How to Change a WordPress Theme without Going Live

Are you thinking of trying out a new design theme for your WordPress site or WooCommerce store? Worried about losing some of the web data?

Don’t worry. It is possible to test a WordPress theme without making any interruptions on your live site.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s ok to be careless when switching to a different theme.

Some WordPress themes might not cause any changes or losses to a website. But in a few instances, a new theme might alter some elements on a WordPress site causing it to malfunction.

So before switching to a new theme, let’s say a hair salon WordPress theme, it is important to keep the following steps in mind. They help prevent unwanted site changes and outline how to change a WordPress theme without going live.

Important Steps Before Changing WordPress Themes

It won’t take long to change your WordPress theme as the steps are quite easy. But it is important to make sure your WordPress site doesn’t lose any data and still runs smoothly.

For those reasons, it is best to take the following precautions:

Decide on the New WordPress Theme

There is a wide variety of WordPress themes available online. Some are simple, while some come with lots of enhancing elements such as author boxes.

This can make choosing a new theme overwhelming and challenging.

To decide which WordPress theme to use, create a small selection of WordPress themes that would work best for your site. Choose from the selection and customize it after installation.

WordPress has its own directory of themes. Users can also look for the newest ones by going to ‘Administration’ then ‘Appearance’.

Select ‘Themes’ and click the ‘Add New’ option.

Copy Code Snippets from the Current Theme

When switching to a new WordPress theme, there’s no need to re-type source codes. WordPress offers different snippets options.

Copy the code snippets of the current theme and put them in Notepad. Then insert the snippets in the functions.php file or use a plugin.

Check Page Load Time

One of the best ways to optimize a WordPress site is to reduce the loading time. The faster a website loads, the better.

Thus, test the current load time of your website before changing the WordPress theme. Then compare the page load time in the new theme.

Save Your Analytics Tracking Code

A common problem when changing to a new theme is losing the analytics tracking code.

WordPress doesn’t have built-in analytics. So users need to install Google Analytics onto their WordPress site.

To customize the WordPress theme, users can add code snippets for Google Analytics, Adsense, Sitemap, and Google Search Console.

Do this by copying your analytics tracking code. Next, insert it in the functions.php file, or use plugins.

Have a Full Backup of the Website

The most recommended step before making any changes to a website and to all programs is to have a full backup. Make sure to back up all your pages, posts, plugins, media, and database if any.

Having a backup makes it easier and faster to customize new themes and optimize them.

Copy Sidebar Widgets

Sidebars hold and display various widgets on a website. These can include social media links, ads, subscription,s and contact forms. When you build a website, these are important elements that will come in handy in the future.

Make sure to copy all the custom code of your widgets to use them again on the new WordPress theme.

Activate Maintenance Mode

WordPress features Maintenance Mode. It tells site visitors that the website is temporarily unavailable due to ongoing updates and changes.

It enables website owners to run a user-friendly page rather than a broken site. This builds a positive brand image.

It also allows site owners to inform visitors that the site will be back in service soon.

How to Change a WordPress Theme without Going Live

There are three ways to change a WordPress theme without going live:

  • using the live demo option
  • a plugin
  • a WordPress staging site

Live Demo

WordPress features a live demo option when users change their WordPress theme. Every WordPress theme offers a live demo before installing it.

  1. From the WordPress dashboard, go to ‘Appearance’.
  2. Select the ‘Theme’ option and look for a new theme using the search bar.
  3. Having chosen a theme, click the ‘Live Demo’ option to test it out.
  4. If satisfied with the chosen theme, click ‘Install’. Users can now customize their new WordPress theme.

Follow these steps to try out different themes.

An important reminder, do not click the ‘Activate’ and ‘Publish’ buttons. This will prevent any changes from being applied on your live site.

Use the Theme Switcha Plugin

Another way to change WordPress themes without going live is to use the Theme Switcha Plugin.

Switcha Plugin is a free WordPress plugin. It generates a private preview of WordPress themes.

To install the plugin:

  • From your WordPress dashboard, go to ‘Plugins’ then click ‘Add New’.
  • Users can either search for the plugin on the search bar or upload it.
  • Upload the plugin and activate it.

  • On the admin panel, click ‘Settings’ then go to ‘Theme Switcha’.
  • Select ‘Enable Switching’ then click ‘Save Changes’ at the bottom of the page.

Now, one may switch privately to different themes by clicking on the theme thumbnails. Once you’ve chosen a WordPress theme, click ‘Activate’.

WordPress Staging Site

Making any changes to a WordPress site runs the risk of losing data and affecting user experience. Especially for WooCommerce shops where sales, orders, and other business transactions take place.

