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Changing WordPress Themes: A Mid-Life Blog Crisis

Changing WordPress Themes: A Mid-Life Blog Crisis

by Guest Author Jean Chong

bicycle clip artPeriodically I am struck with guilt and worry, whenever a few new Word Press theme templates roll out.  Maybe I  just think one of my 2  blogs have  a mid-life identity crisis.  I used the same template, MistyLook for both blogs –though each blog has a different focus.

I’m worried that one of my blogs might need mid-life plastic surgery, liposuction or a good marathon jog, century bike ride to make it more arresting, noticeable. Maybe a blog should have more digital eye candy for fiddling like a charm bracelet.

I have two blogs with the first one for a company  third wave cycling .  The other is my personal blog,  cycle write blog .   The two blogs are occasionally interlinked for cross-referenced content.  Cycle Write Blog was launched a month later to park my fun or non-cycling topics so content would not confuse audience of Third Wave Cycling.

After several hours of trialing over 75% of the themes, I returned to Mistylook theme for Cycle Write Blog. That was 4 months ago.  At that time, I found a lot of  other themes with fonts too small or a dark background which is not helpful to people who want to print off a blog page or two. More worrisome, I discovered some themes would require significant hours of realigning photos and text. I like embedding my photos with text either left or right justified in surrounding text and in one harmonious layout.

Since then, I have discovered Mistylook is one of the most popular Word Press themes. But who knows?  Maybe by now, Mistylook’s popularity has been  being outstripped by something else. After all, blogsphere changes  at a steady clip with blogware enhancements, themes and simply more bloggers joining the ranks worldwide.

Meanwhile I continue to wonder a tad:  If I use the same theme template, does a blog risk being boring or confused with my first blog?  However, the value of a blog is not only easy, intuitive navigation and simplicity, but valuable original content. So far, the mantra–  quality, fresh content is more critical than merely flipping over a new theme to keep and hold returning readers. After all, has hardly any graphics or photos but readers are still coming regularly.

The article on Word Press theme evaluation is a good starting point.  However, some Word Press bloggers become wiser after launching their baby blog. Clearly some bloggers have switched themes for a various reasons.

Discussion Questions

I want to know your blog midlife makeover story when you switched to a different theme:   your trials and general tips on the switchover  several months or years after your blog’s birth:

1.    How much time did you spend realigning your content to fit the new theme?

2.    Did you remove any large blocks of content?  Give some main reasons.

3.    Was your choice of  switching to the new theme, at all influenced by the ease in minimal content realignment, etc.

4.    What did you learn the most in the process of switching to a new theme?

5.   Did you abandon a personal website for your blog?  Was it the right decision?

For now, I will just waddle along in my belief or delusion, that it’s the blog content and photos that hold readers.

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43 thoughts on “Changing WordPress Themes: A Mid-Life Blog Crisis

  1. Hi timethief:

    A few months ago you helped someone with a theme install question. They were wanting to upload a new theme onto their WordPress site. You had responded with the following “There is no FTP access to free hosted blogs and we cannot install individual plugins into free hosted blogs. Likewise we cannot install any themes from the internet as they are for wordpress.ORG installs which run on different software.”

    My question is, what do you have to do in order to be able to install new themes?


  2. I’m happy to report that I FINALLY switched one of my blogs to a different theme. Took almost a year …. to make the leap. And I’m glad I did. :)

  3. TiTi’s recent post article on differences between Pages & Posts for differences in search engine crawling and results was useful.

    Hence, I am not clear about Zeenat’s latest query about customizing a template to make ensure search engine friendliness. Of course, one has to choose logical words in titles, tags and categories as well as in overall writing style to make Posts search engine friendly.

    But any readers, who haven’t responded with their story of theme changeover angst and lessons learned, please share.

    There are several things going of more pressing priority for me, in next few weeks that I can’t undertake a theme changeover or much tinker-testing a blog. So more readers responding would help and others who are already testing.

    Learning journey continues here..

