by Elizabeth Kricfalusi, Tech for Luddites
Today I'm taking a step back from posting tips on how to use Thesis and instead will explain a bit about what the theme is and why you might be interested in using it. When I first started working with Thesis, I realized it was a good topic for this blog for people who had already purchased the theme and discovered it might not be quite as simple to use as some of the marketing copy would have you believe. I wasn't really thinking about people who hadn't yet bought it.
But when I was getting my first Thesis newsletter ready, I asked some non-Thesis-using friends to test it for me so I could make sure it would work all right in different email clients. After doing so, a couple of them told me they'd really love to know more about the benefits of the theme, so I thought I'd share that information with all my readers, in case you might be interested as well.
What is Thesis?
In a series I wrote about starting your own blog last year, I said that I would recommend anyone thinking of starting one from scratch now use the WordPress platform. In that same post, I explained the difference between using the free wordpress.com website and hosting your own blog, using the WordPress software. Thesis is a theme, created by DIYthemes, that you can purchase to use on your self-hosted site.
Note: Although I was originally talking specifically about blogs, the same recommendation holds true for a non-blog website. WordPress lets you build static pages just as easily as writing posts and offers all the same benefits for site owners who have no interest in blogging.
Who uses Thesis?
According to the DIYthemes site, more than 15,000 sites use the Thesis framework. Some of these are well-known sites like Copyblogger, Cute Overload, and Tip'd Blog. If you want to get a sense of the incredibly wide range of looks you can achieve with Thesis, check out the Thesis Showcase Gallery.
So what makes Thesis better than any other theme?
There are more than a thousand free themes now available in the WordPress directory. At right are a couple of examples of very different looking themes from the nature category.
Some of these are really quite gorgeous and each one offers its own features and functions to make some really nice websites. So why would anyone pay for a theme with such a wealth of freebies out there? Well, in fact, there are quite a few reasons.
Visual options interface
While the free themes can look great out of the box, most people find that they they still want to customize them to their own specifications. Many of the free themes require you to go into the core code files, which a lot of non-techies are not that comfortable with. Thesis offers a lot of customization options in an easy-to-use, graphical interface. For example, you can change font colors and sizes, choose between 1-, 2-, and 3-column layouts, build dynamic dropdown menus, and add multimedia content without ever touching the source files.
Simplified coding approach
Now, even with Thesis, you may want to make changes that can't be handled by the graphical interface. (In fact, you probably will.) With other themes, you usually have multiple core files that you need to edit, depending on the change you want to make, which means a) you have to find the right file and b) you stand a good chance of screwing up one of those files, which isn't good. With Thesis, you don't touch these. Instead, you have two custom files—one for putting your CSS code to style the page and one for writing PHP code to add content and functionality to your site.
In addition to the advantages mentioned above, another major benefit of this approach is that when a new version of the theme is released in future, you won't end up overwriting all the wonderful customizations you've created. You can simply add your two custom files to the upgrade and everything will continue to work the same.
Built-in SEO optimization
SEO, or search engine optimization, refers to coding your site in a way to help it show up near the top of a search results page (mainly Google) when visitors are looking for things related to your site. Thesis has built a lot of best practices into the back end that will automatically improve your search engine rankings. I'm not going to get into the details here because, frankly, I don't know them all. But the DIYthemes site has a nice video explaining some of these features.
Now, I have to admit, I've always been a bit of an SEO skeptic, meaning that I think the best way to rank well in a search engine is to produce content that will be relevant and useful to your intended audience. But I have definitely already seen a spike in my traffic since I moved T4L to WordPress/Thesis at the beginning of the month. In the graph below, you can see the history of site visits from the beginning of November until the end of last week. The red horizontal line represents the highest number of visits I had before I switched. The red dot is January 4th, the day I launched the redesign. You can click the image to see a larger version.
Obviously there are a lot of factors that can affect traffic to your site and I'm going to keep watching the numbers, but I do believe that Thesis has played a part in the increase.
Awesome support resources
I don't know what other themes offer, but I can say that the support resources for Thesis are among the best I've ever seen. In addition to the official user's guide and tutorials, the DIYthemes forums have been enormously helpful to me. (Note that you need to be a registered user to access these sites.) The moderators and the entire community of experienced Thesis users are extremely generous in answering questions on anything from finding the right CSS selector to make a small design change to sharing lengthy code samples for more complex functions.
How much does Thesis cost?
You can purchase a Personal Option for $87, which lets you use Thesis on one site you own. For $164, you can get the Developer's Option, which lets you use it on unlimited sites of your own, plus lets you purchase licenses to use it on client sites for an additional $40 each. The Developer's Option also allows you to remove the Thesis attribution in the footer of the theme (although a lot of people like to keep it to show off their Thesis street cred...) Both options entitle you to free upgrades for life. AND there's a 30-day, no-questions-asked money-back guarantee so you can try before you buy. More information here.
If you've decided that Thesis might be right for you, don't forget...
Get a free Starter Pack with every purchase of Thesis through T4L!
For all its awesomeness, Thesis does have a fairly steep learning curve that can be frustrating when you're just starting out with it. (Trust me on this...) That's why I wrote this 15-page eGuide that explains some basic concepts, like hooks and functions, and provides step-by-step instructions and code samples for some common customizations, like adding a clickable header and adding a Share This button to your byline.
To get your copy of the Starter Pack, click here to go to the DIYthemes site, where you can purchase the Thesis theme. The offer applies whether you purchase a Personal Option, Developer Option, or an upgrade from Personal to Developer.
Unfortunately, the system isn't set up to automatically redirect you to a page where you can download the guide. However, when you get your receipt, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and include a copy of your receipt. Within 24 hours, you'll receive an e-mail with the guide attached.
Note: If you've already bought Thesis elsewhere, you can purchase the Starter Pack for $9.95, using the PayPal button below. You don't need to have a PayPal account and you can use any major credit card to pay for it. After paying, click the Return to Merchant button to be taken to a page where you can download the file.
Want to learn more about Thesis?
And if you have any specific questions about working with the theme, please send me an e-mail and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.