Thesis 2.7: Do Websites Ever Get Easier to Build and Maintain?

Thesis celebrated its 10th birthday in early 2018, and now version 2.7 adds another chapter to this incomparable legacy.

In the WordPress ecosystem, nearly everything grows bigger, slower, and more complicated over time. Themes, Plugins, you name it—they all succumb to feature creep, which most developers think is a necessary evil for growth and survival.

I have spent the last 8 years consciously moving Thesis in the opposite direction.

My only goal is to make it easier for you to run a faster, more accessible, and more maintainable website.

In other words, I’m focused on EASE.

From experience, I know most people will blindly follow the WordPress death-march toward endless complication.

But I’m hopeful what I’m about to say will resonate with many of you and provide some clarity that will reduce the stress you feel around your website.

Think about your own experience…

Have you run a website for longer than 2 years? Have you ever tried to change designs after already having one highly customized design?

If so, then you know long term adaptability is a real disaster.

This is the “big secret” WordPress Theme companies don’t want you to know…

They hope like hell you’ll use one of their designs (so they can get paid), and then they assume you’re going to hire a designer or developer to handle the tough stuff—customizations, technical integrations, etc.

But I live in the real world, where reliable designers/developers are incredibly hard to find and don’t come cheap.

In fact, they get more expensive every day because the entire industry is moving away from freelancing and toward agency-level positions.

This leaves fewer reasonable options for most website owners, and it forces the most ambitious ones to pay top dollar to work with an agency to handle customizations.

That model doesn’t work for the “little guy.”

So that begs the question: What can the little guy do?

A mindset shift focused on LESS

One of my big themes for 2018 is this idea that WordPress only moves in one direction—more, more, MORE.

If all you ever do is add stuff, your life (or your website) never gets less complicated. As a result, you are constantly forced into a state of discomfort, which means you’re farther and farther away from a state of peace.

But there’s another insidious layer to all this, too…

When WordPress “gives” you more, it’s actually asking more of you in the long term! You’ll have more, alright:

  • Stuff that can break during updates
  • Things to accommodate in your customizations
  • Requirements for add-on components like Themes and Plugins
  • Higher costs for maintenance and support due to the over-complication of everything

What a mess! At this point, you really need to ask yourself:

Has your website truly improved in the last 5 years? Or has it just gotten more complicated and more annoying to deal with?

It doesn’t have to be like this!

That said, the tough decisions are on YOU.

So what can you do? Everyone wants more, but you need less.

It’s time for some tough love and a little responsibility.

You’re going to have to be real with yourself and honest about your goals. You’re going to need to ask yourself:

  • Do I really need all these Plugins?
  • Do visitors care about this highly-customized design, or is it more of a vanity thing for me?
  • Does that huge featured image really add value to my pages, or does it just make things slower for mobile users while forcing them to scroll more to get to content?
  • Do visitors use all 14 links in my nav menu?
  • How about all that junk in your sidebar? Are your visitors somehow immune to “banner blindness,” even though they exhibit it everywhere else on the internet?

These questions often yield uncomfortable answers.

Fact is, you may not be able to do everything you want to do with your website, and for a very good reason:

Website success happens when you align your goals with your visitors’ goals.

At first glance, this seems like an annoying handicap.

“What?!? I may have to change things and/or remove things I like?” (Pro tip: Nothing is sacred!)

But the more you get into the process of removing things that don’t directly serve your goals, you begin to see everything else much more clearly.

Maybe you don’t need that Plugin after all. Maybe you don’t need that crazy design customization that’s causing problems in responsive views.

Maybe your nav menu only needs 3 links instead of 14.

Heck, maybe you don’t even need that nav menu at all!

Join me and ride the Thesis wave into the future

I’ve spent the last couple months revamping the best website on the planet and the Golden Ratio Typography Calculator, and Thesis 2.7 has been an integral part of that process.

In addition to being extremely fast, both sites feature simple designs that have one main goal—to serve content to visitors quickly and clearly.

The result is somewhat shocking compared to the web designs we’ve come to expect over the last 5 years. I also think it’s pretty invigorating.

Consider, for example, some highlights from the new Pearsonified design:

No traditional navigation menu!

Instead of a universal nav, I’m using a technique called funneling that directs visitors deeper into the site via the content on the page. To see this in action, visit the home page and blog page.

