Astra is a popular WordPress theme that has existed for a few years. It's gained popularity, partly because it's a free WordPress theme. But just because something is free isn't the best option. So is Astra the suitable WordPress theme for your business and your WordPress site?
In this honest Astra WordPress theme review, I'll share my experience using the Astra WordPress theme as both a pro user and someone new to WordPress. I'll also give you my verdict on whether or not I think the Astra theme is worth your time.
What is Astra?
The Astra theme is a super lightweight, fast, and very customizable WordPress theme from the developers at Brainstorm Force which is suitable for blogs, personal portfolios, business websites of all sizes, and eCommerce storefronts.
The Astra theme saw several new versions and revisions after its introduction four years ago. It is consistently improved and updated to ensure users have access to new features and bug fixes and that the theme remains compatible with WordPress updates.
Why I Started Using Astra
When I first started building WordPress sites (almost 20 years ago) as a front-end developer, I began, like many users, by searching for a free WordPress theme that I might be able to “do work.” It was a short time. However, I needed better support and more advanced features.
To get more from my themes, I began hunting for paid themes on Envato or Template Monster for themes geared toward the industry, service, or product of the site I was designing and developing.
For example, I'd search for construction-focused themes if the site were for a handyman or construction company. I'd search for pet themes if the site were for a pet sitter, doggy daycare, or animal-related services.
Unfortunately, I soon found many WordPress themes highly limiting, restrictive, and difficult to customize. And often, the sites' content must conform to the content areas defined by the theme and developer.
To solve these issues, I began using the best WordPress themes advertised as “multi-purpose.” Themes like the Fox or BeTheme are packaged with Slider Revolution, Layer Slider, WP Bakery's Visual Composer, and other “add-ons.”
While these themes offered a slew of customization options for headers, footers, blog page layouts, and a page builder that enabled more significant control of the individual page and post design, there were still several drawbacks.
The drawbacks mainly relate to the page builder packaged with the WordPress theme. But more importantly (and detrimental to the site), the themes were extremely code-heavy, trying to incorporate functionally best left to WordPress plugins.
To support features I wasn't using, and the WordPress theme was loading countless JS and CSS files on every page, dramatically affecting page speed and load times.
Now, there were better decisions than my next choice. But at the time, Divi from Elegant Themes had become a prevalent theme and page builder, allowing me to create ANY WordPress site.
I still have several websites built in Divi, and it's a great page builder with many performance improvements in recent releases.
Then I moved to Elementor for building pages, and I needed a new theme that worked well with this page builder. I also needed to think more about speed. It needed more for a site to be beautifully designed if it took longer to load than competitors' websites.
Enter the Astra theme.
The Astra theme is one of the most lightweight themes available, developed with speed in mind.
Why is Astra so Popular?
The Astra theme is one of the most popular WordPress themes, reports over one million installations, and has a five-star rating on WordPress.org. But why are users installing it?
Astra is fast
A vanilla installation, according to Astra, has a load time of .5 seconds. The WordPress theme is only 50 kb and includes just nine HTTP requests. WPRocket included Astra in its list of 14 fastest free WordPress themes and listed it as the second-fastest tested.
Astra is highly customizable
Even the free theme of Astra gives users access to a header builder and footer bar builder that is easy to use and will allow you to create a custom page header and footer bar as you need.
It also allows you to select elements on your blogs, such as featured images, page titles, meta, comments, and related posts. Each option includes design options for customizing typography, spacing, and colors.
Astra integrates with several free WordPress plugins, such as a lightweight sidebar manager allowing users to create and display different sidebars on particular pages of their WordPress website.
Astra works with page builders
The WordPress theme allows you to turn off page titles and sidebars and to create full-width pages using your preferred page builders — Gutenberg, Elementor, Beaver Builder, Thrive Architect, and others.
This allows users complete freedom to design pages and create additional templates without any coding knowledge. And if speed is your top concern, Astra's developer also offers Spectra (formerly Ultimate Add-ons for Gutenberg) plugin to extend the default WordPress block editor while ensuring fast-loading pages.
Astra is free
The free version of the Astra theme provides plenty of options for quickly building and customizing Astra sites based on your branding. However, several features only offered in the pro version make upgrading a good investment.
Beautifully designed starter templates
Only some people building a website are professional designers or developers. Astra theme offers a library of over 230 professionally-designed starter templates designed to work with your favorite page builder to help inspire you to build your Astra sites quickly.
Note: 180+ of these are premium starter templates and are only available to subscribers of the Astra Essential Bundle.