  4. HI Ti ti,
    I already have a test blog..and do loads of crazy stuff with it…and then know exactly what to do on the main blog. It makes for a cleaner change..rather than a messy one :)
    Also TT…i need your advice and opinion on my blog design. I have been using the same theme “vigilance” for a while now. I do play around with it…add stuff..change the colors etc. I keep the look fresh..and prefer vibrancy since my blog is about positivity. My only hassle now is…I want to change the theme. But I dont know which theme will be search engine and eye friendly…while maintaining the blogs vibrant and calm feel.
    If and when you have the time..can you please give me some suggestions on this issue. I am kind of bending towards Inuit type theme….tested it on the test blog etc…What do you think?
    If you feel like you need to email me here is the address: [email addresses removed by timethief]
    I know this comment is oft topic….but I couldn’t really find another way of getting in touch with you…I mean email etc. Hope you don’t mind.
    Thank you in advance.
    Much Love,

    • @Zeenat
      I have emailed you an answer.

      P.S. I have been trying for the last 3 days to complete an publish an article on choosing a theme. I have been unable to do so simply because the number of emails I am receiving for support are more than I can cope with. I am now considering removing my contact box from my commenting page so I can get some publishing done. Stay tuned …:)

        • @Zeenat
          Thank goodness you posted again. I found my email reply to you in my drafts! I’m so sorry. I have sent it again. The theme article has turned into a 3 part article and I will be publishing all three parts today. So sorry about the delay. :(
          Love and peace,

        • @Zeenat
          Re: SEO and themes at
          The themes here were all originally coded to run on free standing software installs. In order to run on software they were “adapted” and some features were eliminated and/or added. As this is a WP-MU (multiuser) blogging platform we cannot access and edit the underlying PHP and HTML in the templates because in essence all those using the same theme are using the same templates. As any edit made will affect all blogs wearing the same them only Staff have access to those files and only they can edit them.

          Setting that aside, it’s important to know that all of the themes are put through rigorous scrutiny by the Theme Team so our themes are “clean”. Unlike some of the free themes available on the internet, there are no sponsored links and no hidden links in them. If you read this exchange between Lance from the Theme Team and me then you will know what it was about

          The SEO is excellent but what the theme provides is only part of what SEO is about. Generally speaking provided all else is equal a clean 2 column theme with a right hand sidebar will be the best choice to make for SEO. That being said there are exceptions. The real point I want to make is that if we want to have the best SEO possible then it’s our contents in the themes that we have to focus on (on page SEO). It’s true that we cannot use plugins but anyone and everyone can learn and apply basic SEO.

    • You’re welcome. This is exciting. Test blogs are such a blast. It doesn’t matter what may go wrong because you learn new things and fix it. :)

  5. @Jean,

    Doesn’t sound idiotic to me at all. Artful, yes. Airhead, no. I confess: My blog brings me more satisfaction and joy than some humans in my life.

    TiTi, here’s a question I have. I did create a private test blog, and then realized I wanted to duplicate my entire current blog, as is, at the test site. Looked around the FAQs, etc., but didn’t quite get an answer I could grasp. Is “export” what I want to do? Thanks. This really is turning out to be a great discussion.

  6. tt,

    I am so consumed with getting everything adjusted to wordpress, after a move from blogger, that I am not considering changing the template. It isn’t on my list of priorities right now. Actually, I like the clean, sparse look of the template I chose.

    One of the things distracting me right now is why just one post of all my 60 plus posts has its side bar info on the very bottom of the page, instead of to the right, where it is on all the other pages.

    It happens to be a very popular post, but everyone who goes to it following a published link may not go to the very bottom of the page and see all my other post links, therefore, not read anything else on my blog.

    This is the miscreant post:

    An explanation for this appearance is that the comments extend all the way to the right, leaving no room for the other things usually on the right. On every other post, the comments stay within the same margins as the post. But I don’t know the explanation for why the comments would extend out so far. I have considered deleting all comments to correct this page, but that would be as a last resort.

    If you answered me about where I could ask you questions without going to a current thread, I didn’t see it — sorry.

    As always, thank you for your time, patience and generosity.


    • @Kathleen,
      Go to Settings> Writing, tick the option “WordPress should correct invalidly nested XHTML automatically”, click Save Changes. Then edit the problem post (make any insignificant change, e.g. add then remove a space) and click Update Post. That will do it. :)

  7. @Jean
    “In creating a test blog with different theme, does one have capacity to “save” it to play around with it for a few days before hitting the Word Press “activate” button?”