You’ll also notice smart breadcrumbs on all internal pages that make it easy to understand and navigate the site hierarchy.

No sidebars

The web is a top-down medium, but designers are always thinking in terms of horizontals (columns, CSS flex boxes, grid systems, etc).

The rise of mobile, however, is pushing everyone in a more vertically-oriented direction. This has created tension between the desire to fill horizontal space on desktop displays and the reality of having no horizontal space on mobile devices.

Ultimately, responsive design is just “horizontal management.” Because of this, I have chosen to eliminate horizontals in my design, and now the responsive design process is as simple as it could possibly be.

This makes it easy, cheap, and even fun to manage my design.

No featured image fluff

“Hero” images have been trendy for years, but they also work against the idea of being efficient and accessible on every device.

In fact, a typical hero image is at least 4x larger than the HTML + CSS content of any page on my site. Thus, I will not use a big image unless it is 100% necessary for the current page.

(To be clear, I still use images wherever they are effective and helpful, but the reality is that huge hero images are generally disconnected from the goal of any particular page.)

“Enhanced” text for greater scannability

What’s the most important thing on any page of your site?

The content!

I’ve been thinking along these lines for a dozen years, but this design has helped me “see” the text in a new way.

As you click around my site, pay special attention to the use of bold text and callouts (alerts, notes, and boxes), which enhance scannability and keep the eye moving down the page.

Essentially, what I’ve done is trade the fluffy, nonessential aspects of design for the little details that improve content and make it more engaging.

The end result is an improvement in metrics related to content consumption—time spent on page, clickthrough rates, bounce rates, conversions, and all that good stuff.

Bottom line: This approach has been an enlightening experience for me, and now it’s your turn.

Don’t worry!

My guess is you’ll be afraid to make radical changes like the ones I detailed above. It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder how this might affect your SEO, conversions, or even the “way things have always been” on your site.

Heck, I was worried about my own SEO, mostly because my site has ranked extremely well for nearly 13 years!

My advice after running this design for 3 weeks? Don’t worry about it! Here’s why:

Google is switching all sites to mobile-first indexing

If your site is serving different designs to mobile vs. desktop, you’ll be penalized in the SERPs.

This means mobile Plugins like WP Touch are dead on arrival, and it also means you’ve got to make a concerted effort to have the mobile and desktop versions of your site “match.”

This is extremely easy to do if you employ the same approach I’ve used on my site.

If you like complications and added costs, though, you can always try it another way 😀

Visitors LOVE clarity, and so do search engines!

There is no BS anywhere on my site. Every page dives straight into the content with zero distractions, offers, non-sequitur images, or unrelated calls-to-action.

There are no nav menus to hunt for, no banner ads to dismiss, and no annoying footer elements that are a magnet for accidental clicks on mobile devices.

Not surprisingly, the time spent on each page of my site is way up since the re-design, and I’ve seen a steady improvement in search traffic as well.

Of course, the extremely fast loading times are helpful here, too. The idea is simply to give visitors what they want as quickly as possible.

It may not be rocket science, but it’s certainly effective!

Adaptations and maintenance are easy.

Since I launched the new design, I’ve been employing a kaizen approach to the site, making changes and adaptations as needed.

When I had a more “design-y” design, this type of thing was a real drag—changes took forever to implement, and tweaking one thing often meant negatively affecting another.

Not anymore.

This simpler, stripped-down approach makes it easy to implement changes that work everywhere—on all devices—with minimal effort.

The “big idea” here is that my pages will look and work perfectly 5, 10, even 15 years from now with little or no modifications.

That is ease, and that’s what I want from my website experience.

After all, what’s the point of your website if not to facilitate your life in some way? If your website is a drag, then perhaps you’re doing it wrong. (I know I was.)

I want YOU to stay tuned.

If this stuff “speaks” to you, I’d like to invite you to follow along as we journey down this new path of ease and simplicity.

To do so, type your email address into the box below, and I’ll keep you updated on both the software and techniques I’m using to dominate this new era in website production.

Finally, you may also want to check out Thesis so you can start running your sites the same way I do.

Thank you for reading, and I sincerely hope you found some value here today!

About the author: Thesis creator Chris Pearson is obsessed with optimizing the web and making sure every last detail receives the attention it requires. Follow DIYthemes on Twitter for the latest tips and info on building truly awesome websites.