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Episode 2 - Picking the Best Theme for your Shopify Store

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Hello business owners. I'm your host, Scott Austin. Our topic in this episode is how to pick the best theme for your Shopify store. I'll explain why this is an important decision for you. The good news is that I don't think it's a very complicated decision to make. Before we dig into our topic, I have two things to note. The first one is that one of my hobbies is that I coach a kids roller derby team. They are a 12 and under open team. It's my way of giving back to the community. Now, the reason I bring this up is we had a game this morning and when we have a game as the coach, I do a lot of yelling and today was no exception. So my voice is now pretty hoarse. So apologies for that. The second thing is that I record these episodes in my studio, which is a converted garage in my backyard, which is a concrete floor and two walls of glass. So for those of you who record audio, you realize that those hard surfaces aren't the best recording space to be in. So for the first episode, the sound turned out being a bit hollow or echoey. So for this episode, I created a mini recording booth. So we'll see if that helps though with my raspy voice at this time. I may need to wait until the next episode to make a final judgment on whether the recording booth is an improvement.

So now onto our topic of this episode, which is how to pick the best theme for your store. And the first thing to know when picking a theme is this is gonna be a long-term relationship. In theory, it's easy to switch from one theme to another in Shopify. Your store can have more than one theme in the admin at the same time, and Shopify provides great tools to edit and preview a new theme and publishing it live is just a click of a button. But that's in theory. In reality, switching your theme is a complex process. Here's why. As your business grows, you're going to customize your theme. Whatever theme you pick is gonna provide a lot of functionality box. But many businesses take it to the next level by editing the theme code to meet their specific needs. So to change a theme from the current one to a new one, you need to redo all those customizations that you've accumulated in your theme as you've been growing your business. And then the new theme may use a different underlying framework. So you may not be able to just cut and paste the customizations you did from your old theme into your new theme. You may have to rewrite them. And the next one, the next reason is a complex process, this is a big one, is that many apps that you may add to your Shopify store from the APP marketplace have also edited your theme. So many apps that work on the front end, like a review app or a product options app. They integrate deeply with your theme. The app set up process, whether it's automated or done by the APP developer or some other developer, edits your theme files. So to move to a new theme, you'd need to re-implement all of your existing apps into your new theme also.

Now, let me go off on a tangent here for a moment about apps. As I mentioned, installing an APP in your store can edit and add files to your theme. Here's the flip side of that though. When you remove an APP from your store, Shopify does not allow that APP to remove any files that it added to your theme or any edits that it made to your theme in Shopify does this for good security reasons, but that means you need to be very careful with what apps you add to your store and how you test them out because each app that you add can have a permanent effect on your store even if you delete it. So if you think about this on your phone, if you're looking for an APP to do, you know a certain thing on your phone, you know you may see 10 different apps that are productivity tools. So you download all 10 and you try them out and you pick the one that you want and you keep it. And the other nine you just delete. And that has no effect on your phone, right? Once you delete an app on the phone, all of that code has gone. But it's different in a Shopify store with apps. If you add 10 apps to evaluate 10 similar types of, let's say review apps, each one of those is going to add customizations and code to your theme. When you delete the other nine that you do not want to use because you chose the winner, those nine other apps have like different files of Javascript that it may be loading onto your page and it really bogs your site down. So be really careful when adding apps to your store.

So back to our subject of how easy or not easy it is to change your theme. As you can see, a theme becomes more complex as you do customizations to it and as you add apps that also customizes it, this makes changing out a theme more complex because all of those things need to be rebuilt in any new theme. This just means that changing your theme is not something you will do often. The theme you pick now will be a decision you will stay with for a while. The way I think about it is any theme that you put into your store, you're going to want to keep that theme for at least two years before you think about doing a site redesign and either updating the theme to a new theme or just the newest version of the theme that you're using.

