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You might have heard about the Astra WordPress theme, but you’re undecided whether it’s the right fit for your next WordPress website. This mighty theme has garnered a lot of attention. In fact, it’s one of the most popular themes available: over 900,000 websites are using it, and it’s got an impressive five-star rating over 4109 reviews.
With stats like this, the developers behind Astra have delivered something special. But, does it live up to the hype? Certainly. So, what’s all the fuss about?
Well, quite a lot as it happens.
Astra is a WordPress theme focused on speed. It’s featherlight — coming in at just 50 KB while most themes require at least 330 KG— it’s lightning-fast and still somehow jam-packed with features to make any type of website. It’s also one of the most beginner-friendly and customizable free themes available.
This post takes a look at the bold claims and features which have made Astra so popular. I’ll walk you through how to create an Astra website with a starter template, and cover how to get the best out of it in terms of hosting, and whether you might benefit from a premium version.
The Brains behind Astra
Astra is a Brainstorm Force project. They’ve been in the WordPress game for over a decade and made a name for themselves building world-class products that are useful, reliable, and above all, usable for all levels of expertise. Brainstorm is made up of a passionate team of developers, designers, marketers, and more, that know the WordPress platform and how to deliver products its users need — and love.
With Astra, Brianstorm Force was on a mission:
“To help you, our valued customers to cut down your website development time by half and help you build awesome websites that perform for your business.”
The takeaway? Any website built with Astra is in safe hands. With that, let’s focus on why else you might consider Astra, over the other hundred thousand themes (and counting).
Also Read: How to Install a WordPress Theme
What’s Inside Astra?
Astra is penned as “the fastest, fully customizable & beautiful theme suitable for blogs, personal portfolios, and business websites” according to the developers.
It’s super lightweight. Astra websites should load in under .5 seconds. Another thing that distinguishes Astra from other themes is support for all of the most popular page builder plugins including Divi, Beaver Builder, and Elementor. It’s also fully compatible with WordPress’ content editor, Gutenberg.
If you don’t fancy creating a website from scratch, Astra has your back. The Astra Starter Sites let you import a full website design in one click. It’s the fastest way we’ve seen to build a professional, working website. These site templates take the mystery work out of modifying themes in WordPress.
Take your pick from designs catering for everything from portfolios, businesses, blogs, and more. And there’s many of them—over 70. The starter site templates for me are the biggest reason to use Astra. Beginner or no beginner, they are a huge time saver, albeit at the sacrifice of something 100% original.
That’s not all. When you use Astra you can expect:
- Full access to examine the theme’s code — it’s 100% open source
- E-commerce ready with WooCommerce — the most popular e-commerce plugin
- Plenty of Astra-compatible plugins to extend your website, for free
- SEO friendly markup to keep the search engines happy
- Translation-ready theme to create a multilingual website
- Exclusive time-saving features with the Astra Pro upgrade
How do these features translate to a full-blown site? For some real-life examples of websites using Astra, take a look at this showcase from WPDonuts.
Now you’ve got a rough idea what Astra is about, let’s begin the Astra theme review!
Astra Standout Features
I mentioned that the Astra Theme comes with a lot of features. In the following sections, we’ll explore them in closer detail.
Built for speed and performance
Let’s talk about website speed first. Right out of the box, Astra is one of the fastest themes available. It’s well-coded and despite all it’s features, it’s super lightweight.
Website performance studies consistently show that faster pages result in better conversion rates. Page speed is essential for all types of websites.
People care about slow loading pages. Slow pages lead to poor user experience, and when people encounter them, lose patience and leave, quickly. In fact, 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
Why would they bother sticking around? It’s not surprising that search engines aren’t interested in serving up slow pages.
Aside from the size of your WordPress site, the hosting you choose for your WordPress website plays a major role in its speed and performance. Among your options, I’d recommend going for a Managed WordPress hosting. This type is built to support WordPress sites. Today, EasyWP offers the fastest Managed WordPress hosting on the market, from as little as a dollar. Combined with Astra you’re looking at the most cost-effective and quickest solution for your WordPress website.
Ranks well in Google
All WordPress themes make bold claims about their search engine friendliness. Few can back them up with features that meet modern SEO standards.
I know that Google cares about page speed and that Astra is lightning fast. The Astra theme also benefits from Schema markup. Schema is a structured markup that helps search engines better understand what your website is about to display more relevant results to end-users. With Astra, Schema is added to each and every page on Astra websites by default.
Page builder integration
One of the biggest ‘plus’ points that makes Astra themes stand out for us is that it works well with WordPress, and many WordPress plugins. Specifically, it’s compatible with most major page builder plugins. It integrates beautifully with:
- Gutenberg — While not strictly a page-builder plugin, Astra works seamlessly with WordPress’ block editor
- Beaver Builder
The point of page builders is that you can customize to your heart’s content without having to write a single line of code. That said, if you’d be happy to run with Astra default theme, without a page builder, you can make customizations using its own powerful customizer features. And with the help of the Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg, you can create professional web pages as if they were built using page builders without actually using one.
Powerful starter sites
Astra Starter Sites is a plugin that comes with dozens of pre-built complete sites with designs catering for specific niches. Astra developers understand that building a site from scratch is a pain, noting that
“I believe creating beautiful websites should not be difficult or time-consuming. Why start from scratch when you have professionally designed sites just a click away?”
With these pre-built templates, you can begin customizing your site in a few clicks. Astra starter sites save a lot of time trying to work out how different elements create a complex layout. Instead, you can swap in your own images, and write over the demo content to build a professional-looking website in no time.
