You want a WordPress theme that helps your site load fast…but you also want the design flexibility to create a great-looking site that helps you meet your business goals.
In the past, it was hard to find a WordPress theme that could do both. You either went with a lightweight framework, like Genesis, or you shelled out for a mega theme that let you do a ton, but also slowed your site down with bloat.
Thankfully, a new breed of WordPress themes have managed to package design flexibility in a lightweight package that won’t slow your site down.
The Astra theme from Brainstorm Force is at the forefront of that pack. It gives you heaps of pre-built demo sites, tons of controls in the real-time WordPress Customizer, plus a lot more, in a surprisingly lightweight format that will have your site loading pretty dang fast.
In my Astra theme review, I’ll take you through everything this theme can do for you. Astra is flexible and multipurpose, so no matter what type of site you’re designing, it can help you meet your goals.
The Astra Theme explained in more detail
I recently had a chance to write an expert roundup post for SmartBlogger where I asked WordPress experts to recommend a single free theme to beginning bloggers. I was hoping to collect a diverse set of opinions and write up a lengthy post that featured a bunch of different WordPress themes.
However, writing that post ended up taking me more time and effort than I thought because almost every single expert I asked recommended the Astra theme. Yes – out of 11 experts that I asked, a whopping 7 of them recommended the Astra theme, which is pretty wild when you consider that they had thousands of free themes to choose from.
So – why is Astra so popular? Why did more than half of the WordPress experts I talked to recommend Astra?
I think it’s a combination of a few different factors, which I’ll cover in more detail as we get deeper into this Astra theme review:
- It’s multipurpose – you can use Astra for literally any type of website. From a portfolio to an eCommerce store to a beauty blog…Astra can make it work.
- It’s lightweight – out of the box, Astra “weighs” under 50 KB. I know that number doesn’t mean much without context, but trust me that it’s super lightweight, which means your site is going to load fast.
- It’s flexible and easy to customize – Astra uses the real-time WordPress Customizer to let you customize your theme, which means you can adjust things on a real-time preview with no coding knowledge required. Plus, you get tons of options in the Customizer.
- It works with drag-and-drop page builders – Astra is built to integrate with drag-and-drop page builders like Elementor and Beaver Builder, which is a super popular approach for building a WordPress site nowadays.
- You get hundreds of pre-built demo sites – look, I’m not a designer, and I can’t build a website from scratch. I know some of you are in the same boat. That’s why it’s so awesome that Astra offers a huge collection of importable demo sites for a bunch of different niches.
Four core Astra Theme features that you’ll love
To get started, I’m going to dig a little deeper into those core features that make Astra so popular. All of these core features apply to both the free and premium version, though the premium version gives you “more” functionality in each area.
In the next section, I’ll highlight some of the differences between Astra free vs Pro.
1. Astra is lightweight and ready to load fast
Above, I told you that Astra is lightweight and “weighs” under 50KB. But how does that actually translate into the real world? What’s the relevance of that number?
To find out, let’s run some performance tests with Pingdom.
To make this a fair test, I’ll import a complete Astra demo site (more on those in a second). Basically, this means that my site looks and functions like a finished WordPress site you might see in the wild – it’s not some “barebones” unfinished site that I made to juice the results.
Without any performance optimizations, my test site loaded in under one second:
While Astra cannot guarantee you a fast site – you’ll still need to implement other performance considerations like optimizing images and using lightweight plugins – it can give you a performance-optimized foundation that will set you up for success.
As long as you do those other things, your site will load fast when you use Astra.
2. You can import tons of different demo sites
While you can customize the Astra theme from scratch to build your site, you also don’t have to because Astra includes a huge library of pre-built demo sites that you can import with just a few clicks (via the free Astra Starter Sites plugin).
There are a few things that are especially great about Astra’s demo sites.
First, they’re all built using drag-and-drop editors, which means it’s super easy to customize any of the demo content. Beyond that, you can actually choose your preferred editor, which is not a choice most other themes let you make. You can choose between:
- The native WordPress block editor (Gutenberg)
- Beaver Builder
From there, you can choose from almost one hundred pre-built demo sites. Some of these require the paid version, but ~44+ of them are still available for free.
The great thing is that these demo sites are divided into tons of different niches. For example, you can find free demo sites for:
- Travel blogs
- eCommerce stores
- Portfolio sites
So no matter what your site is about, you can probably find a demo site to use as your foundation.
