I learned for myself last year, just how much a wordpress theme can slow down your website. But it’s a hard thing to say to others. I teach it as part of my Website Speed course, but I always see the disbelief in my clients eyes. Plus, people are stubborn. Nobody really likes change and nobody really wants to put in the effort to change their website theme.
If you designed the site yourself, you put in your own blood sweat and tears to learn how that theme builder works. It’s hard to change and learn something new, even if learning that new way is actually pretty easy.
So, I thought I’d set up a very simple test. A clean WordPress install. Then add different themes to it and try and measure the bloat of each theme. It’s not in-depth. It’s not ultra scientific. But it’s pretty clear from my results so far, just how much a theme will cripple your websites speed, right out of the box!
Clean WordPress Install – Twenty Twenty One Theme
Interesting. Clean WordPress scores 100 out of the box, on PageSpeed Insights. But also interesting, is that the Largest contentful paint, which is the block of text starting “welcome to WordPress” is already hitting 1.2 seconds to load. And PSI is already saying it could be faster, by removing a bit of unused CSS.
Out of interest, I tried adding Asset Cleanup plugin. Ticking a few boxes in there to remove the Emojis, Embeds and Dashicons, increased the LCP score to 1.1 seconds. I turned off Asset Cleanup for all other tests. As I wanted as clean an install setup as I could get.
Clean WordPress + Kadence Theme
Clean Install of the Kadence theme. My current favourite theme. I started using it for my main website Tansley Photography back in November last year, after discovering how much faster it was compared to ProPhoto 7, which I’d used for years and couldn’t get to go any faster. Even with countless tweaks behind the scenes. ]
100 again! I love Kadence. It has added absolutely nothing negative to the scores. Its a fantastic theme.
Clean WordPress + Divi Theme & Builder
A friend loaned me a copy of Divi, just so I could perform this test. This is a clean install of the Divi Theme and the builder. It comes as a package, which is (I imagine) what most Divi users upload. Score – 81. Oh dear. Divi has already knocked 19 points off the 100 score. That indicates, that before you even start loading up any content, you’re already fighting a losing battle. It’s introduced some render blocking scripts, which is probably one of the biggest issues. Now, with some tweaking, you may be able to improve that a little. But it’s not good, if you’re already fighting a battle against speed, when the Theme should not be getting in your way. Kadence remember – adds nothing!
Clean WordPress + ProPhoto 7
I still own a copy of ProPhoto 7. I’ve started using PP4 theme in April 2012 and spent many happy years designing with it. Their support team was also excellent over the years. Before WordPress created Gutenberg Blocks, then Kadence came out with Kadence Blocks plugin, which allows you to tweak the WordPress blocks, then PP7 was still brilliant. But now? I’m sorry, but it’s gotten left behind. Score 71. I had to create a new Home Page for this to work, as PP7 takes over the design so much, I couldn’t just get the default WordPress page to load. But the page I created has nothing on it, apart from the words WordPress Theme Test and a line of the default PP7 footer. 29 points lost, just installing a slow theme. Not good at all.
Again, there are some things that one could possibly improve. PP7 has built in caching for example, but for most sites, you are probably going to use an external caching plugin anyway, so it’s irrelevant in this test. There are no caching plugins used on any of the other tests here.
Clean WordPress + Flothemes
Flothemes scored 90. I’m amazed. I thought Flo would do far worse than this. My suspicion is that the basic install isn’t using some of the really heavy blocking stuff that comes later when you start adding content to the page. So, as there is only one block of content, it’s actually showing a better score than I expected.
I may have to run a 2nd test on all them, with perhaps a Logo at the top, menu and maybe one large image to see how they all compare.
Test Two – Speed of a Simple Page
This time round, I’ve added a Logo image, a menu and a large image. Typical of what many photographers would have on their home page. Lets see how the themes do with this. I’ve not bothered to style them all up to look identical. I’ve tried to keep the tweaking to a minimum.
Simple Page – Twenty Twenty One Theme
Score 97 – by adding a logo and large image to the site. There’s a tiny amount of layout shift, as I had to add some blank text lines, to get the footer off the bottom of the page.
Simple Page – Kadence
Score 97 – by adding a logo and large image to the site. Again, Kadence adds nothing more, than the base Twenty Twenty One theme adds. Which is fantastic.
Simple Page – Divi
Score 74 – Oh dear Divi. You’re really not faring well in these tests. What a lot of bloat you add.
Simple Page – ProPhoto 7
Score 69 – ProPhoto my old friend. You are the worst of the bunch I’m afraid. Just too much code added to every page.
Simple Page – Flothemes Mono
Score 82 – Again, Flothemes surprises me. I’ve worked with a few people who use Flo, trying to speed up their websites and they generally struggle. Perhaps, once you start adding things like sliders, things might get worse. As this test page is only using a logo, menu and one image, it’s not having to use much coding to move things around. Whereas, each of these themes will have its own slider version to use and that could cause a bigger slowdown for Flo – but the same will apply to ProPhoto and Divi. The Kadence slider is very lightweight, I use it on the homepage of my photo website and that has a 99 score.
The test site is hosted on Krystal UK. I created a new site on my Ruby package. But I’m pretty sure the results would have been extremely similar even on their Amethyst package. The TTFB score from Amethyst are amazing, well under 50ms, same as Ruby scores.
This site is hosted on Krystal. Use this link to get a £50 a year server that runs like a rocket.