WordPress theme change check list

I came across this post, with a self explanatory title – “13 Most Important Things to do When Changing the WordPress Theme“.  This is particularly relevant to me, since I am updating my theme right this moment.   And so, I thought, I’d just revisit the list items of that post with my own comments, since they are so fresh.

  • Take a backup of your current theme folder. That is always a good advice.   Better even, take full backup of your blog, including the database dump.   Why is the dump relevant for theme upgrade?  No, not because I am obsessed with backups now that I lost all my archives.  But because most themes these days include dynamic sidebars, which you usually fill with widgets.  Widgets configuration is kept in the database.  And when you are moving to a new theme, your dynamic sidebars often get out of sync, and you try to fix it fast by re-arranging widgets again.  In case things go very wrong, it’ll help to have a database dump as well, which, when restored, will bring back your widget configuration.
  • Check for broken links.  A new theme will hardly affect links in your content, but everything around it – headers, footers, sidebars, links to RSS feeds, etc – can easily get damaged.  This happens especially often when you use a testing or development environment which is separate from your main production blog.
  • Look for possible security loopholes. Ideally, you should do this BEFORE you move your site to the new theme.  The best approach here is to combine manual and automatic checks. Manual checks include reading the theme source code, checking the site in different browsers, from different IP address, while logged in with different access levels, as well as logged out altogether, etc. Automatic checks are provided by a whole bunch of applications, including some security oriented WordPress plugins.
  • Remove unnecessary code from your WordPress header. This has a lot to do with tightening up the security of your WordPress installation.  The less information you give out to potential attackers, the better.  I have no idea why this item is separated in that list from the previous one.
  • Make sure your RSS subscription link is correct.  If you link to several feeds (posts, comments, category, etc) – check them all.  Also make sure that you have them in your header for RSS auto-discovery to work.  The best approach here is to use WordPress builtin functions for RSS links, not hardcode them by hand.
  • Check if all your pages are listed properly.  Again, it’s not always possible to code your menus and navigation to work in every theme out there, but sticking to WordPress Codex ways you guarantee to minimize the troubles for yourself.
  • Put back your stats tracking code.  I suggest to find and install the suitable plugin.  There are many available for practically any statistics package.  The plugin will usually take care of installing all the necessary codes, goal tracking, conversions, and the rest.  Plus you’ll keep you configuration in simple and easy way via administration interface, rather than editing theme source files directly.
  • Check your website from different browsers.  That’s the second best advice after taking a backup before even starting.  Cross-browser issues are the most common to appear and the most nerve-breaking to fix.  Even if you don’t know how to fix them yourself, still check your new theme for any glitches in different browsers, to at least know that you have them.  Fixing them can be arranged separately.  If you don’t have different browser versions available at hand, ask your friends or readers to help, or use web tools, such as BrowserShots.
  • Check if you sidebar content is correct.  Especially so, if you had custom sidebars for the front page, categories, posts, pages, search results, archives, etc.  Even more so, if you are using widgets (see above).
  • Re-evaluate your plugin usage.  As the original post mentions, it’s a good time to see if you still need all those plugins you were using before.  And there is another side to this too.  Many heavily customized themes keep some functionality code in functions.php file.  When moving to another theme, the functions.php from the old theme might not necessarily work under the new one.  Maybe it’s a good time to move some of that code into more generic plugins and widgets.
  • Put back your AdSense / other ads code.  This is somewhat similar to your statistics.  If you use AdSense or any other well-known advertising service, you’d be better of with installing and configuring an appropriate plugin.  If the ads are customized, than you should probably move them out of the theme code into separate files and then just include() where appropriate.  Definitely worth a check after the move is done.  While checking the site in different browsers, take a look at the ads as well, just to make sure all your visitors can see them properly.
  • Check if your favicon is proper.  Ideally, this shouldn’t break by your theme change.  While there is a way to specify favicon’s location in your theme’s header, I find it better to drop the favicon into root folder of your site – most browsers will pick it up from their automatically.  And it will work even when your blog is horribly broken.  Additionally, I don’t think changing your favicon often (even if ever) is a good idea.  Favicon is like your site’s avatar.  It takes time for people to get used to it and recognize it.  Why change it when some of your visitors just got used to this one?  Unless, of course, your favicon doesn’t represent your site at all anymore.  Then – yes.
  • Look how you can optimize your blog.  Yeah, well, true.  However, before you start optimizing anything, make sure that you have the full backup (try restoring from it to a test blog), make sure that everything works before you start optimization, and make sure that there is any need for optimization at all.  Premature optimization is evil.
  • Put up a post about the new design.  This is a good idea.  Before you do a full blown post however, maybe you should post a short update to your Twitter account (you do have a Twitter account, don’t you?).  This way, your followers can point out any bugs in time to fix them before you notify the whole blogosphere, search engines, and RSS feeds.  Once you are completely sure that everything works – yes, indeed, blog about it.  Tell your readers why you changed the theme, if there are any new features, and how much effort it took you to put it up.  A post like this would usually inspire at least a few of your readers to do something with their blogs.  And that’s something that we definitely need – more and better blogs.

P.S.: even though the original post’s title says “13 things“, there are in fact 14 items on that list.  I guess the counting went off, because it started from 0 and not 1.

One thought on “WordPress theme change check list”

  1. Thanks for the article mention.
    –> By “unnecessary code”, I was actually referring to unnecessary php queries, which can easily be replaced by actual URLs, thereby reducing the database calls. I agree that it wasn’t properly put into words in the article.
    –>agree with you on most of the other points :)

    As for the counting, I deliberately wanted it to be “13 things”!

Leave a Comment