What Are The Most Lightweight & Fastest loading WordPress Themes in 2020? We Just Field-Tested Them (Free & Paid)

People can be far too willing to believe claims made about a product based on nothing more than a passing recommendation.

Should you spend your hard-earned money on stuff that you’ve simply heard is “good”?

Eh…no, no you shouldn’t. 

This is especially true of digital products.

Our recent tests on the best image optimization plugins for WordPress made this all too apparent.

Spoiler alert: The popular plugins are shit, and the underdogs rule.

So we decided to take the same cynical approach in testing ten of the more popular WordPress themes that also claim to be super-duper fast.

But then, doesn’t every theme developer claim to have the “fastest theme” with the “smallest footprint” and that it’s “search engine friendly”?

We put their metaphorical feet to the flame of an Authority Hacker review and ignored their pleas for mercy.

Or something.

We did find out though who was fibbing, and who wasn’t.

You’ll probably be as surprised as we were.

Fastest WordPress Themes We Tested

  1. Generate Press
  2. Elementor Hello
  3. Ocean WP
  4. Schema Lite
  5. The Skin
  6. Neve
  7. Twenty Nineteen
  8. Hestia
  9. Page Builder Framework
  10. Astra
  11. Astra 2.0

Why Does Theme Speed Even Matter?

Some folks are so eager to get their site online that their choice of theme often comes down to whatever is easiest to use.

Or whatever they can afford at that point in time.

Which is usually a free theme.

A free email address is fine, but using free WordPress themes can be a terrible idea.

This type of poor decision making can lead to equally poor performance for your site.

Because your choice of theme is far more important than you think.

So that “best” WordPress theme you’re using right now is probably doing your site more harm than good.

Especially when it comes to things like speed.

So what should you pay attention to?

There are 3 factors to consider:

#1 Don’t Kill Your Conversion Rate

A bloated and slow WordPress theme can make your site crawl instead of fly.

And that’s when an important equation will come into play.

Slow theme = slow site = shit conversions

And we’re not speculating here – your conversion rate drops by around 40% for every additional second of latency users experience when visiting your site.

Or in plain English, the slower your site loads, the less money you’ll make.

The problem is most site owners spend very little using their site, so the fact that it doesn’t load fast goes right over their heads.

#2 Site Speed Is A Ranking Factor

Whether you like it or not Google is on record stating that site speed is a ranking factor.

But how much of an impact does this have on your ability to rank, I hear you ask?

After all, this has been the subject of some pretty heated debates in the SEO community for several years now.

John Mueller isn’t saying anything…except when he’s dropping heavy hints.

John Muller Tweet On Site Speed

So that’s straight from Google’s mouth – aim for a page load time of 2 – 3 seconds.

You also need to factor in that the average person has an incredibly short attention span.

Goldfish look like Buddhist monks in comparison.

So that means you either grab them in the first few seconds or you lose them forever.

Plus, if we’re being honest, most of us mirror that behavior.

We’ve become an impatient species, and that’s reflected in how we use the Internet.

#3 Your UX

Being unable to navigate your WordPress dashboard because your theme feels like it was coded by people who hate you, is extremely frustrating.

Even something as simple as writing a post can quickly turn into a nightmare.

The editor lags, you get random errors, actual crashes, and just a general experience in awfulness.

Professionally coded themes will run faster for everyone involved, including content publishers and your audience.

Generally speaking, the faster your theme runs on the outside, the faster it runs on the inside too.

There’s an awful lot to be said for clean code.

Remember, WordPress is a CMS (Content Management System), so there’s something badly wrong with your setup if publishing content is a chore.

The moral of the story across the above three points is this: an underperforming or poorly-coded theme can kill your site’s speed, and for a number of reasons.

So you can’t simply sit back and hope that a slow site won’t matter.

It absolutely does.

Our Testing Environment

So let’s take a look at how we went about running our speed tests. 

To make sure the results we got were as accurate as possible we used the following testing setup:

This setup was chosen because it’s the most likely to mimic what the average affiliate marketer uses for their site. 

