Published by on 10 June 2019 • 0 Comments

If I tell you Astra, what comes to mind?

Personally, it reminds me of a German car model, a satellite, or a Romanian football club (yes, I’m a sports addict).

More comical, but just as serious, I also discovered that the acronym Astra referred to the Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and Culture of the Romanian People.

Well, you probably don’t care about that last point – and I’m not offended.

You are interested in WordPress. Good thing, Astra is also a freemium theme of our famous and beloved CMS.

And not just any theme. It is one of the most popular in the themes directory.

Out of 1595 ratings submitted at the time of writing, 1571 gave it 5-stars!

Would it be the perfect theme, the one we dream of one day coming across, in order to adopt it for all our projects?

To find out, you will discover an ultra-detailed test of our specimen of the day.

To do this, I will use the same structure as for the article about GeneratePress.

I will focus in particular on Astra’s handling, its customization, its impact on performance and SEO, and its value for money.

What is Astra theme?

The flagship product of an innovative company

Astra is a freemium theme: it is available for free on the official WordPress directory.

Astra on the WordPress directory

If you want more options, you can get the premium version (starting at $59, or 53€). I will come back to all its specificities a little later, don’t worry.

With more than 200,000 active installations, this is one of the most popular free themes on the directory with:

All this success has been accumulated in just 2 years (Astra was launched in 2017): sounds crazy, right?

In general, Astra (aff) is the flagship product of Brainstorm Force, a team of about sixty people based in India.

This company also offers about fifty products, including:

Overall, Brainstorm Force has more than 10 years of experience, and its products are used on more than 2 million websites.

This solid presence within the global WordPress ecosystem is a guarantee of seriousness that is not to be underestimated.

If you choose the Astra theme, you should be quite comfortable with its updates and maintenance.

Now, let’s discover why Astra is so famous.

“Stylish, Lightning Fast & Easily Customizable”

The slogan is very catchy, and you should quickly see them appear on website’s homepage.

Here are the 3 main characteristics of this theme, which I will obviously develop throughout this post.

As the description of the theme states in its official directory page, Astra “is very lightweight (less than 50KB on frontend) and offers unparalleled speed”.

According to its designers, it loads in less than half a second. You will find out if this is true in Part 5 of this article.

In addition, its developers present it as:

  • An easy to customize theme, even without any knowledge of code
  • Made for page builders
  • Ready to use thanks to its pre-built websites library

I don’t know about you, but this is quite tempting to me.

It’s time to get down to business: discover Astra’s options.

Let’s start with its ease of use.

How easy is it to handle?

A clear interface

After activating the theme, a link entitled Astra Options appeared on your Dashboard, within the Appearance menu.

Once inside these options, you will discover several things:

  • Several links will allow you to be redirected to the Customizer settings : this is one of the key point of this theme.
  • You will discover that it is possible to activate 18 additional modules to customize your site. These modules are available in the Pro version, which you we will focus on in Part 3 of this test. Like GeneratePress, Astra uses a modular approach: you can choose to enable or disable the modules you are interested in at any time. This allows the user to optimize the performance of his website (it loads fewer resources). The developer can also add new modules over time, and thus improve his product.
  • To save time, you can import starter sites. These are ready-to-use templates that require the installation of the Astra Starter Sites plugin, listed in the directory. A simple click on the Install Importer Plugin link will activate it for you. Then, simply choose your page builder (Gutenberg, Brizy, Elementor or Beaver Builder), and it’ll suggest you some templates (nearly a hundred to create a blog, an ecommerce, business or freelancer website). Please note that some of these templates can only be activated if you have purchased one of the two premium Agency options (Mini Agency Bundle or Agency Bundle). It took me about 1 minute for the starter site to be installed. Here you are, with a website ready to use without having contributed to it! You can of course customize it as you wish. Note that there is a feature to delete all the settings of the demo later, if it no longer suits you. Good point, even if the option is not 100% effective. I had to manually remove the remaining logo and a social sharing plugin that was still lying around.
  • A link to the documentation (very well designed) is also available if you need a hand.
  • Finally, you will notice that it is possible to “extend” Astra with free plugins, such as Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg.

All the settings within the Customizer

You can find all the theme settings within the Customizer. That’s pretty cool: the theme is easy to setup and to use.

