Finding the fastest WordPress theme is a fool’s errand. Scouring the internet and looking at hundreds of tests will give you a solid headache. Why is it that on one testing site the Astra theme wins, and on the next GeneratePress, and on yet another some Hello theme wins? What is it all about?
The point is that tests are designed to attract traffic to the “tester’s” website. Most of the tests are based on opinions or the tests are just garbage because the testing conditions are horrible.
How can you test 5 different themes where each one has a different content, different hosting, different PHP parameters etc? This is only for one thing – a blog post to attract traffic. Nothing else. But unfortunately, an uninformed reader sees these results and follows the test recommendation… embarrassing.
Dear reader, I’ve been wanting to do a solid comparison of several themes like this for a long time. Now that it’s out, I’ll systematically refresh the tests and add more themes and technical terms.
First of all, my test of the fastest themes for WordPress is not sponsored by anything. I don’t have any referral links, no theme author pays me and doesn’t tell me what to write. I’m doing this for myself and for my readers, which is you.
Second. The test of a “blank” page is one thing, and another is a test where there is content on the page: text, images, etc. So the test will be a bit more complex, but it’s the only method to replicate real web page conditions. This makes the test true.
Third, my favourite current theme I use is on this list and it’s not the fastest at all!
So, I will save you some time and invite you to read the test results.
What WordPress themes am I testing?
It’s impossible to test all WordPress themes. For that, I would need a staff of people and hundreds of working hours. Taking into account the second factor, which is core web vitals, I will test themes that are “more” Google-friendly (core web vitals). So everything is without page builders. The exception is Uncode, to which I have a great fondness and regret every time I think about it, that “slimming down” by the authors = creating a new theme. Below is the list of themes that take part in the test:
From the author’s website: The most popular theme of all time. The fastest, lightweight and highly customizable WordPress theme. Every line of code in Astra is profiled for fast websites. They have the numbers to prove it.
My opinion: They have good marketing and pay influencers well for recommending and writing reviews. Cool minimalist, lightweight. Unfortunately not very developer friendly and they have hopeless tech support. The theme works well on small sites, but those that are growing fast in content should look for a better solution. In addition, it’s worth remembering that the developers of Astra used ugly practices for a long time uploading their referral links to users’ sites, for which they eventually got banned for 5 weeks by WordPress (07/07/2020).
From the author’s website: A flexible and lightweight WordPress theme. Suki helps you create beautiful and instant websites with less time and effort.
My Opinion: The first time I heard about this theme was during a raging battle about the best themes for WordPress. Someone threw in the slogan Suki and that would have been it. I was interested in this theme because it looked like GeneratePress, it had visual header building, and… it doesn’t use jQuery, and that’s seriously a major breakthrough in page loading.
From the author’s website: The most innovative, instant, and option-packed free WordPress theme. Build your website in minutes with no coding skills.
My opinion: Same as above. The free version will put a smile on your face. The paid one will allow you to spread your wings and create any kind of website.
From the author’s website: GeneratePress is a free WordPress theme that focuses on speed and usability. From the very beginning, GeneratePress was intended to be a lightweight foundation that can handle any website project. It aims to offer just the right amount of customization while remaining incredibly lightweight and stable.
My opinion: The theme is great. Seriously – great for people who already know their stuff. WordPress newbies may have a little bit of an uphill battle, because the approach of the theme’s author is a bit different than the others present here. It’s supposed to be easy, fast and if you want more options, you can do it yourself. Of course, the support forum works well and they will help you with most issues. However, forget about super-friendly theme configuration and options package – you’re unlikely to avoid snippets (JS and CSS insertions).
From the author’s website: Create and develop a website quickly. Neve’s approach is all about mobile devices, AMP compatibility. In addition, popular website development tools make creating websites in Neve accessible to everyone.
My opinion: Such a combination of Blocksy and GeneratePress. A bit more towards GeneratePress, at least the free version. Simple and no crazy theme, but fast.
From the author’s website: Uncode is an excellent multipurpose WordPress theme based on a customized and improved version of the famous WPBakery Page Builder. It is clean, modern and suitable for every need.
My opinion: A real combo. I have built hundreds of sites on Uncode. This theme is for everything from a minimalist site to a large WooCommerce store. You’ll make the site of your dreams there using wizards, pre-made templates, etc. The theme is beautiful because it uses Page Builder… but more about that below in the tests.
What about Flothemes, Divi, ProPhoto, etc.?
Really? Flothemes might make it to decent times, but the developers pack lovely solutions with poor coding. FlexBlocks is a mega patent – you build a page like in Photoshop, and arrange everything where you want! Extra, but… that’s right, but it’s too big a downside because you lose control over the displayed elements (photo sizing). Another problem is their responsiveness. Another one? Here you go – if it wasn’t for lazy loading of entire elements then a site on Flothemes would always have an F score (the lowest). I’ll come back to the Flothemes topic because the guys are cooking new Gutenberg themes, so the ones that have a chance to compete on this list. Probably the price will go up again, but there’s a chance that something will fall into place.