And this is a good place for another side note and this side note is on theme updater apps. Some theme developers now have a theme updater app that they have in the Shopify APP store. And it sounds like a great concept where you can update your theme with the latest features from the newest version of the theme, but this is essentially a false promise. Yes, the theme updaters do a great job in updating an unedited theme, but few themes remain unedited in successful stores. Most stores are going to edit their themes with customizations or APP integrations like we've just discussed, and the theme updater apps can't automatically do the updates to all those different things. It doesn't know what files were added. It doesn't know what code in the theme was edited by developers or by Apps. In this common situation, the updater APP gives you a long list of files that it can't update and that you need to manually check. And that is a very complex operation that I do not recommend.

So now I hope you understand that picking a theme is an important decision as you'll be sticking with it for quite some time. So now let's talk about how to pick the right theme for your store. Here are some of the things that you'll need to consider about the theme.

The first one is the quality of the theme. By quality I mean how the theme is technically developed and it interoperates with Shopify. Shopify makes this a fairly easy thing to evaluate them. The Shopify store has a very high-quality bar. There are only 71 themes in the store, 10 of those are provided by Shopify themselves. So there are 61 third-party themes in the store. And each of them goes through a rigorous testing process by Shopify to ensure the quality before they're placed in the theme store. So anything that you can get in the Shopify theme store meets a high-quality bar. Now you may think that 71 themes is not a lot of variety when they're over 800,000 unique Shopify stores and you may look for other sources of themes. And if you take one thing away from this episode, please let it be this: DO NOT get a theme from a third-party marketplace. Third Party marketplaces do exist, like in EvantoMarket. While these themes are much cheaper with prices averaging 30 to $60, they do not go through Shopify's rigorous testing process. So they are of a much lower quality than those found in the Shopify theme marketplace. In fact, I won't even work on a store that is using a theme from third-party market place unless the project is to refresh the design using a high-quality theme. Because these low-quality themes are just really difficult to work with and they don't perform well. So I'm going to repeat my advice - DO NOT get a theme from a third-party marketplace.

So the next thing to consider is the developer that makes the theme. There are not a lot of developers in the theme stores. There are only 71 themes, but there are differences between them. The first thing to look at is the customer support that the developer provides. Does their customer support, use a language that you're comfortable communicating? What are their support hours? What is their response time? Do they even talk about support on their website? Do they have documentation for the theme that explains common customizations you may want to do? And honestly, I find most theme providers have pretty poor customer support and I can understand why. Because support is human intensive and therefore an expensive service to provide. And a premium theme only costs $180 and that's a small fee that doesn't leave a lot of room for human one-on-one customer support. That said, some developers do differentiate themselves. One example is Out of the Sandbox. They provide a chrome plugin that gives quick access to code snippets and you can add to your site for features like buttons, tabs or accordions. So some of these developers are doing a better job at customer support than other ones.

Now the third and last thing to consider in themes is the features that the theme has. I think of a theme as a toolbox. Each theme comes with its own set of tools like page templates, navigation paradigms, home page elements, and more. So for me, the more tools that are in that toolbox, the more I can do with that theme and the less custom development that will be needed. And the less custom development is a significant cost savings. So you can look at the features of the theme and the Shopify theme store in the listing that it has in the store. While you were there, you should also look at the theme's reviews, look at the number of reviews, the more copies of the theme that a developer's sells, the more they can invest in support and product development. Look at what percentage of the reviews are positive. And lastly, read the customer comments in the reviews. These can provide some great insights into how other store owners have leveraged the theme and what they were able to do with it. As you were evaluating themes, be sure to look at it on mobile. Some themes have much better curb appeal on desktop than they do on mobile. So looking at how the theme is going to present your store on a mobile phone is an important thing in the evaluation of the themes.

So that's my decision-making matrix for picking a theme. And the conclusion that I come to you almost every time is to pick the same theme. The reason is that today there is one theme that, in my evaluation, stands head and shoulders above the rest. It essentially has the most tools in its toolbox.

