9 Reasons to use the Thesis WordPress Theme

by on January 25, 2009 · 31 comments

Update: Since this article was written I am no longer using Thesis to build business websites. Thesis was a revolutionary theme when it came out three years ago, and I enjoyed working with it.

Now we’ve created our own WordPress theme tuned for building business websites fast and getting the best local search results. We also added touch-enabled Mobile landing pages and the ability to manage Facebook Page content right from within WordPress.

It’s called the SmallBiz Theme and we use it on almost all our business website projects now. Click here to watch the video.

Are you looking for a WordPress Theme to style your website with? There are so many great free and premium themes available – the choices can be overwhelming. Which one should you use?

I’ve used quite a few premium and free WordPress themes developing WordPress websites for small business clients, including Revolution, WP-Remix, iThemes, K2, Misty Look, Cutline, Regulus and many others.

But I’ve chosen Thesis for most of my WordPress theme work now. Why? Here are nine good reasons to use Thesis.

1. The Thesis Options Panel

One of the first things I look for in a premium WordPress theme is a good configuration options panel in the WordPress Admin UI.

Thesis has the most comprehensive one I’ve ever seen. You can customize everything from the navigation menu and page titles to your RSS feed and how your archives page shows up.

2. Less PlugIns


One of the great things about WordPress is that you can extend the functionality in almost any way you can think of with WordPress Plug-ins. But if you rely on too many plug-ins, performance of your site can suffer.

Part of the design philosophy of Thesis is to make the theme as lightweight as possible. As a result, some of the capabilities that you would normally use plug-ins for are built into the theme.

For example, the Thesis Options panel has a field for your Google Analytics code, so all you have to do is paste it in there instead of using a plug-in (Google-Analytics-For-WordPress plugin) or editing your footer.php code directly.

Thesis also allows you to specify which of your ‘Pages’ show up on the navigation menu, another capability that typically requires a plug-in (Exclude-Pages plugin) or editing php code to accomplish.

Thesis also allows you to gain control over the title of your posts and pages, and even specify keywords, but is still missing a few SEO related tweaks I’m looking for, so I’m still relying on a plug-in for that. But the next version promises to solve this too.

3. Hooks

The Custom Hooks architecture of Thesis provides a sort of API that allows you to add to, subtract from or modify the functionality of your Thesis installation. (See this very cool diagram from Kristarella that shows you all the places you can customize with hooks.)

It allows you to isolate all of your custom HTML changes to a single file called custom_functions.php. This makes your Thesis installation easy to customize, and easy to upgrade, which is usually a very complicated process if you’ve modified the markup and code in a theme to customize it.

The hooks approach is really killer. SugarRae’s Hooks for Dummies is a great walk-through of how they work (along with some specific examples), and OpenHook by Rick Beckman simplifies the way you work with hooks by providing an admin panel for it.

4. Layout Options

In addition to the Options panel, Thesis provides a Design Options panel that allows you to quickly change the number of columns, widths, fonts and font sizes. This gives your website dynamically re sizable layout that you can change instantly. Want to change the font or font size of your entire site? This panel make it a piece of cake.

5. Rich Style Classes

This is a little thing, but I use it all the time. Thesis provides some CSS classes that you can use in your posts and pages to make your content easier for your readers to scan. Here are a few examples:

Here is an example of the Note class

And here is the Alert class

You can even do drop caps very easily!

But the one I use the most – you can add the “frame” class to any image and it will frame it with a nice light gray background (the images in this post have this class applied.)

6. Easy Upgrades

In other themes I’ve customized, upgrading to a newer version of the theme has been a lot of work. You have to keep track of all the files where you’ve made changes to the HTML, CSS and PHP, copy that code, and then re-apply it when you upgrade to a newer version of the theme.

Thesis solves this by providing a “custom” folder that contains CSS, PHP, and images that you can use to over-ride styles and functionality in the theme.

