Clone Themes Like a Power User

Welcome to the inaugural post in the new column “AmeriCommerce Power Users”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with me, my name is Brian Gluck and I have been an AmeriCommerce customer, active forum member and “Power User” since 2007. You can read a little bit more about me in my customer spotlight story.

Having worked with so many different AmeriCommerce site owners has given me a unique insight into the many challenges SMB merchants face, both from operational and technology standpoints.

My goal in this column is to help reduce some of that burden, by sharing some ways to maximize your use of the AmeriCommerce platform.

With my first “Power User Tip”, I want to share one simple precautionary measure and one Advanced Power Use, which could save you tremendous time, money and frustration down the road:

Clone Your Theme before you make modifications.

This is especially true for those people who are not strong with html/css; something as small as one open tag can blow up the entire rendering of the front-end of the website.

Scenario:  You have spent considerable time, energy and money developing your website to look and behave a certain way. You decide to make one small change to your header by pasting something into the WYSIWYG editor and POOF, nothing looks right anymore. As far as you can tell, all you did was paste some text from a website into your header. (*copy/pasting html text from other websites into your WYSIWYG can be dangerous; often closing tags are not copied resulting in this issue. I suggest pasting into notepad first to strip away all html, and then from notepad into your WYSIWYG.)

Unfortunately once you hit save, there is no “undo”. Cloning your theme acts as a type of version control; something to revert back to quickly and simply in case of problems.

If you had cloned your theme prior to making this change, with the click of a button you could have been right back to where you were… but you didn’t. You made the changes live on the website, and now you frantically trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.

With the AmeriCommerce theme system, you can use these cloned themes in “Preview Mode” as you develop your website, keeping your changes hidden from the public until you are ready to make them live.

You can view your new theme as if you were a visitor by using the following parameter on your store’s url : sessionthemeid=X

i.e. if your store’s url is: www.americommerce.com
You can view the new theme by entering this into your browser: www.americommerce.com?sessionthemeid=X

The X represents the # of the theme in the AmeriCommerce system. In the old theme system this number is visible next to the theme title in the top nav dropdown:

In the new theme system the number is not as apparent. You can hold your mouse on top of theme thumbnail to have the # render in the bottom of your browser, or edit the theme itself and look in your browsers url bar:

Once you are happy with how your changes look in the new theme, you can then activate that theme to make it live. I always suggest you keep around the previous theme for a while after you make a new one live for several reasons to use as a reference, as well as to quickly switch back in case of any unforeseen issues with your changes.

I recommend using preview mode in a cache-less browser such as Incognito mode in Google Chrome, so you will not need to clear your cache or reset the sessiontheme parameter in order to view your live theme.

**Advanced Power Use – Basic A/B Testing

By putting the sessionthemeid parameter into a destination url, you can direct targeted traffic to a specific theme to see how that theme performs against themes in terms of user engagement, conversion rate and more.

You can apply this to your email marketing by using the same email creative to deliver users to a different theme. The same is true for your best performing Google Adwords ads.

While not as robust as many site optimization software’s available on the market, using the sessionthemeid parameter is a great way to get your feet wet with some A/B testing without any additional fees or configurations.

What are the advantages of cloning your theme before making modifications?

  • Backup. If you are unhappy with the results of your theme modifications, you can simply activate your backup theme for a quick restore.
  • Reference. Keeping historical versions of your theme can give you important references back to specific code. You don’t have to roll the entire theme back, you can selective take code from the backup copy to apply to your new working theme.
  • Preview Mode. Work on your site’s design behind the scenes, and publish changes when you are ready.
  • Testing. Clone, test, repeat. This process won’t make your hair shiny or strong, but it will help your website convert more visitors.

What are the disadvantages of cloning your theme before making modifications?

  • Time. It can take up to 2 minutes from hitting the clone button to when the new theme is accessible to work on. Can you find something else to do while it loads?
  • Storage Space. Each cloned theme takes up additional storage space in your hosting package. I recommend deleting unnecessary (no longer valid for restore or reference) themes if storage space becomes an issue.
  • Less Work. For guys like me that is. I have been reached out to on many occasions by panicked individuals in this exact situation. Even though I enjoy coming to the rescue on projects like these, I’d rather you not to have to go through this trouble.

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Comments
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2
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Ryan Olson (Store Admin)
January 2, 2014 5:01 PM
Nice Post Brian! Couple things to add: Sessionthemeid=## is VERY sticky. If you do not clear your cache/session this can stick for a long time. To easily revert back to your active theme (what your customers see), use cleartheme=1, without having to clear your cache/session.
Brian Gluck (Post Author)
February 3, 2014 12:21 AM
Great tip Ryan, definitely was missing from the post. Thanks!

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