This article was written for Thesis 1. Thesis 2 is out now!

What’s the first thing most people are concerned with when they start a new blog? If you’re thinking design, you’re dead on. There’s a huge problem with that, though. I’ll explain.

While design is definitely important, it’s not the only area to be concerned with. What about speed? What about SEO? Don’t they matter as well?

Sure they do. Most people just ignore that stuff because they don’t understand it. That’s fine. You don’t have to understand it. But someone needs to… and that someone should handle speed and SEO for you.

This is where Thesis comes in to save the day. Keep reading.

What Makes Thesis So Special?

Chevy Corvette

Even the frame is gorgeous

Thesis has conditioned me to focus more on functionality than looks when I start a new blog. 

Sure, Thesis is definitely a WordPress theme. The difference between Thesis and other themes is that Thesis is a framework first.

Imagine being given a fully assembled chassis, frame, and drive train of a Chevrolet Corvette. Not knowing that it was from a Corvette, you’ve also been afforded the freedom and resources to design your dream car around the framework however you wanted.

What would you do?

Would you be disappointed at the boring looks of the chassis or excited about the endless possibilities ahead of you? This, ladies and gentlemen, is what the Thesis Framework brings to your blog.

An Interview with Chris Pearson

I’ll be honest, it took me a while to understand Thesis. Though I know a little bit about web development, Thesis introduced me to something that I had never seen before.

To expedite your understanding of the power of Thesis, take a look at Pearson’s explanation of the Thesis Theme Framework. He was asked to provide three reasons why realtors would want to use his theme for their real estate WordPress blogs.

I understand that it can seem like he is speaking a foreign language to some. There are a few things to note from what Chris has to say, though.

  1. Thesis re-writes your blog’s core foundation in HTML that is structurally sound and optimized for search engines (SEO).
  2. Site design and content management will no longer be rooted in the structure of your blog. The Thesis Framework gives you a solid structure and everything else becomes cosmetic. Contrarily, to be perfectly clear, most themes not only change the look of your blog, but also the core structure. You could easily lose search engine ranking just by simply changing your theme. Thesis prevents this from happening.
  3. The focus of the Thesis team, led by Chris, is to optimize your blog for search engines and speed. Out of the box, Thesis is about as plain as a cracker with no cheese. This assures you that the focus is pure structure, SEO, and speed. There were no design distractions. 😛

How Thesis Theme Framework Works

First of all, understand that everything I am telling you is in my own words. I’m not reading any technical jargon about Thesis or its purpose. I am attempting to give you an explanation on why Thesis is so popular… in my own words.

With that being said, let me explain to you what Thesis does for me, an average blogger.

It all starts with a simple installation

Though Thesis is unlike any other WordPress theme, installation is a breeze. There aren’t any special requirements for installing Thesis that are different from other themes. In fact, I’ve just installed a new WordPress blog on my server and uploaded the Thesis Theme to show you all how it works. It took me 10 minutes tops.

Once you have Thesis installed, all you have to do is activate the theme and you are now running Thesis Theme Framework.

Here’s a look at what Thesis currently looks like when first installed.

Default Thesis Theme

Default Thesis Theme version 1.8.2

Pretty plain, huh?

Keep reading.

Getting familiar with Thesis

If you are anything like me, the look of a raw Thesis installation is depressing. You’ve installed a theme that doesn’t look much better than the default WordPress theme. That’s all bad. Right?


What has actually happened here is that the structure of your site, your HTML, PHP, etc., has been laid out in a manner that allows you to maintain structural integrity while you design your site and add content.

Basically, you’ve been provided a powerhouse foundation, much like the Corvette above, and now you have the freedom to build on it with confidence. So, let’s do it.

You like Corvettes as much as I do, huh? Get Thesis now.

Customizing Thesis

Let’s take a look in your WordPress Dashboard at your new Thesis Site Options.

The first thing to note is that you’ll want to install a plugin called “The OpenHook Customizations Manager.” This plugin allows you to implement your content with ease while using Thesis. More on how that works later.

Here’s your first look inside of the control panel for your new Thesis blog. We’ll start with your “Site Options.”

Thesis Site Options

All menus collapsed

As you can see, Chris has a sense of humor. I got a kick out of the “Big Ass Save Button” but you have the option to change the text, as you can see with the far right option on the bottom.

Each of those menu options is currently collapsed. If you open them up, you have options to make selections and customize input fields. Let’s take a look at the “Document Head” section under the “Home Page SEO” category.

Thesis Site Options

Ease of Use

As you can see, it’s easy to set up the basic settings of your Thesis blog. All you have to do is select an area, choose or your options, input your data, and click the Big Ass Save Button.

That’s the boring part, though. Let’s move on to design.

We’ll go into the “Design Options” now. This is where you will decide on things like your site layout, link colors, comment options, etc.

Thesis Design Options

So many options you’re gonna die!

Things are starting to get kind of interesting, huh?

I think we should start customizing our site using these options. Don’t worry. It won’t take long.

I don’t think I like the “multimedia box-double sidebar” look. How about a 3-column layout with a sidebar on either side of the content? Oh, and no more multimedia box.

Step 1 – Select a 3-column layout and determine the sidebar and content widths.

Thesis Columns

Many different options to choose from

  Step 2 – Select the column order we decided on: Sidebar – Content – Sidebar

Thesis Column Order

Extra layout options

Step 3 – Remove the Multimedia Box

Thesis Multimedia Box

Several options for each feature

Step 4 – Click the Big Ass Save Button and check out your blog

Thesis 3 Column Blog

Wasn’t that easy?

