For the last few months, I have been seeing this new theme – Astra – listed under the popular category of WordPress Theme repository. However, I had not bothered to give it a second look until I had to quickly build a new website for a client.
This time I decided to give Astra a try to know how it feels and performs as a multi-purpose WordPress theme. Their website looked very promising too. In this post, you will see a complete review of Astra theme. By the end, you will be able to answer the following questions.
- What are the highlights of Astra?
- How does it perform?
- Is it really a lightning fast and lightweight theme as they claim?
- Is the theme SEO-friendly?
- What can you get from the Pro version?
- Will it be a good choice for your next WordPress site?
Note: This review is about the free version of Astra available in the WordPress theme directory.
The Highlight Features
Let us take a brief look at the things that make Astra special.
Every theme has a certain focus point which makes it stand apart. And in the case of Astra, its creators – Brainstorm Force – aimed to create a lightweight theme that can form the base for any WordPress website. In its default installation, Astra is less than 50kb gzipped – amazing!
Ready-made Demo Websites
Astra knows the pain developers like you and me feel when it is time to design a website from scratch in a short timeframe. So they offer 70+ ready-to-import demo websites from various niches.
Generally, most multi-purpose theme makers provide some sort of pre-built websites to kick-start your project. However, I think Astra has more diversity.
Their library is developing too. You can even suggest new ideas in case you couldn’t find the category you need.
Page Builder Compatibility
These demo websites are compatible with page builders like Elementor, Beaver & Brizy. So making customizations is easy and intuitive.
By default, page builders support only the content area. With Astra’s demo sites, you can easily edit parts of your website like hero sections and overlays.
The focus on the performance itself is giving Astra an edge in terms of SEO. In addition to that, the theme includes Schema markup at appropriate places. If you don’t know, Schema helps search engines like Google to get a better understanding of your web pages.
Ease of Use
Now let us get our feets wet by setting up a sample website with Astra. Overall, the experience is smooth and does not cause many confusions even for a novice.
The first thing we are doing is to install the free Astra theme from your dashboard.
Once you have installed the theme, you get a new sub-menu Astra Options under Appearance. The options page is one of the simplest and easiest out there. It contains a few links to the customizer pages, links to the features available in pro version, and optional free plugins.
The options page does not include any complicated settings. Instead, you can do everything from the customizer. This gives the feeling of a neat and uncluttered arrangement.
Installing a demo site
These starter sites suite well when you are building a new website. If you are just switching themes on your existing website, there is no need to import a demo site.
On the right sidebar of the options page, you can see a link to install the Importer Plugin. Click on it and the plugin installs.
Now you will see another sub-menu Astra Sites from where you can browse the demo sites.
For this example, we will select the Outdoor Adventure site. This was also the site I used for a client who needed a birdwatching website. This site works with Elementor builder.
Like other importers, Astra’s importer page also shows a list of required plugins. The first step is to install those plugins.
Now you can actually begin importing the website. You get an alert when you click the Import button. Confirm it and continue. The import process does not delete any of your existing posts, pages or content. However, it will be better if you install it on a fresh WordPress installation.
The import completes in a matter of seconds and now you are ready to modify the site according to your plans. For this, you have three things to do:
- Customize the site options from WordPress Customizer
- Edit the imported contents (pages & posts) using Elementor.
- Add new content
On their website, Astra claims to load in less than half a second and uses only less than 50kb. So I was eager to test it and here are the results using GTMetrix and Pingdom.
The default installation of Astra stood up to the expectations by loading in less than 700ms. Remember that I had not used page caching or any other type of optimizations except gzip compression. The total page size also stood below the 50kb mark, 38kb to be precise.
The total requests were only eight out of which two belonged to Astra – one CSS file and a JS file. No, JQuery was not in the list of requests – good job!
Load Time – 690ms
No. of requests – 8
Page Size – 38KB
So, default performance – Excellent.
But how will it affect if I use a demo site to start with? After all, these starter sites are one of the main reasons I chose Astra. So these are the results after importing Outdoor Adventure.
After importing demo
Load Time – 1.6s
No. of requests – 46 (which includes => images – 8 req, plugins – 18 req)
Page size – 947KB
From a mere 38KB, the page size climbed to a whopping 947KB, that is almost 1MB.
Of course, eight of these request are for images which constitute 539KB out of the total 947KB. Images are part of the content and not the code base.
Also, note that Elementor itself added 10 HTTP requests and resources worth of 79KB. Also, contact form 7 made two requests even though the page didn’t have a form.
What does that mean?
So you can see that by implementing demo sites along with a page builder like Elementor, you are actually sacrificing performance in favor of features.
If you do not bother to trade-off some speed for ease of use, it won’t be a problem. Otherwise, using the barebones Astra with the native Gutenberg Editor will be the best way to utilize all the performance benefits that Astra offer.
Code Quality & SEO
After spending some time to go through the code, I can say that Astra is one of the best in terms of coding quality.
If you are a developer, Astra has a ton of hooks sprinkled in every possible places. It makes easy for you to hook your own functionalities wherever you want.
The theme is based on the Underscores base theme, which gives it a strong foundation and structure. Everything is neatly arranged and well-documented.
Moreover, the theme also follows proper Schema markups throughout the templates. So you can expect that Google will easily recognize your site.
Pro Vs Free Version
So far, we have been discussing using the free version which itself is powerful. The premium versions put even more features on the table.
- Access to more starter sites
- Font selections
- Integration with WooCommerce & Easy Digital Downloads
The premium versions come in various plans – Pro, Mini Agency & Agency Bundle. You can choose any of it for a year or lifetime. In any case, you can use your license to build unlimited sites.
The basic Pro plan starts at $59 per year and goes all the way to $699 for the lifetime Agency Bundle license.
We have discussed a lot about why Astra is good. But does it have any cons? No, not much! However, the use of page builders and plugins can be seen as a disadvantage as it can affect site speed. But remember that Astra is completely functional without page builders.
Also, the price of Astra is a little bit on the expensive edge. You have to pay more than $100 to get access to all the 70+ starter sites.
There is an option to request support by submitting tickets. I cannot speak about it as I haven’t tried it yet. I couldn’t find a support forum though. If you have some experience with them, you can comment about it below.
Wrapping it Up
We have looked at the highlight features of Astra and how well it deals with web performance. Also, we have seen the different ways to use the theme – with or without page builders. Then we explored how page builders can slow down our site.
Will it be a
In another post, we will be looking at how Astra compares against other multi-purpose themes like GeneratePress.