The Astra theme is built to be flexible and includes the option to activate (or deactivate) features based on your needs.
As mentioned, the Astra theme is built for speed, whether using the free or pro version.
With just 50 kb of resources, the Astra theme loads in under half a second, making it one of the most lightweight themes available.
The developers of the Astra theme have ensured the theme is well-coded and follows best coding practices and standards.
The free version of the Astra theme offers design customization options in three areas: layouts, headers/footers, and transparent headers.
The layouts customizer allows you to select from four layout options:
- Content Boxed
- Full Width/Contained
- Full Width/Stretched
These can be set site-wide or separately for pages, blog posts, and archives.
The header and footer builders give users three rows of columns in which various types of content can be selected and customized to build feature-riched headers. Each element (primary menu, search, buttons, etc.), and row, have several design options related to colors, spacing, and typography. Select an item, click the design tab and enter your desired settings. Or, wait to enter anything at all. It will still look good.
The transparent header allows the user to set a transparent header background. This will pull the page's content up and under the heading. The top of the page will be used as a background for the transparent header.
WordPress users can enable this on the entire site or select to use it on specific types of pages using the theme customizer. Editing individual pages can also be allowed in the Astra theme Settings section. This can be especially useful on pages with an extensive image as a top section.
Your site design can be customized even more with several options available in thePpro version:
Allows your header to be fixed to the top of the browser window.
It allows you to customize the header for different breakpoints and set other logos or colors based on the device.
Create page headers and assign them to specific pages and posts based on conditional display rules.
Create multi-column mega menus without the use of additional WordPress plugins.
Colors & Typography
Set colors and custom fonts and easily manage site-wide.
Create sidebars for specific pages and override the website's default sidebar.
The free version of the Astra theme gives you options to set the layout of your entire website to boxed, content-boxed, full-width/contained, and full-width/stretched. Additional options are available with the Site Layout modules in the pro version. These include:
- Full-width layout
- Max-width layout
- Padded layout
- Fluid layout
These additional layout options control how the site's wrapper and containers are configured.
The free layout options combined with the Gutenberg block settings or other page builders settings suffice. But you may find a need to use these page builders.
The Astra theme lets you configure your fonts globally for your body font, headings fonts, and each heading level. It also allows you to set your fonts when configuring buttons, headers, blog pages, and blog post elements. You can get very granular when applying font sizes, styles and weights.
This WordPress theme allows you to control typography based on the device used to view your site. For example, you can set your H1 to 60 px for desktop, 50 px for tablet, and 40 px for mobile.
And pixels aren't your only option. If you prefer, you can define your font sizes in EM.
Have a custom font? Astra's free Custom Font plugin will allow you to import and use your custom fonts.
Need to find a font a little more unique than Arial, Tahoma, Geneva, Times, or Verdana? Astra lets you select from over 700 Google fonts.
I need to know what fonts to use. The Astra theme provides typography presets. These presets are sets of font options for text and headings that can be applied with the click of a button.
Colors and Background
The Astra theme gives you control over the colors and background of your blog and archive pages, single pages, primary header, footer, and sidebar through the customizer.
The customizer also allows you to set your base colors for text and links and create reusable color palettes to manage your colors.
The Colors and Background add-on with Astra Pro will give you even more control and options with additional color options added to the customizer in the following settings:
- Global > Colors > Content
- Header > Site Identity
- Header > Primary Header
- Header > Primary Menu
- Blog > Blog / Archive
- Blog > Single Post
The free version of the Astra theme can create nice and essential blog posts. The customizer allows you to turn off/on elements that would appear on the page, such as the featured image, page title & blog meta.
Further, you can select which metadata or information you wish to display. However, you can't change the order that these elements will appear on the page/post. You can also keep your blog posts organized with the post pagination feature.
If you would like a grid or masonry layout for your blog or would like to highlight your first post, or include pagination, Astra Pro has you covered.
Below are some of the Astra Pro features for the Blog Layouts:
- Grid layout
- List Layout
- Masonry layout
- Highlight first post
- Date box
- Excerpt count
- Blog structure control
- Blog content width
- Post pagination
- Infinite loading
Global Design Options
Like any good WordPress theme, the header and footer elements you select should be global, allowing you to edit elements such as your logo or navigation colors in one place. But the Astra theme makes it easy to control colors and branding across the site with the global color palette. Need to make a site-wide color change? Edit your color palette in the customizer.
The free theme of Astra works seamlessly with WooCommerce. You'll be able to add WooCommerce shortcodes to the various WooCommerce pages needed for a store (shop, cart, checkout, account, etc.).
