Designfreebies 2010: New Year, New Theme and Some Essential Steps in Changing Your WordPress Theme

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Obviously, most of you regular readers will notice that Graphic Design Free Resources is now sporting a new look. I’ve been itching to change theme since third quarter this year but I kept holding back and wanted to change it in time for the new year. So here it is, Designfreebies 2010, new year, new theme, new look.

I wanted to have a new theme that looks different from the old one but would like to retain a similar layout and structure so I will have an easy time migrating all contents. Though I had an easy time changing theme, I still wanted to add and change a few things. So expect some small changes here and there occasionally.

For those of you not familiar with how the old Designfreebies theme looks like, here’s a snap. Sorry if this is somewhat small, this is the only screenshot I have. I forgot to snap one before I tore it down.

You will notice that we have a darker site design this time compared to the bright one we previously have. But it’s not totally dark as only the background is dark (and not totally dark black, it’s dark bluish gray) but the contents are still contained in a light grayish box making it easier to read and doesn’t give off too much bright light and strain on the eyes. I hope most of you feels the same way.

So how do you change your WordPress theme smoothly without major glitches? Here are some of the steps I have taken to ensure a goof-proof WordPress theme change.

1. Try it offline first

We don’t normally wear anything and just take off, or wear something for the first time on the event itself only to find out it that doesn’t look right. We usually shop around and fit it first before we decide that its the right outfit that we will wear for some big event. Similarly, you can shop around for WordPress themes and try them on offline first before going live.

So how do you run an offline blog server where you can play around with your themes? You can get XAMPP, install it in your machine and you’re off running your own internal Apache server. You can download XAMMP for Windows from Apache Friends. You can also read a lot of tutorials and guides on how to install XAMMP and WordPress virtually on your PC similar to this wonderful tutorial on XAMMP and WordPress installation.

2. Backup

This is important before you start changing your WordPress theme. You will need to backup up two things, your database and your old theme folder, just in case something went wrong with your new installation and you have to revert back to your old theme. You will be doing database backup first because you will also need it to run a copy of your blog on your PC with XAMMP. There are several WordPress backup plugins that you can use but I prefer either of the two popular backup plugins, “WordPress Backup” or “WP-DB-Backup“.  Then after you have decided which theme you’re going to use and before changing your theme, backup your old theme folder first.

3. Disable all active WordPress plug-ins

Some people reported to have encountered white screen of death after changing their WordPress theme. This is primarily due to incompatible plug-ins with the new theme. So it is better to disable everything first before you change your theme. Then just enable them after. It will be better if you enable them one at a time so you can easily track conflicting plug-ins.

You will also have to re-evaluate your plug-ins as some of them will be redundant with your current theme. Previously, I was using a WordPress plug-in called “Home Excerpt” to make my home page display only excerpts and not full stories. After installing the new theme, I had trouble displaying thumb images on my home page primarily due to the “Home Excerpt” plug-in conflict which I don’t need anymore since my new theme has built-in home excerpt feature. I remove that plug-in and everything works well.

4. Take note of the all settings and changes you made from your old theme files

Aside from backing-up your old theme files, you must also remember which files (php) you made changes to, like places where you added your adsense codes and other ad network codes, a few hacks you did, tracking codes, etc. Take note of them or make a detailed list about all of them.

5. Upload your new theme files and fire away

After carefully doing steps 1 to 4 and uploading all theme files to your server, it’s now time to hit the “activate” new theme button. I would assume that you have already made some customization with your new theme while testing and playing with it offline, like changing your header logo, colors, etc. It would be better if you have done that before you upload and change theme. That is also one main reason why I advise testing your new theme offline first so you can configure and prepare it beforehand before going live. That way, you’ll have seamless transition and avoid warding off visitors while your site changes theme.

6. Configure theme options, customize and optimize it further

You will still need some minor adjustments if you have done customizing it offline because most of the time there are still differences between viewing it offline and online. You will also need to restore your ad codes, site tracking codes, RSS feeds, etc.

At this point, you will also need to check a few things like broken links, possible security loopholes, missing pages or category listings. Further down, you will also need to check if all your plug-ins are properly configured and working. And lastly, see if you can still optimize your blog further like replacing or deleting unnecessary PHP codes, removal of unused plug-ins and themes, removal of unnecessary JavaScripts, etc.

You might also want to read this fine article from Digital Inspiration about “Things that you can do after installing a WordPress theme”.

Well that’s it. I hope these WordPress theme changing tips serves you well and that you’ll have a trouble-free new WordPress theme for your blog this coming new year. I wish everyone a blessed and prosperous 2010. Thank you for such a wonderful 2009 and for your continued support and contribution to Graphic Design Free Resources. Happy new year everyone!

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