Thesis Theme Review

by jim on February 19th, 2010

This is a guest post from Pete of BibleMoneyMatters.com.

When you’re starting a blog, one of the first things that you’ll need to do after purchasing a domain name and setting up WordPress is to give your new website a design by choosing a WordPress theme. While most can probably agree that having a premium theme from the get-go isn’t essential (there are more important things like creating good content, testing and optimizing ads and promoting your site), I think most can agree that some premium themes will give you a leg up by giving you a superior look and feel, in addition to having more functionality available behind the scenes.

When I first started my blog at BibleMoneyMatters.com I was using a free template that I had found through one of the free WordPress theme websites. While the theme I chose was functional, it certainly didn’t give me the flexibility to make the kind of changes i wanted to, to take my site to the next level. After doing some research, I discovered a theme that did everything I wanted, and more. The Thesis WordPress Theme.

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

The Thesis WordPress Theme

Thesis Theme is a WordPress website framework that gives you a ton of flexibility to create the blog that you’ve always wanted. It gives great design, easily changeable layouts, optimized SEO (without the use of plugins) and a great support community.

Chris Pearson, designer of Thesis talks about why he designed the template:

I built the Thesis Theme because I wanted a framework that had it all—killer typography, a dynamically resizable layout, intelligent code, airtight optimization, and tons of flexibility. Now, after months of field testing, I’m confident enough to offer it to those of you who have come to expect nothing but the finest themes from me.

The theme definitely has those things and more. let’s look at a few of the reasons why I love the Thesis theme.

Superior Design And Backend Options

One of the first thing I noticed when looking around at themes is that so many of them try to do too much with the design, and become a bit too busy while not allowing you easy access to change things you don’t like. Thesis on the other hand has a nice clean design out of the box, has great readability, and if you like to tinker – is easy to customize to your own tastes. The Thesis back end tools allow you to change fonts, swap colors, update menus and change the complete layout of the site. You can have 1, 2 or 3 columns and order your columns however you want. Just about anything about your site that you might want to change, you can do it through the Thesis design and site options menus. If you’re a more advanced user, you can also customize your site further using CSS and PHP, which is made readily accessible through another menu option in the WordPress Dashboard. If you’re not as advanced there are hundreds of tutorials available that will walk you through more advanced changes.

SEO Optimized Site Framework

One of the great things about the Thesis theme is that it is search engine friendly out of the box. While WordPress sites in general do well with search engines, there are things you can do with your theme to help improve your SEO. For example, Thesis has the ability to specify each post’s title tags, keywords and meta tags without a plugin like All in One SEO Pack. Thesis also gives you the option to use canonical urls so that the search engines can index your content correctly. All of these things can be done with other plugins, but having them built into your theme is even better.

Easy Upgrades

One thing that sets Thesis above a lot of other themes is the fact that it is so easy to upgrade the theme when a new version comes out. To customize all you have to do is change two files, custom.css and custom_functions.php. If you’re upgrading the theme you just download the “custom” directory with those files in it, upgrade the theme, and then re-upload those files to the new version of the theme. Done. Upgrades only take a few minutes at most.

With a lot of other themes to make changes to your site design and layout you have to modify the theme’s core files. If you have to do an upgrade, you then have to figure out all the modifications you made to the theme’s core files, and then re-modify the theme once you’ve upgraded. That could take hours or days depending upon how many changes you’ve made to customize your site!

Support Community Second To None

One of the biggest selling points of the theme in my eyes is that it has a support community second to none. When you purchase the theme you get access to the member’s only forum where experts in Thesis are always ready to give a helping hand. In addition there are hundreds of Thesis tutorials out on the web that will help you do anything from change a background image to adding a header. If you’ve dreamed of doing something, someone else has already done it – and put out a tutorial on how it was done.

Thesis Theme Isn’t Perfect

As you can tell I’m a big fan of the Thesis theme, however, it does have its flaws. The theme does have a learning curve for newer users, especially if you want to do anything beyond the basic site changes. The theme uses what is called “hooks”, a framework that allows you to insert your own custom code or programming just about anywhere in your theme. If you want to use hooks, you’ll want to find a good tutorial on them, like the ones found on http://thesishooks.com/. Another downside of the theme is that if you don’t opt to customize your installation, the basic Thesis theme can have a pretty bland, vanilla look. So many people use the theme that your site can get lost in the shuffle if you don’t make changes.

