I've been getting a lot of emails asking me about my switch to the Thesis theme for the SPI blog.
I'll start from the beginning.
Even before I wrote my very first post for The Smart Passive Income Blog, it was really important to me that I sported a high-quality WordPress theme. The design of a blog, both on the front end (what people see), and the backend (what the search engines see), play a huge role in the success of a blog.
Since I bought the domain name, SPI has undergone 9 total design changes.
I blame my roots in the architecture industry, where hundreds of design changes on a single project is completely normal.
In chronological order:
- 2 free themes, which I immediately scrapped because they looked too plain.
- 2 premium themes, which were good—but I noticed a lot of other bloggers using the exact same themes and I wanted something more of my own.
- 2 completely different custom-designed themes. The 1st theme was from a brand new designer on Elance who had no feedback or reviews. Lesson learned. The 2nd design (also from Elance) was great and became the first version of the black/red/chartreuse SPI blog that you see today.
- 1 not-so-good re-design that transformed SPI into a 3-column theme. It was not well received and I reverted back to the previous 2-column design not so long after.
- 1 upgraded tweak which is what you see today.
And a couple of weeks ago, I completed my 9th design change—which didn’t change anything on the front end, but everything on the backend.
I switched to the Thesis Theme Framework. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.]
Why I Switched to Thesis
I switched to Thesis because the SPI blog was having a number of issues I knew Thesis could solve [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.]:
Page Load Time
Most of you don’t know this, but the SPI blog was featured on RazorFast.com, a website by Dan DeFelippi dedicated to website performance and optimization—as a “this site is extremely slow and this is what the owner should do” case study.
The article written in August of 2010, Speeding Up Smart Passive Income, illustrated that SPI had an inferior load time of 13.419 seconds.
I can tie both of my shoes in less than 13.419 seconds.
Website speed is important not only because a faster site can improve user experience, but Google has made public that they take into account website speed when determining search engine rankings.
Even with a CDN (content-delivery network), which is supposed to drastically speed up a website’s load time—SPI was still slow, and I had to do something.
Search Engine Optimization and Coding
The current SPI WordPress theme had undergone several changes from 3 different programmers, and a result the coding on the backend of the site became a complete mess.
In What Else is Wrong With the SPI Blog—SEO Mistakes, I mention that in a paid SEO audit from Joost De Valk of Yoast.com, he reported that the SEO of my site was terrible. There were problems with the heading structures, incompatibilities with some of the plugins, slow page load time (again), among other issues.
Lead By Example
I talk a lot about site improvements and SEO and it would be hypocritical of me not to have a well optimized, fast loading website myself.
I wasn’t leading by example, which is what I always try to do here at SPI.
Although the site has done really well for itself without a fast load time and perfect SEO, it was honestly a little embarrassing to see how slow my site loading was and hear from the experts how badly it was coded.
That’s part of the reason why I shared the results of Joost’s report with you a couple of months ago—to get myself into gear and really figure out how to make the right changes.
That’s when Thesis appeared on my radar.
The Thesis Theme and What Happened When I Switched
I had actually used the Thesis theme for SPI in the past back in late 2008 on a recommendation from someone in my mastermind group. It was one of the premium themes that I had purchased and mentioned earlier, and it seemed to worked great.
I loved how it was SEO-ready it was right out of the box and a lot of the plugins I had previously used were already built-in, but I didn’t like how it looked just like all of the other blogs who also used Thesis.
I wanted something that looked more unique.
It was only after mentioning my Joost report and slow page load time to Derek Halpern of SocialTriggers.com, who did an awesome critique of SPI a month ago and is the marketing guy for Thesis, that I learned that I could actually run Thesis on SPI and have it look exactly the same as it did before.
I found someone to make the switch for me and I’m very happy with the results.
Actually, I’m blown away.
I ran some tests before switching to Thesis, and then after, to make sure I was actually seeing improvements.
Here are the results:
Pingdom.com is a site where you can constantly monitor and generate various reports about your website's response time and uptime.
In my particular tests, the same caching plugin (W3 Super Cache) was enabled and images were attached for both:
- Before: 7.36 seconds
- Thesis: 3.15 seconds
The load time was cut in half, and it was probably even more because the before test was performed in the middle of the night, while the after test was performed during peak hours.
Yslow is another web performance analyzation tool by Yahoo, which a lot of web developers are quite familiar with. It's actually used as an industry standard benchmark.
Below shows the average speed of 50 on-peak reloads in YSlow (version 2) using Firefox on the homepage.
- Before: 5.31 seconds
- Thesis: 2.40 seconds
The day after I made the switch, a number of people actually messaged me saying they noticed how the site was noticeably faster, and asking if I had made any changes.
In addition to the speed tests, I also ran some W3C Validation tests, which checks the html and xhtml markup of your website and tells you what’s not coded “correctly.”
Here are the results of the W3C Validation markup tests:
- Before: 137 errors, 7 warnings
- Thesis: 49 errors, 3 warnings
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization is a little harder to test as far as the before and after of a theme switch or redesign.
The most obvious barometer is the actual ranking in the search engines, but this is something that takes time for Google to figure out, and I was already sitting at number 2 in Google for the keyword “passive income”, which is where I’ve been for over a year, right behind Wikipedia.
Even some of the experts have keywords that have been sitting right behind Wikipedia for ages without any movement. Look up “copywriting” and you’ll see Brian Clark’s copyblogger.com sitting in the #2 position.
My header structure is structured properly now, and the site is SEO-optimized, but I wasn’t expecting to see any movement in the search engines because of it. If anything, I was expecting the site to go down in rankings, which is what happens sometimes when there’s a major change to a website’s coding.
3 Days after the switch to Thesis, I see this in my inbox (I get email notifications for any rank changes for these keywords):
The box with the “1” in it is Green because it moved up in ranking—from #2 to #1—surpassing Wikipedia for the first time ever!
Coincidence? If it is, it’s a huge one.
I immediately shared this on my Facebook page and other people confirmed that I really did overtake Wikipedia for the #1 position in Google.
I took this screenshot from Scroogle.org immediately:
Then, within a few hours, I was getting more messages from people on Facebook saying I was no longer ranking at #1.
I checked, and I had moved back down to #2.
Then, for some weird reason, it kept bouncing back and forth until the next day when it seemed to settle back at #2.
It was fun while it lasted, but it was still great because I had never flirted with #1 before. Now I know I’m close and it should only be a matter of time before I can establish a more permanent #1 ranking for “passive income”.
Do You NEED Thesis?
You don’t need it.
Remember, I didn’t make the switch to Thesis until just a couple of weeks ago, and up until then the blog has still grown massively and I’ve still been able to accomplish a lot. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.]
But, Thesis has obviously helped me a lot, and if I had to do it all over again I’d start with this framework (and there are other frameworks you can choose from too, in case you're not a Thesis fan) and go from there.
I’ll also soon be testing some new niche sites with Thesis as well to see how they perform. It could be the answer for a quick and easy SEO optimized site that I could easily setup right out of the box.
My switch to The Thesis Theme for SPI is me taking this blog to the next level, and I must say, it feels really good to know that I have a site that loads super fast and one that is doing it’s best to rank as high as it possibly can, while keeping the front end design exactly how I want it to be, which is what I was worried about the most. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.]
If you have any questions, please let me know and I' sure I or many of the other Thesis users in the SPI community will chime in with our experience.
To finish off—just remember that although the theme, the design, and all that stuff is important, nothing is more important than your content, so don’t get too bogged down with the design of your site and make sure you just start producing. You can always do things later to improve and perfect—as I hope you can see.
Thanks, and Happy Monday!