    I think I confused you. I apologize. A test blog is a blog like any other blog that I refer to as “test blog” simply to describe what it will be used for. We can register as many blogs as we wish here at and then use them as we wish. I’m suggesting that every blogger ought to register an additional blog, set the visibility to “private” to keep out search engines, and then use it for the “testing” purposes I have indicated.

  8. In creating a test blog with different theme, does one have capacity to “save” it to play around with it for a few days before hitting the Word Press “activate” button?

    Rachel, you expressed so well like the love song, ‘breaking up is hard to do”: ” then concluded that, for now, I am either a diehard thematic monogamist or I’m stuck in a dysfunctional and co-dependent relationship with my blog theme.” LOL.

    This is going to sound pretty idotic: I like some of my blog postings alot purely for visual aesthetic compatability of article’s photo(s) directly juxtaposed against my Cycle Write’s blog photo tree trunkheader. Am in love, fixated so much that I don’t want to post the next future article which doesn’t look as aesthetically pretty /harmonious against the woody tree trunk.

    Yes, maybe am an artsy airhead at heart.

    Knowing myself, I could easily spend 2-3 hrs. per wk. just looking at newly found blogs from purely an aesthetic and usability standpoint.

    Hayes, the little details of alignment are painstaking and seem trivial, but some topics would be awfully dull without a photo. My rationale is the reader may not remember the text of blog but just have vague memory of phrases and maybe 1 out of 4 photos or fuzzy impression: That’s an organized layout vs. something dishevelled.

    Maybe I might meet you Susan one day, we’re like ships passing at night.

    Frances, given your Chicago blog, the header, etc. looks entirely appropriate. What other features are you tempted by in other Word Press themes?

    • @Jean, I wanted to have someone with photo shop expertise help me create a composite photo made up of black and white snapshots, mostly from the sixties, of me and my family against Chicago backdrops. that’s what I’d like to be able to put in a custom header. Many, though not all, my posts are about remembering Chicago and particularly life in the neighborhoods. I think a header like that would warm up the blog a bit. I am tempted by the white space… I want more open space, bigger fonts. I don’t have any technical expertise other than what it takes to manage a basic blog.

      • I’ll help you with the header if you would like. I have the enough Photoshop expertise to make a header. Just let me know.

        • Thanks so much! Now to decide which theme. I’ve already successfully imported my existing blog into my new test blog, so that’s a start.

  9. 1. How much time did you spend realigning your content to fit the new theme?
    About two hours re-sizing pics.

    2. Did you remove any large blocks of content? Give some main reasons.
    Removed a couple widgets because the new theme offered more options

    3. Was your choice of switching to the new theme, at all influenced by the ease in minimal content realignment, etc.
    Clean, simple styling is what I always look for.

    4. What did you learn the most in the process of switching to a new theme?
    After spending two hours re-sizing pics I learned that I need to get a life. :)

    5. Did you abandon a personal website for your blog? Was it the right decision?
    No personal websites since 2002

    Another great article timethief.

  10. @Jean
    I’m going to weigh in on this now.

    1. How much time did you spend realigning your content to fit the new theme?

    Not much. When I switched this blog from from Vigilance to Inuit Types theme that switch took only moments and I did not adjust anything at all.

    I advocate strongly that ever blogger needs a test blog where they try out new themes, widgets, etc. in first before making the changes to their main blog.

    That’s what I did this time and almost every other time I have changed themes. I worked with Inuit Types on my own in my test blog and I conferred with others like Sandra Lee who were doing the same until we knew how the features worked.

    During the testing phase I felt no sense of urgency or concern because my readers were still viewing the site wearing the Vigilance theme. When I was ready to switch I clicked the “activate” button and reinstalled widgets and it was over.

    Since then I have continued to make small changes and I will be making more in the future. In all cases I will put Inuit Types up on my test blog and try them out there first.

    2. Did you remove any large blocks of content? Give some main reasons.

    No and I would never ever consider removing any content from my blog or my posts in it after publication and indexing by search engines.