A look at Astra Customizer options

As you can see, there are typical customization options. You can customize the colors, the background, the typography, the widgets or your menus.

But there are still some small nuggets inside these options 😉 Here are the ones I liked best:

  • The ability to display your default container full width.
  • You can change the width of your logo, and choose a different logo for Retina and mobile devices.
  • A breadcrumb can be added inside/after the header, or just below the title of your content.
  • The Blog layout can be adjusted quite precisely: you can choose to display the author’s name, comments, publish date, etc. Everything is done by activating and deactivating these options, and by simply dragging and dropping
  • The buttons customization (theme & header), by choosing their radius, padding or color.
  • The possibility to add up to 4 widgets in the footer, then modify the copyright.
  • You can choose to display a sidebar on the right, left or not at all. It is also possible to do this as you wish on the pages and posts.
  • And finally, you can add a last item in your menu. For example, you can add a shopping cart if you use WooCommerce, or a call-to-action button, which is great from a marketing point of view.

If you decide to use it, you’ll appreciate the handling of Astra and the fact that you’re not drowned in the middle of hundreds of options.

But beyond some of the appreciable parameters mentioned above, you may feel a little restricted in terms of personalization.

To go further and enjoy all the power and flexibility of the theme, you’ll have to test the Premium version.

The theme customization: discover the premium modules

The Premium version of the theme, called Astra Pro, is actually a plugin that will add about twenty features to the basic theme.

You can get Astra Pro on the theme home page by clicking on the Pro tab.

Astra Pro

The initial offer starts at $59 for unlimited website use and one year of support.

Once you have purchased the plugin (it will be in zip format), install it and activate it on your Dashboard, via the Plugins menu.

Is everything OK with you?

So let’s keep going.

Returning to Appearance > Astra Options, you will notice that Pro modules are now available.

Astra pro modules

You have to activate them if you want to use them (this is not the case by default).

This is referred to as a modular structure. This prevents unwanted files and functions from being loaded.

Right now, I would like to draw your attention to two points:

  • Remember to activate your User License (Astra Pro License menu, at the top right of the page) to activate automatic updates.
  • The WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, LearnDash and LifterLMS modules can only work if you have previously activated the plugins/services stated above.

You can activate no less than 18 additional features.

Let’s review the most significant ones.

Blog Pro

To activate the module, click on the Activate button. Then go back to Appearance > Customize.

Then go to Layout > Blog.

Among the new features that appeared, compared to the free version of the theme, I liked:

  • The Author Info option, which allows you to add a small insert to introduce the author of the post in a few lines.
  • Auto-loading previous posts.
  • The ability to apply the width and height of your choice to your Featured Image.
  • The ability to customize the post content width.
  • The Grid layout : you can add up to 4 columns, and also enable a date box.
Blog Pro module

Spacing

At first glance, I didn’t really see the need for this module. But on closer inspection, it is actually very useful.

Thanks to it, you will be able to adjust the margin and padding of some key elements of your website such as :

  • The header
  • The sidebar
  • The footer
  • The container
  • The blog

So how does all this works? Just activate the module and go back to the Customizer, then click on Layout > Header, for instance.

If the module can work on the selected element, a Spacing section will have appeared.

It is then very simple to modify the spacing between your different elements, depending on the chosen device (computer, tablet or smartphone).

To manage the responsive design of a page, it’s great! Take a look below:

Spacing module in Astra theme

The last nice option that will appeal to the most experienced: you can choose spacing values in pixels, EM, or in percentage.

Header sections

After activating this module, you will see two new options appear on the Customizer, in Layout > Header :

  • Above header
  • Below header

These two features can be useful, for example, to add items above/below your header (e.g. email, phone number, links to your social networks, call to action button, search bar, widgets, new menu etc.).

In addition to the information that can be added, you can customize the size of the header, its border color, as well as choose whether or not you want to display it on smartphones.

Header section above header

Scroll to top

After activation, this module will display a “Scroll to top” icon to allow your visitors to quickly return to the top of a page without scrolling, if they want to do so.

This is especially useful for pages with a lot of content. To discover the available options, go to Layout > Scroll to top.

