In the first three parts of this series I’ve covered a few topics:
Next up – WordPress themes! This is a gnarly topic. More often than not, when a client contacts us asking how they can improve their Google PageSpeed scoring, this is the one piece of advice they don’t want to hear: “you need to change your theme.”
The fact of the matter is that themes often contribute the most to your website’s overall performance. No amount of fine tuning the back end hosting, leveraging caching and optimizing images will ever overturn the poor loading of a bloated WordPress theme.
Many themes focus on design and aesthetics first, performance is a secondary issue; naturally, theme designers want to wow you with the look and feel of their work first and foremost. All those fancy fonts, features and effects come at a performance cost.
And that might be fine for your site. It’s at this point we caution our clients that a perfect Google speed scoring isn’t the be all and end all. It really depends on your site, your industry, your users and your competition. Remember that the speed of your site is only one factor among many in Google’s ranking algorithm. For your own site, a slightly less than perfect speed score might be just fine, if the user experience works well. For others, only the fastest possible site might do.
With all that in mind then you might ask: what’s the fastest theme out there? It’s a tricky question, as we can’t easily access a huge number of paid premium themes. What we can do though, is audit the most popular free WordPress themes and stack them up in terms of how they perform.
For the purposes of our test, we took a simple WordPress test site, one with a variety of posts, pages and images. From there we created a local installation of the Google PageSpeed testing setup and started to test the most popular themes in the WordPress repository. We created a tool to cycle through and install the top 250 themes, before running the speed testing tool three times, taking the average of the trio of tests.
And after that, we have a huge list of data.
What are the fastest free WordPress themes?
Testing your own site
If you use our WordPress hosting platform you can begin measuring your site’s current theme against this list above right away. Each account comes with a staging area that lets you spin up a copy of your site in a few short minutes. You can then test away on your staging site to your heart’s content.
In 2021 we also hope to open up our own site testing tool to users in general – performing the same ‘top 250’ test against your own site.
Next up in our series on performance – and something that will be huge in 2021 – Core Web Vitals: what they mean and what you need to do to prepare.
Note: you can read our whole series on website performance, rounded up in one article here.