If you're familiar with Shopify, you know that one of its clear strengths as an e-commerce platform is the flexibility and ease-of-use of its theming system. The Shopify Theme Store offers over 70 free and paid themes that you can use as a starting point for differentiating your online store. Each of these themes offers tools for managing the look and feel of your site, as well as adding blocks and sections of custom content, media, and product listings.
Shopify themes can be further extended through the hundreds of apps available in Shopify's App Store. And with the help of a web developer, you can completely customize your store with minimal effort.
However...In the words of Spiderman's Uncle Ben:
Put another way: With all its flexibility, Shopify theme code can quickly become a spiderweb of complex and interdependent features. (Okay, I'll stop with the cheesy puns.)
Fortunately, there are a number of best practices that you can embrace to keep things sane in your Shopify theme and to avoid regression bugs, or bugs in one aspect of your theme, caused by making changes in another.
Of course, if you're a marketer and not a web developer, you might be asking yourself, why should I care about Shopify theme management. Doesn't someone else on my team or my vendor handle this stuff? Possibly. But even the most basic understanding of these tools and recommendations will help you better manage expectations with the team responsible for your Shopify code.
1. Understanding How Shopify Apps Are Installed
A little knowledge goes a long way. It's important for Shopify store managers to understand that most of the Shopify apps that provide features to your website visitors quietly install code into your Shopify theme.
If you change themes, you might notice that these features stop working. Or, if you install one app, it might conflict with another that you're already using.
Even if you're not a software developer, it's worth taking a little time before installing a new Shopify app to reach the documentation to understand how the app works on your site. Then, before installing a new app, it's a good idea to at least make a backup of your current Shopify theme.
2. Install Google Tag Manager
Shopify provides strong reporting tools that integrate with Google Analytics. However, there's another important Google tool that we recommend installing on all Shopify stores: Google Tag Manager.
Google Tag Manager is a free tool that makes it easy for marketers to install and manage marketing tags and code snippets on a website or e-commerce store. Once Google Tag Manager is installed on your Shopify store, you can use the Tag Manager console to embed these snippets (things like Google Ads Remarketing Pixels or conversion tracking codes) without touching your Shopify theme code.
3. Version Control
Version control software allows you to manage revisions to your theme code. The most popular version control software these days is Git. There are a number of SaaS (software as a service) platforms that leverage Git (Beanstalk and GitHub being two of the most popular) for managing software development workflows and versioning.
Admittedly, managing your Shopify theme with Beanstalk or GitHub takes a basic understanding of software development. But if you're working with a Shopify vendor, they better understand this practice inside and out. If not, fire them!
4. Shopify Theme Kit
If you or someone on your team is rolling up their sleeves to build out your Shopify theme with custom code, you should really check out Shopify's free Theme Kit. Theme Kit is a command line tool for building and syncing Shopify themes from your "local environment" (i.e., your computer) to your Shopify store. It's definitely a developer's tool and requires some basic knowledge of software development. But it's a critical tool for most professional Shopify themers.
5. Don't Forget Web Accessibility and Optimization
Finally, we'd like to remind you to keep your store's audiences in mind when making changes to your theme. Shopify provides useful, out-of-the-box features to make sure your content and products are accessible to visually-impaired visitors. Similarly, you can use tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and Search Console to make sure your site is performant across all devices, especially mobile phones.
We highly recommend Shopify to our customers for many, many reasons. The flexibility and extendability of its theming system is a key benefit. However, as with any piece of software that's critical to your business' success, your Shopify theme requires upkeep and structured management.
If you're looking for a team to make sure you're embracing these best practices, give us a shout. We're happy to spend a little time with you making sure that you're on track.