Review: Thesis (WordPress Theme from DIY Themes)

Overview:

Thesis is a WordPress theme from DIYThemes, optimised for great SEO and easy customisation. It’s been a big hit with bloggers and website owners, and is being used by sites as diverse as http://www.kristarella.com/ and http://www.copyblogger.com/ … and, of course, I’m using it on this site!

The price:

I hate reading reviews and sales pages without having a clue how much something is going to cost me. At the time of writing, Thesis costs:

  • $87 for the “personal option” (for one site only, can’t remove the attribution link in the footer).
  • $164 for the “developer’s option” (install Thesis on several (or all!) of your sites, can remove the attribution link). I actually think most people should go for this one: chances are, you’ll end up wanting to use Thesis for multiple blogs, for a business site, for a community or hobby group site, or for some super-professional looking niche sites.

If you’re a web designer/coder/etc and you want to use Thesis on your client’s sites, you can: you’ll need to buy the developer’s option and pay $40 for each client site you install it on.

What’s included:

My past experience of WordPress themes involved either finding a free theme and “tweaking” it substantially, or bodging together my own from scratch. Thesis was a bit of a revelation: it has a host of design options that mean you can quickly and easily change column widths, fonts, etc without trawling through a .css file (bliss!) Plus, it’s not just a theme for the “look and feel” of your blog – it adds a lot of very handy functionality to the back-end WordPress interface.

These are some of the key features:

  • The “look” of the theme itself on your blog. Thesis, in my opinion, looks very clean and professional straight out of the box, though a bit plain for some sites.
  • “Thesis Options” panel, which lets you do all those otherwise fiddly code things like decide exactly how to display your “Title”, which appears in the browser’s title bar and in search engine results
  • “Design Options” panel, which lets you fiddle with fonts and layout to your heart’s content. (A second monitor could come in handy…)
  • A huge amount of help and support, including a user guide, the Thesis blog, and online forums.  If you want to make customisations that can’t be done via the Thesis and Design panels, you’ll find beginner-friendly advice here.
  • Free updates! Every time the Thesis theme is tweaked and improved a little bit more, you can get it straight away, for free.

Good stuff:

Massively Reduced Frustration Levels

I love Thesis because it saves me having to do annoying, fiddly things. In the past, I’ve spent hours and hours struggling to modify free themes, or writing my own themes from scratch. And yes, if you want a totally custom-looking site, you’re going to have to get under the hood and play around with the Thesis custom.css and custom_functions.php files – but it’s much easier doing this with a professional theme as the framework, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel.

SEO Brilliance

Thesis is designed to be particularly good for SEO. Sure, it’s not a replacement for reading SEO School, but it will save you from making common mistakes. With Thesis, you can customise meta descriptions and title tags on individual posts and pages. The fact that I’m really excited about this probably suggests I should get out more… (seriously, though, it’s something I wanted to do on previous blogs and couldn’t).

No-Brainer Tutorials

So far, every time I’ve wanted to do something in Thesis, I’ve just googled for it: “Using an image header in Thesis”, for instance, or “Remove Thesis attribution link”. And every time, I’ve found an easy-to-follow guide that lets me copy and paste a chunk of code and (sometimes) tweak it a little bit. Some of these tutorials are from DIYThemes (the people who made and sell Thesis), and others are simply from public-spirited Thesis users all round the net.

The Big Ass Save Button

I think this screenshot says it all:

How can you not love it?

Not-so-good stuff:

Frankly, I’ve really enjoyed using Thesis, and I feel slightly petty mentioning these! But for the sake of frankness, here are a couple of minor irritations…

One small drawback to Thesis is probably one they can’t easily avoid due to their commitment to handing out free updates. To change the look and functionality of Thesis, beyond the (fairly generous) customisation options provided, you need to edit two files called custom.css and custom_functions.php. These are both contained in a folder “custom” (I’m not sure why that was necessary, I presume it was!) meaning they don’t show up in your Editor panel in Thesis – so you have to edit them in notepad or similar and upload them using an ftp editor. Frankly, this isn’t really much extra work, and it’s a relief to know that even if you end up with some funky layout with images overlapping and bits falling off, you haven’t screwed up the core stuff.

The other, even tinier, nit-pick I have that’s related to this is that it’d be really nice to have the option to pick font colours as well as font styles and sizes, in the “Design Options” panel. It’s no big deal to edit the colours using custom.css, but if there was an option to pick colours and enter hex values in “Design Options”, it’d make it that bit simpler for people who are reluctant to fiddle under the hood.

Verdict

If you’re a blogger, you’ll really want to give Thesis some serious consideration. A lot of the big names in blogging are currently using Thesis – and it seems to be getting a big thumbs up all round.

Although Thesis is designed primarily with bloggers in mind, anyone running a small business with an online focus would get a lot out of it: the way it’s designed with good SEO in mind could easily win you enough extra customers from search engines to pay for the theme.

The one group I think might not benefit from Thesis are those who blog purely about their own lives (the online diary sort of blog). If you have no intention or way of making money from your blog, and if you’re not particularly bothered if anyone beyond a circle of friends reads it, you don’t need Thesis.

Otherwise … go and find out more about Thesis and the DIYThemes philosophy, and invest a few dollars in a fantastically robust, well-supported theme: Thesis.

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