Many WordPress web hosting services offer to clone WordPress sites in a staging environment. This allows site owners to try out a new theme before going live. 

Staging Environment

A staging environment enables website owners to edit web content, plugins, and test out WordPress themes before publishing them.

It does so by creating a staging site which is an offline cloned copy of their WordPress site. Here, users can basically make any changes without applying them on a live site.

A staging environment means users can keep their site running. At the same time, they can customize their website and fix any errors behind the scenes.

Once all editing of the WordPress theme is complete, they can publish it to apply the changes online.

Push Changes in Staging Site Live

After customizing the new theme and fixing any bugs in the staging site, it is now ready to go live. It means replacing your current live site with the customized staging site.

This step is very simple and easy if using the staging service of the web host.

NOTE: Any new content on the live site will be overwritten if the editing in the staging site is ongoing. So it is important to make sure that all new content is already placed in the staging site before going live.

If trying a new theme on a local WordPress site, make sure to backup your website before uploading it to the server. Once finished, the new theme will now apply to the live site.

FAQ about changing a WordPress theme without going live

Can I change my WordPress theme without going live?

Oh, absolutely! You can use a plugin like Theme Switcha or WP Staging to create a staging environment. It lets you test out the new theme without affecting your live site. It’s super convenient and helps you avoid any surprises when you go live with the new theme.

What if my site breaks after changing the theme?

Don’t worry, buddy! You can always revert to the previous theme if anything goes wrong. Go to your WordPress dashboard, then Appearance > Themes and reactivate your old theme. Remember to backup your site before making any changes, so you can restore it if needed.

How do I preview a new theme without activating it?

No problem at all! When browsing themes in your WordPress dashboard, just hover over a theme thumbnail and click the Live Preview button. You’ll get a sneak peek at how the theme looks on your site without actually activating it. Handy, huh?

Will I lose my content when changing themes?

Your content is safe, my friend! WordPress stores content and themes separately. When you switch themes, your posts, pages, and media remain intact. However, theme-specific settings and customizations might not transfer to the new theme, so be prepared for that.

How do I transfer theme customizations to the new theme?

Well, transferring customizations depends on the specific themes involved. Some themes have import/export features, while others don’t. You might need to manually recreate customizations like widgets, menus, and theme options in the new theme. Make a note of your settings before making the switch.

How can I back up my WordPress site?

Backups are essential, and there are several ways to do it. You can use a plugin like UpdraftPlus or BackupBuddy to schedule automatic backups. Alternatively, you can manually back up your site by exporting your database and site files via your hosting control panel or an FTP client.

Can I use a child theme to customize without affecting the main theme?

Totally! Child themes are a fantastic way to customize without touching the main theme files. This means you can safely update the parent theme without losing your customizations. Just create a child theme, add your custom code or styles, and activate it as you would any other theme.

What’s the best way to choose a new WordPress theme?

Good question! Start by identifying your site’s needs and the features you want in a theme. Then, look for reputable theme developers and read user reviews. Pay attention to theme demos, responsiveness, and compatibility with popular plugins. And remember, a well-supported theme is worth its weight in gold.

Can I have multiple themes active on different pages of my site?

Technically, yes! There are plugins like Multiple Themes that allow you to use different themes on different pages or posts. However, be cautious, as this can lead to potential conflicts and maintenance headaches. It’s generally best to stick with one theme and use page templates or custom CSS for variations.

How do I update a theme without losing customizations?

If you’ve made changes directly to the theme files, updating the theme will overwrite those changes. The best way to prevent this is by using a child theme or custom CSS plugin. This way, you can safely update your theme without losing any customizations. Remember, always backup before making updates!

Ending thoughts on changing a WordPress theme without going live

Changing website themes is a common practice. It helps to improve branding and user experience, especially for business websites.

Anyone can change WordPress themes without breaking a sweat. This guide shows different ways to change a WordPress theme without going live.

Remember to follow a few important steps before switching to a new theme.

Always have a full backup of your website. Save your analytics tracking code, widgets, and code snippets.

It may also be prudent to activate maintenance mode, thus running an active page instead of a broken site.

These steps and information will help website owners to revamp their site without having any errors.

If you enjoyed reading this article on how to change a WordPress theme without going live, you should check out this one on how to edit categories in WordPress.

We also wrote about a few related subjects like how to delete WordPress themes, how to make a phone number clickable in WordPress, how to watermark imageshow to check the WordPress versioncreating a comparison table with WordPress pluginshow to upload an HTML file in WordPresswhere are WordPress pages stored and how to justify text in WordPress.


Milan Jovanovic
Milan Jovanovic

Product Lead

Articles: 219