I first started speed testing WordPress themes back in 2014 (via archive.org here) in an effort to find the fastest WordPress theme out there, regardless of whether it was free or paid.
Now it’s 2022, and WordPress is still the most popular open source CMS (content management system), with over 30 million live websites using it, almost double what it was when I started testing WordPress speed.
Alongside the rise in WordPress usage, there’s been a huge boom in the number of available WordPress themes. With so many themes to choose from, you need to pick one based on what’s most important to your website: for me, and many site owners, that’s WordPress speed.
If you’re looking for the fastest WordPress theme in 2021, then you’re in the right place. Rather than just giving you a list of theme suggestions, I’ve speed tested each theme on a real WordPress site to pit them against each other and determine the ultimate winner. Keep reading for a full methodology and breakdown of the results.
Affiliate disclosure: I use affiliate links to themes where relevant in this post, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission payment at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!
Table of Contents
Quick Answer: Fastest WordPress Theme in 2021
In a rush? The fastest WordPress theme we tested was GeneratePress Premium, closely followed by the free version.
We can also confidently recommend WordPress’ own latest free theme Twenty Twenty.
Here’s a breakdown of how each theme performed in speed tests:
|Theme||PageSpeed Mobile||Load Time||PageSpeed Desktop||Theme File Size||Price||Current Users|
|GeneratePress (premium)||61/100||1.576 seconds||97/100||882KB (+809KB plugin)||$59||89,046|
|GeneratePress (free)||63/100||2.143 seconds||97/100||882KB||$0||375,504|
|Twenty Twenty||68/100||2.218 seconds||98/100||698KB||$0||19,973|
|X Theme||49/100||2.4 seconds||89/100||5.6MB||$59||200,000+|
Keep reading until the end to find out how the GeneratePress Premium theme can get a score of 100/100 with the help of a little caching and image optimization.
Why is a fast WordPress theme important?
Website speed is essential for UX and SEO. As you probably know, user experience impacts SEO in 2021, so what keeps visitors happy will also help you rise in search engines. In all my years working in SEO, I can genuinely say that there’s never been a downside to making any website faster.
Simply choosing a fast WordPress theme can improve your loading times and make your site quicker than competitors, so let’s get started.
Our Speed Test Methodology
WordPress speed depends on several variables, and theme choice is only one of them. To make this a fair test, I am going to install each WordPress theme in the same hosting environment, with the same plugin setup and content.
By making sure that the theme is the only variable between speed tests, I can draw firm conclusions about the theme’s impact on speed and pick the fastest one.
I’m testing an inner page (not the homepage), as this is generally the page type that get the most traffic on a website. I created a dummy blog post for testing, which included over 2000 words, 7 images, an embedded YouTube video and table. You can view the dummy blog post here.
While Google’s tool is quite simplistic (it only provides a score out of 100 on mobile or desktop), I use it because many of us are interested in WordPress speed because of its impact on SEO, and who knows more about how Google measures websites than Google themselves. WebPageTest is a more thorough tool that provides a breakdown of each element on the page and how it loads.
I’m not testing every single WordPress theme available (there are thousands!) but started by testing the most popular themes in use. Popular free themes were taken from the WordPress Theme Directory (ignoring earlier versions of Twenty Twenty), alongside the bestselling themes from Themeforest, and additional themes chosen based on popularity via WPThemeDetector and my experience using WordPress.
All themes were tested on a standard WordPress installation (WordPress 5.3.1) on Cloudways $10/month hosting (1GB RAM) routed through CloudFlare, with 5 popular free plugins installed (Yoast SEO, Classic Editor, Really Simple SSL, Wordfence and TablePress).
CloudFlare was put in development mode, and Cloudways’ Varnish cache was turned off in order to fully test the uncached versions of the themes individually. Using caching will improve speed test results, but could unfairly impact results as certain static resources are shared between themes (i.e. images).
Fastest Free WordPress Themes in 2021
If you’re on a budget or just starting your first WordPress website, there’s nothing wrong with using a free theme. In fact, some of the fastest themes we tested were free. The downside will be limited customization options and limited functionality. Of course, you can easily extend the capability of any WordPress site using plugins, so there’s no need for themes to come pre-loaded with every bell and whistle.
How fast is Twenty Twenty?
In our speed tests, Twenty Twenty performed really well, with the best speed score on mobile and second best desktop score. Twenty Twenty didn’t load as quickly as other themes, but it was somewhere in the middle, with a load time of just over 2.2 seconds.
Twenty Twenty PageSpeed Insights on Desktop: 98/100
Twenty Twenty PageSpeed Insights on Mobile: 68/100
Twenty Twenty Page Load Time: 2.218 seconds
How fast is Astra?
Astra is a popular free WordPress theme, used on over 350,00 WordPress websites.
The Astra theme performed very well on desktop in our speed tests, but poorly on mobile. If you don’t anticipate mobile traffic, Astra is a solid free theme. However Twenty Twenty was a better overall performer and it would be risky to pick a theme that could hurt your mobile rankings inadvertently.