Plugins To Make Thesis Even Better

While Thesis is great, it doesn’t address every need that users might have. Two plugins that I would suggest every new user of Thesis install once they buy the theme are:

  • Thesis Openhooks: This plugin makes it easer for all users to use the hooks framework, and allows you to insert ads, text, graphics, etc anywhere in the theme that you want.
  • Thesis Import/Export: This plugin allows you to export your Thesis theme and openhooks settings in case your site has a catastrophic failure and you need to re-import them from backup.

Conclusion

Since becoming a blogger I’ve tested out and installed countless themes on the websites that I operate. None of the themes, however, have come close to the Thesis Theme for WordPress when it comes to design options, optimized SEO, usability and flexibility. If you’re looking for a theme to use on your site, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase your copy of the theme.

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

Free Printer Ink Cartridges

by jim on February 3rd, 2010

One of the small headaches of running your own business is that you need to keep your office stocked with all the boring things an office needs, like printer ink cartridges. I use a Canon i560s printer at home and use up a black cartridge every month or two, so finding an affordable source for them is crucial. My store of choice lately has been 123inkjets.com because they carry basically any generic ink cartridge you can think of. I bought replacement cartridges for my Canon i560s for less than a dollar or two a piece, it’s really affordable.

So how do I get them for free? I combine it with Staples’ ink cartridge recycling program to get $3 in store credit! Sign up to their Staples Rewards program and you can recycle up to 10 cartridges per month and get $3 in store credit. I get the cartridges for free because I pay less than $3 and I can get $3 in store credit, which I use to buy all the other supplies I need.

Help the Earth and get free ink cartridges, a win win!

Why You Should Host Your Own Blog

by jim on January 19th, 2010

When you first start blogging, it’s very tempted to sign up for Blogger.com blog. It’s free, it’s fairly easy and intuitive to use, and you can be up and running within minutes. If you have absolutely zero technical know how, using a free service like Blogger or WordPress.com will get you a live blog faster than any other option. That convenience comes at a cost.

Lack of Control

The biggest reason I advise against using a hosted blog platform like Blogger.com or WordPress.com is because you aren’t in total control of your site. While you never have to worry about Blogger.com “going down,” you are subject to its whims. One absolutely wonderful site, Bankdeals.blogspot.com (now living at DepositAccounts.com), recently experienced quite a scare. Ken at Bankdeals has been writing about banking for what seems like eons. You can expect to see a dozen posts a day on the latest banking news and his consistency is almost legendary. However on one fateful day, every single post he had ever written disappeared. There was some sort of technical hiccup somewhere, out of his control, and his content was gone. Thankfully he was able to recover almost all of it and I think that was part of the impetus to move to his own site.

You Can’t Accumulate Link Equity

The second reason, behind control, is that the currency of the web is links. When you write something linkworthy, and people link to you, that’s a valuable indication that you’re a valued resource on the web. As you accumulate link equity, your site rises in the eyes of both your peer sites and search engines. The problem with accumulate link equity for a site on a hosted platform is that you are accumulating link equity for Blogger, or WordPress.com, or some third party service. Your site doesn’t actually benefit.

Hosting Your Own Isn’t Hard

Finally, hosting your own site isn’t very difficult. Many hosts these days have one-click installation for WordPress and one-click upgrades, meaning you just have to tell them you want WordPress and they handle the technical aspects of installing it, standing up a MySQL database, and making sure all the credentials match. Before the popularity of blogs, it wasn’t quite so simple but nowadays the market has responded by making it simple.

In the coming weeks we will have an expert, Mrs. Micah of Blogcrafted, write a guest post on how to move your site from Blogger to your own hosted WordPress site. If you want to earn money from your site now or in the future, you will want to host your own site as early as possible. The longer you wait, the more painful it becomes.

Customizing Your Theme is Overrated

by jim on January 13th, 2010

One of the great benefits of using WordPress is that it comes with so much free stuff. You can download a multitude plugins to extend the functionality of WordPress. You can download thousands of themes to change the look and feel of your site. WordPress itself gives you a window into that theme so you can customize every aspect of your design. All of this is possible without any background in software development and therein lies the beauty of open source software and the open source movement.

However, one problem that new bloggers often commit is that of overtinkering.

When you first start your blog, it’s often good enough to download a theme that pleases aesthetically. All too often, and I myself suffered from this, we feel that we should be tinkering with our theme so that it doesn’t look the same as every other blog that downloads that theme. What we don’t realize is that when you’re first starting out, the theme is less important than the content.