They’re probably not using Kinsta hosting, for example. 

We also did everything we could to make these tests as fair and transparent as possible, maintaining data hygiene at every point.

That included deleting the GTmetrix data for each theme immediately after we ran each speed test on it.

So nobody can accuse us of any kind of shenanigans. 

Probably.

Test #1: Page With No Content

For the first round of tests, we wanted to test how quickly each theme would load a blank page.

So we set an empty page as our homepage.

The default header and footer that came with each theme was enabled, but nothing else.

We also excluded all logos, images, sidebars, and social icons to ensure the homepage had to load the smallest possible number of elements.

Doing this allowed us to test the speed of each theme on a level playing field.

Here’s how we got on.

GeneratePress Theme

Generatepress Wp Theme

GeneratePress is the brainchild of WordPress developer Tom Usborne and claims to be the “…perfect lightweight theme for your next project”.

This is a WordPress theme of choice for over 200,000 website owners as of last count, due in no small part to its easy customization options and responsive design capabilities (footer and header styles etc..). 

I actually use GeneratePress on some of my affiliate sites because it’s easy to set up and is a minimal install i.e. lightweight code. 

Note: I am in no way personally affiliated with GeneratePress or its development team.

We did use the premium version of GeneratePress for our test, although the free version of this theme is also pretty versatile and SEO friendly.

A growing number of people consider GeneratePress to be one of the fastest WordPress themes available right now and for a good reason. It feels super fast to use!

But let’s see how well it performed in real life – away from the forums and “expert” opinions

  • PageSpeed: 100%
  • YSlow: 95%
  • Load time: 1.8s
  • Total page size: 39KB
  • HTTP requests: 13
  • Cost: Free, or $49.95 per year for Premium /unlimited sites

Link: Visit GeneratePress

Hello Theme

Hello Wp Theme

Hello is a free WordPress theme from the same people who brought you Elementor. 

It also claims to be the “fastest WordPress theme ever created”, which is pretty much the same claim every theme developer makes.

And as you can see from the results of the initial speed test, it actually does perform very well.

But it’s not that black and white.

You see, the “Hello” theme is basically a blank slate for developers.

It has no widgets, menus or sidebars – it leaves you to add all those through its parent page builder, Elementor. 

So although there are no fixed theme options available via a customizer, you do get to work with a fully drag-and-drop interface.

Spoiler alert: It was the fastest theme for this portion of our tests.

  • PageSpeed: 100%
  • YSlow: 98%
  • Load time: 1.4s
  • Total page size: 15KB
  • HTTP requests: 8
  • Cost: Free (Requires free version of Elementor)

Link: Visit Hello theme

Ocean WP Theme

Oceanwp Wp Theme

OceanWP was created because its creator (Nicolas) couldn’t find a WordPress theme that did what he needed it to do.

Back then, he was developing websites for clients, but found that each theme he tested was lacking one feature or another.

Which meant a lot of PHP hacking to get them to do his bidding.

And that obviously slowed down his client work.

So instead of sitting around complaining, he set about creating a new multipurpose theme.

And in 2016 his OceanWP theme was released to the world, which has gone on to become a favorite of web publishers all over the world.

You can use it to design online shops, eCommerce sites, an affiliate site, or even just a portfolio site.

In fact, it’s kinda hard to find a “build a WP site” tutorial video or thread that doesn’t mention OceanWP as being the multipurpose theme for WordPress.

That all sounds great, but as you’ll see, it’s not without flaws.

But to be fair it has never laid claim to being one of the fastest WordPress themes out there, focusing instead on versatility.

  • PageSpeed: 98%
  • YSlow: 85%
  • Load time: 2.5s
  • Total page size: 268KB
  • HTTP requests: 27
  • Cost: Free, or $129 per year for Premium/unlimited sites

Link: Visit Ocean WP theme

Page Builder Framework Theme

Page Builder Framework is the product of a team of German developers and describes itself as being, ”…easy to customize, lighting fast, and mobile responsive”.

