Installing and Optimizing Thesis Theme for WordPress

Thesis is absolutely, positively, hands down the best WordPress theme on the market. If you can dream it up, its very likely that you’ll be able to create it with Thesis. Let me help you get started!


Once you’ve obtained your copy of Thesis from DIY Themes, the first thing you’ll need to do is install and activate it as the theme for your WordPress installation. There are a couple ways to do this.

The Easy Way

If you’d like to do things the easy way, sign into your wordpress admin ( Under the appearances tab, click “add new themes.” Next, click the upload tab on the page you just arrived at. Browse to the location of the zipped Thesis folder you just downloaded from DIY Themes, and upload it. When this process finishes, it should give you the option to activate. Do so, and you’re done. Just keep in mind that you’ll be missing out on some pretty sweet features of Thesis if you go this route.

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The Hard Preferred Way

Now, if you want to get the most out of Thesis, and you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, follow me. Its a bit more involved, but I’ll walk you through it and I promise it won’t be that bad.

You’ll need a few things in order to do the deed:

  • A solid FTP client. An FTP client allows you to manage files on your web server. I recommend FileZilla. Its free, open source (which ensures it will constantly be updated with new features), easy to use, and compatible with both pc and mac.
  • FTP login information (address, username, and password) for the server where WordPress is installed
  • The zipped Thesis folder you downloaded from DIY themes


Ready? Let’s get to it. First, go ahead and sign into your FTP client. You should see a listing of all the folders in the root level of your domain. If you need help getting started with FTP, click here.

Now that you’re signed into your server via FTP, we need to upload the Thesis files. Navigate to your WordPress themes folder on your server. Typically, this is found at “home/wp-content/themes.” Next, unzip the Thesis folder you downloaded from DIY Themes to your desktop. Depending on which FTP client you’re using, you should be able to drag and drop the entire unzipped folder from your desktop into the “themes” directory you’ve navigated to in your FTP client.

Setting File Permissions

There are a few steps we need to take here to really get Thesis rockin! We need to setup the correct file permissions to allow Thesis to interact with the rest of your website properly, and we need to do some renaming in order to make Thesis easily customizable.

Let’s go ahead and do the renaming now. Find the “custom-sample” folder in your Thesis folder. It is typically found at “home/wp-content/themes/thesis(version#)/custom-sample.” Right-click on this file and select “rename” or something similar. Rename the folder “custom”. This is extremely important as Thesis will now recognize the files in this folder which will allow us to make customizations.

Before we go any further, let me explain a couple of things about file permissions. These permissions allow certain groups to read, write to, and execute (or some combination of the three) the file in question. The first number refers to the permission level allowed to the user to whom the file belongs. The second number refers to the permission level of the group, and the third refers to the permission given to the general public.


This probably seems a bit complicated. You don’t need to have a rock solid understanding to accomplish this installation (you really just need to be able to copy and paste some numbers), but it would be helpful for you going forward. For more info on file permissions, click here.

So, let’s make a few necessary file permission changes. Go ahead and navigate to your Thesis custom folder.

In your custom folder, find the layout.css file. Right-click on it. Depending on your FTP client, one of the options in that appears will be “file permissions” or something to that effect. Set the numerical value to “666”. This will allow everyone read and write access to the file.

Next, find the “cache” folder in your “custom” folder. Follow the same process, and set its permission to 775. When you set up dimensions for your post images, this will allow Thesis to automatically crop the images you upload to fit the size you have set.


Our installation won’t be complete until we activate Thesis in our WordPress admin. This is the easiest part! Just click “themes” under the “appearance” tab in your WordPress admin, and click activate under Thesis. That’s it! You’re ready to rock!


With most themes, you’d be done right now. With Thesis, the party is just getting started. One of the most important features that Thesis offers is its search engine optimization options. You can control the most important SEO elements on every page and post on your blog including the homepage. First, I’ll walk you through the SEO options that are found in the Thesis Options panel in your WordPress admin. Once we’ve got that covered we’ll hit the specific page options.

If you are fairly new to WordPress definitely check out our guide on how to optimize wordpress which includes instructions on setting permalinks and other miscellaneous settings which will help your blog to rank better.