Themes are important, don’t get me wrong, but don’t over think it. People get their first impressions within seconds of viewing your site and as long as you have a professional looking theme that is easy to read, you will do fine. Wait until you have hundreds of visitors a day before you start playing with the theme. Wait until you have thousands before you start thinking about buying a theme.

You might be surprised to learn that all of my blogs use free themes. Most of your visitors will not know you have a common theme (you have to at least change it from the themes that come with the WordPress package, that’s too generic) and the ones that do won’t care.

If you’re curious what theme Bargaineering started out as… it was equiX, a free theme that is no longer available. Over the years, I tinkered with it (once it made sense to) to achieve certain goals and today it doesn’t look at all like equiX. Totally free.

Jeremy at GenXFinance.com has been dealing with a vexing problem lately. A series of random websites with the cz.cc TLDs have been using his Google Adsense javascript code to pump up his impressions and driving down his clickthrough rate. Over four days there were nearly 600,000 impressions and zero clicks.

While it may seem a bit harmless (no click, no revenue right?), this is actually something that is quite dangerous. First, Google is always on the lookout for abnormal behavior and this certainly qualifies. Second, there are CPM based ads and in that case the advertiser would’ve been charged, Jeremy would’ve made money, and almost certainly booted.

In Jeremy’s case, it was probably harmless but this is something that can be completely avoided. Google Adsense gives you the ability to block your Adsense publisher ID from being used on any other sites. You can control this by logging into your account, clicking Adsense Setup, and then Allowed Sites.

Adsense Allowed Sites

Here, you can add all the allowed URLs who can load up your code. You always want to do this because there is little benefit, and a lot of risk, for unauthorized sites to use your code. They can do this by looking at your source code and copying the javascript code.

Just remember to add new sites if you put the code on them!

Every year around this time all the blogs about blogs write about how you can add a little php code snippet to your footer so that you never again have to manually update the copyright year. Here’s the code snippet that displays the current year:

Copyright &copy; <?php echo date(‘Y’); ?> [Your Blog Name]

The date(‘Y’) part will display the current year.

While this is great advice, putting the copyright notice, with or without the year, is entirely unnecessary. I think most of us do it because everyone else does and because it doesn’t have any drawbacks. In the United States, and many other places, you are automatically granted a copyright to your work. You don’t need to register it. (you can do the poor man’s copyright, which is where you seal the work in a letter and send it to yourself – the postmark asks as the date)

How long does the copyright last? It lasts 70 years after your death (csusa.org).

So as you can see, putting dates at the bottom of your foot is really unnecessary. 🙂

Bargaineering gets hundreds of comments a day… and most of them are spam. Even this blog, Wangarific, with its small audience, gets about two dozen spam comments a day! Spam can be one of the biggest headaches for a blogger and dealing with it is both a waste of time and energy.

At one point, I even changed my comment form to post to wpcXXXXXX.php (changing the number ever so often), instead of the standard wp-comments-post.php. I did this because spambots would just post comments directly to wp-comments-post.php. By changing the filename, they would get a 404 whenever they tried this tactic (actually, I added a Redirect in my .htaccess to redirect them to google.com so my server wouldn’t waste resources processing the request).

Fortunately, I stumbled onto a series of plugins that has pretty much stopped all spam in its tracks. It requires no CAPTCHA and no extra work to implement. Simply active/install these two plugins:

  • Akismet: This plugin is included with every WordPress install, so simply activate it. You may need to get an API key to get it to work but that’s fairly trivial.
  • WP-SpamFree: This plugin absolutely crushes spam. It works like magic, takes two seconds to install, and it has stopped a ridiculous amount of spam. In fact, the spam doesn’t even appear in the spam folder anymore. You can download it here.

Finally, just to be sure, I auto-moderate each commenter’s first comment and any comment with a link in it. This will put it in the moderation queue so I can review it manually, this catches about two dozen comments each day.

Save yourself some gray hairs and install these plugins. 🙂

If you are running a WordPress blog, fire up your site and view the source. Search for “generator” and tell me if you see a line that looks like this:

<meta name="generator" content="WordPress 2.9" />

That code is automatically generated by WordPress in the general-template.php file (located in the wp-includes directory) and while it’s well intentioned, it does have some security drawbacks.

