Best Time to Change WordPress Themes (and April Portfolio Reports)

By Kimberly


As someone who’s worked with WordPress for over 10 years (I’ve also dabbled in Drupal, Blogger, and Joomla – although not in that order), a frequently asked question always relates to timing a WordPress theme change. The short version of the question is this: is there a “best time” to change WordPress themes?

While you can change your WordPress theme at any point, certain times can be more advantageous, such as during the off-season or when traffic is lower. However, if the user experience is suffering, the best time to change the theme is 5 minutes ago, provided you fix it fully ASAP.

Choosing a theme that looks good and aligns with your website’s content, purpose, and desired user experience is important. Picking a theme is another subject, and we’ll cover that later. For now, let’s focus on when to change your theme. I’ll tell you why this is important soon, I promise.

image of a woman working on her computer in an office.

When to Change Your WordPress Theme

You might wonder why you should change your WordPress theme as a website owner. After all, why fix something that isn’t broken?

Design and Functionality

One of the most significant benefits of changing your WordPress theme is the improved design and functionality that comes with it. Different themes offer different features and designs, and by switching to a new theme, you can take advantage of these new features and improve your website’s overall look and feel.

Plan design and functionality upgrades during slower traffic periods.

User Experience

Another benefit of changing your WordPress theme is that it can improve the user experience for your visitors. A new theme can make your website easier to navigate, more visually appealing, and more user-friendly. This can lead to increased engagement and more time spent on your site.

If the user experience is poor enough to impact your traffic negatively, change the theme now (if you can do it yourself). If this isn’t a DIY project, work with a developer to get it done ASAP while keeping things stable.

If the user experience isn’t great, but it isn’t having a huge negative impact on your site, weigh the pros and cons of switching now versus waiting.

Enhance SEO

Changing your WordPress theme can also positively impact your website’s search engine optimization (SEO). A new theme can come with built-in SEO features that can help improve your website’s ranking on search engines like Google. Additionally, a new theme can help you optimize your website’s content and make it more SEO-friendly.

If SEO is the reason for a theme change, wait until a slower traffic period. Or add a plugin like Rank Math.

Compatibility with New Plugins and Widgets

As WordPress continues to evolve, new plugins and widgets are constantly being developed. Changing your WordPress theme ensures your website is compatible with these new plugins and widgets. This can help you use new features and functionality to improve your website.

Switch themes ASAP if the plugins are vital to your website and the user experience will break without them. If the plugins aren’t vital to user experience, consider swapping them out for something better since they don’t work anyway.

Keep Your Website Fresh

Finally, changing your WordPress theme can help keep your website fresh and up-to-date. By switching to a new theme, you can give your website a new look and feel, which can help keep your visitors engaged and interested in your content. Additionally, changing your theme can help you stay up-to-date with the latest design trends and best practices.

If this is your only reason for changing the theme, don’t change your theme right now. This is in the “definitely wait” category.

When NOT to Change Your WordPress Theme

Changing a WordPress theme can be exciting for a content creator (or a web developer). However, there are times when it’s not the best option. Here are some situations when it’s better to avoid changing your WordPress theme:

The Website is Undergoing Heavy Traffic

If your website is experiencing high traffic or is in the middle of an important event, it’s best to avoid changing your WordPress theme. A new theme may cause your website to slow down or even crash, leading to a negative user experience. It’s better to wait until your website has lower traffic before making changes.

If you’re experiencing heavy traffic but there’s a significant reason to change the theme, you can still change it. Do everything you can to mitigate the change. Prepare the change on a new server. Make a backup of the old and new sites, then wait for the lowest traffic point possible to deploy the new site.

You Don’t Have a Backup

Before making any changes to your website, having a backup is crucial. If something goes wrong during the theme change, you can easily restore the website to its previous state. If you don’t have a backup, you risk losing all your data and starting from scratch.

So, if you don’t have a backup, it’s better to wait and create one before changing your WordPress theme. Make a back up now.

Lots of Custom Code

If your website has custom code, it’s usually better to avoid changing your WordPress theme. A new theme may not be compatible with your custom code, which can lead to errors and issues. It’s best to test the new theme on a staging site before making any changes to your live site.

If you can do the custom coding yourself, then this doesn’t apply.

The New Theme is Unfamiliar

If you’re unfamiliar with the new theme, avoiding changing your WordPress theme is better. A new theme may have a different layout and functionality, which can be confusing and time-consuming to learn or install. It’s better to stick with a familiar theme or take the time to learn the new one before making any changes.

Changing your WordPress theme can be exciting, but knowing when it’s not the best option is important. If your website is undergoing heavy traffic, you don’t have a backup, you have custom code, or you’re unfamiliar with the new theme, it’s better to wait or seek professional help.

So why is this important? I promised to tell you, so here it is.

An image of a woman working on her laptop and phone surrounded by plants.