Astra PageSpeed Insights on Desktop: 98/100
Astra PageSpeed Insights on Mobile: 63/100
Astra Page Load Time: 2.148 seconds
How fast is OceanWP?
OceanWP is a free multi-purpose WordPress theme. While the theme is completely free to use, OceanWP also offer a premium extensions bundle to provide additional functionality, like white labeling, sticky widgets and demo importing.
For the purposes of this test, we’re just looking at the standard free theme. OceanWP is a popular theme, used on over 320,000 WordPress websites.
The OceanWP free WordPress theme didn’t score well in our speeds tests, with below average performance on both desktop and mobile. Load times were slow – going over 2.5 seconds.
OceanWP PageSpeed Insights on Desktop: 89/100
OceanWP PageSpeed Insights on Mobile: 49/100
OceanWP Page Load Time: 2.582 seconds
How fast is GeneratePress (free)?
GeneratePress is a popular free WordPress theme, which comes with the option of a premium plugin (tested below) that extends the customization options for paying customers. In 2021, GeneratePress is in use on over 375,000 WordPress websites.
GeneratePress performed very well in our tests, with strong mobile and desktop performance, and the fastest load time of any free theme (just over 2.1 seconds).
GeneratePress (free) PageSpeed Insights on Desktop: 97/100
GeneratePress (free) PageSpeed Insights on Mobile: 63/100
GeneratePress (free) Page Load Time: 2.143 seconds
Fastest Premium WordPress Themes in 2021
Premium WordPress themes tend to give you more customization options, but don’t assume that they’re all faster than free themes; the slowest themes we found were all premium themes (and expensive ones at that!).
How fast is GeneratePress (premium)?
GeneratePress Premium is simply the free GeneratePress theme coupled with a premium add-on plugin. Despite the extra plugin weight, GeneratePress Premium outperformed the free version of the theme in terms of load time (just over 1.5 seconds), making it officially the fastest WordPress theme we tested.
Performance scores on mobile and desktop were also strong, making GeneratePress Premium our top pick for anyone wanting a lightweight WordPress theme designed for speed. I use it on this very site, too!
If you skip to the end of this post, you’ll see how to further improve GeneratePress’ performance with a few extra tweaks.
GeneratePress (premium) PageSpeed Insights on Desktop: 97/100
GeneratePress (premium) PageSpeed Insights on Mobile: 61/100
GeneratePress (premium) Page Load Time: 1.576 seconds
How fast is Divi?
Divi, created by Elegant Themes, is the most popular premium WordPress theme on the market. Divi is currently used on over 1.3 million WordPress websites.
Divi performed poorly in our speed tests, with below average scores on mobile and desktop, and a slow loading time of over 2.5 seconds.
Divi PageSpeed Insights on Desktop: 90/100
Divi PageSpeed Insights on Mobile: 46/100
Divi Page Load Time: 2.684 seconds
How fast is Avada?
Avada is the second most popular premium WordPress theme in use, currently installed on over 620,000 live sites.
As a theme, Avada requires 2 plugins installing as standard, which we added during testing.
We were disappointed with this one: Avada was the slowest WordPress theme we tested. It scored poorly across the board, on mobile and desktop, and added a lot of bloat to our test page, making the load time creep toward 3 seconds. Very disappointing for a theme that’s so popular.
Avada PageSpeed Insights on Desktop: 83/100
Avada PageSpeed Insights on Mobile: 34/100
Avada Page Load Time: 2.854 seconds
How fast is X Theme?
X Theme is a premium WordPress theme for sale on Themeforest. X Theme performed well on desktop, but poorly on mobile, with overall loading times of 2.4 seconds. Most noticeably, the theme did not appear to be responsive when first installed, the mobile page rendered poorly.
X Theme PageSpeed Insights on Desktop: 89/100
X Theme PageSpeed Insights on Mobile: 49/100
X Theme Page Load Time: 2.4 seconds
How fast is Genesis?
The Genesis Framework has been around since 2010. Genesis is still used widely today, and active on over 300,000 WordPress websites, although it’s popularity has waned in the last year or so, since StudioPress (the company behind Genesis) was purchased by hosting company WP Engine.
As Genesis is intended to be used with child themes, I am testing it with the Magazine Pro Genesis child theme, which can be purchased in a bundle with the Genesis Framework, or free for WP Engine hosting customers.
Genesis performed decently in our tests, but I was expecting more based on it’s stripped down size. I was impressed with the overall look of the site when using Magazine Pro out-of-the-box with no modifications, but the speed scores were average at best. I’m confident that I could speed up Genesis with some additional tweaks, but that’s not part of this comparison.
Genesis PageSpeed Insights on Desktop: 95/100
Genesis PageSpeed Insights on Mobile: 53/100
Genesis Page Load Time: 2.305 seconds
How fast is Enfold?
Enfold is another popular WordPress theme for sale on ThemeForest, currently used on over 350,00 WordPress websites.
Enfold was the second slowest WordPress theme we tested, with the worst desktop speeds and poor mobile speeds. Total load time was over 2.8 seconds, making it only marginally better than Avada, which also scored poorly.
