how to change a WordPress theme

The actual process for switching WordPress themes is fairly simple – but there are some additional steps that you should take to ensure that the process goes smoothly.

To help with that, I’ll give you a beginner-friendly tutorial on the best way to change WordPress themes while preserving your site’s existing content and functionality. But before I get to the tutorial, let me start with a quick discussion about what happens to your content when you switch WordPress themes.

Why it’s important to be careful when changing WordPress themes

Technically, changing WordPress themes is easy. All you have to do is upload a new theme to your website and activate it. It’s a process that can take minutes if you already have your theme files ready to go (or if you’re downloading a theme from

The problem is that the process of switching your theme doesn’t always go smoothly. In our experience, the longer you’ve used the same theme, the more likely you are to run into errors when changing to a new one. For example:

  • Some of your site’s elements may stop working. Your new theme may not be compatible with one or more of your plugins, for example.
  • Any customizations you’ve made to your theme will disappear. If you’ve altered your theme’s code – or even set up a child theme – those changes will be lost.
  • Your pages may not display correctly. Some themes contain their own visual features that may not translate well to other themes. For example, if you used a page builder to create your pages, its elements might not play nicely with your new pick. Or, you might’ve used some custom shortcodes that are specific to your theme.

Naturally, these issues don’t mean that you should never change your theme – just that you need to be careful while doing so.

To get started, you’ll want to pick the right theme to replace your current choice. There are some considerations that go into choosing a quality theme, and you should keep them in mind while you search. Once you know what theme you want to change to, you can turn your attention to making the switch thoughtfully and carefully.


Neve is one example of a quite cool WordPress theme. ☝️

Will you lose any content if you change WordPress themes?

Before I get into how to change a WordPress theme, I think it’s important to quickly highlight what happens to your existing content when you change themes.

Most of your regular site elements will not be affected by changing themes. That is, beyond the new styling that they might get from your new theme, nothing will change with:

  • Your posts and pages. Nothing bad will happen to your posts and pages when you switch themes.
  • Any core WordPress settings. For example, if you’re using a static homepage, that will stay the same even after you switch WordPress themes.
  • Any plugins that you’re using. As long as they aren’t tied to your current theme, these plugins should continue to function normally.
  • Basic site information. Your site name and description will stay the same.

But there are some theme-specific pieces of content that won’t necessarily make the journey when you change themes. These are things like:

  • Theme-specific shortcodes. If you’re using shortcodes that came with your theme (rather than a standalone shortcode plugin), those shortcodes will cease to function once you change themes.
  • A theme-specific homepage. Some themes, like our Neve themes, come with special homepage sections that function outside the normal WordPress page system in order to offer more flexibility. If you use such a theme, your custom homepage will disappear when you change themes.
  • Themes-specific widgets. Like shortcodes, some themes come bundled with custom widgets. If you’re using such widgets, they will cease to function when you change themes.

Additionally, you may need to reconfigure your existing menus and widget areas – but you won’t actually “lose” any functionality with them.

In a nutshell, the vast majority of your content will come through unscathed when you switch WordPress themes. But if you’re using any functionality that’s unique to your theme, rather than part of a plugin or the core WordPress software, you will probably lose those things when changing themes.

Steps to take before changing WordPress themes

If you want to avoid creating compatibility issues or breaking aspects of your site, it’s smart to approach theme replacements methodically. Here’s how we recommend you do just that.

Create a backup of your website

First, you should never undertake a major update of your site without backing everything up. In fact, you should avoid going very long without backing up your site anyway. After all, something can always go wrong. If it does, having a recent copy provides you with a painless way to restore your site to its last working state.

If you’ve never created a restore point for your website, we recommend using UpdraftPlus, which makes the process simple. Plus, it enables you to automate your backups, so you won’t have to perform them manually. Here’s our full guide on how to back up your site using this plugin.

Now, if anything goes wrong while switching your theme, you can grab a previous backup and restore your site to its old state, and you can try again or choose a different theme.

(Optional) Create a staging site to test your theme

As any developer will tell you, it’s never a smart move to test changes to your site in a live environment. That’s why staging websites exist. These are test copies of your site that the public can’t access, and where you can try out any alterations without affecting your real site.

