The Fastest WordPress Themes for 2020

You probably know already that your website speed is important. In order to get your website fast enough for your audience, the right choice of your theme will be an important component. But how do you find out? Everybody claims that their theme is among the fastest in the world, but do those claims prove to be true? It can be pretty daunting to go through dozens of themes and test them in a consistent manner to find out which one is going to be the fastest. That is why we have done the hard work for you and discovered the fastest WordPress themes for you.

When choosing the right theme, there are some important factors to consider:

  1. Reliability is one of the most important factors. Nothing is worse than doing the layout of your entire site, just to find out that your theme is buggy. Be sure to take a theme that is coded well, has great support, and will be updated years down the road as well.
  2. Layout is greatly defined by the theme, so you need to find a theme that has the customization you are looking for, or gets you pretty much the layout you want out of the box. If the result is not quite what you want, you have still the option to dig into CSS files and do some tweaking there, but that needs already some technical knowledge on your part, and thorough testing to find out whether the result is like expected on different screen sizes and devices.
  3. Speed will vary greatly from one theme to the other. It is surely one important factor to consider, although the other factors above need to be met at the same time.
  4. Some are choosing the theme according to a certain functionality. Some themes are offering custom post types or other specific niche-based functionalities. That can make it tough very hard to switch themes down the road, since your functionality will not be available in a different theme. Whenever possible, it is better to rely on plugins to provide the extra functionality that you need, so you can switch the theme to your liking. There are though some themes that are optimized for example for Woocommerce and that is OK, since you will find plenty of other themes that are Woocommerce ready as well.

Why Many Premium Themes are not Optimized for Speed

When you do a Google search, you will find thousands of themes for sale. They may help you to get a good-looking site, but more often they are not optimized for speed. Most of them are packed with features that are just producing extra bloat. But are you really going to need two different page builder and 3 different slider plugins coming with your theme? Unfortunately, these kind of features seem to sell, and performance is lagging behind.

To exemplify, we have set up a test page with the Moto 2 theme, representing this class of themes, and comparing it to the same page on an Astra theme, both tests loading over a 3G mobile connection:

Like you can see, there is a drastic difference in performance between the two, and this is the kind of bloat you need to watch out for.

Now lets have a closer look at the different test candidates:

Twenty Nineteen

The default WordPress themes are the first candidates to start with. They are widespread in use, well coded, supported for years to come and of course free. Twenty Nineteen is a good starting point for a simple site, being pretty lightweight and more flexible than many people think. Customization is a bit limited, like for most default WordPress themes.

Pro’s

  • Lightweight
  • Free
  • Optimized for Gutenberg
  • Well supported
  • More than 1 million user base

Cons

  • Limited customization
  • No premium support

Twenty Twenty

The newest default theme of this year is another good option to go for. It is designed to take full advantage of the flexibility of the block editor. Previewing the text with proper fonts right inside the editor is one of the advantages of a Gutenberg-enabled theme. In relation to speed, it is slightly slower by the fact that it uses a Google font with 223 kB, while 2019 depends on system fonts. If you want, you can use the Twentig plugin to tweak the layout, and remove the Google font from the theme. Doing this, the performance of the theme is pretty comparable with Twenty Nineteen.

Pro’s

  • Free
  • Optimized for Gutenberg
  • Well supported
  • More than 1 million user base

Cons

  • Limited customization (can be overcome with Twentig)
  • No premium support

Hello Elementor

Hello Elementor is an extremely lightweight barebone theme. Using Vanilla JS, it does not depend on JQuery or any other library, making it extremely lightweight. Customization options are limited, giving you no widgets or sidebars whatsoever. But when you combine it with the Elementor page builder, you will be able to do a number of customizations within your site builder. It seems to be a logical choice if you are using Elementor, otherwise you will be probably disappointed with the lack of customization.