You will see you can:

  • Display the icon on desktop, mobile or desktop + mobile.
  • Choose its position (right or left).
  • Customize its size and background radius by entering the values of your choice.
  • Define the icon colors and its background, also on hover.
Scroll top top

White label

The White Label module allows you to rename the theme and the plugins associated with it by giving it the name of your company/brand.

This can be useful if you are a freelancer or an agency and you create websites for your customers.

You can replace the name of the plugin and theme with the information of your choice so that your customer does not know that you have used a third-party solution, if they access the back office.

After that, there will be no trace of the Astra brand on your site.

First enter the desired details on the Settings page. Once you’re OK, click on Save Changes.

Astra theme white label settings

And for instance, here is the result on the plugins page (in Appearance > Themes):

White label plugin

Footer Widgets

This module adds 6 additional layouts to the ones in the free version, and lets you add the widgets of your choice to your footer.

For example, you can add WordPress default widgets such as a menu, your latest posts, an image, or custom HTML.

In terms of customization options, the module allows you to:

  • Choose a structure with up to 5 columns.
  • Adjust the internal margin, create a border and change the color.
  • Arrange widgets in full width, or not.

You will find all these settings on the Customizer, in Layout> Footer> Footer Widgets.

Footer widgets module

The Nav Menu module allows you to create what is called a Mega menu.

Mega menus are very often found on large e-commerce sites, because they allow the user to easily show the different categories of products sold on the site in question.

If you have just a few topics on your website, no need to create a mega menu (often criticized from an SEO point of view).

However, if you think you absolutely need it, the Astra theme will allow you to create one, by going to Appearance > Menus.

You will now be able to create columns, add custom text to highlight certain links, or add a template to display a background image.

Page headers

As its name suggests, the Page Headers module gives you the option to create a page header.

An image is often worth 1000 words – and here is a demonstration:

L'en-tête de page sur Astra

In particular, you will be able to:

  • Add breadcrumbs and a background image.
  • Change the colors.
  • Integrate a parallax effect.
  • Merge your custom header with your site header.
  • Apply specific display rules to the pages of your choice.

Custom Layouts

The Custom Layouts module allows you to add the following specific elements:

  • Header
  • Footer
  • 404 Page
  • Hooks

This is a fairly advanced option, with which you will be able to create custom sections, applying the display rules of your choice, if necessary.

But let’s move on to the examples. The 404 Page option will allow you to create a custom 404 page by disabling the Primary header, or the footer.

Custom layout settings 404 page

The Header and Footer options let you create these custom sections and display them only on the pages of your choice, thanks to precise display and/or exclusion rules.

Finally, even if it remains technical, you can enjoy the power of the hooks on Astra, if you are interested in it closely. I advise you to do so.

The Hooks option allows you to add code snippets on about 50 different locations.

Custom layout hooks

An example of how to use hooks? For example, you can use the one named wp_head to add your Google Analytics tracking code.

To see where your hooks are located, you can have a look at this resource.

Note: If you do not wish to use the Pro version of Astra and use the hooks, you can use the Astra Hooks plugin, available for free in the official directory. However, it will not allow you to apply conditional display rules.

WooCommerce

The WooCommerce module helps you extend the customization options of the famous ecommerce plugin.

First, remember: you must have activated WooCommerce on your site.

You will then find all the settings available in Layout > WooCommerce.

Among the notable options are:

  • The display of your products in grid or list view, with the option of aligning them on several columns.
  • The customization of the checkout page, with, for example, the presence of a distraction free checkout (the header and footer are disabled when the user is about to pay).
  • Galleries to display different images of your products.
  • Color management for titles, notations, texts, buttons, prices etc.
  • The possibility to add the Shopping Cart icon wherever you want on your site thanks to a shortcode.

Other types of integration

As for WooCommerce, Astra Pro has 3 modules to extend the customization options of 3 plugins/solutions:

The other modules

Without going into so much detail, know that other modules can help you:

  • Create a sticky menu. This is a menu that remains stuck at the top of the screen, even when the user scrolls through the page. You can also change the width of this sticky menu.
  • Customize the layout of your content with 4 options (Full width, Max width, Padded and Fluid), contained in the Site Layouts module.
  • Create a Mobile Header, adding 4 styles to display your menu: dropdown, flyout, fullscreen, and no toggle.
  • Fine tune the colors and background (e. g. you can choose a color for each hn (h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6).
  • Choose the font of your choice and adjust its weight, size and line height for each element of your site (body, header, breadcrumbs, buttons, titles, widgets, footer). This is the Typography module.