ProPhoto – it’s getting rarer and rarer for me to hear anyone using this. If you have ProPhoto, you’ve been behind for a long time. Don’t wait, read my other blog posts, turn on your subscription and put up a new site!
Divi – a powerful theme. Great functionality. One of the heaviest on the market! If we were playing associations, I always have one and the same thing for the word Divi – rubble. Despite the flexibility and functionality – I wouldn’t use it because something crashes too often, it works too slowly, and if you add WooCommerce with 30 products you can do 10 squats before the page loads. The days of this theme are numbered if the core of the theme doesn’t change.
Elementor – these are probably the nicest sites on the market. The authors are fighting every update to make it faster and faster. Apparently, it’s pretty cool, I haven’t had a chance to dive into Elementor yet. I only follow a few developer blogs, and there isn’t a day there when someone doesn’t complain about the optimization… so I’ll reheat the topic in a few updates (months).
What does a WordPress theme test look like?
As I mentioned, most websites test them just to test them. Actually, I don’t know if you can call it testing or clickbait. A reliable test of WordPress themes in my opinion means that I will install each of these themes at my place. Separately, of course. No boosters, meaning they are bare themes, no cache plugins, minify, etc. WordPress installation is also standard – I don’t use any performance-enhancing tricks. Hosting is LiteSpeed, PHP version 7.4.14. max_input_vars parameter set to 5000 – this will ensure smooth operation with any modern WordPress installation. WP Memory Limit is 512MB.
I will do the test twice. Twice on GT Metrix, twice on Pingdom and twice on PageSpeed Insights. The result should be similar because I don’t use cache. Test from the closest location. Let’s start with a test of bare WordPress sites.
WordPress theme test in the blank?
And what does the theme look like blank? Well, it’s a virtually blank page containing the standard theme settings, a demo Hello World entry, and standard formatting. There are no images and no additional scripts or content. It looks more or less like this:
It’s not crazy is it? None of us can imagine having such a website. So on empty, every theme should be running like crazy. And it almost does. Green is nice.
Seeing the test results above probably has you wondering about a few terms/abbreviations. I’m already explaining!
Performance – performance score including Lighthouse test along with custom GTMetrix audits, analysis options, browsers and hardware specifications;
Structure – an indicator of how well a website is structured for optimal performance;
LCP – Largest Contentful Paint is a measure of how long it takes for the largest content element (such as a header image or header text) on a page to become visible to visitors. For a good user experience, aim for an LCP of 1.2 seconds or less.
TBT – Total Blocking Time is how much time is blocked by scripts while the page is loading. For a good user experience, aim for a TBT of 150 milliseconds or less.
CLS – Cumulative Layout Shift indicates which layout changes are seen by visitors during page loading. CLS should be 0.1 or less.
TTFB – Time To First Byte is the total time spent to receive the first byte after the request.
Time – Fully Loaded Time, which is the total time after the last request was captured. In other words, it’s the full page load time.
While we’re on the concepts, it’s still worth mentioning the number of requests and page size. The number of requests is all the images, css, js and other calls that are used on a web page. Size is the size, the size of the page. Both of these parameters the smaller the better.
This is where the apparent divergence begins. The requests and the size of the blank page. The pages are all the same, but the results are different. This is made up of, among other things, the number of additional styles, JS libraries, and add-ons. Obviously the less the better, but take a look at Uncode. On a good day 594.3 KB! Where does it come from? Well, after installing Uncode we are forced to install two plugins – Uncode Core, which provides options to configure the theme and WP Bakery – which is a page builder. These plugins on an empty page are quite a load plus the fact that Uncode is packed with additional JS libraries, thanks to which you can create super-ancient websites.
What about Blocksy? How come a blank page is 104.6 KB? Blocksy requires the Blocksy Companion plugin to be enabled in order to function properly and unleash its capabilities. Additionally, it’s the only theme that “cares” that the website has an icon. So it inserts a 20.3 KB WordPress icon for your site.
WordPress theme test on empty site with LiteSpeed Cache?
I was always curious how much the LiteSpeed Cache plugin would help on bare WordPress. Sorry, but curiosity overcame me and I did this test. See for yourself how the technology works in the numbers below.
Just turning on LiteSpeed Cache has helped with TTFB and loading times. Using Uncode as an example, it’s a huge speed-up!