    3. Was your choice of switching to the new theme, at all influenced by the ease in minimal content realignment, etc.

    No. Not this time or any other time I have changed themes. However, I acknowledge it could be a factor for other bloggers.

    4. What did you learn the most in the process of switching to a new theme?
    Hmmm … every blogger needs a test blog.

    5. Did you abandon a personal website for your blog? Was it the right decision?

    No and I will never have a personal website. My blogs are my websites and it’s extremely unlikely that they ever be restructured to resemble mock websites with static front pages.

    My experience of is much different from the experience you people have of it. I have been a member for 4 years. When I first came there was a single forum thread that had FAQ’s and answers to them. There was a single forum – one board only – not multiple forums. Themes were few in number and widgets were yet to be introduced.

    In those early days we bloggers were bold and inquisitive. We welcomed new themes and many of us had test blogs. We had no instructions. We poked buttons and learned how things worked and only posted to the forum when we could find no solutions on our own. There we shared our knowledge of how the various different features on different themes worked in forum threads. Once we mastered the new theme in our test blog then we switched to it in our main blog. During those times I changed themes frequently and so did other bloggers. I continue to do the same today.

    I love testing themes and changing themes and that’s not going to change any time soon. :)


    • Hi timethief —

      I think I’ve been lucky when I changed themes as nothing bad happened. I’ll take your advice and do tests in the future before changing. Thanks in advance for saving me some headaches.

  11. Feeling very much the same. I’ve been using ChaoticSoul for over two years, and I have found it rich and soulful for over two years and it has become very comfortable and not at all chaotic. Bu, yes, I too, have wandering eyes for other newer, huicier themes — and I know that people have trouble reading the light-on-dark type (including Timethief).

    I don’t think you’re delusional at all! I spent about 2 weeks previewing my blog on every single WordPress theme — and then concluded that, for now, I am either a diehard thematic monogamist or I’m stuck in a dysfunctional and co-dependent relationship with my blog theme. Besides, “speed previewing” really isn’t my style.

    Either way, I decided to let it all go for a while to focus on content and the blossoming of a glorious, wet and windy Spring here in my part of the world. I see and hear a lot of inner angst regarding this topic, and think there’s significant potential for it all to become a distraction. I tweaked a few things here and here with my existing theme, and for now, it is enough.

    When my new blog theme appears, I’ll feel it instantly in my heart, my head, and the core of my being.Ya know? We’ll just CLICK! and the transition will be smooth and satisfying. Oh, yeah…

  12. David: Love Audrey mouse in the fez. Re my query about abandoning website for personal blog is truly what it is: Since blogware provides social interactivity with readers (comments section) and removes headaches of website maintenance, then presumably some people who had a personal website MIGHT abandon it in favour of starting a personal blog. Of course, there are completely different reasons why a person might need to keep up a web site.

    Thomas, you’re practical. So am I. I just feel guilty. Perhaps that’s influenced by keeping up the digital Jones next door and around me.

    • I see what you mean.

      I tend to think of most websites having a built-in content management back-end that makes life easier than having to hard code all the changes, but that may not be the case, so a personal website may not be as easy to maintain as a blog.

      On the other hand, while even the newer themes have more features that can be changed in the back-end, the content management back-end on themes is fairly limited.

      To give an example of the limitations, take the Twenty Ten theme I have started using on Light Reading.

      I like it except for one thing I would like to change, which is the tab bar that goes under the header image. It is black – and to my eye the color overpowers the rest of the design.

      It would be nice if these themes were developed to the point that we could change details like that without having to know CSS (and pay to save the changes).

      And you are right of course that blogs tend to have built-in commenting systems.

  13. 1. How much time did you spend realigning your content to fit the new theme?
    Answer 1. Very little – if the new theme messes up the size of photos that are already on the blog, or it doesn’t display pages the way I want, or the typeface of the header is not what I want – away with it!

    2. Did you remove any large blocks of content? Give some main reasons.
    Answer 2. Never. What was the point of putting them there in the first place only to remove them because they don’t fit with the new decoration?

    3. Was your choice of switching to the new theme, at all influenced by the ease in minimal content realignment, etc.
    Answer 3. Absolutely, yes.

