Our speed experiment started with recommended collections of 386 free, responsive WordPress themes. They came to our attention via recent newsletter advisories. To reduce the number, we only reviewed themes that decompressed to 1MB or less. That reduced our database to 169 themes. We installed each theme and compared for speed evaluation. All these themes are from the WordPress Repository. Just one exception, “Frank,” which is available on GitHub. It’s designed for speed – even though it isn’t the fastest theme.
We examined each theme’s:
- Original .Zip file size.
- Decompressed folder size.
- Extra files included such as icons, fonts, background images, etc.
- Fonts used.
- Page weight.
- Cached weight.
- Number of HTTP requests.
- Empty-cache Home page load in milliseconds.
- Primed-cache Home page load in milliseconds.
We then reduced the database again by discarding themes that took longer than 1000 milliseconds to load. That left 15 themes as prime candidates for further testing of aesthetics and customization. As you will see, many themes are plain and even boring.
We ran our speed tests using YSlow and WebPagetest, two highly regarded testing services. Our setups ran on GoDaddy’s cheap, shared hosting – no CDN – plugins only as required by the themes, and we compressed all files with gzip.
Note: With shared hosting you just can’t get sub-second loads, without gzip. Not on any of these themes. You can set up gzip with a plugin or by editing the .htaccess file – but whatever you do, don’t expect a high-speed website without gzip.
There are 338 words of text content on the sample test pages. No imported images were used except those provided with the theme.
Is it really possible to achieve a one-second load with more than just text on the page? Yes. But it takes strategy and modifications. We’ll test these final 15 themes with before-and-after custom-aesthetic design. Stay tuned.
I also believe that themes need to stop trying to do it all and this would reduce the need for so many updates / feature packing. If themes stuck just to design aspects and let plugins do the building we wouldn’t have to have so many themes.
No one notices when a website loads fast, but everyone notices when it’s slow. And that slowness may be the last thing people notice if your site takes too long to load. People are impatient and quick to hit the Back button – unwilling to wait even a few seconds. Human perception of machine delays have remained intact for forty years – this isn’t anything new.
When a page changes within 100 milliseconds, the viewer has the illusion of instant response. At 1 second (1,000 ms), they still have a seamless flow of thought. This is a flow state. Nothing distracts them from the site content or what they are looking for. If a page is delayed by over one second to ten seconds, they will abandon the page.
What if your page loads in 20 seconds? Face it. No one will see the hard work you put into website aesthetics and content. It’s as if a slow site doesn’t even exist. Visitors will be gone.
The hallmark of a fast-loading theme is always a small download folder size. The theme may be plain and simple – but it will be fast.
The 386 initial themes included:
abaris, accelerate, adamos, adaption, advantage,
adventurous, advertica-lite, albar, aldehyde, alexandria, alizee, allmed, almanac, alpha-trinity, andrina-lite, anew, anew-child-master, aplos, aquarius, archy, areview, asteria-lite, attitude, avenue, avrora
Barebones-master, baskerville, beluga, bharat, big-impresa, bizflare,
bizmo, biznez-lite, bizsphere, bizstudio-lite, bizway, blackbird, bliss,
blogly-lite, Bodega, boemia, boksy-lite, book-lite, BootstrapParallax-Package, bosco, bose, bota, briks, business-lite, business-one, butterbelly
canoe, capture, cara, caresland-lite, carton, casper, casper-wp-master, catch-flames, catch-kathmandu, celebrate, celestial-lite, celestino, chelonian, circa, city-informer, cleanport-lite, clearly, clear-tranquil,
codium-light, coeur, colorway, convac-lite, corpo, counterpoint, crawford, cubby, current, cwp-youit
daisy-blue, dazzling, delivery-lite, dellow, de-naani, diarjo-lite, dice,
digest, directory, discover, d-lite, duena, dw-timeline, dw-wallpress
edin, editor, effect, eighties, elucidate, EmptyCanvas, enfold, enigma,
enlightenment, enterprise-lite, eptima-lite, espied, espressionista, esteem, evolve, expresscurate
facade, family, faq, fastr, fictive, figero, finale-theme, finch, fine, firmness, first, fizz, flat-bootstrap, flaton, Flatty-master, floki, flounder,
focus, formation, Foxy, franklin, Frank-master, fresh-and-clean, fukasawa, fullfolio, future
garfunkel, genbu, Glider-master, golden-eagle-lite, gommero, goran, graphy, gravit, gray-whale, green-lantern, gridiculous, gridly, gridz, griffin, guardian, gump
halcyon, hardpressed, hashi, heavenly, hellish-simplicity, hemingway, hexa, highwind, hoffman
i-am-one, ice-fresh, iconic-one, ifeature, ignite, ih-photographer, illustratr, imbalance2, impero, impulse-press, influence, inkzine, interface, intergalactic, intuition, invert-lite, invisible-assassin, isis, isola, itek, i-transform
kelly, kirumo, klasik, kodax_10, komachi, kotetsu
lean, Less, libra-free, lifelog, lingonberry, link, litesite, local-business, lupercalia
MagazinePlus, manifest, mantle, mantra, maryanne, material, memento, meris, mesocolumn, mh-elegance-lite, microfusion, minezine, minimable, minimagazine, minimaliste, minimatica, minnow, mn-flow, modish, moesia, multipurpose, museum, MyCorp, my-passion, mywiki, naked-wordpress-master
national-basic, naturespace, naya-lite, newmedia, newpersonal, news-magazine, news-mix-light, nirvana, nouveau-riche, nova-lite, nulis, nu-white
office, omega, one-page, onetake, onetone, opal, opus, origami, osiris
padhang, panthea-free, papercuts, parabola, parallax, perfetta, pho, phogra, photomaker, photopia-lite, pilot-fish, pinboard, pinkrio, pinpress, pisces, plainly, portal, preus, prism, professional, prompt, puro, quality, quill, radcliffe, radiant, radiate, rams, ravel, razor, readly, ready-review, rectangulum, resolution, responsive, restaurateur, restimpo, reviewgine-affiliate, rewind, road-fighter, rt_halcyon
saga, seller, semicolon, semplicemente, sensitive, serene, shaken, shamatha, shapeSpace, sheeva, shift, simone, simple-business-wp, simplecorp, simple-life, simpleo, simple-theme, simplicity-lite, singl, sixteen, sketch, skt-biz, skt-parallaxme, skt-photo-session, smartshop, socially-awkward, socute, sorbet, so-simple, sparkling, stairway, StanleyWP-Package, starkers-master, stork, storto, sublime-press, subsimple, suevafree, sundance, svelte
takeoff, taraza, tashan, tatva-lite, tdpersona, tdsimple, the-box, thememagic, themia-lite, themify-base, Thoughts, time, times, tiny_theme-master, tonal, toommorel-lite, top-mag, torch, tracks, tuned, twentyfifteen, twentyfourteen, twentytwelve, typal-makewp, Typesense-master
vaaka, vanilj, vantage, verbo, verge, virtue, vision, volta
wallstreet, ward, water-lily, weavr, weblizar, welcome, Wembley, white, whiteboard, why-hello-there, wilson, windsor-knot, wortex-lite, wp-barrister, wpex-proyecto, wp-folder-files, wp-framework, wp-svbtle-master
zeedynamic, zeefocus, zeeminty, zeenoble, zeetasty, zerif-lite, zinnia