Clicking on a site will open a live preview. Then, to import a site, all you do is click the Import Site button and Astra handles the rest:
Because I chose to use Elementor as the base for my demo site, I could then go in and customize all that demo content using Elementor’s visual, drag-and-drop editor:
3. You can customize your site in the WordPress customizer
To customize the theme itself, Astra uses the real-time, native WordPress Customizer. The advantage of this approach is that, as you make your changes in the sidebar, the live preview of your site will update to reflect those changes:
A lot of themes use the WordPress Customizer nowadays, but what makes Astra unique is just how many customization options it gives you, even in the free version.
While showing you every single option would require a whole post of its own, suffice it to say that you have a ton of control.
For example, you can choose from a few different header layouts and customize all the spacing:
Or, you could quickly insert breadcrumbs, without the need to edit your theme’s code like a lot of other themes make you do:
4. Astra is built to pair with a WordPress page builder
If you plan to use a page builder for some or all of your content, you’ll love Astra’s page-level settings that give you 100% control over the canvas for your page builder.
For individual posts or pages, you can:
- Change the width
- Choose the number of sidebars
- Disable specific items, like the header, title, featured image, etc.
For example, if your site normally has a sidebar, but you want to create a full-width sales page with your page builder, you could just disable the sidebar and change the width for just that page.
Astra Free vs Pro: Which version is right for you?
The core Astra theme is available for free at WordPress.org. Then, there’s a $59 Astra Pro version that adds a bunch of additional features.
So…which one is right for you? Do you need the premium version to build a site? Or will the free version be fine for you?
To those latter two questions, you do not need the Pro version to build a great-looking site. I use the free version on some of my sites and it gives you everything you need to create a basic site, especially if you’re planning to use a WordPress page builder as well.
However, there are some reasons to consider going Pro. Let me share some of the highlights…
More importable demo sites
If you purchase the Astra Pro Agency package, you’ll unlock every single importable demo site. You’ll also get access to all of the developer’s other plugins, including helpful tools like Schema Pro to add rich snippets, WP Portfolio to help you add a portfolio, plus a lot more.
The free version of Astra does still let you customize your header, but Astra Pro gives you a lot more advanced options for customizing your header in more unique ways. You’ll get features like:
- Mobile headers – create an awesome custom mobile experience.
- Sticky header – make your menu “stick” even as a user scrolls down.
- Mega menu – create a mega menu for better navigation.
More style options
While the free version of Astra gives you basic color and typography control, Astra Pro puts that on steroids, letting you customize the color and typography for pretty much every single element on your site.
More layout options
Similarly, Astra Pro also gives you a lot more layout options for your content and blog. For example, you can choose from various blog archive layouts and insert content above or below your header.
More detailed plugin integrations
The free version of Astra is compatible with WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads, but Astra Pro puts that on overdrive.
You’ll get tons of options for WooCommerce, like a conversion-friendly two-step checkout, Ajax cart, and more.
Beyond that, Astra Pro also offers dedicated integrations for LearnDash and LifterLMS, which is awesome if you’re planning to launch your own online course with WordPress.
So should you get Astra Pro?
You probably noticed that I used the word “more” a lot when describing the new features in Astra Pro. I think that’s kind of the point – Astra Pro is not inherently “better”, as it’s the same exact core theme.
Instead, Astra Pro just gives you even more of the good stuff you get for free.
If you installed the free version and it’s already letting you do everything you want – that’s great! You can stop – you don’t need the Pro version.
But if you find yourself hitting some walls – like you really want a sticky header, or you want a different blog archive layout – then that’s a pretty good indicator that you need Astra Pro.
My advice is this – start with the free theme and see how it goes. If you hit those walls, upgrading to Astra Pro is super simple. In fact, Astra Pro is actually a plugin, not a theme. So you’ll still use the same theme you’ve already installed – you’ll just install the Astra Pro plugin on top.
Additionally, all the Astra Pro functionality is modular, so you can pick and choose exactly which features you use, which keeps your site lightweight:
Final thoughts on the Astra Theme
If I had to recommend one all-purpose WordPress theme for people to use – it would be Astra.
Through the huge array of customization options, you can use Astra for literally any type of site.
What’s more, because it uses the WordPress Customizer, customizing Astra doesn’t require any special knowledge. Yup – you won’t need to be a developer to create a custom site.
What if you don’t want to build a website from scratch? You can import one of the ~100 pre-built demo sites, all built with your preferred page builder.
And finally, the cherry on top is that Astra is super lightweight and performance optimized, which means you can get all those other benefits while still having a site that loads fast.
So, whether you’re using the free version or Astra Pro, put this one in your toolbelt and consider it for the next WordPress site that you build.