    4. What did you learn the most in the process of switching to a new theme?
    Answer 4. Can’t recall all the things I have learned, but firstly that some themes look better in the thumbnail view than they do full-size (an awful disappointment) and recently, that some themes make links in posts no-follow even when I try to un-no-follow them.

    5. Did you abandon a personal website for your blog? Was it the right decision?
    Answer 5. What is a personal website? I don’t understand. It is entirely possible to set up pages on a blog (as I have) and have a static front page (which I haven’t) – so how is personal website different from a blog, unless you mean that ‘blog’ is synonymous with a rolling screen of posts with the newest at the top.

    • Regarding David’s point 1: after reading this post I decided to play around and see how my blog might look with different themes. I found myself ignoring the ones that would have required a lot of rework without even considering how they looked. Sort of like David’s comment of “away with it.”

  14. Thanks for an interesting article. I’ve only been doing this since last September and have used the same WP theme all along. I haven’t changed because (1) I don’t find anything wrong with the theme I’m using (cutline), (2) I’m afraid at how much work it would take to switch and (3) like you, I think that content is more important than format. I may be wrong on all those counts but the reality is that my (few) subscribers are coming for the content, not the visual pyrotechnics and I certainly don’t think that changing will have any impact on my level of readership. Most importantly, I’d rather spend my time working on new content rather than resizing the old stuff.

    FYI, this blog always contains so much valuable information I don’t care how it looks!

  15. I’m back from cycling , etc.

    Novroz : thx for feedback on how it looks on mobile phone. We don’t use cell phones …yet.

    Sandra: Your hubby is like my partner, he does not want his company blog Third Wave Cycling to change its template. He’s quite satisfied with it. The bigger matter is getting him to write more blog articles since he is engrossed in other work related to biz and advocacy (which fits with his biz).

    WordPress themes addict –how funny but it’s almost like trying on new clothes at a store when previewing new themes, etc. Except you want to party for awhile dressed in a new theme. Please don’t get drunk…your time for content and party talk is important.

    Zeenat and joe: thx for each for the feedback. I guess I’ve worked for several professional services firms, that I’m abit tired of a hard-edge black-white theme. However it’s up to me to glitz it up to make it “warmer”…which is why I originally chose MistyLook.

    Frances: You’re like me..we each love discovering and sharing what we know about our home cities! My Cycle Write blog will have vignettes (I hope) about our European trip in a few weeks. We will be doing some cycling. So there will be a geographic segue temporarily from Vancouver. So lots of time for me to think if I want to switch to new theme while I learn from people’s experiences, while I stuff with more content… OK, that doesn’t make strategic sense. But I really don’t want to deal with technical fix issues while vacation-blogging in Europe.

    Adding a custom header is real took me several hours to plough through my personal digital photo collection to find the right image. It is part of a tall, old-growth tree here locally.

    Could anyone be so gracious as to share with us, how much time was it for you to retweak your blog after you switched over to a new theme that you liked in a blog’s mid-life?

    I love reading about learning journeys! Also choosing a theme has a creative visioning aspect which makes it more intriguing.

  16. Funny, but on the blog that’s associated with this post I’ve never changed the theme, but I’ve changed it on my other two blogs a few times. Now I have the same theme for both of them, but changed them as far as colors and logos go so that they don’t totally look the same.

    The transformation didn’t take all that long either. I like 3 column themes, so that stayed the same, even if a few things were in different places on the side. And you just have to remember to copy certain things over from your old blog to your new blog if you’d added them to your edited files, something I’m doing all the time.

  17. Hi Jean,

    These are terrific questions. Thanks for raising this topic.

    I recently read in the comments sections of one of the recent WordPress press releases on a new theme (Enterprise, I think but it could have been the one before), in response to a question from a Misty Look blogger, that WordPress will be introducing ‘enhancements’ to some of the most popular older themes. No idea when this will take place, but when it does and if enhancements are made to Misty Look, you might have a chance to make some changes without switching to a new theme.

    My husband uses Misty Look and he never thinks about changing for a moment. I change themes constantly. He says I need a WordPress Theme Addicts group. I change simply because I have not yet found the ‘perfect’ theme for me. Most of the transitions have gone smoothly, but there is a learning curve, and glitches with new themes. The WordPress Forum support is invaluable with addressing any problems that arise in a transition.

