Thematic or Thesis – choosing a WordPress Theme

This blog was originally made on WordPress, using the Thematic Theme.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.

10 thoughts on “Thematic or Thesis – choosing a WordPress Theme”

  1. Katinka, I use Thesis too, and although it was painful to shell out so much money when you can get free themes, I’ve not regretted it at all. It’s been so EASY to use. I adore it. It’s well worth the cost for what you save on headaches.

  2. I prefer thesis too after evaluating both for some time. Thesis is just a tad better in the SEO department and it has equal or better design flexibility.

  3. Just thought I’d add my view;

    1. Thematic could definitely use a plugin like Thesis Openhook.
    2. Thematic doesn’t have the overly complex Thesis Site Options that would be great if it could be removed without adding coding to functions.php.

    The price of Thesis can make one apprehensive though there is a lot of nice coding which took a lot of work. Maybe a different methodology of payment/donation would be better. Especially since WordPress is open-source.

    Any thoughts?

    1. It’s the ‘complex’ site options that make Thesis so relatively easy to customize. So wanting to hide them is a bit weird, IMO. When used for a client site, one can always create an account for them that doesn’t have the capability to mess with that stuff. And even if they did: they’d have to pay an hourly rate to get things fixed anyhow. So there really isn’t a problem, IMO.

      Thematic doesn’t need openhook, because one can put anything one wants in the multiple widget ready areas. The technology is different, but the result is the same: lots of places where you can put just what you want without having to touch the functions file.

      As for the open source debate: since Chris and Matt settled it to their satisfaction, I think there’s no reason to see a contradiction between Thesis being a paid theme and WordPress being open source. Open Source doesn’t necessarily mean ‘free’. It just means that the code can be redistributed and adapted.

      Personally I think that, since coders have to live too, paying for themes is quite alright. It’s a one time fee anyhow, which makes it quite affordable I think.

      I have more of a problem paying for plugins. I would rather (and do yearly) donate to plugin authors whose plugins I haven’t just downloaded, but actually continue to use.

  4. Having a blog at wordpress is a great way to share your knowledge and ideas. If you have a great looking theme at your blog it will surely attract more number of readers to your blog – and thats you want.

    As far as things related to me – I prefer thesis .

    Thanks for posting such a great thing over here .
    Keep posting!!

  5. When I was first searching for a blog theme to use, Suffusion was the one that seemed to be the easiest for a ‘newbie’ to navigate and still have plenty of options to play around with.

    With Love and Gratitude,


  6. I have been using elegant themes, and sanbox for some websites recently. I like elegant things, however it is a little tricky to customize I like sandbox, however it is a little too bare-bones and virtually no support. I am thinking about Thematic. I don’t mind having to edit the source code a little to make things work unless it is ridiculously complicated. Does anyone know if there is decent support for thematic?

    Great article!

    1. You should not edit the source code for either of these. With Thematic you should use a child theme to customize. With thesis the functions and CSS files.
      Thematic does have it’s own forum.

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