And that’s it for this complete tour of the different modules offered by the Astra theme.

Happy animal

Without transition, I suggest that you move on to the next step in our test: Astra theme support for page builders and plugins.

What about the support for page builders and plugins?

Astra clearly highlights this on its website: the theme is “made for page builders”.

First, as noted earlier in this test, Astra Starter Sites were specifically created to work with Elementor, Beaver Builder and Brizy (not to mention Gutenberg, who is not a page builder per say).

Elementor and Beaver Builder are the two “favorite” builders of the theme. Elementor CEO Ben Pines, recommends Astra to all Elementor users.

I was able to test the theme with the two builders mentioned above – and there’s nothing to complain about.

The theme lets you completely control the structure of your page, which makes it very convenient to use with a page builder. For example, you can:

  • Choose to display your content full width (this is not possible with all themes, and it is just essential).
  • Disable your sidebar.
  • Disable elements that you do not use (e.g. footer, header, navigation menu).
  • Disable your page title.
Astra settings Gutenberg

But what happens if you have another favorite builder than Elementor or Beaver Builder?

Will it integrate properly into Astra? According to the creators of the theme, Astra would be compatible with all page builders, including Divi, Thrive Architect and Visual Composer.

I could not check individually, but if you have encountered any concerns or incompatibility issues, please let us know in the comments.

Astra theme and plugins

After the page builders, let’s move on to the plugins. One of the webmaster’s “fears” is the compatibility of the theme he activated with the plugins he will use.

Because if you have a problem, your site may crash. And that’s not funny to anyone.

Un enfant dit non

If this happens to you one day, don’t panic. Before calling the Emergency Department, go to our guide to fix major WordPress errors.

No one is immune from error, even when applying best practices. However, no major plugin incompatibility has to be noted regarding the Astra theme.

Regarding plugins, Astra also has its own specificity. To add new features to the theme, it recommends 9 free plugins, all created by Brainstorm Force.

You will find them in Appearance > Astra Options.

Plugins Astra

The idea is the same as for the Modules: you enable/disable them as you want.

Suggesting extra plugins to activate adds a little misunderstanding: why not create additional modules for the plugins dedicated to Astra?

But it still keeps the theme as light as possible, which is a good point.

To me, Lightweight Sidebar Manager is quite useful: it enables you to display different sidebars on different website pages.

And if you use Gutenberg, you’ll appreciate Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg, a block library.

Speaking of Gutenberg, let’s move on to the next part.

Astra theme and Gutenberg

Too many themes on famous sales platforms such as Themeforest pretend they are compatible with Gutenberg, the content editor that appeared with version 5.0 of WordPress, at the end of 2018.

But when you dig a little deeper, you realize that they are still a long way off.

But Astra is compatible with Gutenberg, and integrates perfectly with it.

An example? The famous Starter Sites, which I have told you about several times throughout this post.

14 ready-to-use models are available and work very well with Gutenberg.

Starter sites d'Astra pour Gutenberg

Among the interesting features of Astra with Gutenberg, I could also mention you:

  • The ability to adjust the width of your content from Gutenberg.
  • The application of the theme’s color and background settings transcribed on Gutenberg when editing a page or post.
  • The application of your settings initiated from the Customizer within Gutenberg.

What impact on user experience for a site using Astra?

Influence on site performance

Small flashback to start this section. Stylish, Lightning Fast & Easily Customizable”: do you remember the theme’s value proposition, detailed at the beginning of this post?

Regarding customization and style (design), you already have a good overview, I hope so 😉

It is time to look at the performance of this so-called ultra-fast theme.

So, according to you: deserved reputation, or total bluster?

Une femme remet ses lunettes

To answer this, let’s start by recontextualizing.

Having a quick theme is very important, and not just to brag at dinners with your friends.

Did you know that to rank a page in its search engine, Google used more than 200 criteria?

Among them, there is the speed of your page. It is therefore crucial that it loads quickly (Google recommends a page load time of less than 3 seconds on smartphones).