General Thesis Options

Now that you’ve installed Thesis, you’ll see an extra panel in your WordPress admin. Toward the bottom, you should see “Thesis Options.” Click on this and you should be taken to a page with several expandable option boxes. We’ll start here. Please note, there are no absolute rules with these options. The settings I’m suggesting will be optimal in most cases, but its impossible to apply a cookie cutter set of options to everyone. I’d recommend doing your own research. This is certainly a great starting point though!

Title Tags

Title tags are the text that appears on the top bar of your browser when you’re on any given web page. They are probably the single most important element of search engine optimization. Its one of the first places most search engines look in order to rank content. Generally, the title tag should take the following forms depending on where you are:

  • For the homepage – [Blog Name]
  • For blog posts – [Single Post Title]
  • For single pages – [Single Page Name] – [Blog Name]

Therefore, under homepage options under the title options, you’ll want to check “Show site name in title” under the homepage options under Title Tags. You’ll also want to uncheck “Show site tagline in title.” Under all other pages you’ll want to check “Append site name to page titles” and enter “-” as your character separator. This will ensure the structure we just listed. Single posts automatically display only the post title in the title tag.

Homepage Meta Information

At the top of the center column of the Thesis Options page, you should find an options box entitled “Homepage Meta.” Go ahead and expand it. You should see a meta description box and a meta keyword box for the homepage.


Meta keywords are just basically a way for search engines to categorize your content. They don’t have much affect on your actual rankings, but its still a good idea to add them. It doesn’t take much time, and there are search engines out there where having good meta keywords will affect you posively. Generally, you should have no more than three keywords for one page. Also, be sure not to use more than two or three keywords in your meta keywords. Doing so may result in a penalty from some search engines.

Meta descriptions are where you can really make some strides. Just like meta keywords, most search engines don’t pay much attention to this in terms of ranking, but it is VERY important that you do this.

As you can see, the meta description is what Google uses to display a description of the page. If you don’t do this, you’ll often end up with text from random places (such as sidebar links) as your description. Often, this will have nothing to do with your actual page content. Now, this doesn’t affect your rank at all, but it does affect your click through rate significantly.

So, be sure to add meta keywords and a meta description to the homepage.

That’s it for the Thesis Options panel. Obviously there are a TON of other options, but these are the most important in terms of optimization. The other options you should set to suit your fancy. Obviously, this will be different for every blog.

Post and Page Options

Another great feature of Thesis is the extra options it gives you for every post and page. Go ahead and edit your most recent post in your WordPress admin. There are three extremely important things you should take note of:

1. Custom Title Tag

That’s right, you can specify a custom title tag for your post. This is awesome, because it allows you to write the catchy titles that your readers love. You see, search engines love boring titles. They love a title that looks like “How to XYZ.” Readers don’t love those titles. They love titles like “Totally Rad Awesome XYZ Widgets!!!” Ok, maybe they don’t love that title in particular, but you get the idea. You can use descriptive, catchy titles that your readers will see on your blog and in your feed, but you can use the custom title tag to designate something boring that the search engine will like. Its the best of both worlds!

2. Meta Description

This is basically the exact same idea as the homepage. Add the meta description for EVERY post and page on your blog. If you don’t, you’re throwing away traffic. Its as simple as that. And, for search engines that penalize your ranking if you don’t maintain a high clickthrough rate, it will eventually kill your ranking which will really impact your traffic.

3. Meta Keywords

Again, these are not a huge deal, but its a good idea to add them for every post on your blog. It can only help you as I’ve never heard of a search engine penalizing someone for specifying meta keywords.

Wrapping it Up

This is just the first part of this guide. I hope you’ve learned quite a bit, and I hope this gets you off to a great start with Thesis! In part two, we’ll look into using Thesis hooks to customize our layout.

Adam is a WordPress designer, Thesis specialist, and blogger from Indianapolis, Indiana. Check out his custom work here.

Written by Adam Baird

Adam is a Wordpress designer, Thesis specialist, and blogger from Indianapolis, Indiana. Check out his custom work here.



  • M says:

    hey adam!

    Thank You so much for this article!! really helped me instal thesis easily! how do i add a picture to my header? i want a full header??