What makes it a little different to the other WordPress themes in this roundup though is that it’s designed to work as a standalone theme for beginners, but to also plug directly into professional page builder plugins like Elementor and Beaver Builder.

So it’s ideal for both newbies and experienced developers alike.

Now, this theme does claim that it gets a 99% Page Speed, 99% YSlow, and a 47.4KB page size score in a GTmetrix speed test.

As you can see the real-world results were a little bit different, but not by a huge amount.

But it does appear to be a pretty fast WordPress theme based on these initial results.

  • PageSpeed: 98%
  • YSlow: 96%
  • Load time: 1.5s
  • Total page size: 59KB
  • HTTP requests: 12
  • Cost: Free, or $58 per year for Premium/unlimited sites

Link: Visit Page Builder Framework

Schema Theme

Schema Theme Homepage

Schema appears to have been around for a few years but we hadn’t heard about it up to quite recently.

Apparently, it’s one of the fastest WordPress themes out there…so say they all.

It also claims to be 100% search engine ready, based on its lightweight code and ability to generate rich snippets.

This means you won’t need to go fiddling with plugins or code to get snippets displaying in the SERPs.

Schema also has some performance management functions built-in by default.

So you can enable lazy loading of images from within the theme without any additional plugins, for example.

You get a range of one-click styling and customization options as standard, and it even includes ad management functionality.

Social sharing buttons also come as standard.

That means fewer plugins and better overall performance, or at least it does in theory.

So there’s a lot going on under the hood here, but how does that affect page speed and load times?

  • Page Speed: 98%
  • YSlow: 92%
  • Load time: 2.0s
  • Total page size: 151KB
  • HTTP requests: 17
  • Cost: $35 for a single site license

Link: Visit Schema theme

Skin WordPress Theme

Skin WordPress Theme Homepage

The Skin theme for WordPress sounds great at face value.

The developers say it’s tightly-coded and has responsive design functionality as standard, as well as being optimized for search engines based on current best practices.

And you get all of that without paying a cent – you even get free updates!

This theme comes with three basic content layouts, so most bloggers will find a post layout that suits their needs.

“The Skin” does have a lot of customization options available within the customizer, but you need to install the Kirki plugin for WordPress (also free) to access most of them.

So “The Skin” claims to be very fast. WordPress themes all make that claim though.

Here’s what happened when we published our test page on this theme.

  • Page Speed: 98%
  • YSlow: 88%
  • Load time: 2.0s
  • Total page size: 211KB
  • HTTP requests: 22
  • Cost: Free
  • Link: Visit The Skin theme

Neve Theme

Neve Theme Homepage

The Neve theme is a hint of what the future holds – it focuses on mobile rendering and responsive design rather than on desktop, with strong AMP support included as standard. 

And of course, this means that speed is of the essence.

Neve claims to have single-digit load times as well as being fully optimized for search engines.

It is compatible with most of the popular page builders, including our current favorite – Elementor, so that’s a big plus.

You’re presented with a mini customization options panel when you install the theme, so that saves you having to dig around in the actual customizer for the most commonly tweaked settings.

This is actually a nice touch and something we’d like to see in other WordPress themes.

There is also a premium version of Neve available, but the free one has enough versatility to meet most design needs. 

Let’s see if the 20,000 site owners and developers using this WordPress theme made the right move.

Note: This theme surprised the hell out of us – it gives Elementor a run for its money as fast WordPress theme.

  • Page Speed: 100%
  • YSlow: 98%
  • Load time: 2.0s
  • Total page size: 26.7KB
  • HTTP requests: 8
  • Cost: Free or $39 for Pro version

Link: Visit Neve theme

WordPress 2019 Theme

Wordpress 2019 Theme Homepage

If you’re not familiar with WordPress, it comes with a default theme and Twenty Nineteen is the latest version of that.

We included this theme because it’s actually more versatile than people realize, especially when you use it in conjunction with something like Elementor, or a similar drag-and-drop page builder.