If you choose Astra, you should do quite well. It is said to be “the most lightweight theme available in the market and offers unmatched performance”.

More technically, know that Astra does not use jQuery (a JavaScript library), and prefers Vanilla JavaScript, a JavaScript framework known for its speed.

In addition, Astra claims:

  • To load “in less than 0.5 seconds with default WordPress data”.
  • Require less than 50KB of resources to load, whereas most of the other WordPress themes require at least 300 KBs.

In order to verify the accuracy of these statements, I run a series of tests.

Here’s how I did it:

  • Testing services used:
    • WebPageTest (using Paris as location each time) using the “fully loaded” criterion (when the site is fully loaded, including external scripts and applications);
    • Pingdom Tools (each time using London as a location).
  • Test site hosted on a shared o2switch server.
  • I didn’t activate any plugins and Astra Pro was not installed.
  • I compared Astra to another popular free theme (Sydney, 200,000 active installations) from the official WordPress directory.

Test on WebPageTest with Astra enabled: page load time of 1,040s (fully loaded) :

Test on WebPageTest with Sydney enabled: page load time of 2,237s (fully loaded) :

Sydney Webpagetest

Test on Pingdom Tools with Astra enabled: 492ms page load time

Astra Pingdom Tools

Test on Pingdom Tools with Sydney enabled: page load time of 2.03s

Sydney Pingdom Tools

In conclusion, we can confirm that Astra is indeed a “lightning fast” theme. It loads around a second (492ms on Pingdom, 1,040s on WebPageTest) and remains much more efficient than its competitor Sydney (2 to 4 times more efficient).

He is rather close to GeneratePress.

In addition, the Astra theme sends fewer requests, and the size of the page remains very light with it (33.9 KB compared to … 473.5 KB for Sydney). I would like to point out that the content was exactly the same for both themes.

On the other hand, the results we have observed are a little less “good” than those announced on the theme website:

Les indicateurs de la vitesse d'Astra

NB: The above results provide a first overview, but cannot be considered as a final and definitive judgment. You may have different data at home, depending on your web hosting provider, or the plugins you use.

Impact on SEO

To begin with, Astra uses valid HTML code, which will make it easy to search engines to come and browse your site to index it.

Astra also uses structured Schema.org data on each page of your site.

This is an HTML tagging method that helps Google understand what type of content you have.

Le balisage Schema.org sur Astra theme

On this subject, you can even go even further by using their Schema Pro plugin.

Finally, another interesting option from an SEO point of view: the breadcrumb. Astra offers you the possibility to add a breadcrumb inside/after the header, or just after the title of your content.

As a reminder, a breadcrumb help your visitors understand where they are, and navigate more easily on your site. They can also have a beneficial impact on your SEO.

Responsiveness

Having a responsive site is essential in 2019, for several reasons such as:

  • The user experience of your visitors. There is a 61% higher chance that they will leave your site and go see elsewhere if they do not find what they are looking for on your pages.
  • Your SEO. Since March 2018, Google has implemented what is called mobile-first indexing. This means that Google mainly uses the mobile version of your site for indexing and ranking your pages in the results of its search engine.

So, is our dear Astra theme responsive?

If you’re having fun reducing your browser window on one of their demos (Starter Sites), everything seems to work like clockwork.

But to be sure, we used an even more reliable test: Google’s mobile friendly test.

And the result was convincing:

Test du responsive d'Astra sur Google

No obstacles in sight. So we can move on to the next step in our test: Astra pricing.

Pricing

First of all, as you now know, you can use the theme’s free version by installing it directly from your Dashboard.

If you wish to use – in particular – the Premium modules presented above, you will need to purchase one of the 3 Pro versions :

  • Astra Pro: This is the version used in this article, sold for $59/year.
  • Mini Agency Bundle ($169/year).
  • Bundle Agency ($249/year).
Les prix du thème Astra

The entry-level package (Astra Pro) should be enough for you, especially if you don’t need additional ready-to-use site templates and if you are not interested in the other products offered by Brainstorm Force (Ultimate addons for Beaver Builder and Elementor, as well as their other in-house plugins).

Coupled with the page builder of your choice, Astra Pro will give you excellent results.

