Web design has improved a lot in the last 12 months but with responsive content, parallax scrolling and social integration, sites hosted on cheap shared hosting packages can become very sluggish. If you don’t want to spend $$$ on a VPS or dedicated hosting, but still want WordPress as your CMS, you’re going to need a very fast theme.
If you want to test the speed of your existing WordPress theme, head over to Google’s Page Speed Insights tool. Be prepared for some shockingly bad results. Even some of the most-used sites in the world score poorly; just look at the BBC’s page speed results:
Websites like BBC.com get away with ‘slow’ site design because they pay a lot of money for hosting. Some of us smaller guys prefer to spend $1-5 a month on cheap shared hosting or a cloud VPS, so we need our WordPress themes to be uber-efficient.
After testing and researching 100s of WordPress themes, here’s my list of the fastest WordPress themes for 2014.
Swift Themes (despite the plural, it’s just one theme) was developed by Satish Gandham (follow him on Twitter here) with the sole aim of speeding up WordPress. Did he reach his goal? Oh hell yes. Swift themes has excellent functionality (it’s responsive, SEO-optimised and even has its own built-in social share buttons). What’s more, the design is nice and clean with stripped-down elements – no more messy boxes or flash-based sliders to faff about with.
The Swift Theme demo site, which is reportedly hosted on Digital Ocean’s cheap $5 cloud VPS plan, scores an impressive 92/100 on Google’s Page Speed Insights tool, making it one of the fastest WordPress themes on the market.
Satish is so confident that you’ll love Swift Themes, there’s an exclusive free trial* available. Premium theme owners can take advantage of additional features. The full theme version costs $57 for personal site use, or $97 for a developer license. There are also child themes in the works, along with regular updates and tips from the developer.
Swift Themes features the following functionality so there’s no need to install bulky WordPress plugins:
- Page navigation
- Social media icons
- Ad Managers
- Support for YARPP (related posts)
- WOO Commerce
- Responsive Ads
- Robust ad management with options to add separate ads for mobiles and desktops
- Default styling for forms
- No uneven spacing
- 10 widgets.
- 10 page templates for different layouts
- Option to disable WordPress WYSYWIG editor smartness when designing pages. You will thank me when you are building static pages
- Custom CSS option for individual pages
- Responsive images
If you want to see some examples of Swift Themes in action, try Genie Forge. It scores 88/100 on the Page Speed tool (it’s slightly slowed down by a few plugins – namely Contact Form 7). You can check which parts of any WordPress website are slowing it down by whacking the URL into the Pingdom Speed Test Tool.
The first thing you need to know about the Frank WordPress theme is that it’s 100% free and open source. Frank is the pet project of developer P.J. Onori, with the help of Jon Christopher, Felix Holmgren, Josh McDonald and various GitHub contributors. The theme is definitely ‘bare-bones’, but it works well for simple sites out-of-the-box and more complex child themes can easily be built upon.
P.J. explains his reason for the project:
I believe that speed is an essential part of user experience. I wanted my site to reflect that belief.
The last reason is that WordPress has an unfair reputation of being a slow, resource-hungry blogging platform. Make no mistake, WordPress can be slow, but that is often due to poor use. I wanted to make a WordPress theme to break the unfair stereotype.
Frank’s default home page makes 9 database queries and consists of 2 requests weighing ~29Kb (9.3Kb gzipped). Despite this tiny size, Frank still has some excellent features:
- Responsive layout for desktops, tablets and phones
- Multiple homepage layout options
The developer’s website, SomeRandomDude.com uses a Frank child theme (called somerandomdude, of course!) which is also available for free on Git Hub. Donations are strongly recommended to help keep the theme in development. There are plenty of speed tips and tweaks discussed on Git Hub so if you’re not afraid to get your code on, Frank could be the fastest WordPress theme of all time.
SomeRandomDude.com scores an impressive 97/100 on Google’s Page Speed tool, although it’s clearly a more text-based site than that shown in the Swift Themes demo.
Magazine 3 launched a couple of super fast WordPress themes in 2014, but their best-performing player is TechSavvy. The demo site, which includes all the images and widgets you’d likely find on any blog or magazine site, scores an impressive 93/100 on Google’s PageSpeed Tool:
I’m subtracting a few points because the site is hosted on a $15+/month VPS, which gives it a speed boost. The TechSavvy demo site also uses a CDN (content delivery network) to store static image files, something that will cost you from $9/month (for MaxCDN). Alternatively, there’s Amazon’s CloudFront PAYG service that costs about $0.12 per GB transfered (a free allowance is also given in the first year). CloudFront will work with any wordpress theme; I recommend it for anyone hosting a lot of high-resolution images.
So how does the TechSavvy super fast WordPress theme score when hosted on a cheap shared account? The magazine site BlazingMag.com uses the TechSavvy theme and, uh oh, only scores 73/100 thanks to an overload of plugins:
To be honest, TechSavvy has so many useful features that work out-of-the-box, there’s no need to load it with plugins:
- Visual Layout Builder
- Responsive Layouts
- Google Authorship
- OpenGraph & Twitter Cards
- Google Rich Snippet Breadcrumbs
- Easy Color Scheme Picker
It just goes to show that even the fastest WordPress theme can be ruined if you go plugin-crazy. TechSavvy* costs $59 for unlimited site usage, which works out a lot cheaper than a Themeforest Developer licence.
*UPDATE* You can get the TechSavvy WordPress theme for 10% off with a membership subscription if you use the coupon code: MEMBERSHIP10OFF
The Genesis Framework for WordPress has been a favourite with developers for a long time. The principle behind it is simple: Genesis is the backend theme behind your site, powering a child theme with specific design elements. There are literally hundreds of free and premium Genesis child themes to choose from, so it is possible for a WordPress site powered by, in effect, 2 separate themes to be fast?
The first thing to understand is not all Genesis child themes are fast. A lot of it comes down to the code quality and the way features are integrated into the main Genesis theme. For a mix of speed and functionality, I like the CopyBlogger Genesis child theme, which, I’m happy to say, is 100% free.
CopyBlogger is a free child theme designed by WPStuffs. It looks quite similar in its layout to CopyBlogger.com, but actually performs better in a Google speed test, scoring 88/100 compared to CopyBlogger.com’s 78/100:
As you would expect, CopyBlogger also comes with some essential features, including:
- Responsive design
- Easy colour picker
- Multiple page layouts
- 3 footer widgets
- Landing page template
Optimise Your Existing WordPress Theme
Don’t forget these golden WordPress speed rules to help make your site even faster:
– Only install essential plugins, and delete any that are inactive.
– Shrink images before uploading, or consider hosting them on a third-party site to speed up load times. WP Smush It will compress all your site images automatically.
3 Essential WordPress Plugins For Website Speed
I saw some significant speed improvements by installing the following free WordPress plugins :
This plugin simply adds .gz compression to your site, something that Google recommends as standard. There are no settings to configure, just install, activate and enable.
It’s very well-known, but this free plugin will help deliver a static html version of your site to most visitors. If you make a lot of updates, don’t forget to clear the cache to give new and returning visitors fresh content. TIP: If you’re using the free version, deselect the “CDN” and “New Relic” (Monitoring) functions for even more speed.
Know any more super-fast WordPress themes? Hit me up on twitter or leave a comment.