So you might not need to rush out and buy something like Genesis Framework, or at least not until/unless you know what you’re doing.

Twenty Nineteen is also mobile responsive and has a minimalist set of features so it should be very lightweight when it comes to page size.

This theme offers a lot and costs absolutely nothing, but our primary concern here is performance.

So is it a fast WordPress theme or not, dear readers?

The answer to this is both “Yes” and “No” based on different test environments – keep reading to find out what we mean.

  • Page Speed: 99%
  • YSlow: 97%
  • Load time: 1.6s
  • Total page size: 45KB
  • HTTP requests: 10
  • Cost: Free

Link: Visit WordPress 2019 theme

Hestia Theme

The Hestia theme might not get as much notice as others, but it’s still incredibly popular.

For starters, the free version is extremely customizable and offers most of the responsive design elements you’ll need.

Hestia is a multipurpose theme in the same vein as Ocean WP, so it’s suitable for affiliate sites, portfolio sites, etc.

But you do need to install the Orbit Fox plugin to access the full functionality of the free version.

Hestia Pro obviously has a stack of additional features – you get a header slider, Jetpack portfolio, the ability to reorder sections, and premium support, for example.

The whole marketing gimmick of “Here’s a free theme…but you need to install our plugin crammed full of *cough* special features” is getting a little old now.

Plus it leads to code bloat 90% of the time, which will become apparent shortly.

Hestia comes with additional modules you can add like social sharing, Gutenberg blocks (but why would you want to?), an uptime monitor and even page builder widgets.

You also get a number of pre-designed WordPress starter sites ready to demo/import at your leisure. These can get you from a clean install of WordPress to a functioning site in just a handful of clicks.

But how well did it do when up against all the other “fast” WordPress themes in this roundup?

Long story short, the final results aren’t terrible…but they’re not going to blow your pants off in amazement either.

  • Page Speed: 92%
  • YSlow: 90%
  • Load time: 1.8s
  • Total page size: 310KB
  • HTTP requests: 26
  • Cost: Free or $69 for one site, per year

Link: Visit Hestia theme

Astra 2.0 Theme

Astra 2.0 Wp Theme

Astra is another one of those WordPress themes that has gained an awful lot of fans in a very short space of time.

It’s only been available since May 2017 but has over 500,000 users as of the time of writing, making it one of the most popular themes on the market.

Why are so many people using Astra?

Well, it has all the usual functionality you’d expect from a mainstream theme, including responsive design, and being easily tweakable via the customizer.

But it’s also fully compatible with your favorite tools and premium plugins like Elementor, Beaver Builder, SEO Press, Yoast, etc.

It’s also, in my opinion, the best featured WooCommerce theme.

Astra claims to be a, “fast, lightweight and customizable WordPress theme” with what sounds like an impossibly small page size.

We had high hopes for Astra based on our personal experience of using it.

But we also wanted to run a completely unbiased test of this theme.

After all, claims are easy to make but often much more difficult to back up with hard data.

This is what came tumbling out of our speed test results.

  • Page Speed: 98%
  • YSlow: 85%
  • Load time: 2.4s
  • Total page size: 126KB
  • HTTP Requests: 16
  • Cost: Free, or $47 per year for Pro/unlimited sites

Link: Visit Astra

Blank Page Test Results

ThemePage speedYSlowLoad timePage sizeHTTP requests
GeneratePress100%95%1.8s39KB13
👍Elementor Hello100%98%1.4s15KB8
👎Ocean WP98%85%2.5s335KB27
Schema Lite94%84%2.0s151KB17
The Skin98%88%2.1s211KB22
Neve100%98%2.0s26.7KB8
Twenty Nineteen99%97%1.6s45KB29
Hestia92%90%1.9s310KB26
Page Builder Framework98%96%1.5s59KB12
Astra99%91%1.8s82.3KB11
Astra 2.098%85%2.4s126KB16

So here are the results of our speed tests, based on a test page with absolutely no content on it except for the default header and footer.

Elementor’s “Hello” is the clear winner for raw speed, page size and the tiny number of external HTTP calls.