Pro’s

  • Lightweight
  • Free
  • Integrates well with Elementor page builder
  • Well supported
  • Large user base

Cons

  • Limited customization
  • Most costumization only available with Elementor

Page Builder Framework

This theme boasts to be optimized to work well with all page builders such as Elementor, Beaver Builder, Visual Composer, SiteOrigin, Divi, Thrive Architect, Brizy and more. Gutenberg is well supported as well. With 80 kB of page size for a blank page, it is among the top ten lightest themes within our test series. It is well optimized for lightweight CSS, and avoiding much of JS bloat as well. It offers a number of flexible costumization options.

Pro’s

  • Lightweight
  • Free & paid version
  • Optimized for all page builder
  • Full costumization

Cons

  • Smaller user base (20,000), but still great support

Astra

Astra is an extremely flexible and lightweight theme. Written with Vanilla JS, it dispenses of the JQuery library and any other bloat that can slow down your site. The theme lets you customize colors, fonts and many other aspects of the look and feel of your site. You have a choice between various system fonts (if you want to optimize for speed) and Google Fonts (if you prefer more control over layout). There are a number of well-designed demo sites available that you can import and customize to your liking. It has some advanced customization for WooComerce and several other plugins. If you want though more advanced control over the look and feel of your site, you will find yourself upgrading to the pro version sooner or later.

Pro’s

  • Lightweight
  • Free & Paid
  • Reasonable customization options
  • Choice between System Fonts and Google Fonts
  • Optimized for Gutenberg and several page builders
  • Library of template sites
  • AMP compatible
  • Well supported
  • More than 1 million user base

Cons

  • Customization limits in the free version

Generate Press

GeneratePress is a clear contender to Astra as a lightweight and well-coded theme. It is very stable, and a page size even less then Astra. They claim that their codebase is less than 15kB over a GZip connection. In our tests, the blank page was loading with 36 kB, which could be beaten only by the Hello Elementor theme. It has several customization options, similar to Astra. When choosing a font, besides a list of Google and system fonts it introduces the System Stack, a number of sans-serif fonts that are chosen according to availability on the various operating systems. This guarantees for maximum cross-system compatibility when opting for system fonts. We found some limitations in the free version for header customization, which will encourage you pretty soon to upgrade to the pro version.

Pro’s

  • Very lightweight and well-coded
  • Free & Paid versions
  • Optimized for Gutenberg and various page builders
  • Well supported
  • Large user base

Cons

  • Limited customization in free version

Neve

Neve is the third contender for the best and most lightweight WordPress theme in the repository. In our test it was just 4kB heavier then GeneratePress. You have costumizations with Google and System Fonts, Colors and everything else. Where it gets really impressive is the Header and Footer customization, that allows you to build those areas with custom elements according to your liking:

Neve Theme Customization

This is an impressive and extremely useful feature that I have not seen on any other theme. Like Astra it comes with an impressive number of starter sites that can be used to initiate your project. If needed you can upgrade to the Pro version for transparent and sticky header, advanced WooCommerce support and a number of other features.

Pro’s

  • Lightweight
  • Free & Paid version
  • Extensive customization of headers and footers.
  • Choice between System Fonts and Google Fonts
  • Optimized for Gutenberg and several page builders
  • Library of template sites
  • Mobile-first CSS, speeding up page generation on mobile devices
  • AMP compatible
  • More than 100,000 user base

Cons

  • Not as widespread yet like Astra

Hestia

Hestia is another great multi-purpose theme that offers page builder support, plenty of customization and many features that the other theme options can offer. With 128 kB for a blank page, it is though not as lightweight as the options above. To use the complete functionality, you need to install the companion OrbitFox plugin.

