Extreme Astra: Maximize mobile benefits using free theme features.

WordPress Mobile Speed

Updated: July 2019


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Astra is a popular WordPress theme. Usually, we’d tell you to run from anything claiming popularity – and never follow The Herd. Why? Because popularity indicates plugin and theme inefficiency. The more popular themes are – the slower they load. Why does this correlate? We don’t know. It’s measurable in real-life slowness.

For example, Divi (400,000 installs) – a paid premium theme – its authors claim it’s the most popular theme of all time! From our testing, it adds one second to your load time. Terrible! That’s half the 2-second performance budget.

Astra is an exception to the harsh slow/popular judgment. Astra takes only 36 milliseconds to load – plenty fast. But only when using the free version. If you buy the Astra Premium plugin, you add 50 milliseconds to the free version. Or 86 milliseconds total speed overhead. Is that a lot? It’s relative.

A discrete plugin usually is very lightweight. It has a small zip package download size and only one function with no settings.

Using our speed philosophy, we can enhance a site using over 80 discrete free plugins with under 86-milliseconds consumption. Do that many plugins slow things down? Not at all. It usually halves the load time. Weird. That’s not what blogs preach on the Internet. The average site has 25 plugins. We use over 70 on PagePipe. Avoid multi-function plugins.

HIDDEN SPEED LIABILITIES

The Astra theme authors didn’t mention those hidden liabilities before buying premium. Did they? But that’s still minor compared to the real problem. That trouble is the uncontrollable fear, greed, and indecision of site owners.

Astra theme
300,000+ active installations
zip download size: 818k

Astra theme demo page sample.

Keeping Astra fast requires site owner self-discipline.

It’s easy to junk Astra up with slow enticements. The temptation is usually too great. Just because you can add a slider doesn’t mean you should. Or a chatbox. Or an email signup popup – or a contact form. On and on. Faddish seductions create speed baggage. Coolness rarely proves profitable.

Astra left out some dead weight usually included for building sites. They did this to seem careful about speed. That’s a differentiating factor of their theme. Abnormal speed consideration caters to the whims of speed freaks – like us.

Astra contains speed potential. But a novice overloads this theme like any other. It’s lightweight (less than 50K on the frontend). We tested that spec and it’s true. Astra has the potential for *unparalleled* speed as the authors claim.

Bogus Astra Implied Promises
SEO, Schema, and Google AMP. Blah!

1Astra also offers some features we don’t care about – ever. Fluffy SEO claims in particular. Relevant content creates SEO – not free themes! Astra stretches for market differentiation embracing good ol’ huckster miracle SEO.

2Astra team integrated Schema.org code. Schema’s not a good thing or a bad thing. Unless you curate content the size of the U.S. Library of Congress. Then you need it. It’s benign like a non-cancerous growth. You can do Schema with a plugin. But small to medium size sites rarely (never?) benefit. No proof. So ignore it.

3Astra also says the theme is *Native AMP ready.* This is a definite non-feature. AMP is a detriment to any website. We recommend you steer clear of Google AMP.

REFERENCE: http://pagepipe.com/why-google-amp-is-not-the-ultimate-solution-for-mobile-wordpress-speed/

Skip buying the paid version of Astra.

Astra is good for building all kinds of websites. They’ve done a good job engineering this theme. We don’t recommend the paid version (recurring annual rent). The free version features are ample.

Not activating jQuery is one of Astra’s biggest speed claims.

jQuery is a JavaScript library assisting coders. Is jQuery activation so horrible? Not really. Almost all WordPress themes use jQuery in one way or another. And also many plugins especially if they create moving elements on a page – like sliders and popups. jQuery is a shortcut for programmers.

REFERENCE: http://pagepipe.com/the-fastest-jquery-is-the-one-you-never-have-to-load/

Is Astra the first theme to not enqueue jQuery? Several past themes use this trick. But sadly, in the end, it doesn’t help much. Site owners can’t seem to live without features and functions that use jQuery.

DON’T DRUDGE ME

We built a simple site using “Drudge” minimalist style. Drudge style is the ugliest news aggregator we’ve ever seen. Christian Nelson, web sage, always claimed: “You dump enough frills to make it fast – and then it’s repugnant.” Paraphrased. There’s more swearing than that. But it’s true of Drudge style.

Here’s our test page:

In irony, The Drudge Report gets 1.5 million visitors per month. The site owner makes 1 million dollars annual profit from the site. It has many fans. There’s even a commercial Drudge theme for $89 with guaranteed site uglification. Sorry. We just threw up a little in our mouth.

Adopting these anti-marketing and lo-fi concepts, we applied them. We ran Astra speed tests using GoDaddy cheap shared hosting. We used Classic Editor plugin (5 million + active installs, 18k zip download file) to disable the block editor. Here are the results:

Pingdom.com: best case
118k, 307ms, 15 requests.
To SF, USA.

WPT.org: worst case
TTFB 278ms, load time 1.223s, 115k, 16 requests.
To WV, USA.

That’s right. Astra with the following four speed tricks is around 1-second load time or less. Dang, that’s fast!

TRICK
1

Stop loading the Astra symbol font.

We can do this deletion because we aren’t using the menu on the homepage. It’s a single page site.

Add this one-line of code to your site functions.php file:

add_filter( 'astra_enable_default_fonts', '__return_false' );

If you’re savvy enough to edit that PHP file, go for it. But we prefer a safer route using the Code Snippets plugin (100,000+ installs, 467k download zip file). It has the bonus feature of preventing the custom code from being overwritten by a theme or core update.

This trick saves 200 millisecond font load time. That’s 10 percent of the 2-second performance budget. We’ll take that gain. It’s almost the same as loading Google Analytics locally, a trick we do all the time.

Then add to this code below to Simple CSS plugin (80,000 active installs, 186k zip download file). Simple CSS also protects custom CSS in the customizer. This eliminates a child theme plugin from adding an extra request. Faster, safer, a win.

.ast-button-wrap .menu-toggle .menu-toggle-icon {
color: transparent;
}

The “screen residue” where the mobile hamburger icon normally appears is then transparent (invisibility!)


TRICk
2

Switch off unneeded scripts with Asset Queue Manager plugin.

Asset Queue Manager
1,000 active installs
101k zip download file

REFERENCE: http://pagepipe.com/misunderstood-asset-queue-manager-speed-plugins-has-great-performance-potential/

Dequeue the following two unneeded assets (scripts):

Astra menu-animation.min.css

wp-block-library

TRICK
3

Defer Javascript to the bottom of page loading.

Async Javascript
80,000+ active installs
202k zip file download

Then add this script to the plugin control panel:

style.min.js

TRICK
4

Avoid activating jQuery.

We added jQuery activation by accident when installing the Sticky Sidebar plugin (10,000+ active installs, 111k zip download file). Load time then increased to 838 milliseconds with 13 requests. This added about 40k to the page weight. Not horrible but a half second increase in load time – or 25 percent of our performance budget lost. That blunder negates fancy speed benefits of no-jQuery-library site drag. That’s a worst-case scenario. You’ve been warned.


We recommend Astra. It’s a “feature-rich” speed theme. But we discourage purchasing the premium version when possible.

Godspeed—

Steve Teare
performance engineer

Mobile WordPress Speed – without coding!

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