Website performance – profiling the top 250 free WordPress themes

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?

ThemePageSpeed score
under-construction-lite99
schism99
iknow99
twentyeleven98
popularfx98
hello-elementor98
generatepress98
astra98
zakra97
twentyten97
responsive97
page-builder-framework97
neve97
friyan97
estar97
cbusiness-investment97
unos-magazine-black96
twentytwelve96
the-bootstrap-blog96
starlight96
sinatra96
cosmoswp96
cherry-blog96
twentynineteen95
tribunal95
popularis-writer95
iconic-one95
hestia95
harrison95
donovan95
dolpa95
ameya95
vantage94
sydney94
storefront94
spicepress94
popularis-press94
oceanly94
nirvana94
kokoro-interior94
envo-shop94
customify94
airi94
wp-bootstrap-starter93
varuna93
tempera93
music-journal93
go93
envo-storefront93
customizr93
bam93
twentysixteen92
twentyfifteen92
spacious92
listinghive92
honeywaves92
hitmag92
exs-video92
envo-ecommerce92
elation92
conceptly92
colormag92
woostify91
unos-glow91
twentyseventeen91
skt-software91
onepress91
mik-travel91
mik91
mero-blog91
wordly90
twentythirteen90
poseidon90
photograph90
nisarg90
hantus90
futurio90
fairy90
di-multipurpose90
blocksy90
beshop90
allium90
zita-storefront89
supermarket89
sparkling89
shoppingcart89
sharp-letters89
seedlet89
ovation-blog89
oceanwp89
mh-magazine-lite89
matina89
flash89
esfahan89
eportfolio89
blog-nano89
avril89
abletone89
yith-proteo88
textwp88
refined-magazine88
mesmerize88
magazinebook88
bloggrid88
versatile-business-dark87
photofocus87
overlay87
newsreaders87
newshop-ecommerce87
music-and-video87
kids-camp87
hardnews87
gucherry-blog87
envo-online-store87
covernews87
blog-starter87
adorable-blog87
signify86
newsberg86
lightning86
hueman86
hemingway86
gridzone86
cream-magazine86
cenote86
aspro86
accelerate86
rynobiz85
orchid-store85
freenews85
ascension85
twentytwenty84
skyline-wp84
primer84
photo-journal84
boldwp84
activello84
pepe-lite83
bulk83
amphibious83
velux82
uptown-style82
smile-charities82
refined-news82
newsup82
newstore82
lyrical82
kale82
escapade82
elfie82
dosislite82
construction-light82
wk-wow81
shop-isle81
oasis81
minnak81
easy-storefront81
colibri-wp81
blogmagazine81
alante-minimal81
vw-storefront80
rife-free80
recent-news80
polite-grid80
mag-and-news80
illdy80
gridview80
gridme80
extension80
ecommerce-storefront80
bizart80
vip-business79
travel-master79
screenr79
prefer-blog79
highlight79
ecommerce-star79
calliope79
business-consult79
wp-magazine78
shopay78
newsmag78
goblog-free78
consultstreet78
catch-revolution78
twentyfourteen77
timesnews77
the-gap77
shapely77
polite77
phlox77
newscard77
materialis77
magazine-edge77
consulting77
ample-magazine77
viral-news76
shopping-plus76
prefer76
newspin76
newsium76
newsever76
new-blog-jr76
blog-gutener76
virtue75
top-store75
scribbles75
panoramic75
one-page-express75
newsbulk75
interiorpress75
magazinenp74
lit74
jetblack-music74
jetblack74
hesta74
head-blog74
consult74
business-trade74
total73
ridhi73
nanospace73
membershiply73
adaptable-notes73
knowledge72
inx-game72
astrid72
ashe72
trend-news71
simclick71
newslay71
newses71
affiliates-bloglet71
fashion-diva70
business-blocks70
blossom-shop70
writee69
open-shop69
education-business69
all-colors69
vandana-lite68
my-travel-blogs68
blossom-travel67
vilva66
sarada-lite66
bard61
wishful-blog60
estera59
hello-fashion58
business-event55

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.

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