
In cases where you’ve bought a premium theme, you’ll most likely receive a download link to download the theme file for installation. I’m going to show you here how to make sure you’re using the correct WordPress theme installation file and how to install it.
WordPress theme installation files are always in a .zip format and must be uploaded as a .zip file. Some computer operating systems, depending on it’s settings may auto-unzip .zip files on download, so watch for this if you’re not able to see or find the .zip WordPress theme file after downloading it.
Additionally, some theme developers will include the .zip file inside another .zip file, sometimes bundled together with the theme documentation, license file, and maybe even some child themes (more on that later in this post). In these cases you will need to unzip the downloaded file to get access to the theme .zip file. Uploading the incorrect .zip file would result in an error. In most cases you’ll get a stylesheet or style.css not found error if it’s the wrong file.
Here’s an example of a file downloaded from a popular theme marketplace. You can see the long file name is a tell-tale sign it’s probably not an actual theme file. In most cases the theme file name will be the same as the theme name.
Let’s unzip this file and see what’s inside. Here you can see we have the user guide, a folder with theme files, and a license folder.
Looking inside the theme files folder, we can see the actual theme installation file, along with a child theme file which I’ll cover later. In this case the Mechandiser.zip file is our WordPress theme installation file, and the one we’ll upload and install on our WordPress site.
Bonus Tip: If you’re not entirely sure that the .zip you’re looking at is a WordPress theme installation file, you can find out if it is by also unzipping this file and looking at it’s contents. In the unzipped file you’ll see a bunch of folders and files. If it’s a WordPress theme installation file, you’ll see lots of .php files, a CSS folder, a functions.php file, js folder etc.
Now that we’re sure we have the correct WordPress theme installation file on our computer, let’s install it.
On your WordPress dashboard, head to Appearance -> Themes, then click on Add New.
Now click on Upload Theme.
Click on the Choose File button.
Navigate to the theme file on your computer, select it, and click on Open, or Upload.
Now click on Install.
When you get the Theme installed successfully message, click on Activate to activate the new WordPress theme.
We can see this theme has both recommended and required plugins for proper function. Let’s go ahead and click on Begin installing plugins.
Now you can go ahead begin installing the required and recommended plugins, by clicking on the Install link. In some cases, the plugins will auto-activate, and in some you will have to activate them manually.
After the plugin is installed, click on Return to Required Plugins Installer to install the balance of the plugins. If you get redirected to a plugins setting page after installing a plugin, click the back button on your browser to get back to the plugin installer page.
That’s about it for installing your new WordPress theme via uploading a WordPress theme installation file.
The workflow for each theme is generally the same, but expect subtle differences from theme to theme. Some themes will also require you to enter your license key to verify your purchase. Most times you’ll see a pinned notification in the upper area of the WordPress dashboard instructing what you need to do.
Post WordPress Theme Installation Actions and Tips
If you’ve followed this guide to install a new WordPress theme on a new WordPress site, then you can skip this section. If you’re changing themes on an established WordPress site, then the following steps will help you get back up and running quickly.
Restore WordPress Widgets
When you change from one WordPress theme to another, it’s likely your previous widgets will no longer be visible on your site. The new WordPress theme may not recognize the defined widget locations of the previous theme, so not knowing what to do with them, WordPress makes them inactive. You can make these active again simply by dragging the inactive widgets back to the widget area you choose. Here’s how to restore your WordPress widgets after changing your WordPress theme.
Navigate to Appearance -> Widgets from your WordPress dashboard.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to the Inactive Widgets section.
Move your cursor or mouse pointer a widget so it changed to cross instead of a pointer.
Then click and hold your mouse button and drag the widget to the top of the screen. The screen will scroll back up to the top, allowing you to drop the inactive widget into the widget area you want.
And that’s it! Repeat for the other widgets until you’ve got them all moved.
Tip: The inactive widget area is a good option of keeping widgets instead of deleting them, in case you ever want to use that widget again in the future. To move a widget you no longer user, or maybe you’re testing, simply run the opposite process mentioned above. Click and drag the widget down to the inactive widget area, and it will be saved for future use.
Restore WordPress Menus
Like widgets, your new WordPress theme will likely reset the menu settings for the same reason, but they’re not lost, it’s just a matter re-assigning the your menu to your preferred location. There’s three ways to do this, the first two are from the dashboard and the last from the customizer. Let’s start with the dashboard.