With some themes you get a single page temple. With Astra you get a fully-functional website with essential pages, plugins, and features. Web design with WordPress couldn’t be easier.
By offering these starter sites, Astra claims to offer the vastest library of pre-built WordPress website templates. You’re bound to find something to fit.
The starter site system requires you to use Beaver Builder, Elementor, WordPress editor Gutenberg (if you’re running WordPress 5.0 or higher , you have Gutenberg by default), or Divi. This is because each starter site design is created to work with one individually.
A beautiful design template isn’t all you get. When you install a starter site, you unlock the entire Pixabay image library for free from within your Media Library, saving time searching for good-quality, free, images.
If you’re heard enough already and think Astra is a good fit for your website and want to use it now. I’d suggest you download it now, without spending a cent, and follow the rest of the theme review.
Let’s get started using Astra.
Using Astra Starter Sites
We’re now going to download the Astra theme, choose a starter site template, and take a look at how you can begin to customize your new Astra website.
Install and activate
- First up, Install and activate the Astra theme from the WordPress Themes library
- Now it’s time to add a starter site as the basis for your website design. For that, you need to download the Starter Templates plugin.
- Once activated, you’ll find a new ‘Astra Sites’ menu in the Appearance menu. Navigate to Appearance -> Astra Sites.
- You are now presented with the option to choose which page builder you are using to build your site. Not many other themes on the market provide this option. Select a page builder to preview the Astra Starter Sites templates that work with it.For this example, I’ve selected Gutenberg.
Select your design
Select a design to open a preview. You can also browse between different pages to get a real sense of what the site can do, out-of-the-box.
If you’re not ready to add Astra yet, you can browse through the Astra Starter Sites page on the official Astra website for a list of all of the site designs currently available.
Once you find a design template you’d like to begin customizing, click “Import Complete Site”. It’s that easy. (Alternatively, you can ‘Import Home Template’.) For this demo, we’ll import the complete site.
Now, Astra will get to work on building your website.
Import your new website design template
You’ll know your starter site has imported successfully when you see a message “Hurray! The Website Imported Successfully!” as displayed below. Now, just hit the blue button to ‘View Site’ to open your new website.
On first impressions, my new website appears identical to the demo version. It’s quite remarkable, and a unique experience compared to downloading a theme and wondering how to make it look like the example versions.
Customization in Astra
Whether you’re working from an imported Starter Site, or you decide to design your site from scratch, you can access Astra’s setting from within the WordPress customizer.
Thanks to the WordPress visual theme customizer, you have full control to make your site look exactly how you want it to the fast and easy way, without any coding necessary.
As you can see in the screenshot, the customization options are neatly organized in sections including Sidebar, Header, Footer, Menus, and so on. The number of customization options in each of these sections is astounding.
For example, if you select header, you can play with the setting and choose from the following layout options:
As you make changes, you’ll instantly see those changes appear on the live preview of your site — for this example, I’ve gone with the e-commerce theme ‘BrandStore’. Here’s a preview of how it looks in the demo version.
In a few clicks, I’ve changed the text and added a new image.
If you upgrade to Astra Pro, you can extend the Astra theme further, and unlock a number of new features.
Extend Astra with Plugins
Thanks to some foresight from the team at Brainforce, there are some extra tools that play great with the Astra theme.
From your WordPress, Admin, Appearance, select Astra Options. Then, scroll down the page for the ‘Extend Astra with free Plugins’. Here you’ll find the following free plugins.
Many more free plugins specifically made for Astra can be found on WordPress.org. One notable example is WooCommerce, WordPress’s most popular e-commerce plugin.
If you need e-commerce functionality, Astra is a great option combined with the WooCommerce plugin. What’s more, if you offer downloadable products, Astra works seamlessly with the Easy Digital Downloads plugin too.
Support, Documentation, and Tutorials
No matter how good a product is, people will still run into problems, or have questions they need answering. There’s nothing more frustrating than starting out with a new theme and then finding that you struggle to set it up because the documentation is poor.
Fortunately, Brainstorm Force documentation is comprehensive. Their knowledgebase is huge and if that wasn’t enough, articles have annotated screenshots, and some have video tutorials. They also provide video documentation on their own YouTube channel.
It’s not possible to cover every feature in detail within a single review. Hopefully, you have a reasonable overview of what Astra has to offer and feel empowered to use this theme, understanding how easy and straightforward it is to customize and extend.
To close things out, let’s talk money.
Plans and Pricing
Astra itself is free and will remain so — now and forever. However, three premium plans make up the ‘Astra Pro’ series. All-Pro plans include the following exclusive features:
Among the three ‘Pro’ versions you get some more options and extended features, on a sliding scale. Whether or not you need these non-essential perks will help you decide whether Astra Pro is for you.
For peace of mind, paid plans are protected by a 14-day 100% money-back guarantee. This way you can try before you buy, and cancel, in case you decide the premium isn’t what you need.
Final Thoughts on Astra
Road-testing Astra was an eye-opener. Even for someone like me who is experienced in WordPress, the process of setting a website wasthat much smoother.
There’s no real learning curve to building a website when you take a pre-built starter site and swap in your own photos, logos, and content. Even less ‘learning’ is necessary when you handle customization with a page builder plugin. The fact that with Astra, you get both for free is pretty awesome.
I applaud the work that’s gone into Astra’s robust documentation and support channels. It’s no surprise this theme is ranked so well in the theme depository; if you do get stuck, help is at hand. With Astra, there’s no stopping anyone, whether technically-inclined or not, from creating something quite amazing.
It’s not just how a site looks that’s important. All things being equal, Google prioritizes sites that load the quickest.