Changing the design and theme of a WordPress, or any, website, can be quite a scary thing to do. With Google publically stating that there is
an SEO update in May 2021 to take into consideration core web vitals and page experience, it is even more important than ever to make sure your site is delivering the best experience possible.
However, if you Google ‘new theme drop in traffic’ or anything similar, you will see that there are a multitude of results of people changing themes and seeing substantial drops in traffic.
Now, of course, that is something that nobody wants. So here is my checklist I made when migrating themes to make sure everything went as smoothly as possible.
Conduct a SEMRush site audit and ScreamingFrog
This is vital. Doing a crawl before you migrate the website gives you a ‘baseline’ as to the health of your site. Here, you can then compare to a crawl after to see if there are any differences in the crawl and fix them.
Set Up a Staging Site
When you migrate to a new theme, it is a bad idea to make the changes onto a live site. This can have a big impact on user experience and the website’s organic health.
It is critical to make sure you make a staging site – this is a copied website onto another domain that you can make changes to, break, change and do what you like with, without affecting your live site. Once you have made the changes, you can then push the changes from your staging to live, so the transition is completely seamless.
Check Structured Data
On your staged site, one area that can be often overlooked when going to a new theme is in the structured data. Structured data is a way for search engines to better understand what content is about, so they can display rich snippets for it.
With structured data, there are two main types: microdata and JSON.
Microdata is outdated and not recommended anymore, whilst SEO plugins implement JSON, with even some themes too.
This is the key part.
Use Google’s rich snippet tester to identify if there are any differences in the structured data of your new theme, compared to your old theme, and correct them. A typical area that seems to be the biggest change comes with the breadcrumbs.
Check Core Elements
On the whole, it is worth double-checking everything is behaving as it should. This includes:
- The header has the right components in it (logo, search, and navigation)
- The content is contained in a sensible width
- The mobile version of the site works
- The widgets are the same in the sidebar between the two themes.
- The footer has the same contents as before
- You have social media buttons and share buttons set up
- Related posts are working
- Meta info regarding the content is working
- The author bio is displaying
Check Site Speed
With the May 2021 update, site speed is going to play a bigger SEO factor than ever before. With this, it is incredibly important to make sure you know how to make your website fast.
With a staging site, it is difficult to do this, since you cannot point a CDN to the staged site. As soon as you push your staging to live, that is when to concentrate on site speed.
Recrawl with SEMRush and Screaming Frog
Once you have pushed the staging site to live, recrawl with SEMRush and Screaming Frog. See if there are any changes and fix them if they appear.