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by Michael P. Hill

We’re well into 2018 — past the busy holiday season and its aftermath — so now is the perfect time to update your premium Shopify theme.

Before you jump in, however, there are some important things to note about Shopify theme updates.

Why staying fresh is important

Shopify theme updating is important

Keeping your Shopify theme up to date not only ensures you get the latest and greatest features in your theme, but it’s also a way to ensure that you’ll get access to all of the latest bug fixes and updates to the code.

It’s also much easier for most Shopify theme developers to provide support for more recent versions of themes — and, in some cases, you may be required to update your theme to resolve a particular issue if a fix or resolution has been incorporated into a newer version.

Finally, in a more abstract way, updating your theme is also a good opportunity for you, as a business owner, to do a virtual “inventory” of your store and take stock of what apps, features and integrations you’re using and ask yourself if they are still relevant to your business.

Before you start: A quick note

Shopify theme updating

The first, and most important thing to understand about the Shopify update process is that updating a Shopify theme isn’t necessarily a quick fix or process. It’s definitely not something you should do on a whim or right before a big sales day — and it requires careful planning and execution.

Whenever you’re updating your Shopify theme, it’s important to set aside a good chunk of time to ensure the project goes smoothly. However the update process can be made substantially quicker and easier with the assistance of a tool like Out of the Sandbox’s Shopify Theme Updater App, which can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

While the exact amount of time needed to update your theme will vary greatly based on a wide variety of factors including the method you’re using, it’s generally a good idea to plan on spending a minimum of a few hours on your theme update, and allow for unexpected issues.

If your store has a large number of apps or customizations, then you should adjust your time allotment accordingly. Again, take this opportunity to do tidy up and only keep those apps that are actively used and adding value.

Rise and shine: Get things going

First steps Shopify theme updates

Now that you’ve decided to update your theme, here’s a quick checklist of to-dos before diving in:

  • Make a duplicate of your live theme and plan to run the theme update on that unpublished copy.
  • Verify any limitations of upgrading from your current version to the latest: This is especially true for theme versions released prior to the Shopify Sections feature being added.
  • Be aware of Shopify theme update limitations: Without the Shopify Theme Updater App, the update process may cause many Shopify themes to lose their basic theme settings, images, custom code, and even app integrations.
  • Do an app inventory: Run through your list of installed apps and third party code that has been added by hand. This not only includes official Shopify Apps you subscribe to, but third party integrations, especially Facebook Pixels and other tracking codes. You’ll want to have a complete list of all of these additional features so you can verify they have been moved over successfully.
  • Do a customization inventory as well: make a list of any changes you’ve made directly to the Liquid, HTML, CSS or JavaScript code. Having file names and line numbers is especially helpful.
  • Find out if your theme is compatible with the Shopify Theme Updater App: Out of the Sandbox themes, which include Turbo, Parallax, Responsive, Retina and Mobilia, are all automatically compatible with the app. If you’re currently using Parallax 3.0+, Retina 4.0+, Mobilia 5.0+, Responsive 6.0+ or Turbo 2.0+, the app will attempt to carry over most custom code and even some third party app snippets.

Finally, if your store has a high number of customizations or apps and you have limited time or technical skills, you may want to consider hiring a third party developer to help with the update. This can be especially important if you need more hands-on support or attention.

It's also worth noting that most theme developers are limited in how much assistance they can provide during theme upgrades, especially when your code has been customized. 

It's almost desert time: After the update

Finishing Shopify theme update

During almost every theme update, there will inevitably be something that doesn’t quite carry over perfectly.

While tools such as the Shopify Theme Updater App can certainly cut down on this possibility, there is always the chance something will need a bit of fine tuning or finessing.

Here’s a list of things to do once you’ve completed your update:

  • First, don’t publish your theme until you’ve tested it: Leave your theme as unpublished and click the “Preview” button to see and test your store using the new version. Does everything look as it should? Work as it should?
  • Check out any new features that your updated theme now has: it may offer some new sections for your homepage that you could try out, or provide a new template to make page setup easier or give you more layout options, for example.
  • Test, test and test again: Be sure to thoroughly test your new theme version, including mimicking the behavior of a shopper. Try adding items to the cart and checking out. Use your list of apps and code customizations to verify all these added features work properly.
  • If, even after testing everything, there is still an issue with your store after you go live with the new theme version, you can always go back: It’s always a good idea to keep the last version of your theme in your themes section so you can revert back to it if you suddenly discover an issue.

Finally, after updating a theme, it’s always a good idea to go back and review any discoveries you made during the process: Is there an app that you can remove or add to make your business better?

Perhaps there is some custom code that isn’t needed any more and can be removed to make updates in the future easier.

Or maybe there’s an update or customization you’ve had your eye on that you’d like to move forward with.

If you do decide to make any changes as a result of your update, it can be wise to wait a bit to ensure everything went smoothly with your theme update — and then make note of any of these changes in your records to smooth out the update process in the future.

Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill

Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn.

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