It’s time for some real statistics. To reliably do the test on each theme I built a simple site using the same blocks for WordPress, the same images and identical elements. I set the same logo and favicon in each theme. This allowed me to rule out standard theme values. So let’s start with the specifics:
The real test of WordPress themes
I installed GenerateBlocks on every page. This is probably the best-optimized blocks plugin for WordPress. Small, but powerful. I built a few blocks on top of it so that this test more closely resembles the average size of a typical page. Of course, I optimized all the content properly before uploading it to the website to test the theme. Here is the list of files used and their size:
- Website logo – 4 KB
- Favicon – 3 KB
- Google Fonts (Open Sans)
- images – 2.32 MB
The construction of the test page is very simple. It consists of 6 containers, text, 2 buttons, 7 images. All images optimized with jpeg mini but on the page they are shown as original size – I purposely didn’t use additional WordPress image sizes.
Astra theme test
The test results are excellent. The theme in the free version is fairly easy and intuitive to configure. GenerateBlocks performs moderately – CSS styles do not load in the editor by default, but it’s quite easy to solve. Loading time for a full page of 2.3MB is 0.395s. The page makes 27 requests.
A theme that is certainly worthy of consideration. The free version is severely limited, so the paid version is recommended to unlock the functionality. The pro version costs $59/year for a single site or $523 lifetime license.
Test of the Blocksy theme
A theme that requires an additional Blocksy Companion plugin after installation. The easiest and fastest to configure. In tests with GenerateBlocks it worked perfectly. The blocks plugin also has small problems with CSS in the editor – the color palette needs a small fix. Fortunately, a ready-made solution containing one line of code is on Github. Blocks against other tested themes gets the highest extra rating for the configurator. Every amateur can configure everything intuitively and without any problems. Visually it looks the best – the authors did their best.
The loading time for a full page of 1.4MB is 0.4s. The page makes 26 requests. Blocksy has a smaller page size because lazy loading is built into the theme and enabled by default.
With this theme, you can confidently start building your WordPress site. The free version will be suitable for most people. If you’re in the mood for more, a one-year license for one site costs $49. A nice surprise is the lifetime license. It’s a $149 expense
GeneratePress theme test
GeneratePress combined with the native GenerateBlocks plugin is a real monster. A great theme for developers and more advanced users. Fairly easy to configure, but unfortunately limited in the free version. If you are planning to create a website on GeneratePress then you should definitely buy the premium version. The theme creator has a unique approach to pricing. For $59 a year you get a premium license that you can use on 500 sites! Of course, there is also a lifetime license – $249 and again a license for 500 pages.
In my tests, the load time for a full 2.3MB page is 0.371s. The page makes 26 requests. An excellent result. Zero problems.
Neve theme test
Fast theme, but the most clumsy to configure. Of course this is a subjective statement. Despite the poor configuration options in the free version, it works quite well with GenerateBlocks. Visually, the theme does not add silly things like extra margins between blocks.
The loading time for a full page of 2.2MB is 0.8s. The page makes 21 requests. A good result, although I hoped that it will be better. Probably after using cache and optimization the result will be great, but the test must have consistency – I did not use cache on any of the pages.
Uncode theme test
I’ve been working on this theme for years. I know it very well and expected it to be the slowest. And so it was. The load time for a full 3.0MB page is 1.2s. The page makes 39 requests. It’s not some failure, but when we know that core web vitals will be used as a ranking factor for the site in Google search, the theme may lose a lot in the eyes of Internet users. Time will tell.
Generally Uncode is based on WPBakery, but for this test I also built the site on GenerateBlocks. It went quite smoothly! Of course, this is an idiotic approach, because it’s not why the theme is stuffed to the gills with features, not to use them just to go uphill playing with building on Gutenberg. You want ease of web development and a ton of options, then use Uncode from WPBakery. Simple!
Uncode does not have a free version. Lifetime license $59 – including one year of technical support (renewal costs according to themeforest.net rates)
Suki motive test
Suki theme, such a little surprise for me. This is the second time I’ve installed this theme. It is fast! It takes 0.5s to load a full 2.3MB page. The page makes 26 requests. The configuration menu requires clicks. In my opinion, the theme authors still have a lot of work to do on the visual aspect of the configurator, but everything is on the right track.
WordPress themes test in numbers
Everything above in a practical table to make it easier to read. Figure out for yourself which theme is the fastest. The numbers show how the themes perform under load in the form of block plugins, fonts from Google, large images and additional elements like columns, text, buttons….
Which WordPress theme to choose?
I’ve been droning on about speed since the beginning of this article, but using WordPress every day, creating websites and troubleshooting every day has taught me a slightly different approach. Yes, I love the speed of the website. But I’m looking for balance. Besides theme loading speed, functionality is important for me. By functionality I mean what options does the theme have, how does the technical support look like, how do the extensions or plugins that are necessary for better solutions and nicer websites work with the theme. Also important for me is configurator and flexibility.
A subjective list of the best WordPress themes
In that order. Of course, each of these themes only comes in a paid version. I’m a time saver, and if I’m choosing a theme for my website, I prefer its full functionality over saving money and “do-it-yourself” which will take my time.
What about you? Which theme do you use? How does it compare to the themes I tested? Do you have a theme suggestion for testing? I look forward to your comments!