This means that all of your customizations live in one place, and when you upgrade to a newer version of Thesis, all you have to do is copy this directory over and you are in business. I’ve done this on two version upgrades of Thesis and it works like a charm.

7. Awesome Community Support

When you buy Thesis, you get access to a reasonable set of documentation and a great support forum that is frequented by some super knowledgeable and super nice people – KingdomGeek and Kristarella are prolific contributors both in the forums and on their own blogs.

8. Continuous Improvement

Thesis is continuously being upgraded. You’ll never be able to pin down Chris Pearson for the date of the next version, but it will come.

Support for WordPress 2.7 happened almost right away. And the next version of Thesis – 1.4, promises to include the rest of the SEO mods I’ve been waiting for, allowing me to eliminate yet another plug-in (All-In-One-SEO plugin, which I really like, but once the theme supports this I will no longer need it.)

9. The Price!

At $87 this theme is a steal. This is right in the price range of most premium themes, but is way more comprehensive. It has saved me countless hours and was well worth the money.

What About You?

So these are the primary reasons I’m using Thesis for most of my projects. What about you? Are you using Thesis, or is there another theme that you like? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

If you are looking for a great WordPress theme, what are you waiting for?
Get Thesis. If you need WordPress Hosting, check out BlueHost for one-click WordPress installs.

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Don is an entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley. He founded Expand2Web and is the publisher of the Expand2Web Blog, and the GetFiveStars Customer Feedback and Reviews service.

Don has written 313 articles on Expand2Web

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Don Campbell January 25, 2009 at 9:44 am

I just found this nice full size screen shot of the Thesis Options panel.

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Rick Beckman January 25, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Just keep in mind that the options panel screenshot on my Flickr account is of a dev. version of Thesis… Not all the options are there yet. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Don Campbell January 25, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Right – I should have mentioned it is for the upcoming Thesis 1.4, correct? Good luck with the new release – I’m looking forward to it!

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Mitch Cooper January 30, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Just came in off Twitter – great review!

We certainly love Thesis at DIYninjas too. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Don Campbell January 30, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Thanks Mitch!
Yes, I’ve been to your site – very nice.

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Craig Peters February 9, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Thanks Don,

I’ve got a quick question for you. I’ve never used Thesis. I’m using two Woo Themes right now for two blogs. I’m evaluating premium themes for a website that we’re building. It’s not going to be a blog. Instead it will be a full-functioning site with a blog as one part of it.

At Woo Themes, the best choice for what I want is Vibrant CMS. Can you tell me how Thesis compares to Woo Themes (Vibrant CMS in particular?).

Much appreciated,
Craig

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kerre February 10, 2009 at 10:06 am

Yes, I’d like to know too, about Craig’s question, I have Woo Themes also but am almost ready to buy Thesis. Thanks!

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Don Campbell February 10, 2009 at 10:52 am

@Craig, @kerre – I have not used Woo Themes but have heard good things about them. I took at look at the VibrantCMS demo site and it looks like a well designed theme.

Here are a few considerations:
1) One of the things I really like about Thesis is that the Options panel is very comprehensive. You can change so much about the theme, including design, layout, font size, SEO, and many other things easily in this options panel.
2) Another thing that is great about Thesis – if you are customizing the theme, you put all your changes in the /custom directory which makes it very easy to upgrade the theme later.
3) Thesis will probably be a little more “plain” looking out of the box than the Woo Theme you mentioned. Depending on the customizations you want to do this might be some thing to think about.

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to leave another comment here or contact me if you have more questions about this.

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AmyRhoads February 11, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Hi Don,

I am a newbie when it comes to Wordpress, templates, hosting….everything. I came across the template you mentioned, Vibrant CMS, and I really liked it for what I want to do. Do you think that this route is a good choice or too advanced for a newbie like myself? (i.e. trying to figure out Wordpress and how to customize this template etc.) Do you have any suggestions on the route I might take?

