What Happens If I Change My WordPress Theme?

What happens when you change your WordPress theme

When the same question crops up again and again, it’s time for a blog post!

Changing your WordPress theme can be a scary prospect if you’ve already invested a lot of time and effort building your site – what if you click the button and ‘poof!’ your site becomes dust?!

So here’s a guide to what will and won’t change about your site when you switch themes. Depending on the specific themes you are switching between your experience may be more or less tricky.

The overarching rule is that anything that is a core WordPress feature will remain, and all plugins and their features will remain, but anything that is theme-specific will no longer be available to you.

So let’s dig a little deeper into what this means.

(click images for full size versions)

You won’t lose content….

All the pages and posts you have created will still exist.


Pages and Posts are core WordPress features so they will always be there. But if your theme has created custom post types for things like Portfolios, or a Slider – if you switch to another theme, that content will be gone.


Core Features of WordPress - will exist regardless of theme

These are the standard menu items WordPress will always have.

Office Theme - Custom Post Types

You won’t lose your custom menus

But you will probably have to re-associate them on the Menus screen. The new theme may have designated different areas for menus and will have labelled them differently so your menu isn’t sure where to show up. Just go into Appearance > Menus, choose the location for your menu and save.

switching WordPress theme - custom menus

You shouldn’t lose your widgets…

But you will have to re-assign them to your theme’s new sidebars on the widgets screen. Similar to the menus, your new theme may have different widget areas available, with different names, so the widgets you had before will most likely end up in Inactive Widgets at the bottom. All you have to do is re-drag them to the new sidebar areas. This is the case about 90% of the time, however I have encountered themes that do not put them in the Inactive section, and  you therefore have to remember what widgets you were using. So before changing themes, consider making a note of what widgets you are using and in what order you have them arranged.

changing WordPress themes - inactive widgets


Your theme created specific widgets for you, in that case those will be gone. You’ll have to find plugins that provide the features you lost, unless the new theme provides its own set of widgets that are similar.

Theme Specific Widgets

Re-configure theme options

Anything that you configured in your theme options panel you’ll have to re-configure. The most common one will be to re-upload your logo file. If you uploaded it to the media library it will still be there but you will still have to tell the new theme where to find it.

You will lose custom scripts

A lot of themes provide a box for you to paste in additional scripts, the most common of which would be your Google Analytics tracking code. If this is the way you set up your Google Analytics tracking it will be lost when you switch themes. You can add it back using a plugin, or perhaps your new theme will provide a similar area you can paste the code in.

switching themes - custom scripts - analytics

So basically anything you did in the theme options panel will have to be reconfigured in the new theme options panel.

Formatting shortcodes will be gone

These days many themes provide a slew of shortcodes allowing you to easily add  buttons, columns and other fancy styling features into your content. Well you can say bye-bye to those…anywhere your current site was using them, the formatting will be removed and you’ll be left only with the shortcode.

switching WordPress themes - shortcodes


switching WordPress themes - shortcodes


Some of the braver among you may have modified your theme by adding some code to functions.php – that is a theme specific file, so if there’s something you added there that you will continue to need, you’ll have to copy/paste the code into your new theme’s functions.php. 

If you’re following along here you may be figuring out right about now that there’s a heck of a lot of stuff that themes do that can be extremely convenient, until you want to switch and then it’s a pain in the youknowwhat. So while a theme may be packed with features, it’s actually preferable to get those features via plugins rather than the theme itself since plugin features will be available no matter what theme you are using.

Some theme developers are wising up to this. For example WooThemes has some features they have developed over the years such as custom sidebars, a testimonials manger and more. These features used to be baked into their themes but recently they have separated them out into free plugins. This means that you can not only use these features with any theme even if it’s not a WooTheme, but that if you change themes, you won’t lose anything cool. This is the way that smart WordPress developers are moving.

Switching back again…

Theme options that you configure are stored in the database. So if you switch from one theme to another and then decide to go back to the original one, your previous settings should be remembed so you wouldn’t have to reconfigure from scratch.

Preserve your modesty

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want someone watching me get dressed. So when switching themes, if you don’t want your readers to watch a live performance of you figuring out all the theme options, you may consider putting your site into maintenance mode while you futz around with things. You can use a plugin such as Ultimate Coming Soon to do this. A good practice would also be to test out the theme switch first on a sandbox site.

Questions? Have I forgotten something? Leave a comment!

header image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sakyune/429572481/

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Giuseppe

    it’s perfect to have this article, when our customers ask me what happens, instead of explain always the same things I give them the url of your post, good job!
    Because this was a recurrent topic, I’ve developed a plugin to see the site preview with any different theme before to activate them. It’s the free WordPress plugin Freesoul Switch Theme. You can even use it to assign a different theme for specific page

  2. Diego Daly

    What happens if I switch to a child theme after the content is uploaded?


  3. TonyW

    I see that my concerns have already been answered…I spent lots of time creating my pages and it is a HUGE concern whether I would lose them if I change my theme.
    From all the articles I have read, pages are pretty safe.

    Thanks for the article!

  4. Holliday Vann

    Thanks, Lucy. I’ve been wanting to change my theme for years but didn’t have the courage (or the eons) I thought it would take to get everything up and flowing like water. Thankfully, I summoned up the nerve to venture out and play in the Sandbox, which is turning out to be a lot of fun…but also a lot of work. Would you by any chance know if there is a plug-in to globally set featured pics for posts? I have over 200 posts and doing it manually…one by one by one…seems like robbing myself of precious time I could be conjuring up cool content. LOL.

  5. dottiebb2000

    Great article and very helpful! Thanks. Quick question…I had some code added to the footer in my theme file. If I restore it to the original theme file, will it change the appearance of my site? Thanks!

  6. Snuerbe

    Fantastic insight for somebody new to WordPress. Detailed yet easy to follow. Certainly made my first tentative steps of playing with WordPress themes less twitchy. Thanks a bazillion.

  7. Jule

    Great article simple and easy to understand thanks a million

  8. sue

    I've heard that changing themes can affect your position in a Google search, is this true?

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