Enfold PageSpeed Insights on Desktop: 84/100
Enfold PageSpeed Insights on Mobile: 43/100
Enfold Page Load Time: 2.810 seconds
What makes a WordPress theme slow?
If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed something that’s common between the slowest themes – the theme file size is huge!
|Theme||Load Time||Theme File Size|
|GeneratePress (premium)||1.576 seconds||882KB (+809KB plugin)|
|GeneratePress (free)||2.143 seconds||882KB|
|Twenty Twenty||2.218 seconds||698KB|
|X Theme||2.4 seconds||5.6MB|
Why? Because some WordPress themes, usually those marketed as “multi-purpose themes”, come jam-packed full of every conceivable feature, template and setting. These features aren’t invisible and, even if you’re not using them, they can add bloat and extra bytes to every page.
How to make sure your WordPress theme is fast
- Check the size of the theme zip file (smaller is generally better)
- Test the demo site to see how it performs
I used to rely on demo site testing to determine a theme’s speed, but it’s impossible to know what settings and hosting are being used by the theme creator, so it’s not always a fair test. However, if you spot a demo site performing poorly, that’s a good sign that you’ve just found a slow theme!
For example, the slowest theme we found, Avada, performs terribly as a demo site: 35/100 on desktop and only 10/100 on mobile:
Checking the size of theme files is not always possible before purchase, so don’t forget to ask the sales team if it’s not clear.
Remember: a WordPress theme’s popularity does not mean it’s fast!
Some of the most popular themes we tested were among the slowest (including Divi theme and Avada). There are so many themes out there, so make sure you look beyond the sales fluff to find out what you’re getting in terms of speed and performance.
The fact that millions of WordPress users have slow, bulky themes poses a huge opportunity for you to choose a fast theme so you can get an advantage over the competition and increase search engine ranking without any extra work.
Other Ways To Speed Up WordPress
Using a fast WordPress theme is only one of the ways you can speed up your WordPress website. Here are some additional WordPress speed optimization tips that I’ve used successfully to make my sites load quicker.
Get Faster Hosting
If you want a fast-loading website, you’re unlikely to get it on cheap WordPress hosting. By cheap, I’m mostly referring to the shared hosting plans that cost you a couple of dollars a month.
Reliable website speed means you need reliable server hardware (like RAM). Fast hosting can still be relatively cheap if you’re happy to configure DigitalOcean yourself ($5/month), or use a managed cloud hosting service Cloudways ($10/month) like I do (read my Cloudways review here).
Images can be large files, and each time a visitor loads a page, their browser downloads all the images. This can get very slow on mobile. A simple way to speed up any WordPress site is to compress the images. You can use a plugin like Smush to compress images automatically. I prefer to use a freemium plugin called ShortPixel, which makes it easy to automatically compress all images into the very fast-loading WebP format.
CloudFlare is a cloud-based content delivery network (CDN), that essentially stores your website in multiple server locations globally, and then delivers the closest copy to users nearby without the need to keep re-loading assets. There are also some security benefits like blocking hacking attempts. The free plan is sufficient for most WordPress sites, and it’s ideal if you get site visitors from different locations worldwide (e.g. the US and UK).
Using a caching plugin can provide significant speed boosts. There are plenty of free options out there, but my favorite is WP Super Cache as it is developed by Automattic, the company behind WordPress.
If your WordPress host provides server-level caching, use it. I use Cloudways, which provides simple one-click Varnish caching.
Try a WordPress Speed Plugin
If you’re looking for a hands-off quick-fix improvement in WordPress speed, then you can’t go wrong with a speed plugin like WP Rocket or perfmatters. I’ve used both and they do exactly what they’re supposed to. Read my WP Rocket review or perfmatters review to learn more about how they work.
Choosing one of the fastest WordPress themes is going to give you a head-start when you’re trying to speed up your WordPress website. But there’s more work to be done if you want a completely speed-optimized site for improved user experience and SEO.
Case in point: look at this website. I use GeneratePress Premium as my theme, and achieve better speeds than those reported in the standard speed tests. Why? Because I’ve taken extra steps to ensure fast loading times. With a little work, you can achieve the same for your WordPress site, without spending a fortune.
On the demo page, using the GeneratePress Premium theme, I managed to improve speed scores significantly by taking the following steps in less than 5 minutes:
- installing WP Rocket (premium plugin)
- installing ShortPixel (free plugin, sign up for API, extra paid credits necessary if you use a lot of images)
- turning on CloudFlare caching (free)
Now the test page gets a Google PageSpeed score of 100/100 on desktop, 95/100 on mobile and a page load time of 0.904 seconds:
You can double-check my results by running your own speed tests on my test page (https://demofolks.com/how-to-speed-test-wordpress-themes/)
Here are some of the most popular website speed test tools:
Ultimately, WordPress has a reputation for being slow, but your website doesn’t have to be. Pick the fastest WordPress theme, spend a little time optimizing it, and you can have pages loading in under 1 second without super expensive hosting or a team of developers helping you out.
Here’s to fast WordPress websites!