But this is only possible because the theme itself is completely blank – it’s literally a tabula rasa for you to build your own theme on.

So this was an easy win for Elementor.

“Neve” was far from the fastest theme we looked at, but it deserves praise for the incredibly small page size and the same low number of HTTP calls as “Hello”.

At the other end of the scale, we have Ocean WP as the slowest of the bunch, crawling in at 2.5 seconds. It also had the largest page size in the roundup at 335KB and generated 3x as many HTTP requests as Hello.

But Astra 2.0 also gets a mention here because it was also one of the slowest themes we tested.

So the winners for this round are:

  1. Elementor Hello
  2. Page Builder Framework
  3. Twenty Nineteen

But testing a page with no content only tells us so much about how fast a given WordPress theme is, or how clean its code is.

The reality is that you’ll be using these on live sites, so you’ll need a fast-loading WordPress theme that also performs under real-life load conditions.

So let’s take a look at how they performed when rendering a full page of content

Test #2: Page With Content + Media

Our setup for this batch of tests to find the fastest themes was to create a pretty standard homepage layout on one of our demo sites using the theme as the foundation for it.

We used Elementor Pro as our page builder plugin for this stage of our tests simply because it’s what we use internally. 

So here’s how we structured our test homepage:

  • Custom header and footer
  • Hero image + text overlay
  • Text box
  • Blog post grid
  • Author bio box
  • Custom footer menus
  • Some demo content

Or basically all the elements you’d find on your typical, run-of-the-mill homepage.

This is what our sample homepage looks like:

Homepage For Wp Theme Speed Test

Bear in mind that it doesn’t include any data-heavy elements such as large image carousels, videos, etc.

Yes, we could have done that, but it doesn’t really prove anything.

So let’s take a look at how these themes performed when they had to load a full page of content.

Page With Content And Media​

ThemePage speedYSlowLoad timePage sizeHTTP requests
GeneratePress83%81%3.2s811KB56
Elementor Hello83%81%3.4s797KB52
Ocean WP83%78%3.3s923KB64
Schema Lite80%79%3.1s881KB55
The Skin83%77%2.4s858KB61
Neve83%81%2.7s806KB52
👎Twenty Nineteen83%81%4.5s964KB54
Hestia83%79%2.9s873KB57
Page Builder Framework83%81%3.4s804KB54
👍Astra83%81%2.3945KB52
Astra 2.084%77%2.5s822KB54

Our search for a fast WordPress theme should,in theory, have resulted in Elementor’s “Hello” being top of the class here.

But that’s not the case – it actually came in as one of the slowest overall with a load time of 3.4 seconds.

So the claim that Hello is a fast loading WordPress theme and the test data simply don’t match up, even though it has the smallest page size of all the themes we tested.

Other notable mentions here are the “Twenty Nineteen” theme which took a whopping 4.5 seconds to load.

That’s a full two seconds slower than the fastest WordPress theme in this roundup – The Skin.

Two seconds is a huge difference and places this theme slap bang in the middle of the danger zone for low conversion rates.

Ocean WP and Twenty Nineteen also get a gong for their bloated code – coming in at well over 900KB each in page size.

The fastest themes for rendering our homepage were:

And a final thought or two on this stage of the testing process.

Each WordPress theme had an almost identical YSlow score, due mostly to tons of HTTP requests.

So you could create significant improvements in performance here using something like the Autoptimize plugin.

Also, the Page Speed scores for each theme when rendering an entire page are almost identical.

Where most of these themes failed was in image optimization and offering some kind of caching, so you could try ShortPixel to remedy one aspect of that.

And that brings us nicely to the next phase of our ongoing search for the fastest WordPress themes – optimization.

Test #3: Optimized with WP Rocket

We thought it would be interesting to see what impact a caching plugin would have on load time and the resulting data.

Specifically one of the premium plugins, which is why we chose WP Rocket as our caching tool of choice.

We ran these tests with the exact same page layout as before, to ensure the results remained consistent.

