How to Change Your WordPress Theme [Step by Step]

You’ve probably been here before.

It seems like you barely updated your WordPress site. But when you look closer, you realize you haven’t changed your WordPress theme in what seems like years.

If this is you, don’t worry. We’ve all been there. And, good news! There’s a quick solution.

WordPress is one of the most intuitive content management systems on the market, and it’s easier now than ever to change your WordPress theme.

This article will cover everything you need to know about changing your WordPress theme.

What to know if you’re first getting started with WordPress

If you found this article because you’re a first time WordPress owner, this section is for you.

First off—congrats! It’s exciting you’re taking the plunge and getting your website up and running.

Secondly, you’ll need to set up a Coming Soon page while you test out possible themes.

A Coming Soon page is either a placeholder page that informs people you’re about to launch your new website, or it’s a placeholder page you can activate while you’re making updates to your site.

Activating a Coming Soon page makes it possible to make as many changes to your website and test as many themes as you want without the whole world seeing what you’re doing.

The good news is when you first set up your WordPress account, WordPress will set you up with a default Coming Soon page while you get your ducks in a row. It looks like this:

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How to change your WordPress theme without destroying your website

If you’ve owned a WordPress site for a while, and are ready to give it a glow up, this section is for you.

There are three primary ways to update your WordPress theme incognito, including:

  • Creating a Coming Soon page or a Maintenance page
  • Downloading a staging plugin
  • Testing in a local WordPress testing environment

Let’s walk through each option.

1. Create a Coming Soon page or a Maintenance page

A Coming Soon page isn’t reserved for first time website owners. It’s also handy for people that want to update their theme without inviting the whole internet to the maintenance party.

There are several Coming Soon and Maintenance page plugins. 

A good place to start is by checking out the Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode by SeedProd. 

When you install and activate this plugin, it will put up either a Coming Soon or Maintenance Mode page, allowing you to explore new theme options.

2. Download a WordPress staging plugin

Not everyone has the luxury to completely take their website offline while making updates. This is especially true if you run a WooCommerce store or a thriving blog.

If you can’t afford to put up a Coming Soon or Maintenance page, then consider downloading a staging plugin like WP StagingDuplicator, or WP Stagecoach

A staging plugin makes it possible to experiment with changes to your website without disrupting the current version of your website that others see when they visit your site.

Here are the steps for building a staging site for WordPress with a plugin:

  1. Install and then activate your preferred staging plugin.
  2. Navigate to the staging plugin on the left navigation bar in your WordPress dashboard.
  3. Follow the prompts to start and create your staged website.
  4. Give your staged website a name.
  5. The plugin will clone your website.
  6. Open your new staged website and click login.
  7. Use your WordPress login credentials to access the staging site.
  8. Notice the URL will include the staging website URL (e.g.,
  9. Make your changes.

3. Test in a local WordPress testing environment

If you don’t want to work within WordPress while testing out new themes, there’s another option for you.

You can install a local WordPress testing environment app on your computer.

A local WordPress testing environment works like a staging plugin. It allows you to test out different changes. The difference is instead of creating a testing environment in WordPress, it creates an environment on your computer. 

This way, you can test out changes to your theme without worrying about messing anything up in your WordPress dashboard.

Here are some WordPress testing environments to look into:

Here are the steps you need to follow to work within a WordPress testing environment:

  1. Download a WordPress migration app like the All-in-One WP Migration plugin.
  2. Export your production site to a file
  3. Save the file to your computer
  4. Follow the steps your respective local testing software requires

Remember this last option is somewhat extreme if you’re only looking to update your theme. If you only want to update your theme, setting up a maintenance page or using a staging plugin may be easier.

How to install a new theme in WordPress

Now that we’ve talked about the options for testing different WordPress themes, let’s talk about how you actually make the change.

Here are some steps to consider.

1. Backup your website

Before you even start browsing new themes, take the time to back up your website. 

All you have to do to backup your site is install a WordPress backup plugin and then save the back up on your computer. Trust me. It’s worth the extra two steps.

2. Decide which testing option you’ll use

Once you’ve backed up your website, you can start testing new themes using one of the options mentioned above. 

It doesn’t matter which option you choose. The important thing is to make sure you’re not making changes in a live environment.

3. Browse themes

There are tons of awesome WordPress themes on the market, and you have two main options when selecting a theme.

First, you can browse free and paid themes within WordPress itself. Here’s how:

  • Hover your cursor over “Appearance” on the left-hand menu of the dashboard and click on “Themes”
  • Use the search bar at the top to browse premium themes, themes, or previously installed themes

Easy peasy.

The second way to browse themes is to check out third-party WordPress theme sites. Some popular sites include:

If you pick a third-party theme, all you have to do is buy it, download the .zip file to your desktop, and then upload it in the “Themes” section of WordPress.

4. Activate your theme

Once you’ve previewed themes to your heart’s content, it’s time to install your new WordPress theme

Here’s how to activate a third-party theme:

  1. Purchase, download, and save the .zip file of your new theme
  2. Login to your WordPress site
  3. Navigate to the “Appearance” section on the left navigation bar of your WordPress dashboard and click on “themes”
  4. Click on “Add New” at the top of the screen
  5. Click on “Upload”
  6. Either drag and drop the .zip file or click “choose file” and select the .zip file
  7. Click “install now”
  8. Press “activate” when you’re ready

If you’re installing and activating a theme that is already in WordPress, there are less steps. All you have to do is hover your cursor over the theme, and click “Activate.”

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