CMS, Solutions

Some Things I Learned Using Thesis Theme For WordPress

I just finished my first launch of a WordPress install using the Thesis theme (beer money link). I had a fellow web developer who has been not only pushing WordPress but more specifically pushing me towards the Thesis theme. Coming from a pretty basic understanding of WordPress (way more experience/understanding of Joomla) Thesis was quite a fun learning experience. It also opened my eyes to the possibility of accomplishing some of the things I thought were reserved for “larger” CMS platforms.

Overall Thesis is an SEO-feature-rich  dream. Not only is the page code extremely clean, but for each post you can easily control the page titles, keywords, descriptions, and image alt tags all while posting your blog.

The more that I used Thesis, the more I kept thinking that I needed to write about some of the things I learned for people coming after me who are just venturing down this path. Here are some of my thoughts to hopefully make Thesis make more sense before starting but also a list of links that I have found along the way that really helped:

  • There are so many design changes and site standards that you can make from the main Thesis Options area. You can choose how many columns, the size of those columns, the font-colors, font-sizes, fonts, and more. Turn off/on various features that are listed right there.
  • I messed something up big time at the beginning because I just didn’t understand what was happening in the “Custom File Editor” section. There are 3 files in the drop down that you can change: custom.css, layout.css, and custom_functions.php. Initially I made updates to the layout.css as I was trying to update the layout – made sense to me. But this is the theme standard css file. So I went through and made all these custom changes to the layout.css file and then decided I wanted the columns to be bigger and ALL my changes were reverted back to the original. Turns out you’re supposed to update the custom.css and even with that you need to add “.custom” before what is in the layout.css if you want it to over-ride. Once I figured that out I was able to make a ton of changes by just adding them to the custom.css file and it would default to that one rather than the system layout.css. That was a few hours of loss to learn. I’m sure it’s out there somewhere, but it wasn’t very obvious to me.
  • Probably the most valuable functionality for Thesis is the simple use of hooks. In your custom_functions.php file you can tell WordPress to include certain functionalities. You can tell it to NOT show something or to replace it with something else. You can even define (requiring some PHP) certain pages to show something on. This was always a major drawback for me in regards to WordPress. it seemed that if you used widgets you were stuck with them being on each and every page. With Thesis, you can control that a bit better. You can see a good list of hook references at http://diythemes.com/thesis/rtfm/hooks/ which was a real help for me to at least know what to call them. In general though there are 2 things that are required for each “hook”: 1) the call to bring in the functionality and 2) the functionality. For this blog I use a hook to accomplish the tags in the upper right. Here is what that hook looks like:thesis hook code
    • The beauty of this is that you can “hook” javascript and other functionalities allowing you to keep your page looking clean and friendly for the search engine spiders.
    • There are a lot of people out there who have some references you can look at in regards to more specific use, but in general if you understand that there is a call to a function and then a function is defined, that is your hook that you can build onto each page. There is a very good page on understanding hooks at www.sugarrae.com.
  • There really aren’t any files to update on the server which was a bit of a shocker when I first started down the Thesis path. I was looking for some php files where I could re-arrange the site, but all that is controlled via the layout.css, custom.css and custom_functions.php pages. Trying to figure out how to “remove” items was a bit more challenging. For instance, I wanted to change my footer but couldn’t figure that one out. Finally ran across this blog which helped and even better, this one. There definitely are a lot of helps at http://diythemes.com/ for when you need to really get into it.

The only major down-side to Thesis is that it’s a premium theme, so you gotta fork out the $$ for it. Check it out here (affiliate link) if you’re interested in giving it a run! I highly recommend the theme and am glad to have that functionality in my back pocket now.

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