  • […] Installing and Optimizing the Thesis Theme for WordPress – The first thing you need to do is install Thesis. This guide will help you install and opimize Thesis for the best possible performance in terms of your blog’s speed and search engine optimization. […]

  • John M says:

    There is no layout.php to change permissions in the Custom folder. I don’t see that file, did you mean layout.css?

  • thank u for ur great help adam

  • Dawn Farias says:

    Ugh. I’m using the FTP client recommended by Dreamhost. I’m having a hard time figuring out how to change permissions, even after searching through the help forum. Any thoughts?


    • Sharon says:

      In Dreamhosts’s FTP scroll all the way down to the bottom of the list and choose CHMOD. Then change the permissions there.

      Hope that helps!

  • Evan says:

    Thanks for this! Very helpful!

  • 100 Resources for Thesis Wordpress Theme Users | says:

    […] 1. Why should I buy Thesis? 2. Buy Thesis Now 3. How to Install Thesis […]

  • […] Installing and Optimizing Thesis Theme for WordPress […]

  • Matt says:

    Hi Adam, great blog and fiollowing these instructions to set up my own. When I am trying to rename custom-sample to custom it will not let me change it. There is already a seperate file above it called custom. A bit confused, any help appreciated.

    • Matt says:

      Hi. I think I have worked it out – it’s because the thesis I bought came with a ready made skin in a custom file

  • Matt says:

    Hi, trying to follow the instructions for the title tags and homepage meta information but it does not seem to match up to what I see in the options. I am probably just confused again but it looks as though things might have changed – would appreciate being pointed in the right direction with how to optimise the basic thesis seo, thanks, matt

    • Adam Baird says:

      Most of the options remain the same, they have just been moved around a bit…this tutorial was written for 1.6 and you are presumably using 1.7. If you have specific questions let me know and I’ll do my best to help out :)

  • fidel says:

    thanks Adam, i’ve messed around with wordpress before but i just installed thesis and i hope its worthwhile. thanks for the tutorial though

  • David says:

    Awesome post man, very useful… thank you very much and god bless!

  • Prana says:

    Hi Adam, i am using thesis 1.8 and can’t find the cache folder that you mentioned. Thanks for the guidance.

  • king says:

    is thesis theme good for amazon product reviews? am really strugling to find the best theme for this.

  • Liz Fulcher says:

    I read the first part of your blog and followed the directions for the easy download. Then I read the last sentence which says “Just keep in mind that you’ll be missing out on some pretty sweet features of Thesis if you go this route.” Well dammit.

    Now what do you suggest? I would prefer to “get my hands dirty” and get the most out of Thesis.

  • Maverick says:

    Thank You for the quick thesis installation guide and I look forward to watching Your other Thesis tutorials.

  • Tim says:

    Hey Adam!

    I have been trying to install thesis all day. It’s there but I dont think its installed properly. I cannot see the default theme picture and within my wordpress the theme menu seems all messed up. I dont see the “Big Ass Save Button” and everything seems to be going longways. Have you ever seen or heard of this?

  • FinnBlogger says:

    Thanks for helping me to install Thesis-theme, Adam!

  • Ryzal says:


    I just installed thesis 1.8 with FIlezilla.
    Dragged and dropped it in the themes folder.
    First of all, I do not see the cache folder where the file permissions need to be changed.
    I changed the Layout.ccs file permissions though.
    In the control panel of wordpress (3.1.2), the thesis tools are all going log ways and no “big ass save button”. There is another person in the post section that has experienced the same problem. Please advice.

    • Ryzal says:

      I reloaded the thesis folder into the themes folder one layer less deep. (meaning: no thesis folder in a thesis folder) No DAT file transfered neither… But now i do see a good layout in the thesis theme tools in my wordpress cpanel with the big ass save button in place.
      But in my FTP (Filezilla) i still do not see a “cache folder” to change file permissions.
      I this a problem?

      Please advice.

  • April says:

    Just want to say Thank You soo much for this Thesis installation tutorial. Im very new getting started, and yours was by far the most helpful!

  • Shohag says:

    Hi Adam,

    I am also using Thesis theme but i am facing some problem about category. I have created some category for my site but they do not show on my site. Could you please help me to solve my problem?

  • Deepak says:

    is there any seo freindly theme other than thesis….?