Why You Should Remove It

In general, it is safe to assume that sites will upgrade to the newest version of their blogging software because they want the newest features and any security fixes. However, if you fail to upgrade and thieves discover a security breach in an older version, leaving the generator meta tag in your header will make it easier for them to find your site. They can scour the web using spiders to find WordPress sites using an older and now vulnerable version. That tag just did the equivalent of telling them you left your house keys in the lock of the front door (please come in and help yourself to some milk, cookies, and all of our valuables).

How to Remove WP Version Generator

So as a precaution, you should remove this and the easiest way is to edit your theme’s functions.php file and add the following:
remove_action('wp_head', 'wp_generator');

By editing the functions.php file, this change will persist even through WordPress upgrades. This removes the one created by WordPress but your theme may also print out its own version by default, so search through your header.php file for this meta generator line. Delete it.

You can confirm this has worked when you view your source and can no longer find that generator meta tag anywhere.

Subscribe to Comments WordPress Plugin

by jim on December 30th, 2009

One of the cited “strengths” of blogs is that they offer readers the ability to comment. You could communicate with the author, they would reply, other readers could reply, and this small community could develop. It’s part of the reason why you see many news sites adopt commenting features to that people can “respond.”

While this is all still true, it doesn’t happen without some extra help. Out of the box, WordPress and other blog software packages do offer rich commenting features but there are definitely add ons that will make the experience much much better.

One such example is a “Subscribe to Comments plugin” type of plugin. The one I use is available for download here. It has some nice extra features that I appreciate, like rudimentary security, but the main purpose is to let popular posts take on a life of their own.

Posts Live Forever

The most commented post on Bargaineering is one about United First Financial Money Merge Accounts with over 850 comments. It was written in mid-2008 but the latest comment was 12/12/2009. Several of the comments have multiple replies because of a small group of dedicated readers (like JoeTaxpayer who has since started his own blog!) helping educate people on the perils of the program.

You probably won’t look back through all 850+ comments but if you did, you’d see that the comments appear in spurts. You have a visitor who comes via a search engine and leaves a comment. A subscriber to that post (there are currently 31) will see the comment and come back to respond (more often than not, it’s Joe and it’s great because he’s very smart and totally understands the faults of the system inside and out).

This cycle repeats a long long time. Another example is the Rent Forever, Don’t Buy A Home post. It has 31 subscribers and over 400 comments. It was written in early 2007 and the latest comment was 12/28/3009.

Don’t Auto-Subscribe Commenters

If you install this plugin, do not auto-subscribe commenters. It will spam them, create a horrible user experience, and if I find out I’ll reach through the interwebs and throttle you. 🙂

The goal isn’t to trick people who don’t want to participate into participating. The goal is to make it easier for those who do.

If you have success stories using similar subscribe to comment plugins, please share them!

Write and Schedule Posts Ahead of Time

by jim on December 23rd, 2009

One of the biggest pressures bloggers feel, and mostly it’s self-imposed, is the need to write every day. The logic is that people visiting each day want to see new content and if you disappoint them too many times, they won’t return. While this pressure is at times unfounded (with RSS, more of your fans are pulling your stories along with dozens or hundreds of others), I can understand the motivation to keep moving the chains.

You can reduce the pressure to write every day if you batch your work and schedule posts ahead of time. Right now on Bargaineering, I have posts scheduled until December 29th (two a day, with one interactive “Your Take” post on Friday). This frees me up to be more flexible with my writing. If there’s a topic that catches my interest, I can take the time to research it and put it next in the queue. If I want to focus on other aspects of blog promotion, I can without feeling like I’m sacrificing quality of content.

One obvious downside to this is that you lose some flexibility. Unless you adhere to a strict schedule of two posts a day, this is a downside you can overcome simply by posting whatever interests you whenever it interests you. There is no rule that says you can only publish one post a day, or two, or three.

One thing to remember is that people are only able to read so much in one day. If you write one meaty, educational post a day, you will do well on that schedule probably forever. If you write one meaty post and then a few entertaining or list-y type posts, your readers will be able to handle that too. It’s not required reading, so people are free to skip articles that don’t interest them. 🙂

I find it’s easy to schedule them using 8.5″x11″ calendars. I just use the Calendar template in Microsoft Word and print it out on some scrap paper. We had some pink paper lying around and I printed it on that, it makes the calendar very easy to find on my desk. Since my schedule is two a day, I write a B in the upper left when I have my morning post and a B in the lower left when I’ve scheduled the afternoon post. It’s as simple as that.

Give it a try, you’ll find it very liberating.