When it comes to choosing the right WordPress theme for your needs, you have many options. I decided to write this review for the Thesis theme from DIY Themes in order to help you make a decision on which theme to choose, and if Thesis is right for you.
When I first learned about the Thesis theme, I didn’t get it. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. I had read numerous Thesis theme reviews on other blogs, but I had never used it myself. As a result, I had many misconceptions. My first foray into actually working with Thesis occurred when one of my web clients needed some customizations done to their blog and their site was running on the Thesis theme. Not wanting to turn away potential business, I found myself in a position where I didn’t have much choice but to learn it!
The more I worked with the Thesis framework, the more I grew attached to it. Before too long, I was using it on more than 90% of my client’s blog and website projects. After first reading about the theme, and some of the Thesis theme reviews out there, I’d say part of the reason why I didn’t initially understand why it was so popular was because I hadn’t realized the extent to which it could be customized from a design perspective. As a web designer, this naturally plays an important part when I work on websites, and I had incorrectly deduced that the theme pretty much looks like it does, out of the box. Was I wrong!
Thesis Theme Review
The version of Thesis that I’m using at the time of this review is version 1.8, currently in Beta, and screenshots are from that version.
Thesis is what one may consider a ‘Premium’ theme in that it isn’t free. There are two main pricing options for Thesis, depending on your needs. Let’s take a look at some of the basic features of the Thesis theme for this review.
After you activate Thesis, you’ll see a new menu in your WordPress dashboard. This is the main control center for many of your Thesis theme customizations. One of the things that attract so many people to Thesis is the extensive list of available customization options. There are so many that it isn’t practical to cover each one for this review, but let’s take a look at some of the the major ones.
Thesis Site Options
Let’s start with the “Site Options” window. This handles general non-design settings.
Search Engine Optimization
One of the strong points of the Thesis theme is its search engine optimization options. It wouldn’t make sense to write this Thesis theme review without mentioning the SEO features. There are many ways in which Thesis is coded to make the site more ‘friendly’ to search engine robots. In the Site Options screen you are able to specify which type of page you want to add a noindex, nofollow and/or noarchive meta tag. These settings are designed to prevent what’s known as duplicate content. I don’t want to get into too much detail on this, but on any WordPress site, you have the potential for duplicate content, meaning a post can appear in numerous places, such as the home page, a category page, an archive page, an author page, etc. etc. With the SEO settings here, you’re able to control that. You can also enable canonical URL’s on the site.
Even though these next SEO settings aren’t inside of the Site Options panel, it’s important to mention them here. With Thesis, there is no need for an SEO plugin. All the per post SEO settings are built into the theme. When you create a post, you will see a section that looks like this:
Here you can set some very important SEO meta tags, and those are the Title and Description meta tags. Keywords are less important nowadays. Not going to get into much detail on these because I could write an entire post just on this, but know that they’re important. The Thesis theme makes it super easy to set these tags, without a plugin. You can also add a noindex, nofollow and/or noarchive meta tag to individual posts.
Back to the Site Options, here are some other settings you can control from here:
- Easily enter your Feedburner feed URL.
- Just as easily add your visitor tracking scripts like Google analytics, Mint or one of my favorites, Statcounter.
- Choose whether you want to use Thesis’s menu controls or the new menu options released in WordPress 3.0.
- Select which pages and/or categories to show in the navigation.
- Add your home page SEO meta tags like Title and Description.
Thesis Design Options
The Thesis Design Options settings page is where you can really take control of some of the core design elements of your site. If you click on the thumbnail image, you’ll see just how many different things you can change with your theme. Here are some of the key elements you can control:
- Whether you want a 1, 2 or 3 column layout and how you want to order these columns in relation to the main content section.
- You can change the overall design from a “Page framework” to a “Full-width framework.” This means that you have the power to change to a full-width type website where elements of the site can extend to the full width of the browser window.
- Whether you want to show the author name on posts, the published on date, if you want to show excerpts on the home page or the full post, or if you want to disable comments on all pages.
- You can choose if you want to show “teaser” posts on the home page or not.
- In addition, it’s on this screen that you can make a ton or font style, size and color changes to the site as a whole, your navigation bar, your sidebar and footer, your sidebar headings and the multimedia box.
- You can set the size of the default post and thumbnail images and control the multimedia box.