All Sites Had a Theme Change (Portfolio Wide)

I’m a big fan of constantly seeing how things are performing. It’s one of my quirks, I suppose, but it sure comes in handy when you’re a content creator who runs a portfolio of websites!

While I loved the customizability of WordPress’s Twenty Twenty-Three theme, I noticed an alarming trend.

  • All of my sites on that theme were experiencing a continual downward trend in traffic.
  • The sites were also getting slower despite caching.
  • And the mobile user experience (especially the menu) was horrific – even to me.

Not all of this data is quantifiable, I know. Some of it was me playing with the mobile version of the sites in incognito mode. But I always want to ensure my sites are easy to use and navigate.

I tried to figure out how to make a child theme or a plugin to fix the issues I’d noticed, but I got frustrated quickly. So after a chat with my husband (a software engineer, although not a website developer), he pointed out that whatever the problem was – it was endemic to the theme.

While I can do some basic HTML and CSS coding, I’m not a deep-level coder (I’m a nurse, thanks!). I can’t understand most of the code behind WordPress or its themes. However, I could parse things together and figure it out if I had to. But that would take time.

In other words – I wouldn’t be able to fix the problem unless I did some serious coding – and coded myself a new theme.

I weighed the pros and cons of that for two minutes and decided that I had to change themes. Since we’re at the start of the “busy” season for most of my sites, I did weigh the pros and cons of waiting versus doing it all now. And given both the year-over-year and month-over-month trends, I decided to go for it now.

After all – the potential for improvement far outweighed the potential risk for loss.

It’s been about a month since that theme change, and all sites have seen dramatic increases in speed, user experience, and traffic.

I’m bummed 2023 didn’t work out because I did like it. However, I returned to an old standby favorite and opted for the theme’s Pro version. In my opinion (based on the whole last month’s data), it’s far better than the free version.

My whole portfolio of sites is now off of 2023 – and on another theme. Let’s see how that’s affecting the portfolio now, shall we?

April 2023 Portfolio Report

After so many months with purely negative numbers in the Month-to-month data (and a few with 2/3 negatives), it’s sure nice to get 3 positive numbers.

Month to month

  • Publishing: +25%
  • Traffic: +3%
  • Revenue: +12%

Year over year

  • Publishing: -13%
  • Traffic: -48%
  • Revenue: -70%

Year to Date

  • Publishing: -16%
  • Traffic: -45%
  • Revenue: -39%

The year-over-year and year-to-date still need improvement.

Last month, I wrote about when to pivot your business (read it here). Last month’s pivot, while hard, has been the right decision for my portfolio. It’s going well so far. It’s a process, not an event!

In any case, on to the data and timeline recap:

  • I started blogging in 2013.
  • I joined Income School’s Project 24 in 2019.
  • Going from $0 to $1000 monthly took me 26 months from implementing the Income School style strategy.
  • Going from $1000 to $2000 for the first time took another 4 months.
  • Getting to above $2000 monthly consistently took another 3 months.
  • Months since I first hit $2,000/month: 16 and counting

I can’t do anything about the economy, nor can I do anything about ad rates. However, fixing my business spending was within my control, so last month’s pivot was the right call financially.

April 2023 Site Report

Last month I wanted to step back, reevaluate the sites and my publishing goals, and go from there. I did that for most sites – going from largest to smallest. I’ve still got 4 to do.

The evaluation was a complete restructuring of the site so that it’s got room to grow, a plan to grow, and a path forward. I hope to finish the last few this month.

Site A

  • Gardening
  • New posts: 5
  • Total posts: 327
  • Monetization: Ads + affiliates

Site B

  • Parenting
  • New posts: 1
  • Total posts: 132
  • Monetization: Ads + affiliates

Site C

  • Genealogy
  • New posts: 2
  • Total posts: 72
  • Monetization: Ads + affiliates

Site D

  • Writing
  • New posts: 1
  • Total posts: 38
  • Monetization: Ads + affiliates

Site E

  • Sports
  • New posts: 6
  • Total posts: 65
  • Monetization: Ads + affiliates

Site F

  • Entertainment
  • New posts: 2
  • Total posts: 24
  • Monetization: Ads + affiliates

Site G

  • Home
  • New posts: 1
  • Total posts: 26
  • Monetization: Ads + affiliates

Site H

  • Educational
  • New posts: 2
  • Total posts: 19
  • Monetization: Ads + affiliates

Did You Have to Change Themes?

I probably could have waited to change the themes. They probably aren’t the biggest factor in a site’s performance (in traffic and ad revenue). However, I was getting frustrated with the performance and user experience, so I was worried it was affecting my readers, too.

So I changed the theme – “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” style. Since that’s apparently how I do a lot in my business.

But you know what? I’ve been in this business for 10-plus years now. After that long, you develop a knack for knowing things, even if the data isn’t 100% quantifiable. My gut said to make the change, so I did it.

And so far? It’s paying off. I need to get to the last few sites, so I’ll leave you with my list of recommended resources and some encouragement to sign up for the newsletter because there’s more good stuff to come.

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