If you can, and if Brainstorm Force products attract you, go for one of the two Agency plans (Mini Agency Bundle or Agency Bundle).

Note that each plan allows the use of the theme on an unlimited number of sites and includes one year of support (with a 20% discount on each plan at the annual renewal).

Regarding this last point, I have dealt with them several times by asking them questions about the Ultimate addons for Beaver Builder plugin, which I use. I got an answer in less than 24 hours and my problems were fixed.

Finally, if you are confident and want to make Astra theme your number one work tool, don’t hesitate: go for a Lifetime License.

Astra Pro will then be offered at $249 , Mini Agency Bundle at $499 and Agency Bundle at $699.

And compared to the competing solutions on the market?

  • Themeforest: Most of the themes sold on the platform cost on average around $59. They are not always usable on an unlimited number of sites and include 6 months of support.
  • OceanWP: this ultra-popular theme costs $129 in its premium version, for an unlimited website usage.
  • GeneratePress: it will cost you $49.95 for an unlimited website usage.
  • Genesis: the framework itself costs $59.95 but you will have to buy a child theme (generally the price is around $129.95 for both). However, support and updates are included lifetime and you don’t have to renew your theme.

Our final opinion

Astra’s strengths

  • An easy to use theme, as promised. We appreciate the presence of the settings in the same place, directly on the Customizer.
  • A powerful theme. Yes, Astra is really lightning fast and the modular approach (you only enable/disable the options you need) is a real plus.
  • The presence of about a hundred ready-to-use site designs to activate in 1 click (the famous Starter Sites). In short: Astra contains about a hundred themes in one!
  • A very efficient and responsive support. There is also a Facebook group dedicated to the theme, with nearly 8,000 members to help you.
  • The documentation is clear and well designed.
  • A perfect integration with WooCommerce.
  • The presence of an option to purchase the theme via a Lifetime License, allowing you to make “savings” in the long term.
  • A theme that is regularly updated and properly maintained. Brainstorm Force has been in business for 10 years and remains a solid company with continuous growth. A cool guarantee for the user.
  • A SEO-optimized theme.
  • A clean code that respects WordPress standards.
  • The theme also focuses on accessibility by following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

Astra’s areas of improvement

  • Starter Sites are very useful to install a site from A to Z in a few clicks. However, they only work with some page builders (Elementor, Beaver Builder and Brizy). If you are used to using another builder, it will take some time to adapt to a new page builder.
  • The feature to delete all the settings of a Starter Site (to reset in some way) is not 100% effective. I had to manually remove the remaining logo and a social sharing plugin that were still around.
  • We can also regret the lack of Starter Sites if you want to create a blog. Without subscribing to on of the Agency plans, you can only have two of them – only via Gutenberg . Too bad, as WordPress is basically a tool designed to create blogs.
  • Even if the distinction between free plugins and modules on the Dashboard is well split in two, we got lost at first when we discovered the theme. Do I need to activate a module? Or rather a plugin?

Who is Astra for?

  • Novice site creators will appreciate its ease of use. All settings can be found within the Customizer. And for those who don’t know how to code at all or are in a hurry, it must be said that Starter Sites are a breeze! For this kind of user, one of the Premium versions seems more appropriate to me (Astra Pro, for example), especially because you will benefit from many more customization options and support from the theme creators.
  • More experienced users will appreciate the presence of many hooks, as well as the presence of code snippets to modify some parameters. Another useful option, if you are a freelance website designer or an agency: the presence of the White Label module, in the Premium version, to adapt your branding to the theme. If you have a basic code knowledge and/or are used to working with a page builder, the free version will probably be sufficient. In particular, you can use it as a starter theme on which to build your site.

Conclusion

In the end, I find Astra a very pleasant theme to use. It’s true that it is:

  • easily customizable.
  • stylish.
  • lightning fast.

Nevertheless, in the same category, and even if it remains very subjective, I prefer GeneratePress, which I found even more accessible and simple to use, although with fewer options.

But in the end, the two themes are really very similar in terms of quality.

To get Astra, go to the official website via the button below (aff).

Astra’s official website

From now on, it’s up to you. I would very much like to hear your point of view.

What do you think of Astra? Are you an experienced user or do you plan to test it after reading our post?