    Some of the newer themes have the ‘featured image’ option. I never use these because when you switch to a new theme (depending upon the theme) the featured images may or may not move with you or there can be duplicate images on older posts that had inserted images. When I moved from Inuit Types theme to Bueno, I had to remove duplicate photos one by one in a number of previous posts.

    I think we are all different. I’m changeable and I like to refresh my blog and change it. Other people find what they like and stick with it. I don’t think there’s one best way.

    I read blogs for their content, not for their design. I like nicely designed blogs but it won’t determine if I read the blog, although small fonts are definitely a putt-off. I like photos too, but this isn’t the biggest draw for me. For me, it’s all about content.

    Wishing you positive resolution for your blog midlife crisis!

  18. Hi there

    I recently changed to Cutline after seeing what my blog looked like on others’ screens. I wanted a simpler, cleaner look. I kept the custom header photo the same so that there was some consistency between the old and new.

  19. I rarely change theme…well at least for my main blog, I like the green and black theme (I’m using cellphone and a bit difficult to look at the theme’s name), if I’m not mistake, it was round something. I used that for more than 1 year. Then I tried changing to many theme to fit my new image…in the I love mmy new theme and been using it for months.

    When I feel happy with 1 theme, I am stuck with it for at least a year…I don’t like changing theme all the time. It’ll confuse my constant readers

  20. @Jean,
    I appreciate and enjoyed reading your well written article. I personally think both of your blogs are well laid out, not overburdened or distracting while reading, sleek, and have have great images in proportion to the theme. I really like them, and your choice of theme. I understand the struggle to want a new design from time to time, and as there are so many themes to choose from, it’s rather like being a kid in a candy store. In choosing my own theme for my blog about blogging, I was and am very inspired by onecoolsite and it’s author. I find it to have a very professional look, I like the way the posts are presented to the readers, it’s easy to read, and well designed. So I gave it a chance on my own blog, and it’s rather grown on me, I’m comfortable with it.

    The Inuit Type is very professional looking IMO. As for my other blog which tells a very personal story about me, I chose something I think is very visual, but not too distracting, I use black and white images there, to portray the emotional nature of my story. I think you can more easily express emotion with black and white photography, and one of my goals for that blog is too portray something very emotional. I use the black and white in contrast to the bold red and deep black of the Neo-Sapian theme to bring a “visualization” to the blog without it being too overbearing. I hope your struggle for theme design and choice is too mind bending. You know what they say “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” It’s a great guest post!

    Wishing you continued blogging success!

  21. HI Jean, It seems to me like you’re somehow saying what I am thinking in this post! Amazing how we think so alike.

    I used to love misty look the beginning…but then i noticed since it the most popular theme.,..every other blog was using it. I thought I needed to be different….and tried poking around it a bit…and realized i couldnt change anything….not the colors of the background, the font(link) colors..and I found the side bar to be very narrow. I had then decided i needed to literally have a makeover.

    And believe me.i then changed the blog to every possible theme available. I liked digg 3-then found the font too small…and then another and then another….ohh.the list is endless..

    I kept taking out flaws in each of them..somehow they didn’t fit my blog or my style. Finally.I tried Vigilance-and since then….nothing has taken its place. I can change the colors if I am bored. I can change it form a 2 column to a 3 column, I can customize everything…and the best part…it seems to be search engine friendly.

    So although i feel great to see all these new themes being rolled out…and i do try a preview on my test…only vigilance fits my blog like a glove.

    Who knows the future i might find something better…but till then..YAY Vigilance!

    Much Love,
    TT-Nice guest post :)

  22. I am so glad you posted this today. I will be using the links and questions you posed.

    I am facing a transition myself and am feeling overloaded with options and information. I have a blog and want to take it to a new level, starting with self-hosting. I would also like to change my theme, add a custom header.

    What’s overwhelming is how to go about picking a free theme, if you don’t know much coding. I keep telling myself this is a learning process, but wish it were a little easier. It is reassuring though knowing that even experienced wordpress bloggers like yourself struggle at times.

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