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Don Campbell February 11, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Hi Amy,
I don’t have experience with Vibrant CMS, one of the other commenters (Craig) asked about it. It looks nice. I’ve had a lot more experience with the Thesis theme and think it is a great way to go.

If you are new to WordPress, I would recommend downloading some of the free themes that are available, and experimenting with them to learn WordPress.

Once you have a specific website in mind, then choose from one of the premium themes that will do most of what you want out of the box.

I hope this is helpful!

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Daniel Brenton February 13, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Don —

Excellent overview. I’ve been thinking about making this jump.

Question: I’m thinking about a blog that would be optimized for mobile devices. Would the CSS options here lend themselves to a site that’s one column and narrow in pixel width?

Appreciate any feedback you might have.

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Don Campbell February 13, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Daniel – thank you!

Well, there are two things you could do with the Thesis theme to make it look good on mobile devices.

1 .You can set your blog to be 1 column that is 540px wide in the Thesis Options panel.

2. You can install the WP-Touch WordPress Plugin (I use this on my blog) to make your blog show up nicely on the iPhone. Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like.

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Scott Loftesness February 21, 2009 at 11:52 am

Don,

Great post about Thesis and Wordpress – wish I had found it about 2 weeks ago! I’ve been slowly building out our new PaymentsViews.com site using WordPress and Thesis theme. First time for both – I’m an old TypePad hacker from way back and my personal site shows it! I’ve written up my experiences creating Payments Views here.

Best,
Scott

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Don Campbell February 21, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Thank you Scott – great write up on your experiences too!
-Don

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John Tucker February 21, 2009 at 11:03 pm

I was considering Thesis for my site, but decided against it because of one thing. It is huge. A typical post page with just text can weigh in at 500kb. That is just to much. Is there a way to trim it down so it can be streamlined and faster?

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Scott Loftesness February 22, 2009 at 5:18 am

John, not sure where you got the impression about page size being huge. A typical page on my new Payments Views site is about 30K.

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John Tucker February 22, 2009 at 6:37 am

@Scott Well let’s look at the main Thesis site. I just clicke d on one of the recent posts.
http://diythemes.com/thesis/version-14-sneak-peek/
Documents (1 file) 16 KB
Images (6 files) 15 KB
Objects (0 files)
Scripts (8 files) 399 KB (412 KB uncompressed)
Style Sheets (14 files) 36 KB
Total 465 KB (479 KB uncompressed)

That is a small post with one main image in it. You can see where I would get the impression that the theme has a little on the heavy side.

Let’s look at a recent post on your website.
http://paymentsviews.com/2009/02/17/fx-strategies-for-uncertain-times/

Documents (1 file) 9 KB (31 KB uncompressed)
Images (10 files) 98 KB
Objects (0 files)
Scripts (2 files) 12 KB (30 KB uncompressed)
Style Sheets (12 files) 26 KB
Total 145 KB (185 KB uncompressed)

145KB is ok. The main difference is the scripts, with the largest one being a jquery script. So the question I have then is what functionality did you lose by removing the jquery Javascript library?

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Scott Loftesness February 22, 2009 at 9:29 am

Oh, sorry – I wasn’t looking at the total page load size – just the raw html – when I said 30K.

As for the scripts, on my Payments Views page neither jquery or mint are loaded – while they are loaded on the diythemes page. So, I don’t think either of those are loaded by default for a basic Thesis site (like PV).

Also, it looks like the jquery site provides a gzipped production version of the script which reduces its size from 120kb to 19kb – a 10x reduction!

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Don Campbell February 22, 2009 at 2:54 pm

@John, @Scott – I think the jquery on the diythemes site is for the slide-down login box that they have along the top of the page (screenshot here.)

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Daniel Brenton March 15, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Don —

I’ve bellied up to the bar and now I’m running Thesis. It’s pretty darned sweet. Still have some tweaks to do on the CSS, but I was up and running to the point it is now after about 5 hours hands-on, most of that playing with the CSS, which was largely cosmetic. frankly.

