test a WordPress theme

Getting to test a WordPress theme for a new install is one of the most exciting parts of setting up a fresh WordPress website. But when you install a theme on a fresh copy of WordPress, it’s hard to know what it’s actually going to look like when you start building out your site with more than just a single “Hello, world!” post.

Instead of just installing a theme and hoping for the best, it’s best to fully test your theme before you start building your entire website. You have a couple of methods for doing so, and each will enable you to try out the theme’s features safely. When you’re done testing, you can install that theme and know you’ve chosen a winner.

In this article, we’re going to talk about why it’s important to test a WordPress theme before you start using it on a new site. Then we’ll teach you how to do that in two steps, using WordPress’ Theme Unit Test Data. Let’s begin!

Why it’s important to test a WordPress theme before using it

When you’re picking out a new theme, it’s important to make your choice carefully. Seeing screenshots or even checking out a demo is a good start, but these snapshots aren’t nearly enough to gauge a theme properly. For example, a particular theme might look stunning, but could have problems under the hood.

To avoid that scenario, you’ll want to test any potential theme before you use it. This allows you to…

  • Try it out firsthand. Quite often, a few minutes of playing around with a theme will be enough for you to know if it’s a good fit.
  • Find out if it plays nicely with the other features you want on your site. Testing a theme enables you to determine if it works the way you need it to, and if it’s compatible with the plugins you intend to use.
  • See how it handles different media. Some themes have special formats for videos or galleries, so doing a proper test is important to see how those look.

How to test a WordPress theme for a fresh site (in two steps)

Even though your site is new, you still might not want to test your theme on your live site because it can muddy things up for when you actually want to launch. Your best two alternatives are to either create a staging site or use a local setup (e.g. with Docker or Local by Flywheel).

Once you have a safe place to test, you’re ready to move on!

Step 1: Install WordPress’ theme unit test data on your staging website

WordPress’ Theme Unit Test Data enables you to simulate the look and feel of a site that’s been around for a while. Once you import the data, WordPress will automatically generate a bunch of pages, different types of posts, menu items, sidebars, and more. This lets you conduct a much more realistic test of your potential theme.

To get started, first download the latest version of the Theme Unit Test Data, then access your testing site’s dashboard. Next, navigate to the Tools → Import tab, and look for the WordPress option at the bottom. If this is the first time you’re using this tool, you’ll need to click on Install Now:

Installed the WordPress importer.

In a moment, the Install Now link will be replaced by one that reads Run Importer, which you should click:

Running the WordPress importer.

You’ll see an option to upload an XML file. Press the Choose File button, locate the WordPress Theme Unit Test Data on your computer, then click on Upload file and import:

Uploading your XML file.

WordPress will automatically prompt you to import four fictional authors for your dummy content. We recommend leaving these settings untouched, to avoid complications:

Assigning your new content to specific authors before you can test a WordPress theme.

At the bottom of the page, you’ll also see an option to import the attachments for your content. Enable this to add images to your posts and pages, then click on Submit. It will take some time for WordPress to set up your new content. When it’s done, your website will be full of dummy content.

Now you’re ready to test your new WordPress theme!

Step 2: Set up and test a WordPress theme

At this point, you can install and activate your new theme as normal, then finally get down to business. The testing process is simple, although it may take some time since you need to be as thorough as possible.

Here’s how to test your theme:

  1. Visit each of the main pages on your website, and check to see if all of its elements are displaying correctly (don’t forget to look at menus, sidebars, content, headers, and footers).
  2. Check a few of your test posts at random to see if the theme formats them in a way you like. You’ll also want to ensure that they’re readable, since some themes can impose odd layouts on your content.
  3. Test the widgets you intend to use on your main site, and determine if the theme displays them correctly.
  4. Install any plugins you want to set up on your primary website, and test if their functionality works with your new theme.

If the theme passes each of these steps with flying colors, you’re good to go. Of course, you’ll need to tweak anything that’s off the mark, but once you’re ready, you can set up the theme on your new WordPress site, and make further adjustments to the design and layout as appropriate.

Conclusion

Getting to test a new WordPress theme can be exciting. But if you’re just launching your site, you don’t really have any data to actually test with.

To remedy that, using WordPress’ Theme Unit Test Data offers you an opportunity to use real-world content to determine how well a chosen theme fits your needs, goals, and design.

Once you’ve set up your staging site or local development environment, here are the two steps you’ll need to follow:

  1. Install the Theme Unit Test Data on your staging or local site.
  2. Run through each of your site’s elements, and adjust anything that needs changing.

Do you have any questions about how to test a WordPress theme before it goes live on a new site? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!