Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) have been considered as very promising third generation solar cells. Porphyrins are promising candidates as highly efficient sensitizers for DSSCs because of their superior light-harvesting ability in the visible region and their mimicking of photosynthesis. This paper focuses on the structure modification of porphyrin dyes for efficient DSSCs, which was based on a rational design using density functional theory (DFT) before the experiment. We synthesized and fully characterized four porphyrin dyes, named ZLD13, ZLD14, ZLD15 and ZLD16. On one hand, we used 5-ethynylthiophene-2-carboxylic acid to replace 4-ethynylbenzoic acid as the electron-withdrawing anchoring group for the first time. Property studies indicate that the aggregation of porphyrin molecules can be sufficiently suppressed via this modification. On the other hand, 4,4′-di(2-thienyl) triphenylamine moiety, which has been proved to be a electron donor group for triarylamine dyes in our previous reports, was introduced to porphyrin dyes, and energy conversion efficiencies (η) were improved by 76% (ZLD15 vs. ZLD13). After the two modifications, the energy conversion efficiency (η) of ZLD16 is comparable with an N719-based reference cell under the same conditions. Enhancement of photovoltaic performances from ZLD13 to ZLD16 is partly due to the decreased dark current and charge recombination rate. © the Partner Organisations 2014.