Astra WordPress Theme Review (Are page builders obsolete?)

Astra Theme

In order to test the Astra theme, I had to install it onto one of my sites.

Upon installing it, my PageSpeed scores jumped 10 points.

We’re off to a good start here, folks.

Table of Contents

PageSpeed?

pagespeed astra theme

If you haven’t heard, page load speed is quite important with the recent Google algorithm update.

It’s tough. We had to grind to get our speeds up.

We lazy load images. We ensure all images are small. We defer CSS and JavaScript.

Ultimately, though, you won’t get it right unless your blog is built on a solid basis.

The theme is pretty important in this regard.

Astra is good because it avoids jQuery (yuck).

jQuery sucks. I am glad it’s going out of fashion in 2021. jQuery is the equivalent of bringing a printed dictionary just to check a few words.

Astra says the theme will load in less than half a second and has a low payload of less than 50KB.

Starter sites

astra starter theme

If you look at Astra’s portfolio of websites, you’ll notice that they are all fancy corporate websites.

In order to install one of the 150 starter templates, you have to install a plugin that will allow you to import a demo site.

These starter sites help you get a website up really quickly if you like the templates and if you just want to replace specific elements rather than re-do the pages.

The starter templates differ based on the page builder you’re using. If you use the Elementor plugin, you’d get a different set of templates as compared to Beaver Builder (or Brizy).

The plugin also has a feature to use plain old Gutenberg.

Most templates, regardless of page builder, do follow a layout pattern: navigation bar, hero, cards, icons.

This is especially true with the Gutenberg-based layout designs. They strictly follow the confines of Gutenberg’s column system.

astra starter template elementor

However, if you have a page builder like Elementor or Beaver Builder, you can realize more complicated designs such as images overlaid on headings, or overlapping photos.

I’d say this is very impressive.

Building from scratch

WordPress is popular for non-blogging purposes even though it started as a blogging platform.

Elementor, Beaver Builder or any other website can help you build professional no-code websites.

But the problem is that they are prone to breaking and they are slow. The latter is particularly important in this day and age because of the latest Google algorithm update.

The Gutenberg update has really brought a lot of features into WordPress’s fold. For example, columns make it easier to create a grid layout.

But one thing that hasn’t been possible is modifying the header and footer without going to into the PHP files.

astra header customizer

Astra allows you to modify the header by dragging and dropping elements.

In the Customize menu, you can choose Astra Options and Header. You are then presented with a grid where you can drop or move your header elements into.

This means you can put a logo on the left, centre or right. You can also put menus and buttons on the header.

It’s the same system with the footer builder. You can add widgets and copyright text among other things and rearrange them according to your preference.

Now, this isn’t as powerful as modifying the header.php or footer.php files, but for most people, being able to drag and drop a layout is just plain convenient and easy.

Modifying styles

Say you have an established brand and you need to follow the colour schemes and official fonts.

Astra makes it easy by allowing you to change colours, fonts, layout (full width vs limited width).

This is GREAT because you no longer have to write custom CSS which can take a lot of fact finding and trial and error.

These are only the basics…

astra pro modules

If you have Astra Pro, you’ll find even more ways to enhance your WordPress website.

There’s no difference between the Astra theme whether pro or free. However, Astra Pro allows you to download a few modules to further modify colours, background, typography, create a sticky header, customize layouts and add a scroll to top button, among other things (like integrating into WooCommerce or some learning management system).

These plugins make your life a lot easier. If you know what it’s like programming a scroll to top button or a sticky header, you’ll know that it isn’t very hard, but if there were a way to create a custom layout in just one click, you’d take it.

I’m a blogger, should I use Astra?

Infinite scroll

All right. If your main source of income is blogging, then you’d probably be very keen to have your readers stay on your posts for as long as possible.

We found Astra Pro’s blog plugin to be very useful in this regard because of the ability to enable infinite scroll with just a few clicks.

Infinite scroll really has increased our time on page for our readers.

I mean have you ever been on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit? Wonder why they’re so addictive?

Because there’s no end to the content they can generate.

If you have a lot of posts that your readers could enjoy, infinite scroll might be a win-win.

Note that infinite scroll only works on the main blog list page, but not on the post’s page.

Enabling related post

astra enable related posts

One setting that I thought was a great feature is the ability to check a box called “Enable Related Posts”.

This injects a container with related posts at the bottom of your blog post.

This is really helpful in helping you increase your readers’ engagement by helping you do automatic internal linking.

You can modify the number of posts and the type of posts that Astra generates through changing the parameters of Posts Query.

This allows you to display posts based on categories, tags and how they’re ordered.

Cosmetic touch-ups

On every blog post, you have a bunch of customization options that allow you to pick the meta that you’d like displayed. Among other options are whether you want the featured image, read time and publish date.

Installing the Astra Pro plugin

astra pro download

Astra is amazing and all, but I just need to vent about the plugin installation.

When you think of installing a plugin, do you ever think of logging in, finding a ZIP file to download and then uploading it through the plugin section of WordPress?

No. You’d think it’s all available on the WordPress repository of plugins, accessed through the WordPress dashboard.

Unfortunately, while Astra makes everything easy, this is one of the most annoying parts about upgrading to Astra Pro.

I hazard to say that this can make Astra rather confusing for less technologically inclined folks.

Verdict

There’s a reason why we’ve moved all our sites to the Astra Pro theme.

The plugin is just amazing. Even with the free version of the Astra WordPress theme, I’m finding it so much better than any equivalent theme with the same kind of look.

The starter template offerings are also equally amazing for people who want to get a site up quickly, beautifully and in a no-code sort of way. The theme authors really have made a lot of effort to make their offerings outstanding.

The options you get in the Customizer get close to the quality of a theme builder, especially if you pair it up with a page builder plugin, and go beyond the free theme offerings.

It’s an awesome WordPress plugin. Paired with its Ultimate Addons Gutenberg blocks, you’ll be in the business of creating beautiful websites in record time with a high level of control.

Finally, I’d say the most important part for SEO is the fact that the Astra theme is very efficient from a PageSpeed point of view. This is great.

Astra helps you with PageSpeed (through being fast) and then it extends your readers’ time on page with its excellent internal linking features.

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