If you regularly update content on your site, you will not be as likely to need an expensive complete overhaul of your whole site. The web design community has a phrase, “Re-align. Don’t re-design.” The idea here is that if you’re constantly making small tweaks to your site that help grow your community and meet your goals, this is likely to keep you site looking and feeling familiar so that when you update the style and content people still recognize your online brand. If you regularly update content on your site, you will not be as likely to need an expensive complete overhaul of your whole site.
If your site is completely outdated though, it’s probably best to redesign the whole thing. Indeed, with Google and other search engines incorporating more mobile into its search results you may want to consider a WordPress redesign to make your site look good on mobile devices. Additional, WordPress design trends come and go quickly and it is important for your site to give a professional and modern look. WordPress has made switching themes easy and without affecting the content of your site. Cumbersome switchovers are a thing of the past. However, keep in mind some things like sticking with the same general color scheme, keeping the navigation in the same place, or even keeping roughly the same content. It goes without saying that you also want to ensure that the site looks better.
When considering a WordPress redesign it is a good idea to plan it all out. If you run a large site that generates a lot of traffic having a process can ensure a smooth transfer with minimal downtime. This process can be broken-up into 7 steps that we will cover in detail below.
- Back up your old site
- Clean up your site
- Install your new theme
- Check your test site
- Activate new theme on your site
- Announce Redesign
- Be Open for FeedBack
1. Backing Up Your Site
Before you touch a piece of code it is vitally important to back-up your WordPress site including files and any databases. It is important to have a starting-point in case something goes wrong and you need to go back to the original copy. There are several methods available to back-up your site.
You use FTP to connect to your site and download all the files.
Another option would be using a plugin. BackupBuddy is a good example. It produces a copy of the WordPress site in a php format contained in a zip file. This zip file would then be uploaded into the new site. At $80 you get support access, 1gig of storage space, and the ability to back-up two sites. the plugin is rated.
Another option would be VaultPress. It is a subscriptions service designed by Automattic and offers real-time backup. VaultPress comes with 4 plans and can only be assigned to a single site. For someone doing a single back-up the Lite Plan, running either $55 a year or $5 a month, should be fine.
2. Cleaning Up Your Site
After backing up your site take a look at your themes, plugins, SPAM, and comments. Use this as an opportunity to examine what is needed on your site and what is bloat. Start with deleting any old theme you do not use. Old themes that have not been updated and are no longer in use should especially be deleted. These kinds of themes present security issues and may contain bugs that allow hackers to enter your site.
Several kinds of plugins can be used to scan themes for problems. WordFence Security, BulletProof Security or Sucuri Security all have the ability to scan themes for problems. These three plugins have 100,000+ active installs and rate either at a 5 star rating or close to it.
Next, you should speed-up your site and clear out old data. Fortunately, WordPress has a plugin that can accomplish just that. WP-DBManager manages, optimizes, and repairs your database. WP-DBManager has over 100,000 active installs and has a 4.4 out of 5 star rating.
Once your databases are optimized use a speed check to test how well your site runs. Several free ones are available such as Pingdom or Google PageSpeed Insights.
Images can be optimized to speed-up your site by using the free EWWW Image Optimizer plugin.
Broken links can be checked by using a free plugin such as, Broken Link Checker.
To clean-up comment spam use the free Akismet plugin. This plugin can be configured to remove the most pervasive comment spam. For existing comments, you could either delete them manually or use the screen options to display more comments and do a bulk delete. Unfortunately, there is no active and free plugin designed specifically to globally management comments.
3. Install Theme On Test Site
Once you cleaned-up the site it is best to create a WordPress site for testing. Test sites are useful for testing themes and plugins for risks and plugin interference. Two methods exist to create a test site, a local install or a new instance.
WordPress can be installed locally but requires more technical expertise. Creating a new instance by installing a WordPress into a sub-folder of your domain on your normal hosting account. If this option is selected, be sure to protect your site by using the WP Maintenance Mode Plugin which will add a splash page letting visitors know your site is down for maintenance. Also, be sure to discourage search engines from crawling your site by visiting Settings > Reading. This is an important consideration to prevent search engines from caching content you don’t want cached.
To duplicate your site on a test you will need to download your site and import all relevant files. The best method is to use a duplicator plugin, such as WordPress Duplicator. While Duplicator has a 4.9 out of 5 star rating with over 500,000 active installs, the authors suggest that technical expertise is required to use it.
4. Check Your Test Site
Once your test site is up and running, check that all plugins are both installed and activated. Once the plugins have been setup, activate your new theme. Proceed to go through your site and content to make sure all is working as expected.
For rebuilding thumbnails you can use the Regenerate Thumbnails plugin. This plugin will reconfigure your thumbnail images (such as those found on featured images) to match the theme image specifications.
Some themes require custom page templates. If so, you will need to go into each page and assign it the custom template. The page screen will allow you to apply this in bulk. Make sure you consult the theme documentation as some themes have their own special settings in the Dashboard. You’ll need to make the same changes on your test site.
5. Activate New Theme on Site
If all goes well on your test site, you now are ready to activate it on your live site. If you made any changes to your settings on your test site make sure you import those changes on your live site. Double-check to make sure everything works on the live version.
If you need to make extensive edits to your page or your Regenerate Thumbnail plugin takes time to reconfigure images, you will need to keep that splash page up.
Finally, once the site is tweeted and looks good you are ready to disable WP Maintenance Plugin and announce to the world your site redesign is ready!
6. Announce Redesign
Let your readers know about any changes and include an image or screenshot of what the new site looks like. RSS subscribers won’t see your new re-design unless you tell them about it. It might be a good idea to keep a sticky-post around for a while to let everyone know of the changes.