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 often…you 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.

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