The Unknown Theme Change Syndrome

upgrade-theme-problemsShock, frustration, anger, and the unknown consequences of changing your website's theme for a new and different one is something that is quite common with most people. Unfortunately, everyone on the planet is not a web designer or experienced with content management systems (cms) or themes (templates) and how they really work and relate to one another. Too many times I have seen people get a surprise of their life when they change to a totally different web site theme, only to experience a very different looking web site - with things in places that shouldn't be in those places. In a perfect world, it would be nice to have everything magically go into the right positions when using a completely new and different theme or template.

Don't Just Jump Right in with a New Theme on a Live Site

Yet again, I see this happen too get over excited seeing a new theme, you download it, then install it, and then everything gets messed up. I cannot emphasize enough that if you decide to change your theme to a new one, DO NOT use your LIVE SITE!

Every theme looks different with eye-catching styles that attracted you to the purchase and downloading with the anticipation that forces you to install it right away on to your live site. Let's face it, we're excited and we want to change our site at the instant we see the message "Download Complete"! But there is something you must understand about themes and what happens when we change a live site to a totally new and foreign layout.

As I said, every theme is different and they all have their own styles, their own layouts, graphics, and widget  or module positions. This means when you install the new fancy theme, where your current widgets or modules are, will change and load in other areas where that position (if it exists on the new theme) will load. You will find your site pages are all scrambled, logo is out of place, widgets are showing up in odd places, content is messed up....etc. etc.

Development Site

You may hear this term a few times, but if you plan to do "any" major change, whether content based, or theme (template) based, you should ALWAYS create a "development site" location. Basically it's a fresh install of WordPress or Joomla in one of the following optional locations:

  • a sub directory (sub folder) where your site is
  • a sub domain (if your host gives you that option
  • a local server like XAMPP which lets you install a type of web server right on your own computer that simulates a web host

I personally like the idea of the XAMPP option but that is just my preference because it's on my own computer and I don't have to keep uploading files to see how things look; I can see things instantly on my computer.

The idea with a Development Site location is to test out the new theme or template with your content (which you would import the database to your development site) and see what needs to be adjusted - trust me, you will need to make adjustments with "any" new theme you use from "anyone".

Once you get everything looking great and everything is in their new places and you've tested the site out, then you can replace your existing "live site" with the new one. This is also a good idea if you are using your same theme but making major changes to it's content or layout, or perhaps adding a new script or plugin that you are not sure how it will react with your site.

IMPORTANT: Before you make any changes to your site, ALWAYS MAKE A BACKUP FIRST! You never know if something goes wrong, you at least have a full backup. Best to play safe than sorry.


6. Andre Posted: Saturday, 30 October 2010
Quoting lynn:
Thanks. Will research exporting the SQL and cross my fingers ;-)

Just make sure you do a full back-up first before you touch anything...always safe than sorry, as I've learned from my experiences in the past with database changes. I even invented a few new swear words once when I accidently deleted my database from my live site...those were the days when I was still learning phpmyadmin. But anyway, if you were on Joomla instead of WP, it would be a LOT easier, so it might take a couple attempts but hopefully it works for you.

Just a quick note...and for everyone: Later, I plan to provide demo content for anyone wanting to start a new site and need it in while they see how things were done.
5. lynn Posted: Saturday, 30 October 2010
Thanks. Will research exporting the SQL and cross my fingers ;-)
4. Andre Posted: Friday, 29 October 2010
Quoting lynn:
I get the part about a test site for designing purposes, but when it's time to replace the old theme with the new theme - and its content - are the widgets going to just fall into place?

Unfortunately, WP does not make exporting a site easy because their export xml does not include widgets (why I don't know) and I know many people don't realize that. The only way to export a full WP site is to do it with a MySQL export of the complete db. As for the plain wp theme and that it's the one thing that is cool about keeping the same structure, then creativity of theme design goes out the window with extreme limitations and becomes cookie cutter style...boring!

The only way I know (unless someone knows otherwise) is to export your content to the dev site, install the new theme (mine or anyone elses), redo your widgets, then export the full SQL, update WP admin settings (site url), and you are done.
3. lynn Posted: Friday, 29 October 2010
I get the part about a test site for designing purposes, but when it's time to replace the old theme with the new theme - and its content - are the widgets going to just fall into place? I doubt it, as your themes have a different widget structure than a plain wp theme (which is one thing that makes them cool).

I'm thinking that the best way (and this is my first time to replace, but not install) is to put up a simple holding html page while you get all the content in the right places, or is there a better way to make the transfer?

2. Andre Posted: Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Quoting AdrianLee:
... Would there be a quick way of doing this?

Moving or transferring sites is never a quick and easy job for the most part and if a website is huge with lots of plugins and other scripts, it gets even more difficult. It will also depend on the skill level of the person in relation to working in phpmyadmin and mysql because that can be a big difference. Not sure if you are on WP or Joomla, but I will normally download my complete site (structure intact) and then backup the database to my computer and then setup a duplicate in my XAMPP with importing the db to it and copying the site structure to the directory I want to work in. The other option is to start new and copy & paste content (make a pot of coffee for that). If you are on Joomla, there is a good tutorial (which I will write one up soon) how to move and copy your site to anywhere.
1. AdrianLee Posted: Tuesday, 19 October 2010
This is my main issue now. I want to change theme for a 2 year old site but just thinking about it gives me a headache. I have XAMPP on my computer but having to download my site to my computer is a job. Would there be a quick way of doing this?

I am more inclined towards a development site but need to research to see how it's done. Any pointers will be much appreciated.

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