There’s more options than that in the Thesis Design Options panel, but in the interest of not overwhelming you, these are some of the important ones.
The header and favicon image uploaders
The Thesis WordPress theme makes it ridiculously easy to upload a custom header image and favicon through the header image uploader and the favicon uploader. You can read my posts about these for more information.
Custom File Editor and Manage Options
The custom file editor simply allows you to edit the custom files associated with Thesis, including
custom-functions.php. More on those later. The “Manage Options” panel is a great addition to the theme settings. Before this feature was introduced, we needed a plugin to do what this does. Basically it allows you to export, backup and/or restore all your settings in the Site Options and Design Options sections. This is great if you want to install another site running on Thesis but you want all the same settings. You don’t have to redo everything manually. Just export from the one site, and import into the new one.
Something should be said about typography design in Thesis. I have always been impressed by the way text looks on the page in a Thesis theme. Provided there haven’t been any customizations that mess it all up of course. Chris Pearson said it best and I agree that Thesis has “polished typography with finely-tuned geometrics for maximum legibility that will not only engage users more quickly, but also engage them on a subconscious level.” It’s tough to put my finger on it, but there is definitely something about how great the text looks on a page in Thesis.
Customization Using Thesis Hooks
The site and design settings that can be controlled through the Thesis options panel only scratches the surface of what’s possible with the Thesis theme. It’s more accurate to refer to Thesis as a theme framework, and not a theme. Sure, you can activate it just like any other WordPress theme, and your blog will be running on it and will look decent, but the reason I prefer to call it a framework is more from a perception standpoint. I believe one should look at the Thesis theme from the point of view that it’s the foundation that will ultimately result in your finished blog or website. Something that, once activated, should be customized from both a design, and functionality standpoint. The Thesis framework sets the stage for creating a truly powerful, and unique blog or website. But that’s just my opinion.
The point is that the true power in customization comes from Thesis hooks. You have the ability to add additional design components, or functionality through an extensive system of hooks. You can read more about that on my post that covers it in more detail.
Seamless, worry-free upgrades
When it comes to upgrading to newer versions of the Thesis theme, this is handled beautifully in that none of your customizations will get overwritten. Many times when we want to add some code to an existing WordPress theme, or change design settings, we tend to dive directly into the core theme files and make the changes there. The problem with this is that if you were to update to a newer version of that theme, there is the risk of overwriting the changes you have made. With Thesis, all customizations, and I mean all, are handled within a special custom folder and specifically in two files. The
custom.css file and the
custom-functions.php file. One should never modify any core Thesis theme files. Simply by making all design and function modifications inside of these two files, any updates you make to the default theme, will carry over to any new version.
Not the only kid on the block
I don’t want this Thesis theme review to come across as just one-sided. The reality is, I don’t have anything overly negative to say about the theme. I know that during some projects I’ve worked on, I may have thought how it would be great if Thesis could do this or that. The thing is, I don’t even remember what this or that may have been. There are of course other theme frameworks with similar functionality than Thesis, and I haven’t had an opportunity to work with these, so I guess I don’t have too much with regard to a frame of reference. Suffice to say, once you get familiar with Thesis, there isn’t really a need to switch to something else. But I did want to point out that they’re out there, and I’m sure they’ll have some elements that does things better than Thesis. Sometimes it just comes down to personal preference.
Is Thesis right for you?
In some respects, Thesis is for people who like to ‘tinker’ with things. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to mess with extensive modifications to design, or adding functionality, then perhaps Thesis isn’t for you. Or let me restate that. It should be for you because of the benefits you will receive from it, so just hire a Thesis professional to make the updates for you. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what this, or any other Thesis WordPress theme review says, what matters is if you like the theme and it works for you. Take it for a test drive, use it, and decide for yourself. You have a 30-day money back guarantee.
In summary, and in my experience, Thesis has proven to be a robust, feature rich WordPress theme. With extensive control over SEO on all pages of your site, rigorous adherence to web standards, stellar typography and the ability to customize design and function, Thesis is my theme of choice. This applies not only to my own sites but also for many of my clients. There is also the helpful community and supportive DIY Themes forum where you can ask questions and interact with experienced Thesis professionals.
Join thousands of other discerning bloggers who use Thesis. Click here for a video introduction to Thesis and see what all the fuss is about!
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