Pro’s

  • Free & Paid version
  • Plenty of customization options
  • Choice between System Fonts and Google Fonts
  • Optimized for Gutenberg and several page builders
  • More than 100,000 user base

Cons

  • Limited customization
  • No premium support

OceanWP

OceanWP is another contender for a popular WordPress theme. It is getting popular for a number of customization options, and in the free version it is far more flexible than Astra or GeneratePress. It comes again with Page builder support and an extensive library of starter sites. Even the free version has excellent Woocommerce support and it sounds all like to good to be true. With 191 kB for a blank site, it is though among the heaviest options within our review. Installing the companion plugin you have though the possibility to deactivate unused CSS and Javascript resources. Since the description is though very limited, it is very much of a trial and error time-consuming endeavor. And my personal experience with OceanWP was rather traumatic. I got an entire site ready to launch, when suddenly the OceanWP extension plugin was messing up my header images, switching them out on a totally aleatory basis. Looking in the support forums, I was not the only one with this problem, but appeals to the plugin author fell on a dead ear. Fortunately, after another page update, things mysteriously fell back to place, but it was an in all a pretty scary experience. And it showed me that even popular themes can be poorly coded sometimes.

Pro’s

  • Free & Paid version
  • Extensive customization options
  • Choice between System Fonts and Google Fonts
  • Library of template sites
  • Extensive Woocommerce support
  • Optimized for several page builders
  • More than 600,000 user base

Cons

  • Heavier then other themes
  • Not as stable as other options

Sydney

Sydney is a modern theme with minimalistic layout. It has some impressive customization possibilities like access to all Google Fonts, full-color control, layout control, full-screen slider, header image, sticky navigation and much more. Woocomerce support is reserved for the Pro version. One drawback is that it does not allow to chose system fonts, which makes it a bit heavier than the other options. But still a good option to check out.

Pro’s

  • Free & Paid version
  • Extensive customization options
  • Layout options that are often available only in premium themes
  • Optimized for Elementor
  • More than 100,000 user base

Cons

  • No system fonts
  • Slightly heavier

Zakra

Zakra is another multipurpose theme that lives up to his speed claims. With 48 kb page size for a blank page, it is just a tad lighter than Astra. It has extensive customization options. For system fonts it has some 4 basic options, along the Google fonts for more control. It works well with Gutenberg, Elementor and other page builder. They are offering excellent support and documentation, even for their free version.

Pro’s

  • Lightweight
  • Free & Paid version
  • Extensive costumization
  • Optimized for Elementor
  • Well supported
  • More than 50,000 user base

Cons

  • Smaller user base than other options
  • Limited options for system fonts

Gantry Framework

Gantry is a theme framework that is extremely flexible. It lets you customize the entire layout of your page. It comes with two different themes: Helium and Hydrogen. Either one you can customize in an extensive way. Fonts, colors, styles, blog and archive pages, all are completely customizable. But the real power lies in the layout manager:

It allows you to configure every element that will appear on your page, and you have control over your layout like no other theme will give you. There are though a few limitations. For example, you will look in vain for a search button that integrates in your header menu and pops up a search field once you click it. If they would invest in a few little features like that, this framework would beat by far anything else available on the market for flexibility. And with 56 kB for a blank page, it is just 7 kB heavier than an Astra theme. CSS is compiled and optimized on the fly after saving the settings. It would be nice to combine the 6 different CSS files produced by the theme and framework, but an optimization plugin can take care of this task.

Pro’s

  • Lightweight
  • Free
  • Incredibly flexible customization
  • More than 500,000 downloads

Cons

  • More complex to configure
  • Some limitations like lack of search button for header menu

Genesis Framework

Genesis is a premium theme framework that is around for a while. It is well-coded and trusted by more than 280,000 websites around the world. The layout is largely defined by the theme and there are plenty of options available. They will give you a look and feel that will look great and professional out of the box. But that brings us to the greatest drawback. Customization options are minimal. If you want to change the fonts or anything else, you need to know how to edit CSS files. For developers who know how to tweak CSS and PHP routines, you will find plenty of documentation on how you can tweak the framework easily to your linking. And there is a vast ecosystem of plugins that extend the functionality of Genesis themes in different ways.