The options we enabled in addition to the default settings in WP Rocket were:

  • CSS minification
  • HTML minification
  • JavaScript minification
  • Lazy load images and iFrames
  • Load JavaScript deferred

We purged the site cache after each theme was tested to ensure the results weren’t skewed.

And here’s what the final results look like:

Optimized With WP Rocket

ThemePage speedYSlowLoad timePage sizeHTTP requests
GeneratePress84%82%1.7s737KB50
Elementor Hello83%81%2.5s761KB49
Ocean WP84%78%2.2s843KB61
Schema Lite83%80%1.4s838KB53
The Skin83%78%1.8s869KB59
Neve83%81%2.2s770KB50
Twenty Nineteen93%81%3.4s656KB48
Hestia83%80%2.1s853KB55
Page Builder Framework83%81%1.6s768KB52
Astra 2.084%81%2.1s823KB50

So did adding WP Rocket to the mix make any of these themes load faster?

Schema Lite, for example, is definitely a fast-loading WordPress theme…but it’s more of a framework than anything else.

Twenty Nineteen benefited massively from caching and optimization, but it’s still the slowest theme in the roundup by a pretty big margin of 1.7 seconds.

The themes that benefited most overall from WP Rocket were Generate Press, The Skin and the Page Builder Framework.

Each of the above loaded their homepage in under 2 seconds.

This is pretty impressive considering that we really didn’t spend a lot of time (basically a few seconds) configuring WP Rocket.

So you might even be able to get those load times down a little more by spending time tweaking the settings for this plugin.

This particular test was interesting because based on our previous results it would be safe to assume that the Astra theme would emerge as the winner yet again.

But that wasn’t the case.

In fact, it’s a whole half-second slower than Generate Press or the Page Builder Framework.

You could make the argument that this implies these themes were the least optimized of the bunch i.e. there was more work for WP Rocket to do.

The end result is the same though – they’re the fastest WordPress themes in this roundup.

So the winners for this round are:

  1. Generate Press
  2. Page Builder Framework
  3. The Skin
Generatepress Wp Theme

Final Thoughts

So as you can clearly see, not all “fast” WordPress themes are created equal.

Just because a theme looks good is no guarantee that it doesn’t have a load time that would challenge the patience of a saint.

Code bloat is also a serious problem for many modern themes, especially some of the most popular ones.

People have become so fixated on UX they forget that nobody is going to wait 10 seconds for a site to load.

Hell, most people get ready to bounce after waiting a whole three seconds.

So, as we said at the start of this feature, the final results surprised us.

Elementor’s barebones “Hello” WordPress theme seemed the obvious choice to take top place in every test.

But it was only capable of taking first place when rendering a blank page.

Outside of that environment, its performance was decidedly mediocre.

Ocean WP’s performance was also surprising, and not in a good way. You can’t visit a forum without hearing how amazing it is.

Except it doesn’t have the performance to match, at least not in any of our tests.

So that’s something for devs and affiliate marketers to consider.

And something else that became apparent is that all WordPress theme developers are now optimizing their themes for speed, as illustrated in the almost identical ‘Page Speed’ results across multiple themes and tests.

Conclusion

And that concludes our testing of the fastest WordPress themes, alleged and otherwise.

To be truly fair to everyone involved we’ll need a separate category for each winner – Cached and Uncached.

The Skin emerged as the fastest WordPress theme in the “Uncached” category.

But if we’re going to look at raw speed achieved by using a caching plugin, then Generate Press wins in that category.

We’ve used this theme several times in the past for affiliate sites, and have always been happy with it.

The question now is whether or not you want to fork over the price of a premium theme like Astra that’s pretty fast out-of-the-box?

Or are you happy to first pay for a theme like Generate Press and then an extra $49 for WP Rocket?

There’s no right or wrong answer here – it’s down to what you can afford and the results you want.

Anyways, we hope you enjoyed this roundup and that it’s given you some food for thought.

Oh, you can get your very own copy of the Generate Press theme here.

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