  • Elizabeth says:

    I’m brand new to website/blog/etc. Just a one person mompreneur and your instructions are awesome! THank you! I know nothing about design, ftp, sql, etc. so I really need the detailed, simple, step by step, click-here type of instruction you provide. Great job!

  • Kulwant Nagi says:

    Very useful optimization… These will give the better blogging SEO…

  • Surf Star Morocco says:

    Hey I just started with thesis theme at Surf Star.
    We want our header to look like making our logo on the left and a slideshow on the right – with a good size just like surfer mag. Can you give us any idea how we do this? which plugins if any and any recommendations, if it can look just like surfer mag’s header we would be so happy, We would really appreciate your help,
    All the best
    Surf Star Morocco
    currently working on to change to in the future

    • Adam Baird says:

      I sent you an e-mail a few days ago.

      • Ravi says:

        I am checking on this post
        We want our header to look like making our logo on the left and a slideshow on the right – with a good size just like surfer mag. Can you give us any idea how we do this? which plugins if any and any recommendations, if it can look just like surfer mag’s header we would be so happy, We would really appreciate your help

        I am creating a new site (very early stages) where I need my header to something similar to surfermag..Really appreciate your help on this.


        • Eric Binnion says:

          Hey Ravi,

          I can’t think of any plugins that would give you the same design and functionality as surfer mag. I, or another designer could program something like this for you though, so I would suggest looking at getting a designer.

  • adam says:

    How do I do this step:

    FTP login information (address, username, and password) for the server where WordPress is installed


    Any help will be greatly appreciated.

    • Linlinoz says:

      Yes – I would like to know this too.

      The guide above completely glosses over how we should find this information, but I can’t get started without. I’ve tried searching for this info on WordPress and it says you can’t connect to a ftp client. Do I have to get my money back already ???

  • Linlinoz says:

    The penny has dropped – the Thesis Theme assumes that you have downloaded the wordpress.ORG sw and installed this on your own website/hosted domain.
    Wordpress.COM hosts free blogs, and therefore you can’t change or modify themes there. So once you have downloaded the software, you should already be aware of what your FTP details for the upload of the thesis info.
    But – none of this is obvious from anything I read about thesis theme for WP. For people who have never used WP before (and were not aware of those subtle distinctions) it would help if some of the posts here and on thesis/DIY site pointed that out – not all of us spend our lives on the web with this info at hand. Good luck Adam!

  • Oliver says:

    great info adam

    I have tried to install thesis 1.8.2 but there is no /cache folder within the custom folder, it appears there are others with the same problem. What do I do? Thanks

    • Ryzal says:

      Thesis seems to work just fine without that Folder. I have the same problem. Nobody can answer this question….

    • Garrett says:

      For everyone having the problem of not finding the cache directory, the path should actually be:


      I figured that out after some digging. The thing is it wasn’t there by default. I had to add it and set the appropriate permissions. Cheers,


  • Vijay says:

    Great Info Adam, Is there any hook available which I can use to programmatically update the meta description tags.

  • Sergio Felix says:

    Thank you Adam.

    I have installed Thesis a few times before but I always forget what the installation details are. The good thing is that I keep referring myself back to this article, just like now.

    Maybe with some more Thesis installations I’ll finally be able to memorize them. ;-)


  • Marty Green says:

    Very helpful post.

    I didn’t even realize that there were some missing things in my Thesis theme until I read this! I have now filled the gaps. My title tags are now updated.

    thanks for this post



  • Andrade says:

    Hello Adam,

    Thanks for the information they really are very useful,
    I bought Thesis and I’m with a doubt and I would ask your help,
    What is the correct place to insert

    This is the header, but can not access the header with the
    Thesis, then not know how to do it right.
    How Thesis is in English and I am Brazilian, this is perhaps my greatest difficulty.
    thank you

  • Andrade says:


    meta name=”google-site-verification” content=”

  • There seems to be alot involved in uploading Thesis through an FTP client and i would be afraid to mess it up, i was wondering what features i would lose out on if i uploaded directly through my current WordPress theme.
    Thank You

    • Eric Binnion says:

      You shouldn’t lose any features. Before you upload the Thesis zip file though, you will need to unzip it. Then change the /custom-sample/ directory to /custom/. Rezip, then upload through your WordPress backend. Works like a charm every time for me.