Should I keep going or are you starting to understand the power of Thesis?

Really, this is nothing. Thesis can do so much more that I’ve actually insulted you with the last part. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.

Adding special content with Thesis

Now that I’ve shown you how to control the layout of your site, let’s add a little bit of content to it.

I’m not talking about pages or blog posts. You’ve seen that before. Thesis does not interrupt the basic way of adding that kind of content.

Thesis does, however, make it extremely easy to customize different parts of your blog with “hooks.” Let’s take a look at how that works.

Adding content to your footer

Thesis OpenhookThis is where the “The OpenHook Customizations Manager” plugin comes in handy.

Openhook gives you access to more than 50 different areas of your blog to easily add or remove content. Let’s say, for example, I wanted to add a link to my footer.

Once inside the OpenHook section for my footer, all I have to do is input my HTML into the text area provided and save the changes.

Step 1 – Enter the OpenHook options and select a hook to modify

 Thesis Openhook

Step 2 – Input the HTML code into the “thesis_hook_footer” text area

Thesis Openhook

Step 3 – Save the changes and view the link in your footer

Thesis Theme Footer

Instant results

And there you have it. That’s how you use OpenHook to add content to more than 50 different areas of your blog.

Imagine the ease of placing a 468×60 banner above your content or in your header. Does it get any easier than that?

Of course not. Get Thesis now.

We’re not done yet, though.

We know how to choose the layout and add content in special places. But there’s much more to Thesis than that.

Edit the style and functionality of your site without disrupting Thesis structure

As Chris stated in the video, Thesis handles the structure of your blog for you. Thesis is optimized for speed and search engines… as every website should be.

The last thing you want to do is sacrifice speed and SEO for design.

Thesis gives you the freedom to use additional files to edit the look and functionality of your site without disrupting the structural HTML. This is done through two files:

  1. custom.css (for all of your design tweaks)
  2. custom_functions.php (adjust the way your blog functions and make massive layout changes with PHP)

These two files are incredibly easy to edit in the Thesis options area.

You would simply select which file you wanted to edit, type or paste your code into the text area, and click the Big Ass Save Button.

Let’s make our header black with a white logo and gray tagline.

Step 1 – Input your CSS code into the custom.css file and click the Big Ass Save Button

Thesis Custom CSS

Step 2 – Go to the Design Options and change the Header text colors

Thesis Color Picker

Notice the built in color picker

 Step 3 – Click the Big Ass Save Button and view your changes

Thesis Theme Framework

And there you have it… one goofy looking blog.

Customizing the functionality of your blog is just as easy when you edit the custom_functions.php file.

Move your navigation bar beneath your header in 3.2 seconds (approximately)

The most amazing part of Thesis, in my opinion, is your ability to add functions to your site that do amazing things with almost no effort.

For example, I like to have my navigation bar beneath my header. If you know HTML, you know how ugly things can get as you try to move code around.

Not with Thesis, though.

Step 1 – Add the function script to your custom_functions.php file

Thesis Custom FunctionsStep 2 – Click the Big Ass Save Button and view your site

Thesis WordPress Theme

You see just how easy it is to control multiple areas of your blog without sacrificing speed or quality search engine optimization?

And you may be thinking, “I don’t know how to write CSS or PHP!

And? Trust me when I tell you… there are resources galore in the easy-to-read Thesis documentation.

So, you have to make a decision when you start a new blog. What’s most important to you?

Is it the current look of your blog or the foundation upon which your future design will sit? I think you all know my answer.

Don’t be confused, though. The wonderful thing about Thesis is that once you have it up and running, the design possibilities are endless.

There’s no design that Thesis can’t handle.

Is Thesis Theme Framework for You?

Do I like the Big Ass Save Button? Yes.

What Thesis has to offer

Are we seriously going over this? Wasn’t that enough?

Well, there’s more. Thesis has one of the best support communities I have ever seen for internet software. If you choose to use Thesis, you’ll have access to an amazing amount of customization tips, the DIY Themes Thesis Support Forums, and the best WordPress Theme available.

You don’t have to know anything about CSS or PHP, either. All the codes or scripts you will ever need are already in the documentation area for you to use.

Can you copy and paste? If yes, you can use Thesis.

If you can learn to code, though, or you already know how, buckle up for a crazy ride with Thesis. Seriously.

Start your blog off right by getting your own Thesis theme installed now. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Published by Sean Davis

When I'm not developing WordPress themes and plugins, I'm usually helping further the Easy Digital Downloads project, traveling, or playing racquetball. Say hi on Twitter. @SDavisMedia


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  16. Sean, love this post. You are also kicking butt on the kolakube support. Great work mate. 

    • Thanks a bunch! I really appreciate it. I wrote this post some time ago be freshened it up just recently. I may give it one more overhaul. 😛

  17. Thanks so much. I am a newbie blogger and just bought Thesis. Had no idea what a flippin hook or custom css or the php thing was. Very clear and concise explanation. You are fabulous!

    • That’s what I like to hear! So glad you found it useful. It’s the kind of article I wish I had seen when I first started using Thesis.

      Feel free to ask any questions you may have or request tutorials. I think Thesis is the best so I want people to use it. But to use it, they have to understand it! 😛

      Thanks again for reading.

  18. Follow question Sean: it appears you are using WP Jetpack for your comments/subscriptions. I downloaded as well on thesis and my comment box is not looking like yours (like the plugin says it should). What am I missing? Thank you.

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