Head to Appearance -> Menus, and make sure the menu you want to use is selected in the Select a menu to edit: drop down. Near the bottom of the page, check the box for Display Location to Primary Menu, or where ever you want to assign the menu to, then click on Save Menu.
From Appearance -> Menus, click on the Manage Locations tab.
To the right of Primary Menu, select the menu you want in this location and then click on Save Changes.
Option 3 – Customizer
The third option to reset the menu is from the customizer. Click on Appearance -> Customize to launch the customizer.
Click on Menus.
Then either click on the menu you want to set, in our case Menu 1.
Then select the checkbox next to Primary Menu, then click on Publish to save the changes.
Alternatively, from Customize -> Menus, select View All Locations, then select the menu you want from the drop down list, similar to Option 2 above.
If you’ve got multiple menus you want to set, you can repeat the steps above to set those as well.
In case you don’t already know, when you upload an image to your WordPress site, WordPress and your theme creates various sizes of the image for use on your site. Your theme then loads the appropriate sized image on your site to help decrease load times and page size.
However, different themes use different sized images, also known as thumbnails. Often after changing a theme you’ll notice your images on your site appear pixelated. This is because the new WordPress theme doesn’t have the appropriate sized thumbnails to use since the new thumbnail sizes will only be generated on newly uploaded images.
Head to the Plugins -> Add New, and in the Search plugins search box, type in Regenerate Thumbnails.
Click on Install.
Then on Activate.
Navigate to Tools -> Regenerate Thumbnails, click both checkboxes, and click on the Regenerate Thumbnails for all Attachments button.
Depending on how many images you have this could take a few minutes. Go grab a coffee or your favorite snack and let it finish running. When it’s done you can deactivate or delete the plugin since WordPress will create the correct image sizes requested by the new theme going forward.
Do I Need to Install a Child Theme for My WordPress Blog?
This question gets asked a lot, and the answer is – it depends, but in most cases – no!
If you pose the question in WordPress groups or forums you would probably get a resounding Yes, however those responses are likely from WordPress developers that do heavy customizing for clients, and in these cases you would want to have a child theme. For the average blogger though, WordPress child themes are not necessary.
In case you don’t already know, a WordPress child theme is a type of theme that uses all the functions and styling of a regular theme, but lets you make changes to those functions and the styling without having to modify the main theme. Some child themes already come with built-in function and styling changes, while others are completely empty, so you can add whatever styling changes you want.
Having said that, you don’t need to have a child theme to make changes, but whatever you do, do not modify your theme’s files. It’s not uncommon to find answers (really bad ones) in a google search that will tell you to insert some code into the head section (like Analytics of your WordPress theme, or modify the footer, etc. There are ways to add these code snippets to your site without having to modify your theme. The main reasons why modifying your theme’s files are bad are 1) you could break your site and mess up your theme’s files, and 2) as soon as your theme is updated all your changes will be lost. That’s a benefit of using a child theme, but you don’t need a child theme if you’re only making a few changes.
I’m not going to cover in detail how you add the code or css changes to your theme, but in a nutshell, for CSS changes you can use the built-in Additional CSS section in the customizer, or your theme may have a similar area for adding CSS code that doesn’t get wiped out in updates.
For adding code to the head and footer sections of your WordPress theme, you can use a plugin called Insert Headers and Footers. This is a very lightweight and easy to use plugin, and after installation can be found in under the Settings section of your WordPress dashboard.
For adding functions to your new WordPress theme’s functions.php file, I recommend the Code Snippets plugin. Again, it’s lightweight, easy to use, plus you can set the code to run on either the back end, front-end, or run once, and there’s a recovery method if the code you add does break your site, allowing you the ability to regain access without having to use file manager or FTP to delete the plugin’s folder.
How to Install a WordPress Child Theme on Your Blog
If you have decided to install a child theme anyways, either you have one with some built in styling changes you like, or you’re expecting to make lots of customizations, then installing a WordPress child theme is no different then installing a regular theme like I described above.
First install the parent theme, this is important! Installing a WordPress child theme first, before the parent theme, could break your site.
After the parent theme installed, install your child theme and activate it. It will automatically deactivate the parent theme. Keep in mind the WordPress child theme needs to have the parent theme installed, so don’t delete the parent, even though it will show as inactive.
And that’s about it for installing or changing themes on your WordPress blog or website. I hope you’ve found it useful, but if not please leave a comment and let me know what you think. I’m happy to add additional sections or explanations if you think it would be helpful.
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