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Thematic or Thesis – choosing a WordPress Theme

by Katinka Hesselink on February 19, 2010

This blog was originally made on WordPress, using the Thematic Theme. Thematic comes with 13 widget ready areas (most of which you’ll never use), is coded well for SEO and flexibility of design etc. All that is why I started using it about two years ago, and yet I’m leaving it behind…

Thematic is a Theme Framework. That is: it is designed well enough out of the box for a functional website, but the underlying code is done so well, that you can make almost any design you want out of it – without having to switch themes. Having done that this week I know: switching themes is a lot of work. All the custom work you did for one theme needs to be redone for the next. So why did I put myself through that?

I bought the Thesis Theme yesterday. I bought it because it is fast, it has more built in options and because I have a big web design account these days and really can’t afford to be slouchy on the details. And, of course, Thesis is a theme framework too.

In Thesis you don’t have to code to get rid of links to author pages. In Thesis you don’t have to code to go from one to two to three columns.

To get your own design, you do of course need to code CSS. I spent most of the day yesterday moving over my spiritual blog All Considering to this new theme and recreating the old look. Here are some screen shots of other sites I use Thesis on.

The result wasn’t exactly the old look, but I got very close & some of the new is an improvement I think. Turns out the underlying HTML coding is granular enough that I could get very close to my old look. Very close indeed. Any differences are choice, not necessity.

What I like: the inbuilt ‘magazine’ look - that’s customizable. I chose the default: two posts out of 10 in full view, the rest only showing snippets. But if you want the real magazine look, you can go with all ten in magazine look. And of course, if you want to change the wordpress settings, you can have as many more as you want.

What I like: not having to create a new page for the home page and yet have the homepage look different from category pages and tag pages.

What I like: not having to install as many plugins. For most uses the All in One SEO Pack is no longer necessary, though I’ve personally put such specific settings in there that I’m still using it. Not that I recommend it: everybody should move on to the new Light SEO plugin. It has the exact same features as the AiOSEO used to have, before they started charging money for ‘extended features’. And yes, this new one can be used in combination with the e-commerce shopping cart for WordPress.

Other plugins I get to uninstall:

  • The Google analytics plugin
  • Robots Meta plugin

They’re useful for SEO, but their functionality is built into Thesis.

A must have plugin for the lazy coder (or those who don’t know enough PHP to manage) is the Thesis Open Hook plugin. Hooks are great, or so people say. But my PHP was never quite good enough to be able to use them for my custom ideas. I’m getting there, I’ve typed more PHP in the last week than ever before, but still – if I can avoid it, I will. This plugin makes inserting code in unlikely places a breeze.

Thematic has many custom hooks as well: any good WordPress framework does. The difference is in the plugin: no messing with the functions file for simple things like putting adsense at the end of every post.

I’m going to go one step further with Thesis: I’ll be using it on WordPress as a CMS for a site with 700+ pages. This means that having the ability to easily tweak the menu is no luxury – and yes, that’s what Thesis offers. This brings it close to what Joomla has in terms of customizing your menu, without coding. Not quite there, but then I never needed that amount of customization.

So now you know why I ended up paying for a theme in the end… Pagespeed and easy customizations. And remember: pagespeed is no luxury these days. Google is actively rewarding fast sites in the Serps these days.

Thesis Theme for WordPress:  Options Galore and a Helpful Support Community

UPDATE March 2011

Some more useful Thesis features, some new since I started this post:

  • Like in 2010 you can upload a banner to replace the title of the blog. I haven’t used that here, but it does make for a quick and easy way to make your blog YOURS.
  • The Multi-media box is great. It’s a box that you can put ads in, or some message you want shown on all pages and posts. However, each individual post or page has the option to get it’s own use for the Multimedia box. On this blog I only use it on individual pages, it’s why I have that yellow Thesis add on the right, on top of the sidebar. VERY useful for putting video, html, javascript or i-frame content on pages. Use it for targeting Amazon widgets to specific posts, for instance.

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