Recently Google has given me a brand new job. And by that, I don’t mean I actually got a job at Google. (I wish, right?) I mean Google’s new algorithm is keeping me busy converting old WordPress themes to a responsive design. On April 21, 2015, Google started giving preference in mobile results to those sites that were mobile friendly. Read Google’s report here: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com With over half of all website viewers coming from mobile (meaning a smartphone or tablet), that audience is too big to give up. One of the great things about WordPress is that you don’t need to build a brand new website to meet the new requirements; you just need a new theme. So I’ve had quite a few customers coming to me asking me to make their site responsive.
Once you’ve decided to make your site responsive – that’s an excellent first step. Now you have two choices:
1) Customize the theme your site is already using
2) Go with a brand new theme that is already responsive
How do you decide what to do? Here are a few things to consider:
Does your site look dated?
If you are using menu bars with rounded corners and beveled edges, you probably want to take this opportunity to convert to a new look. If your site is full of tiny images – I highly recommend updating them to larger images that give a greater impact at the same time.
How customized is your site?
If you are using an “out of the box” theme (especially one of the default WordPress themes) and don’t have any custom post types (like portfolios) or custom widget areas besides your sidebar, then your site may be an easy upgrade to a new responsive theme without much fuss. If your theme brought with it custom post types, those are going to be lost if you move to a new theme, so converting your current theme may be a better option for you.
Is most of the functionality of your site achieved through plugins?
If so, most of that functionality should move easily into a new theme. There may be some plugins that are no longer compatible but if the plugin is still being actively supported, this isn’t usually an issue. The other question here, is – are your plugins responsive? If you are using a slider, calendar or table plugin that is not responsive, you are going to need to find new responsive plugins to replace them.
Use WordPress’ Customizer to make the process easier.
Once you download a new theme, before you activate it, you can click on Live Preview to get an idea of what the new theme will look like. You can go ahead and set up your logo, set your menu location, and make sure your widgets are added before committing to the new look and “going live” with it. Of course, if at all possible, make these changes on a development site instead so your customers aren’t confused by weird changes on your site while you get things just the way you want them. Backup Buddy is great for making a copy of your current site and moving it to a development site (and moving the development site back to live when you are done!)
Good news for Genesis Framework users.
If your site was built using Genesis you may be the luckiest of all, especially if your developer took advantage of Genesis plugins like Genesis Sidebars and Genesis Simple Edits. StudioPress, the maker of Genesis, has updated many of their themes to make moving to responsive even easier. Themes like Minimum and Enterprise now have a “Pro” after the names indicating that those themes have been upgraded to a responsive design. The new themes should be a pretty easy fit for the new site. And even if your particular theme doesn’t have a new version, most of the Genesis child themes use a similar setup so the move to a new theme is fairly painless.
Converting your theme is probably going to mean more than updating your CSS.
Okay, I saved the most important for last – how much is this going to cost? That, unfortunately depends on your site and it’s level of complexity. Usually I would recommend using a new theme, which would give your site a newer look at the same time, but if you are using a lot of custom post types that are built in to your theme rather than using plugins, it may be easier just to update your current theme. And if your pages have a lot of unresponsive elements like HTML tables on them, those are going to have to be converted to responsive CSS divs.
What other questions do you have about converting to responsive? I’d love to hear them. And be sure to check out my new segment on Before & After to see some of the sites I’ve converted.