Theme Test Drive Plugin Review

Update: This Plugin is no longer in the the repository. It has been replaced with WP Theme Test. I have not reviewed the new plugin yet.

It’s a common dilemma. You’re tired of your old WordPress theme and you want to try out a new one. But your website is live. You can’t just go making a mess out of your website, playing around with a new theme when visitors are coming. That’s like hosting a dinner party in the middle of a kitchen remodel. It just isn’t done.Tweet this!

Enter a handy little plugin called Theme Test Drive.

I had this exact dilemma when I needed to do a refresh on one of my websites that had been sadly neglected in favor of more lucrative sites. It had a sudden rise in popularity and when it reached seven thousand visitors a month, the website shame just got to be too much. I HAD to update the site. But with that much traffic, I didn’t want to take it offline or try to do a live update where it would look like a mess when people landed on it.

I had been using the My Product theme from Elegant themes and I wanted to switch over to Headway Themes, which would take me a day or so to customize. The Theme Test Drive plugin activates the secondary theme (In my case Headway) so that the admin user (meaning me) can customize and view the theme. But all of the other visitors will continue to see the old theme. Brilliant!

Activating the Theme Test Drive Plugin

Once you install the plugin and the new theme you want to customize. Head over to Appearance>Theme Test Drive.

Theme Test Drive WordPress Plugin Review.

Choose the new theme from the drop down list and click Enable Theme Drive. Now you can see the new theme but anyone who is not an admin is still seeing the old one.

You can leave your website this way for days, even weeks if you want. I did run some site speed tests to make sure it wasn’t causing any significant load on my site. At the most, it may have added half a second to my load time – it went from about 2 seconds to about 2.5 or so. I feel like that is a very acceptable temporary price to pay for the value the plugin provides.

Switching Themes Permanently

Once you have the new theme looking good, it’s time to push it live! For this, the plugin takes advantage of a native WordPress theme feature. Once you set up a theme, the settings will stick even when the theme is deactivated. That means you can turn the theme off and when you turn it back on all of your customizations will be in place. (OK – it doesn’t always work perfectly, but with most well-coded themes you’re golden.)

Head back to Appearance>Theme Test Drive and click the Disable Theme Drive button. Then go to Appearance Themes and activate the new theme. That’s it! Your website will start showing your new theme.

The next time you want to do a theme change on your live site, give the Theme Test Drive plugin, well… a test drive!


7 Responses

  1. Kristin

    What a great post! Seriously, I was just on a call earlier where it was suggested for me to think about a new plugin and I thought to myself then ” I wish there was a way to test a plugin without having to go live with it”. Thank you, what perfect timing for this post!

  2. Mary Blanks

    Hi Kelly!
    Thank you so much for your post about this and for all of your different videos helping people with SEO and their online marketing. I recently built a website and I used this plugin, Theme Test Drive, yet when I went to make my new theme live, I lost all the customizations. I have done some googling on this and it appears to be somewhat normal for this to happen. Have you ever experienced this? If so, any words of wisdom? I need to launch my new site super soon and I’m worried I’m going to have to start from scratch?!?!? Please help!

    • Kelly Phillips

      Hi Mary! Sorry for my delay in replaying, I’ve been on vacation! I’m so glad you’ve found my stuff helpful. I have not experienced losing all of the customizations with theme test drive. I used it with Headway Themes which is completely customized and has no issues. I would try putting the old theme back and opening up the Theme Test Drive Plugin to see if the first set of customizations are there. It’s also helpful to contact the plugin and the theme developer and see if they can help you. The theme developer may know a way to import the customization files from the test drive version. Good luck with your site!

      • Mary Blanks

        Thanks for your reply, Kelly, and hope you had a great vacation. I am using the Moesia Pro theme and the theme development team didn’t have any advice or fixes. I ended up documenting all of my customizations and then replicating them when I made the switch. It only took an hour or so but it was a bummer that this plugin didn’t work seamlessly with my theme. I would just be super cautious about using this plugin in the future with a theme it hasn’t been previously tested with. It also appears from my research that lots of people have had a similar issue with this plugin and it’s not very well supported on the plugin side. Anyway, no worries, it all worked out in the end, I just wanted to share my word of caution! Thanks for your help, have a great day!

        • Kelly Phillips

          This is good to know Mary! Thanks for telling us about the issue. I’m glad you were able to find a way around it.

  3. Felicia

    I am looking for a theme test drive but the plugin you suggested doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Do you have any other ideas?