If you've installed a theme from the Shopify Theme Store you're likely missing out on new features, bug fixes, speed optimisations and more. This could be impacting your buyer experience and your conversion rate.
Around 90% of Theme Store-installed Shopify developed themes are running out-of-date versions. In this post we’ll explore some of the reasons why this might be the case. We’ll also provide actions you can take to update to the latest version along with best practices to help keep you close to the update path.
Themes are continuously improved
All software needs to be continuously updated and evolved so that devices run smoothly, their users are protected and that they are offered a good user experience. Shopify Themes are no different and we provide updates to make sure security is maintained, performance is improved, compatibility is achieved and that both you and your buyers benefit from new features.
It can be more difficult to spot performance and compatibility changes compared to changes that introduce new features or alter the aesthetics of the admin or storefront. However they are equally as important and the following chart for our Dawn Theme illustrates just how frequently we update our themes at around 5,000 code changes per week.
Version 11 of Dawn, released July 2023, benefited from 83 new features, bug fixes and improvements, here are some of them:
- Multiple Announcement bar sections in the Header.
- New “Zoom in on scroll” animation option to Image with text and Image banner sections.
- Quick order list section to the product template. This allows you to optimize your product pages for bulk buying.
- We fixed a bug where text links were not styled properly in the heading of the Related products section.
Challenges to updating and staying up-to-date
Given the benefit of updating, and the fact that these updates are free, why is the percentage of stores on the latest theme version so low?
The time between updates impacts the effort required to update as there will more likely be more customisations. The amount of contributors who have changed or customized the theme is likely to be greater resulting in reduced familiarity and ownership. Reduce the time between updates to minimize the amount of code that will need to be reviewed and migrated. This also has the benefit of more frequently assessing code, being more familiar with how it works and whether it is still relevant.
Some changes could be more architectural in nature, changing the structure of the theme and its files. These customisations can significantly change the existing code and therefore these can be more complex to merge with changes from the theme’s author. If you’re looking to make code customizations in the theme then using snippets is a great way to approach these so that the custom code is contained and separated so it is more easily migrated between theme versions.
The amount and nature of theme-author updates can contribute to time needed to update. The introduction of Online Store 2.0 saw the most significant update in the way Shopify approaches theme architecture. Updating was optional - the previous ‘Vintage’ themes would still be available - and you’re also able to phase your update. Although larger theme-author updates will require a greater effort to update they are usually by their nature providing you with a significant benefit of doing so.
Version control can greatly help with the visibility of what changes have been made, when and by whom. You’re much more likely to understand the nature of a change or customisation if you’re able to isolate what it was and when it was made. If you’re not able to determine this then you’ll also have the option to speak with the contributor that made the change. The Shopify GitHub integration for themes offers this version control functionality for you, tracking changes across both the code editor and theme editor.
Methods of updating
Depending on the factors listed above such as the time between, amount and significance of changes then the method of updating will be different. Here is an overview of these methods, starting out with the most simple
The happy path represents the most straightforward scenario of updating; by making use of Shopify’s automated updates. As the name suggests these updates are automatic and will happen in the background. When your theme is updated automatically you’ll see the following notification in the admin when clicking on the version number:
Automated updates will only include bug fixes and security updates. They won’t include anything that changes the look and feel of your storefront. These updates can be seen as safe and something that shouldn’t need your attention or approval. Where a new version changes something on your storefront then you’ll need to update manually.
Automated updates were released in early 2022 and are compatible with Online Store 2.0 themes that are not code-edited. This means that only customisations using the theme settings have been made. If you’re not using an Online Store 2.0 theme and/or have made code changes, you can still update your theme manually.
Manual updates & update notifications
Provided you have installed an Online Store 2.0 Theme from the Theme Store and there is an update available that cannot be applied automatically, then you’ll see an update notification instead. Updating these themes will not be automatic and will need your action. These updates are not automatic because they introduce new features and changes that can affect the look and feel of your storefront. You’ll see a blue dot along with the theme name and version number that is available. Clicking on this will then let you know more about the process of how to update.
So that you can update your theme without risking unknown changes to your storefront, the new version of your theme is added to your theme library. This allows you to review and test before deciding to publish. The new version of the theme will include your content, sections and templates from your published theme, but it won’t include any code changes you have made.
If you’ve made code changes to your theme you’ll be alerted that these won’t be included. This is because updates made by the theme developer could conflict with changes that you’ve made yourself. This would be where both you and the theme developer have edited the same code, so it's impossible to determine which changes should be kept.
If you have a theme that is not Online Store 2.0 compatible then you won’t see a notification that an update is available. You might still be able to see the version number of the theme that is currently installed. You can compare this with the latest version available on the theme store. You'll also be able to see the changelog so you can determine what features and improvements you would be gaining from updating.
Testing & launching your updated theme
The longer the period in which a theme hasn’t been updated the higher the likelihood that more features and improvements will have been made. The process of manually updating may take longer as you will be reviewing more changes.
Start by comparing the published and newly created theme for differences. A useful structure to follow would be to mimic that of the typical buyer and begin on the homepage, view and add products to the cart and perform a checkout. Note down any differences as you go and then review at the end. Decide on which of the differences you would like to correct and which you would like to keep. Make these corrections and test again.
An example of differences you might see is missing content. This will most likely be because these content blocks have been changed significantly by the theme author in the new version. This means that copying settings between themes wasn’t possible. More options might have been added and/or it could have been separated and made more configurable. The benefit of this would be increased flexibility and control. Taking the time to rebuild these components will also help you to become familiar with the new functionality available to you.
A useful tip at this point would be to reduce adding new functionality and changes to the first version of the updated theme. This is because it will make identifying the cause of any issues easier. Another benefit is that it will be less impactful on the buyers should you need to rollback to the previous theme version for any reason. Once you are happy with the updated version then you can start making full use of all the new features and functionality in another preview theme.
Updating themes with more code changes
If you’re continuing to see many differences in the look and feel of your store this could be due to more code changes that have been made over time. Although the process of updating these themes might take longer the benefit of doing so will be greater. This is because the end result could be the removal of large amounts of redundant code, making your theme faster for buyers. You’ll also benefit from new features, bug fixes and other improvements - all of which will contribute to a better buyer experience and increased conversion.
If you update your theme more often, separate any customisations apart from the author’s theme code and use version control, it will make staying up-to-date more achievable.
Updating to the latest version of a theme can help fix bugs, improve performance and introduce new features. All of which help drive conversions and reduce bounce rates. Sadly over 90% of stores are not benefiting from this relatively simple and free way to improve store performance.For stores that have been heavily modified things can get more complicated, we've written a comprehensive guide here to help. Or if it all sounds too much, then as a professional services team we offer services to do this work for you, contact us today.