We’ve already written a complete guide to setting up your own staging site in multiple ways, such as manually or by using a plugin. Give it a read now, and choose whichever method you prefer.

However, if your web host provides you with built-in functionality for setting up staging sites, that’s often the easiest option. You can also use an online demo tool if you want to emulate your site rather than create an actual copy. No matter what method you pick, once your staging website is ready, it should be an exact copy of your live site.

How to change a WordPress theme the right way

In this section, I’m going to focus entirely on the “how” part of how to change a WordPress theme.

Step 1: Install new WordPress theme

To get started, you need to install the new WordPress theme that you want to use.

To do that:

  • Go to Appearance → Themes
  • Click on Add New
Image depicting how to add a new WordPress theme

If you found your theme at, you can search for it by name and click the install button:

Image of how to add a theme to WordPress

And if you purchased a premium theme or otherwise have a ZIP file, you can upload the ZIP file by clicking the Upload Theme button:

Upload a ZIP FILe

Once you install your new theme, don’t click the activate button yet, though.

Step 2: Preview new theme with WordPress Customizer

The WordPress Customizer has a helpful feature that lets you play around with your new theme on a live preview of your site before making it active.

This is helpful because it:

  • Lets you see how your new theme looks with your existing content
  • Gives you a chance to correct any issues with menus or widgets

Here’s how to use the WordPress Customizer to preview your new theme:

  • Go to Appearance → Customize in your WordPress dashboard
Image showing how to access WordPress Customizer
  • You should see a live preview of your current theme
  • Click Change in the Customizer sidebar
  • Click the Live Preview button next to the new theme that you installed in the previous step

Now, you should see a live preview of your existing content using your new theme:

previeiwing your new WordPress theme

You can see that, on my example site, WordPress was actually able to correctly sync up the existing menus and widgets with the new theme.

Hopefully the same happens to you!

But if it doesn’t, you can also use the Menus and Widgets options in the Customizer sidebar to fix any issues that you see:

Image of Hestia Customiser sidebar - menus and widgets section

Assuming your new theme makes use of the WordPress Customizer, you can also make other tweaks. And you can also click through your site to see how other pages look. For example, if you click on a blog post, WordPress will load that blog post using the preview of your new theme.

Step 3: Activate new theme

Once you’re happy with how things look, to make your new theme live, all you need to do is click the Activate & Publish button:

Image showing the Activate & Publish theme Button

And that’s it! You just learned how to change a WordPress theme.

Step 4: Final check – test your pages, posts, and plugins for errors

Now that you have the new theme activated and your design improved, it’s time to start the testing process. That means going through each of your pages, posts, and plugins to look for errors. What may go wrong will depend on your unique setup, but here’s what you’ll want to pay attention to:

  • Check all your pages and a variety of posts, to make sure they’re displaying as they should.
  • Go through your plugins one by one, and test to see whether the functionality they add is still working as intended.
  • Test out your navigational links, which should all lead to their intended destinations.

In most cases, changing WordPress themes will shake up the look of your site. However, all its major features should still work. If that isn’t the case, you probably need to look for a better-coded alternative.

If you’ve followed all of these steps, you should be safe from any site-breaking errors and ready to start enjoying your site’s new look!

Wrapping things up

Most people will want to switch themes at some point in their time with WordPress, so learning how to change a WordPress theme is something that every WordPress user should know.

While the actual process itself is simple, doing it the right way helps ensure that you don’t just switch themes, but also that your site functions just as well with your new theme as it did with your old theme.

Remember, here’s all you need to do:

  1. Install your new theme
  2. Preview your new theme before activating it by using the WordPress Customizer
  3. Make sure your menus and widgets look right
  4. Activate your theme from the WordPress Customizer to make it live
If you have any other questions about how to change a WordPress theme, leave a comment and we’ll do our best to help out!
Yay! 🎉 You made it to the end of the article!

1 Comment
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Orli Gruber
June 10, 2018 10:33 pm

Thank you! This really helps me.
I had one thing which I couldn’t handle
This was the ‘search’ I had on my previous site and now could not find…. any idea what to do?

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