Being an open-source framework, you can purchase the framework once and install it on as many sites you like. There is an extra cost for the child themes, and there are plenty of third-party developers offering Genesis child themes as well.

We tested 6 different child themes that ranged from 113 kB to 186 kB for a blank site. Most of the child themes are using Google fonts, if you would eliminate them, Genesis would be a close contender for speed with the other top performing themes. Authority Pro, which is the heaviest option tested comes with 4 different Google fonts loading on every page.

Pro’s

  • Lightweight
  • Well-coded and stable codebase
  • Large collection of child themes
  • AMP compatible
  • Well supported and documented
  • More than 280,000 websites using the framework

Cons

  • Limited customization without coding
  • Child themes are largely using google fonts

On the Search for the Fastest Theme

Now lets find out how we were researching to find the fastest theme options for you. For running the tests we were using the following configuration:

  • SiteGround Managed WordPress Hosting
  • A fresh WordPress installation without any plugins
  • An empty home page with only the headline, the menu in the header, and the default theme footer
  • GZip compression and no caching
  • No combining or minification of Javascript and CSS files

In the first test run we were putting up a blank page. There was a header with 2 menu options, the page heading and the default footer generated by the theme. Otherwise we added no content whatsoever to the page. Wherever permitted by the theme options, we chose a system font to speed up the page load times. We tested on WebPageTest.org on an unmetered connection. We wanted to find out whether the theme would have any influence in WordPress constructing the page. We used the Query Monitor plugin to find out. But since the major part of page loading is done by the WordPress core itself, the difference was insignificant. All themes were taking about 100ms to load a page on the SiteGround hosting plan. The Time to First Byte on an unmetered connection was varying between 200ms and 280ms for all themes tested, a variation that could be due to network variations.

The page load times in a real world scenario will be probably slower than listed here, but the most important metric will be the total size of a blank page:

You can see that Hello Elementor is the lightest theme, although GeneratePress was loading slightly faster in this test run. To get a final verdict, we would need to run several tests and take the average. But surely they are close contenders for the position of the fastest WordPress theme. We need to fairly say that Hello Elementor is pretty useless without the Elementor page builder, which would add some extra weight to the page layout. But if you plan to use the Elementor page builder, it is a good and responsive choice.

Neve is clearly on page 3, followed closely by Zakra and Astra. But like we already mentioned in the introduction, page loading speed is not the only criteria for choosing a theme. You will need to take those numbers as a guide in order to find the lightest theme that is meeting your needs. Premium theme options can be taken into account, just considering that additional functionality of premium theme versions is always connected to a certain degree to additional weight on your page.

Next we tried to simulate a real world mobile scenario. We simulated this time a Motorola G4 mobile device on a 3G internet connection. This is a situation many mobile viewers of your site will face in the real world. We added also a picture and 5 paragraphs of text to the page, just to get away from the blank page scenario, that is not very useful in the real world either. Here are the results:

The added picture had 104 kB (Which of course could be optimized), so no wonder that most themes had an additional 105 kB on this version of the page. The themes who got negative attention in this test are OceanWP and Monochrome Pro, who seem to be loading extra 75kB(OceanWP) or 100kB (Monochcrome Pro) on the mobile version of the page. Looks like they are loading an extra iconic font to generate the mobile menu. Considering that speed is essential on mobile devices, this is an unfortunate move, showing that mobile optimization was not seriously considered in those themes.

We see that there are a number of themes available that are able to deliver a first contentful paint within 2 to 3 seconds, even on slow mobile connections, and a full page load between 3 to 4 seconds. With proper optimization you can still improve on these page loading times. The first 5 contenders for the fastest WordPress themes are on mobile test the same like on the desktop barebone test.

So what i going to be the fastest theme for your site? Well, at the end it depends on what you need!

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