What is the fastest free WordPress theme with great design? (#1 is the clear winner)

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Updated On: October 20th, 2023 0 Comments

Ever since Google released the Core Web Vitals update penalizing websites with poor user experience and slow load times, theme developers started building their themes with performance in mind.

Google says 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load.

So, there is not just one fastest free WordPress theme.

Here is the list of the seven fastest-loading free themes:

Theme NamePage Load timeCSS + JS SizeCore Web VitalsDOM Count
Neve900 ms29 kb90%484
GeneratePress854 ms25 kb96%312
Astra878 ms32 kb99%399
Kadence700 ms32 kb94%400
Sydney700 ms33 kb90%381
OceanWP800 ms148 kb92%371
Zakra600 ms138 kb100%356

Although there are many others, I shortlisted these themes because they have better designs and good support teams behind them.

Anyway, If you notice in the above table, the fastest loading theme is Zakra.

It loads at least 200 ms faster than the rest of the free themes.

But if I had to pick Zakra for my personal website, I wouldn’t do that because I don’t like their designs. They look outdated to me.

It is just a personal opinion. You might like their design. If that is the case, Zakra is top on the list.

The point I am trying to convey here is that the theme of being performant is important, but the following aspects of a website are equally important:

  1. Look and feel of the theme (Design)
  2. Accessibility best practices
  3. SEO best practices

This is because passing the Core Web Vitals test is not just about the website loading super fast.

It is also about providing the best possible user experience to your visitors.

So, it is equally important to pick a theme that is beautiful and follows other website best practices.

“But bro, a Free theme doesn’t usually look good, right? Also, most of the features will become available only when we purchase a premium theme.”

Hahaha, times are changing 🙂

I feel that the following four free themes stand out from the crowd in terms of speed, design, and best practices:

Theme NamePage Load timeCSS + JS SizeCore Web VitalsDOM Count
Neve900 ms29 kb90%484
Astra878 ms32 kb99%399
Kadence700 ms32 kb94%400
Sydney700 ms33 kb90%381

If you want to understand how I choose the fast WordPress themes that follow best practices, read this article.

“Got it. But from the above four themes, what theme would you pick for yourself?”

For me, The Neve theme is the fastest free WordPress theme

For me, the Fastest free WordPress Theme is Neve.

It is a clear winner for me. It has fewer flaws when compared to other free themes.

“How did you figure that out?”

I created a realistic demo site with each theme listed above to get a deep understanding of how each theme supports some of the important features of WordPress, such as Block Editor.

After a lot of back and forth between the themes, I decided to stick with the Neve theme because:

  1. It supports the Block Editor and full-width layouts in a good way.
  2. It has eight header layouts, making it easy to switch between them.
  3. It has three great-looking blog layouts.
  4. It also has 8+ free starter designs (almost like a premium theme). You can build most kinds of business websites with them.
  5. Most importantly, it follows best practices.
Neve blog layout options inside the WordPress "Customize" screen.

What more do you want from a free theme?

After trying many themes, I don’t think any other free theme provides these many good options while being performant.

“Interesting, What are the flaws that you found on the Neve theme?”

  1. The Wide-Width feature of the Block Editor was not working as expected.
  2. It was not allowing me to remove the Footer statement. It is being too restrictive.
  3. There is a usability issue with the “Footer Builder” that the Neve theme is using.

Haha, It does give you a good number of irritations if you are working with it for the first time.

Neve is not perfect, but I feel like it is better than other free WordPress themes.

Anyway, If you want a more detailed analysis of the themes mentioned above, please read this article.

I will see you in my next analysis.

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