However, the layouts of these pages will be defined by the WooCommerce plugin templates and WooCommerce's limited options in the customizer. The pro version includes an optional WooComemrce add-on, adding different options and customizer settings.
These settings give you additional options such as including Sale badges on products, customizing the header cart icon, displaying cart totals, changing the product catalog layout and pagination, selecting elements to display on single product pages, and more.
Schema and SEO
Astra has basic Schema markup implementation, making it an SEO-friendly WordPress theme. Astra adds the following Schema markup:
- WebPage: On WordPress single pages
- Blog: On Blog Index Page
- On author archive pages.
- On blog posts, meta to the author link.
- Author Bio on blog posts
- WPHeader: To the header
- WPFooter: To the footer
- WPSideBar: To the main sidebar
- SiteNavigationElement: To the primary navigation menu.
- SearchResultsPage: On Search Results Pages
- Organization: To the title & logo
- BreadcrumbList: To the breadcrumb through the Page Header module in Astra Pro
According to Search Engine Journal, Astra ranks as the second most SEO-friendly theme. So how do they define an SEO-friendly theme:
- It's responsive, adjusting to varying screen sizes across devices
- It supports most plugins
- It has clean code
- It works in multiple browsers
- It loads quickly
- It's updated regularly
Astra makes three widgets available with the free Astra Widget plugin. Once installed, they can be found in Appearance > Widgets with your other available widgets. These widgets can be used in the sidebar and included in the header, footer, or other site areas.
- Address widget
- Info list widget
- Social profiles widget
This is one of the most valuable add-ons in Astra Pro. This Astra Pro Addon plugin is potent and allows you to create custom headers, footers, and other types of content to be inserted in pages based on display conditions set and hooks.
The custom site layouts can be built using the Gutenberg block editor, other page builders, or custom-coded.
Before using Astra's Custom Layouts, I would have coded additional PHP templates in a child theme to be selected on certain pages. But Astra's Custom Layouts make this much more accessible and allow content managers to re-use these custom layouts as they add content, pages, and posts to their site.
There are five types of Custom Layouts:
- 404 Page
- Inside Post/Page Content
These can be displayed based on specific locations or excluded from display by location. They can be displayed based on the device or set to display based on a time duration.
The custom header type and footer type are helpful for landing or conversion pages where you might not want to include your entire site navigation or a lot of distracting content at the top or bottom of the page.
The Inside Post/Page Content type allows you to build a section of content that can be displayed within post/page content after a certain number of blocks or before a certain number of heading blocks. Including a CTA in content across several posts/pages is helpful.
But the Hooks type is the most versatile. This type will allow you to use custom code (PHP and CSS) or your favorite page builder to build your content/layout. Once made, you set the action. This is a location where the content will be displayed. For a list of all activities and sites, see this visual representation.
Ease of Use
The free theme of Astra, like any number of WordPress themes, is straightforward to use and configure. It provides just enough features and options to create a professional website for your business quickly.
Combined with the free starter templates and one of the popular page builder plugins, you don't need any design or development skills. However, it is easy to outgrow the free theme quickly. The simple desire to have a “Scroll to top” button or a sticky header is all you need to be forced to purchase the Astra pro theme.
But it's a good investment.
Even the pro version can be customized and configured fairly easily. However, with more options to choose from and manage, it's essential to think about what you need. It wants to determine how best to accomplish your goals with the builder plugins and add-ons. And with more options to customize, ensuring consistency can become more complex.
One nice feature of Astra Pro is the Child Theme Generator. A child theme is a sub-theme that inherits the parent's look, feel, and functions. Using a child theme allows you to modify the theme files without affecting the parent theme's files and ensures that customizations to files are preserved when theme updates are applied.
While the robust theme customizer of Astra might make users feel a child theme is unnecessary, it's always a safe bet to create a child theme.
Most how-tos will instruct you to create a folder in your theme's directory, a style.css file, and a functions.php file (or create locally, zip, and install). But for those adverse to code, Astra Pro lets you download a child theme that can easily be installed via Appearance > Themes > Add New.
Pros and Cons of Astra
- Lightweight code
- Super fast
- Free version available
- Page builder compatibility
- Well-supported and regularly updated
- Starter templates
- Customization options
- A large number of options can make beginners feel lost
- Easy to outgrow the free theme provided by Astra
Three paid options are available. If you need to upgrade to Astra Pro: options are yearly subscription and lifetime pricing.
