Thesis WordPress Theme [Review]

Now our blog is now powered with all the goodiness of the Thesis WordPress Theme. I have been hearing good things about the Thesis theme for long, and after we found the site was slower than 94% of all sites online, maybe it was time we gave Thesis a go.

It Costs $87!

Firstly, Thesis does not come cheap for a $87 for one site use. Since we also create wordpress themes, it was a reasonable step to put in that money. We have been tweaking our own optimized SEO theme for the past few years with good results.

I have been following Thesis designer Chris Pearson online for a long time (he made the famous Cutline theme remember) and I trust his expertise and experience in doing a great job with the Thesis theme. Either way, Thesis is still a cheaper alternative than getting a professional web designer who will charge a few thousand dollars for a one time fee!

When Brian Clark from CopyBlogger pointed out that Search legend Danny Sullivan, Google’s Matt Cutts, and Microsoft search engineer Jeremiah Andrick, search and affiliate marketing entrepreneur Rae Hoffman, SEO guru Michael Gray, top bloggers Chris Brogan and Robert Scoble, web-hosting entrepreneur Scott Beale – all use Thesis, I was ready to go.  Moreover, since a sparkling new Thesis version was just out, it was a good time to grab it.

Installing Thesis WordPress Theme

As I tested and used it over the last 24 hours, you realize that its not a theme, but a theme framework as they like to call it. Thesis installation is easy, much similar like other themes. You could get your site converted to the new theme in minutes.

But what is different is you need to change permissions of some key files to make them writable.  I used Filezilla to do this by FTP to make it easy for Thesis to work on your custom folder. Activate Thesis and a brilliant new theme came into place with no errors. The big task was not to customize it to include all our current styles and widgets.

Powerful Thesis Theme Options

Once you enter the Thesis options, you realize what immense framework is at play behind the scenes. You can easily change the theme colors, font families, font sizes, of practically everything on the site in as easy as one click. Changing from 1 to 3 columns is a one click job!

Want to add the Feedburner url or remove the tagline? One click. Want to change width of columns or add outer padding. Once click.

On top right is a multimedia box which can be used to rotate pictures, ads, or any custom code. The navigation bar is no longer a chore which grabs all pages – you can choose your pages, easily change title and order and even add links in few clicks.

Thesis theme byline options

thesis theme multimedia box

Thesis Theme Works on Hooks

As I went to fine tune and add / remove widgets and html codes, you realize there is no single.php, no header.php, no sidebar.php and other similar files you can edit. Instead there is are a lot of Thesis hooks which you need to edit in custom_functions.php file to add stuff in different parts of the wordpress template. Now this was the tricky and difficult part.

Now that takes a little getting used to a little php knowledge, or do a PHP cut paste code job from helpful articles around the web. But be careful, as a small code break can take your whole site down with PHP errors (as we realized 2 times!). Its a powerful file and handle with care, it forgives no errors.

Custom Styling in Thesis Theme

Upon closer look I found there are basically 2 files which you can edit outside the options available – custom.css and custom_functions.php. Custom.css lets you add custom CSS coding which lets you style elements which are not automatically possible via the interface, or if you want to add new classes. In all additional styles you add, you need to add the .custom class. Why?

Thesis custom styles

Why these are there limited files to customize? I realized that if future upgrades are available (BTW that $87 gives you FREE lifetime upgrades!), then you can easily update the theme, keeping all your customizations intact as the new files will not overwrite these files. Now that is really useful. I would not want to do all these custom styling everytime a new theme version is released.

Well everything did not require wordpress php hooks – As I worked along, there were easy boxes to install traffic stats scripts in the head and footer areas –  and all in the right places too.

I realized that the widget sidebar was particularly useful to add widgets, RSS feeds and custom html code like Facebook scripts. The Text Widget was very useful to add anything anywhere in the sidebar. Although we have been playing with multiple dynamic widget sidebars, basically I never realized its power uptil now when all the code you see on the right is placed using a side bar.

The front page got a new look with what they call Teaser posts, arranged in a double column. I was searching for a long time to do this on our homepage, but I guess I just needed Thesis to do that automatically.

Update: Get the OpenHook WordPress Plugin and it makes editing thesis hook really simple. It is by far the most essential plugin for Thesis theme users.

Smart Thesis SEO turns off Plugins

SEO is the strong selling point of Thesis, so obviously SEO is built into every nook and detail of Thesis. I just needed to see the source code to see that it was well optimized for great search engine rankings. NoODP tags, noydir tags, canonical urls, noarchive, nofollow options –  they are all there.

Since a lot of META tags were being churned out automatically with full control of when to block archive, tags, categories etc, that put my long time popular All in One SEO plugin out of use, which I regarded as one of the most useful wordpress plugins. I could also remove many other plugins which powered the navigation, excerpts, archives etc.

Thesis theme SEO options

Thesis Theme Support

So is it difficult to customize Thesis? It takes some time getting used to working with hooks, especially since you are so used to working with php files specific to the template area.

Apparently Thesis seems to be more popular than I thought, as the web has hundreds of sites built around Thesis support and customization. The official Thesis Answers and Thesis Tutorial are a useful support area to get started and perform some common tasks. In case you get stuck, they have Thesis forums which have official as well as community help areas to get you started.

If you want to deploy Thesis on multiple sites or remove the attribution, get the developer version for $164. There are lot of  cached versions of the most popular JS libraries and other power tools which developers will find useful to deploy on multiple client sites quickly. They also have a decent affiliate program with in built smart 301 redirect Thesis options to create smart affiliate links.

I am just over 24 hours into Thesis and I am hooked. Our site definitely seems faster and lets see if Thesis theme will increase our search engine traffic too. We will keep you posted on how it turned out.

Check out our site and you can also Get Thesis 

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About the Author: P Chandra is editor of QOT, one of India's earliest tech bloggers since 2004. A tech enthusiast with expertise in coding, WordPress, web tools, SEO and DIY hacks.