James Greenwood

Joint MD at Strawberry — a Shopify Plus Agency

Thoughts on Shopify, agency life and other stuff I wanted to share.

Shopify Themes and Page Speed

Word Count: 774

Are Shopify Themes as good as they could be?

Both Enterprise level retailers and new retailers use the Shopify platform. At Straberry, we’ve seen both types of retailer build stores on a theme bought from the Shopify Theme library. Some of these themes cost and some are free — but are all equal?

I thought I’d take a look at them with a view of checking them out of the box for Page Speed. Most enterprise retailers are aware that page speed and response times are directly related to conversion rate and search engine position. I suspect new retailers may not be. With that in mind, do the themes in the store help new retailers as much as they could?

I visited the Shopify Theme store, and reviewed the trending themes w/c 27th Nov 2017.

All themes were tested using Google Insights and GTmetrix.

Results

For clarity, let’s lay them out side by side, in a table, without comment. They’re in the order I tested in.

Theme Mobile Desktop GTmetrix Cost
Simple Shopify Theme demo 67 86 A $Free
Brooklyn Shopify Theme demo 67 86 A $Free
Pop Shopify Theme demo 73 86 A $Free
Narrative Shopify Theme demo 99 99 A $Free
Venture Shopify Theme demo 66 60 E $Free
Icon Shopify Theme demo 63 44 D $140
Jumpstart Shopify Theme demo 70 87 A $Free
Parallax Shopify Theme demo 73 85 A $180
Testament Shopify Theme demo 59 58 D $180
Flow Shopify Theme demo 70 47 D $140
Vogue Shopify Theme demo 70 22 F $180
Vantage Shopify Theme demo 68 53 D $140

What happens in the hands of users?

These scores probably get worse. Users install apps — often trying lots of them and never uninstalling the ones they don’t use. This is worse if the app is free. No cost to the app means it often stays installed. Leaving apps installed can mean the javascript parts of these tests decline.

Users also frequently upload images at an less-than-optimum file size. None of this is their fault!

Does it really matter?

How much does this really matter? I think a lot. Even if natural search isn’t a big deal for you and your site, I’m of the opinion we need to be careful with page weights and what we send to a user’s device. Not everyone has a fibre connection or a snappy 4G connection. The slower it is, the lower the conversion rate. That’s been proven by better blogs than this one.

Free or paid Shopify themes?

It’s also interesting to note that in some cases, paying for a theme doesn’t guarantee that it’s “better”. The free themes here seem to deal with page speed better than the paid ones.

It’s fair to point out that this test doesn’t cover a big sample of themes but it does suggest that paying for a theme might not make that theme “better” than a free one. I should probably do this with more data…

What could we do?

As theme developers, we need to be as good as we can be with assets and includes. We need to take a defensive approach to protecting end users and assume the worst. It’s pleasing to see that some of the above themes do that.

Could the Shopify software do a bit more? Could they optimise images on the server on-the-fly without the need for an app (of which there are several)? Unless you know you need an app to help with the images, you could be left uploading inefficient imagery. New retailers could be making their site worse without even knowing that’s what they are doing and taking away the need for an app would be a win.

However I’ve an alternative suggestion — I’d love to see some recognigition in the theme store of this issue. It’d help inform those browsing and ensure theme developers consider it fully. Perhaps page speed or page weight as another way of filtering? Testing could be automated using the Page Speed Insights API and the results visually available to those browsing the library of Shopify themes.

The Shopify blog is a brilliant resource for retailers and an article coupled with a theme selection filter could make the process of chosing a theme more informed for those that need that help.

This topic gets lots of discussion in the Shopify forums but commonly only after a store has been built. It’s far easier to deal with the issues before the theme has been built and the imagery uploaded.

Let’s take the discussion out of the Shopify forums and into focus.

Agree? Disagree? Tell me on Twitter.