Subscription: Currently $49/year (regularly $59/year)
Lifetime: $239/lifetime (regularly $249/lifetime)
For most users looking to get a bit more out of Astra, the Astra Pro package is all needed.
Subscription: Currently $169/year (regularly $276/year)
Lifetime: $499/lifetime (regularly $996/lifetime)
This package includes everything in Pro plus 180+ Premium Astra Starter sites, WP Portfolio Plugin, and a page builder add-on (either Ultimate Add-ons for Elementor or Ultimate Add-ons for Beaver Builder). If you use Ultimate Add-ons for Gutenberg and are happy with the free templates, then the level may be optional.
Astra Growth Bundle:
Subscription: Currently $249/year (regularly $523/year)
Lifetime: $699/lifetime (regularly $1893/lifetime)
This package includes the page builders add-ons, Convert Pro Plugin, Schema Pro Plugin, and SkillJet Academy Membership.
The Convert Pro Plugin is an Email Opt-in and Lead Generation plugin that gives you access to a drag-and-drop editor to create popup forms.
The Schema Pro plugin allows you to add markup and map data.
These additional plugins provide features that can be added via third-party plugins, such as a good SEO plugin or lead generation plugin.
The lifetime option may only be valuable if you intend to use Astra for about five years.
There is a support forum on WordPress.org where many replies are from other Astra users. Brainstorm Force has a pinned post here indicating that they do not monitor the forum for support questions, though a user appears to reply on behalf of the developer and is somewhat responsive. There is also a private Facebook Group for user-to-user discussion.
But I like best that you can be something other than a pro user to get help from Brainstorm Force. If you head to their support page, you can search for a topic to find related articles. And if you still need help, you can submit a support ticket.
Astra offers free support of help with the free Astra theme or other free Brainstorm Force products and premium support to pro users.
Pro users have access to 24/7 support, while free users shouldn't expect support to be as timely or quick to respond, especially on weekends.
What Plugins Should I Install with Astra?
Astra works well out of the box, but there are always features you may need that require additional plugins. Some essential plugins to get the most out of Astra and WordPress are:
These plugins allow you to focus your content around keywords and create custom metadata for your pages. These plugins will provide suggestions for improving content readability and content structure, keyword usage, and search engine preview.
Every site, regardless of the theme, needs a good security plugin. These plugins help prevent unauthorized access to your admin area, minimize brute force attacks, and protect your site from malware and hacking. Some of the top security plugins or solutions for WordPress include:
- iThemes Security
- All In One WP Security
Some web hosts also offer WordPress security plugins that work with their hosting solutions. SiteGround recently introduced the SiteGround Security plugin, which monitors login attempts, hides the WordPress login URL, and locks and protects systems folders.
Cloudflare also offers several robust security options.
Some page builder plugins will come with a form module. The builder plugin Elementor, for example, has a form module that will allow you to build multi-column forms with email notifications, connections to popular email marketing services, and other post-submission options very quickly.
It functions like a free-form plugin such as Ninja Forms or WPForms. But to access features such as conditional form fields and post-submission logic as well as payment fields and to be able to connect form submission data with other systems (whether through add-ons or a bridge such as Zapier), you'll need a plugin like Gravity Forms or the Pro version of WPForms.
Is Astra Pro Worth It
- Astra is a fantastic theme (both Free and Pro) for many users and business types.
- The premium version includes many customization options and is incredibly flexible, fast, and built for SEO, allowing users to create professional websites that can grow and scale quickly.
- For users of Elementor, Beaver Builder, or other page builders, Astra provides a clean, lightweight base on which to build. You can quickly look at Astra as something to install to have a theme installed, even if you intend to use the page builder's headers, footers, and templates.
- For users who intend to work with WordPress Gutenberg editor and utilize Astra's pro features, Astra can be a powerful customization tool for managing content and creating dynamic page content. It can be used to develop flexible mega menus and page-specific headers and footers.
- The extensive library of starter templates and the availability of Astra child themes from third-party developers allows the non-designer to design a pixel-perfect Astra website.
Astra Review Wrap-up
I hope this Astra WordPress theme review gave you all the answers you were looking for and helped you decide if you should grab the Astra Pro Theme or not. After using many WP themes, I can confidently say that Astra provides valuable and decent features to help a beginner create a stunning website using the Astra starter sites.
Even if you are still deciding to invest in Astra Pro, you can always download it for free and use the free Astra starter sites to create your demo site. Features like Beaver Builder, SEO optimization, multiple custom layouts, custom settings, and more make Astra better than most of the best WordPress themes.
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