MaxCDN Blog

Performance review of 10 popular WordPress themes

December 2, 2013

After reading Chris Lema’s post on Comparing Premium Sliders for WordPress by Performance, I was inspired to review some of my own. I took 9 of the most popular WordPress templates from ThemeForest, plus the default WordPress template “Twenty Thirteen”, and decided to compare their load times.

To normalize things, I made sure all themes were from the same category, and configured to display posts in “Blog” mode, with featured images enabled. Otherwise, all settings were left on their defaults.

Methodology (a la high-school science report):

At first I used a vanilla WordPress setup, without any plugins or server-side tweaks. This would get the baseline performance of an everyday website without any optimizations, which is (unfortunately) common for most blogs.

Next, I measured performance with a properly configured W3 Total Cache with server-side APC caching installed:

  • APC (Alternative PHP Cache)
    • Page Cache
    • Minify
    • Minify inline HTML+CSS
    • Database Cache
    • Object Cache
  • Browser Cache
    • Expires + Cache Control Headers
    • Gzip
    • Disable cookies for static files

And lastly, I enabled MaxCDN for all static sites in the Control Panel (which adds compression and ignores cookies):

The results speak for themselves: every site was sped up by at least 15%, with several by 50-80%.

The first round of caching, with just W3TC enabled, led to a giant improvement in load times. And what’s next? Even more caching. You can never have enough.

By using W3TC in combination with our CDN, we squeezed out an even bigger speed up. With HTTP Caching on the edge, we can offload static content from your server, reducing load and letting it server even more concurrent users.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the results:

Name Requests Total Size (KB) PLT* Requests w/ W3TC* PLT w/ W3TC PLT w/ W3TC + MaxCDN
Goodnews 152 1,259 10.696s 136 8.383s 6.294s
Continuum 71 4,894 11.453s 52 9.756s 9.058s
Sahifa 21 348 5.883s 19 3.263s 1.242s
Gonzo 38 4,766 12.630s 36 9.653s 8.612s
BigFeature 19 356 5.975s 15 3.353s 1.115s
SimpleMag 23 4,859 10.648s 15 9.222s 8.635s
Twenty Thirteen 24 1,029 5.587s 20 3.852s 3.097s
Avenue 40 4,943 10.657s 29 9.624s 8.912s
SwagMag 55 4,918 9.786s 38 8.904s 8.879s
ExtraNews 30 4,699 11.443s 27 10.106s 9.169s

* PLT = Page Load Time
* W3TC = W3 Total Cache

WordPress Theme Performance Chart

Summary Of Results

BigFeature was the fastest, with Sahifa a close second. The default Twenty Thirteen skin put in a solid showing for 3rd place.

Even a slow theme like Goodnews, with over 100 resources, becomes relatively fast compared to the unoptimized themes when you enable caching and compression. There’s really no reason not to.

An interesting note: although SwagMag and ExtraNews are almost identical in size, SwagMag is faster despite having 24 more requests. It seemed strange, so I repeated the tests, and the findings are correct.

Apparently, the difference in speed is due to the time to first byte. Apache takes longer to process ExtraNews because of its complex (bloated?) PHP. There’s a pretty UX in the dashboard, but it may not be worth the performance hit:

Having a fast-loading site is beautiful enough.

  • Jim Walker

    Thank you for the time in writing this.

    Can you share your “Expires + Cache Control Headers” with us please?

    • Dmitriy A.

      Hey Jim, thanks for your comment.
      I always set 31536000 seconds in W3TC for all static content.

  • Roman Firnkranz

    I’m missing Avada and Jupiter, the most recent popular WordPress themes ;)

    • jdorfman

      I am sure we will do a follow up post. Themes change pretty often to keep up with trends so that means more test! =)

  • Pushpendra Pal Singh

    Insight view about page speed.
    Please test page speed for Thesis, Genesis, WooThemes and Elegant Themes. These themes are most popular and I personally use them on my websites.

    • Dmitriy A.

      There is just too many themes out there. But we will try to include more in a future post.

  • Chris Ueland / MaxCDN

    Great post Dmitriy!

  • Vishnudath

    can you share all your w3tc settings with us ;) :)

  • Jesin

    Dmitriy you could’ve set Page Cache & Minify to disk enhanced, it gives better performance than APC because Apache serves static files stored on the disk and doesn’t touch PHP at all.

    • Dmitriy A.

      Disk caching is recommended for Shared Hosting. But in this case I believe APC is better. Storing in RAM is always faster than HDD.

      • Gary

        I was considering using APC for caching on our VPS, however my host said that it could cause problems if any of my wordpress plugins used zend optimization. Is this true? If any of my plugins did, I wouldn’t know how to look at the coding of them to see. I am also very much considering your company over Amazon Cloudfront. Thank you for your response and thoughts.