Frank’s Theme Test-Drive Checklist

Now that you have looked at themes from the directory and narrowed down the possibilities to a few ‘definite maybes’ it’s time to upload those themes to your site to see how they look with your content. I don’t cover themes in-depth until later in this class since you can’t really tell how a theme will work for you unless you have some of your own pages, posts and images to look at it with. It’s kind of a catch-22 since ideally you’d want to choose your perfect theme right from the get-go on a fresh installation of WordPress. The problem is that you can’t really tell what that theme has to offer and if it’s right for you until you see how it works with your content.


So, this checklist is geared toward someone who already has at least a few of their pages, posts and images published and will be able to swap out themes to see how the new themes fit with their content. If it’s the case that you don’t have any content  yet, there are a few solutions to adding what’s called “dummy content” to your new site so you can see how the theme handles.


There are a few plugins that will generate generic content, with the added convenience of being able to delete everything once you are done using it.

Two that I like are:

FakerPress (Will create Posts only but in a nice layout and with images which you can copy and paste into pages. You will still have to create a menu.)

WP Example Content (Will create posts and pages and only a few images. You will still have to create a menu.)


The other option is to simply paste in placeholder content and a good source for this content is . Simply copy and paste what they offer into your pages and posts. There’s a little more grunt work involved but it can be a simpler way to get dummy content if you only need a few pages to look at. You will have to create a menu and remember to delete all samples when you are done


Once you have content to work with let’s run through my test-drive checklist.

Frank’s Theme Test-Drive Checklist

Here is my system or ‘trying on’ themes with your content. It requires installing and activating them on your site so you can see how they display your content. The checklist items cover the aspects of a WordPress theme that will vary from one theme to another, sometimes drastically.

Notes on swapping themes. 

When you change a theme all of your content, your text and images, will be carried over and formatted to the new theme. There are however three sections that are specific to the theme that will need to be reset and or adjusted when you do swap out a theme.

  • Header – Themes have different dimensions for headers.
  • Widgets – Themes tend to have different areas for putting widgets.
  • Menus – You may need to remind a new theme of your main navigation menu.

The parameters of these three things are determined by the theme, so be aware that they will have to be adjusted whenever you activate a new theme.

The nice thing about theme swapping is that if you decide to go back to a theme you configured previously, WordPress will remember these settings.

  • Important note for website with independent developer coded themes. Some developers code in unorthodox ways and there may be information on your website that is not accessible for you to edit in your WordPress admin, but rather is hard coded into the theme files. If you have a WordPress website that was customized by a designer/developer, it’s always best to check with them before swapping out a theme.

You may also encounter Child Theme’s which are a customized theme based upon a parent theme. In these cases you need to have installed both the Child theme and its parent theme, with only the Child theme being activated.


1. Customize /Theme Settings / Theme Options – For the majority of themes on there will be options for changing and adjusting the basic look and style of the theme. Some themes offer an array of options from color choices to font choices and some themes don’t offer very much. Some themes, especially paid themes will have so many options that it requires a separate section apart from the Customize area, usually listed Theme Settings or Theme Options under the Appearance menu in your WordPress admin.

2. Page Templates – Go to the page edit admin of any page and look at the template options. Page templates will vary from theme to theme and can provide a wide variety of choices of how your pages will be laid out. To fully understand any particular page template simply choose the template and then view the page and see how it is laid out. Many themes also have a specific Home/Front page layout which is sometimes automatically generated for your Home Page (Front Page as declared in the Settings).

3. Post Page Layout – Look at how your posts are laid out on a blog page. If you are a blogger you will likely be particular of how and where your blog posts display the meta data (date, author, category, tags, etc.). Most theme designers put a lot of energy into making this be a signature style of their particular theme. Some themes, but not many, will also use Post formats to add some variety. Many themes will heavily rely on featured images for posts when they layout their blog page.

4. Widget Areas– The Sidebar and Footer areas are the most common places for a theme to provide widget areas. Some themes also use widget areas on home page templates and even in the header area. Some more minimal themes may only provide the footer area for widgets.

5. Menus – Some themes also offer multiple menu areas and some utilize the menu description which can be useful.. Many themes also have a special Social Menu which will show icons when you link your social media pages, such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

6. Image Presentation – Every theme will layout page images and gallery images in different ways. Some will add borders and have a specific look for captions, etc. Most themes do interesting things with the featured image on posts and or pages. You will also want to know the correct dimensions for Featured Images, especially if they are utilized in more than one way.

7. Responsive Test: Is your theme Mobile Friendly? – If your theme is responsive you need to look at it on a tablet and phone to see just how it ‘responds’ to a particular device. If you don’t have access to a mobile device you can try shrinking your browser window to get an approximation.

7a. Browser test. It’s a good thing to look at your site in the major browsers, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Explorer. There may be some themes and or plugins that can be wonky in one browser but not others. This applies to desktop browsers and mobile device apps browsers.

8. Auto-Generated Pages Layout – The layouts of your Post/Blog page, Category page, Tag page, etc. are determined by the theme, most often without any options for adjustment. If you have a blog and or use posts you will want to make sure they are being displayed on the page to your liking. The majority of themes will use the same template for the following auto-generated pages: Category, Tags, Author, Archives. Other specialty pages to consider layout are your Image Attachment Page, Search Results Page and the 404 (Page Not Found) Page. You can find your Image Attachment Page through the Media Library.

Check your 404 Page by typing forward slash and nonsense letters after your domain name.( Likewise to reveal the Search Page (

9. Specialty Uses -There are some major plugins such as Jetpack, WooCommerce, and BuddyPress that have specialized format tags in the code. Some themes are built to work with these plugins and will provide ways to tap into the plugin’s options, whereas a theme not made for these plugins will still work, but you’d be missing the opportunities to use some of the plugin’s feature set.

You will have to install and setup the plugin before you can evaluate the particular theme features.

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