  • Robnonstop says:

    Thank you for your tips. Looking at the Thesis (1.8.5) menu, I don’t see the 3 options for title tags, only the checkbox for “Append site name to page titles”. Have they been removed?

  • Ken Wilson says:

    Hello Adam,
    Thank you for this very clear, precise and easy to understand Tutorial.
    I was wondering if you could give me a bit of advice on installing the Thesis Theme.
    I use FileZilla for my FTP work all the time, but just to be sure I followed your instructions to the letter, on installing the theme and the permission boxes through FTP.
    All seemed to be going well, but the theme did not turn up automatically when I went to the Dashboard/Appearance/Themes.
    Has anyone had this trouble before, and would you have any advice as to where I may be going wrong.
    Although I am going to change over from an existing free theme to Thesis, I would have thought the Theme would have still loaded into the Dashboard Themes Section.
    Hoping you can give me some help,
    Thank you,
    Ken Wilson

  • Acebravo says:

    Very useful thanks you.

  • Russ Stewart says:

    All the information is excellent and as a ‘newbie’ to all this I feel confident about following the steps outlined.

    Just one question:

    In setting up this with a new host, does their default WordPress.Org theme have to be installed before I can install ‘Thesis’.? Also, if I have a domain name attached to the default WordPress Theme will this change automatically to the Thesis theme?

    Any advice will be much appreciated!

    Thank You………..Russ Stewart

  • Pasivni Zaslužek says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for this informative optimisation tips. Do you have any ideas how to speed up the loading time?

    • Eric Binnion says:

      Hey Pasivini,

      Have you checked out This will give you a breakdown of why your site may be loading slow. I usually find that it’s due to either a lot of, or uncompressed, images. Let me know if I can help you any further.

  • crazyblogger says:

    Great explanation on using thesis exactly what I was looking for. Thanks. I would love to see more about thesis theme and SEO optimization part of it from you.

  • umair says:

    i’ve installed the theme on my wordpress site but it doesnot show me any kind of layout. i’m seeing blank pages.
    and secondly, i’ve the latest version of thesis and i does not have any custom folder

  • Asyrof Asri says:

    Hi Adam,

    i have installed my thesis theme.

    But in this tutorial, you teach how to install.

    Im make my install in manual case.

    Are right if i just upload in wordpress dashboard only?..

    Or probably to install with FTP?>

    Im confused ..

    Really ..

  • Chris says:

    THX for this thesis tut- I have good knowledge of thesis, but there is always something new!

  • Tim says:

    Great tips for optimizing Thesis, or any blog for that matter. Thanks!

    • Garrett says:

      Looks like the path should actually be:


      You may need to add it if it’s not there, I did.

  • Bonnie says:

    Hi Adam,
    This is one of the best “walk throughs” i’ve found. Very thorough.
    I’m still unclear as to what happens to my current WP content (including SEO info from WP SEO plugin) if i upgrade to Thesis…
    If i follow your directions using Thesis 2.1, will all my current content and CSS remain the same until I go in and change it? What will my current site visitors see?
    thanks for the help!

  • Robert Burlington says:


    I have in mind a very simple format for my site, but so far I am frustrated. Maybe Thesis will help. I want a home page that says shortly and sweetly what the site is about. On that page I want a series of categories that when clicked upon take one to a category page. On the Category page I want a short description of the category and a list of sub-categories pages (each sub is page with a short description of the sub-category). On the sub-category page I want a list of posts so far added to the site. Looks like this:

    Home Page
    Category 1 page
    Sub-category 1 page
    Specific post & content

    Is that sensible? Can thesis do it?

    Thank you.
    Robert Burlington

  • lee says:

    Hey Guys! Thank you so much for this!! I already opened my theme the “easy way” not knowing what I was doing and all I want is to be able to access the custom stuff and it is NO WHERE to be found. I have built my site using the theme already in wordpress and just want to change the css. Is there ANYWAY to access the custom stuff now without losing all the work I did using the theme on my wordpress site? Please help ASAP!! I need to launch this thing Jan 1 (thanks for the last minute project bosses!!!)

    Thank you a million times over for your help!