And that theme is Turbo by Out of the Sandbox. I've used it for most of the stores that I built in the past two years. And here are some of the reasons that it's my go-to theme. The first one is that there's a lot of sections already built into the theme for the homepage. So you can have lots of different content on the homepage and present it in different ways and that allows your site to look very unique and different from all the other Shopify stores out there. There's even built in sections for Twitter and Instagram feeds, so you don't need to add an APP for that type of functionality. There are also tons of options for the header that allow you to create drastically different experiences. For example, dropdown menus can be horizontal, vertical, or Mega Navs. Mega Navs is a feature of having super-rich content like photos and multiple columns in your dropdown. You can put your logo in the header above the menus or in line with the menus. And you can have a sticky menu, which is when a mini menu sticks to the top of the page as a customer scrolls down the page. And you can also specify different logos for desktop, mobile, and sticky menu. So this and a lot more allows that header, which is an important part of your site experience to be customized to your unique needs. Turbo also provides many page templates and one of the page templates is called details and it's my favorite. It gives you homepage level customization on a normal what I call evergreen page. So your about page or your contact page and other evergreen pages with Turbo and the details template, they can be much more engaging with a mix of text images and video. There are also collection filters which is a useful way for customers to find the right product for them if your product catalog is large. So you could have customers filter on things like color or sizes or different features and that's built into the collection pages. The collection page can also show color swatches and multiple product photos. It also has a number of pagination options. The one that I liked that it includes is called infinite scroll and that's when the collection page keeps adding products to the page, as the customer scrolls down, instead of having the customer click from one page to the next to the next to see all the products that are in a given collection. And Out of the Sandbox is doing a really good job with their product development for the Turbo theme, so they frequently have new versions with new features. And the theme is quick to support the newest features coming out from the Shopify platform.

Now, one popular feature that Turbo doesn't have is parallax. Parallax is the effect that is applied to background photos where their appearance changes as the customer scrolls down the page. I'm personally not a fan of parallax in an ecommerce store as it takes the customer's focus off of the products and instead focuses them on the sizzle factor of that parallax effect. So Turbo meets my needs because I'm not a fan of Parallax, but if you want parallax, there are other themes out there for you. Now no theme is perfect. Here are some of the common things that I make changes to on the Turbo theme.

The first one is a turbo allows for full-width banners, which is a really nice design element and those banners can even go under the main Nav for a full-screen effect on desktop. But the layout on mobile is not nearly as sexy. The banner becomes very small. It's so small that the text that was overlaid over the banner image on the desktop is no longer overlaid on the image and instead placed underneath it. So a lot of times I have to go in and edit the theme to allow for a mobile version of the banner image.

Turbo touts itself, as you can see in the name, as a fast performing theme. It has two modes called Sport and Ludicrous, which I assume it borrowed from Tesla. But I find that the ludicrous mode, which is the faster one, is incompatible with most of the common apps that I add to stores. So I always disable ludicrous mode. The second I install the turbo theme.

And the last thing that I spend a lot of time fixing or editing in the Turbo theme is some of the color customization out of the box. Turbo gives you a lot of control over color. So you can specify that these types of links get this color and when they get, you know, hover, they get that other color and it's really nice that you can do that. But there are a couple of places where you can't control the color. So if you've got a rich color scheme that you're using in your site, there's a couple of places that you can't, inside of theme customization, add your color scheme to the theme. You have to manually go into the code level and change it there.

Now Turbo was only available through their website and I'll include a link to that in the show notes. It is the most expensive theme out there at $350. But it's well worth the cost. And a side note is that their website's a bit confusing. So like when you're on the site looking at the turbo theme, it looks like there are five different versions of the Turbo theme, like Portland, Seoul, and a few other city names. But in fact, there's only one version. If you go to any one of those five, you download the exact same version of Turbo and those different city names, those are just different preset styles that you can select. So it'll pick different typographic and color settings for you automatically. But all of those different versions are actually the same Turbo. So just download any one of them and you've got the Turbo that we're talking about here.

So in summary, picking a theme can be really easy. The best theme out there today is the Turbo theme as it is the most feature rich theme available. So unless you must have a feature that is only available in another theme, my recommendation is to go with Turbo.

Thanks for listening.

JadePuma is a certified Shopify Expert. If you need any help with your Shopify store, we can help.