This article was probably what sold me, so thanks.

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Don Campbell March 16, 2009 at 7:08 am

Thanks Daniel – your site looks great!
I appreciate you stopping back to let us know how it worked for you.

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Jessicamam May 10, 2009 at 5:52 am

I really liked this post. Can I copy it to my site? Thank you in advance.

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Don Campbell May 10, 2009 at 8:18 am

Thanks @Jessicamam!
Please do not copy my article in it’s entirety though. You could post an excerpt on your site and link back to my original article – that’s how we “bloggers” point out each others good work. Add a little of your own commentary to an excerpt of it and link back to the original source.
-Don

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George Serradinho June 3, 2009 at 2:30 am

Hi,

thanks for these points. I have just bought thesis over a week ago and the options are endless for me. Making changes is so easy and anyone can make them.

I like the new hook feature, once the plug-in is installed, it’s easier to make changes to your custom files. I first thought that the price was high, but the features and benefits out way the price.

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Carlo Alcos September 12, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Hi, thanks for this post. I’ve been searching around for free themes and am going blind trying to decide. Someone pointed out Thesis and it looks excellent. The fact that a lot of customization can be done throught the WP panel is a huge draw for me as I am pretty new with Wordpress.

I am technical by nature, but new to web design. I know basic HTML and have done some programming back in school. I read your reply to Amy above, and am wondering if it’s actually easier to learn Wordpress using a free theme or with Thesis? I don’t really feel like mucking around with code unless I really need to, in which case it wouldn’t matter if it was a free theme or Thesis, right? Besides, I really like the idea of having access to the Forums if/when I do have to dip into the code.

I have two domains, neither of which are set up yet. I would like to run one as a CMS, with blog pages on it, but the other will most likely be strictly blog. This shouldn’t be a problem with Thesis, should it?

I guess what I’m looking for is that last push to send me over the edge into the Thesis world. Thanks!

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Don Campbell September 12, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Hi Carlo – great questions. You don’t have to get into the code or be a great designer to do things with Thesis.

One of the strengths of the theme is the custom options panel – you can change a lot of things right from there. And if you want to customize your header, the nav menus, background colors, etc there are tons of examples online and in the forums.

So I think Thesis is a great way to go for what you want to do. Just let me know when you get into it – I’ll be glad to help. As you mentioned, there is also a great community of people out there that will help you too. In the Thesis forums and on the #thesiswp tag on Twitter too.

Good luck!

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Brandon Sean May 3, 2010 at 11:05 am

Hi Don

I got a Question

When I click your categories section like “Thesis Wordpress Theme” and im brought to a list of articles with an image or icon and a short description of your posts, how do you do that with Thesis what are the options?

Thanks in advance!

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Potential Thesis User September 2, 2010 at 10:16 am

Is the $87 price a yearly or one-time fee?

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Don Campbell September 2, 2010 at 8:26 pm

It is a one time charge.

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Jack Perdue August 12, 2011 at 6:38 am

Hi Guys, I’m new to E2W, just having purchased the theme and looking more deeply into this forum. I did a search on WP-Touch and discovered this string. I have already purchased Thesis and WP-Touch. Having just loaded SmallBizTheme and beginning to play with it some I’m wondering how well all these themes play together. Does one complement the other or are they all separate and for a particular website (WP site) are do they work independently based on your or a clients needs? As you can tell, I’m learning, but am hungry for more.
Thanks,
~Jack

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Don Campbell August 12, 2011 at 7:00 am

Hi Jack,
Good question. I used to use Thesis for building sites, but have mostly switched over to SmallBiz now. They both have a different focus; Thesis is a general blogging theme, where as SmallBiz is designed for small business websites and has a lot of features ready to go for those types of sites. We built it “to spec” based on creating a lot of websites for small business owners.
Let me know if you have any other questions!

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