With well over 10,000 themes available for wordpress, it’s hard to claim that you have found the best of them all. In this review, I will discuss the Astra theme, which I believe to currently hold a top 10 spot in the incredible standing of WordPress themes.
Like everything on Income Mesh, I’d like to do this orderly, so in this post we will discuss:
Aah, isn’t structure just so relaxing and comforting? Like a nice comforting blanket of logic and reason… All we need is a cup of hot chocolate, and life would be complete for this overly-analytical engineer.
And with that, let’s begin.
The Team Behind WP Astra Theme
The Astra theme is the freemium theme offered by Brainstorm Force.
This is no mom and pop shop of a development team, boasting some impressive credentials:
- The team behind Astra has 9 years in business
- With 45 team members
- Over 200,000 product downloads
- And over 5,500 5 star ratings for their work
This is an impressive lineup of talent for sure, and it is rare that there would be full access to a free product by a team like this.
But that’s exactly how Brainstorm Force gets new raving fans into their ecosystem: They delight users with their free products like WP Astra Theme.
So What Exactly Is WP Astra
The Astra theme is a free theme available in the WordPress repository. Simply search Astra in your dashboard and you can download it in seconds:
At the time of this writing, the free Astra theme is on version 1.6.4, and has 1,186 5 star reviews on WordPress… that’s some serious credentials.
What is a Freemium WordPress Theme?
Earlier I called Astra a freemium theme. What is that?
Astra allows you to install a free version of their theme for as long as you want. And many users will be just happy with this theme as is.
But they offer additional functionality in their Astra Pro addon, which can be purchased as an upgrade.
Benefits of the Freemium WordPress Theme Model
It is extremely smart for Brainstorm Force to adopt a freemium model. Here are a few reasons why:
- Most users struggle to find a quality, well-supported free theme when they are first starting out.
- Because of this, new bloggers will often have to change themes repeatedly as they outgrow the themes they found for free.
- The Freemium model enables users to grow over time entirely within the Astra family, which reduces the amount of headache of learning new tools every time you upgrade.
- And because there is a paid version of the Astra theme, even the free users can rest assured that their theme will be maintained and kept current over time.
- This model attracts a ton of new users into WP Astra which is great for everyone!
OK, so now you have a good idea of what the Astra theme is, but you may still not be convinced why you should give it a try. Let’s address that next!
10 Reasons Why Astra is the best Free WordPress Theme
Already I have mentioned a few reasons why Astra is a great WordPress theme, but let’s add some (ahem) structure to the list of reasons why I recommend Astra so much:
#1: Astra is Free to Install
This one is pretty self explanatory, but it’s a huge benefit to be able to load up a brand new site in WordPress and instantly load one of the best themes available in just a couple of clicks. It’s also a big benefit if you want to build websites for clients one day!
#2: Astra Loads in Half a Second
This quote comes directly from Astra’s features page, but let’s be clear here: there are a ton of factors that impact page loading speed.
The most important of these is your web host provider, and if you have compressed and optimized your images.
But your theme can definitely slow down your website if it is not optimized, and that’s where Astra has you completely covered!
#3: Custom Layouts for Pages and Posts
Plenty of layout customizations to give your pages and posts that perfect look
This is a feature that is normally reserved for premium themes, and it is so awesome to be included in the free version of Astra.
Do you want to have your side bar on MOST of your blog posts, but have a few select posts that go full width? No problem!
Want to put your sidebar on the left for your about me page, but on the right on your resources page? You can do that (not sure why you’d want to though!)
Want to hide your header on a special landing page? Tick one box and it’s done.
Super simple and practical.
#4: Astra Makes it Simple to Customize your Headers
Customize the look of your headers visually
Some themes make it so tricky to get your header to look the way you want. And most free themes overlook this completely.
Astra makes it dead simple to move your logo from right to left, to show or hide your menu, and more in the visual customizer.
The pro feature set allows you to do even more with your header (we will cover this in a minute!)
#5: Easily Customize Footer Widgets with Astra
And of course Footers are just as easy to customize
Your footer is an often overlooked part of your website, but it shouldn’t be!
it’s the perfect place for people to find out more about you, and place your most important resources (this makes sure they show up on every page!)
You can easily convert your footer from being a boring old “Copyright” section to being a dynamic 4 column widget area with the free version of Astra.
You get additional layout options if you upgrade to pro.
#6: Beautiful Google Fonts
You can select from hundreds of Google Fonts for your free Astra blog
This is an easy area to get lost in! I know I have spent a few hours playing with different font pairs, but just find a combo that works for you and go for it!
#7: Ready for WooCommerce
If you ever want to sell something online (hint: you do!), then you want to make sure your theme has native support for WooCommerce.
Luckily, Astra has it, and gives you plenty of customization options for your store when you’re ready to launch it!
Here is a quick tutorial that shows you exactly how to set up a WooCommerce shop using Astra and Brizy (both free options) in under 30 minutes. It doesn’t get much easier than this!
#8: Ready for Schema
Schema helps your blog posts stand out on Google
Schema is a bit of an advanced topic that we won’t cover in this post, but it’s good to know that Astra was specifically designed ready to be optimized for it!
#9: Astra Sites – A Total Game Changer
Building websites is a lot of work! Home page… about page… contact page… ugh! Who has time for that?
Astra has made installing a complete working website with all the necessary pages push-button easy!
Check out how easy it is:
- Install Astra Sites Plugin (also free)
- Find the perfect site in their list of 20+ free options (more for pro members). Astra currently supports Elementor, Beaver Builder, Gutenberg, and Brizy sites
- Click Import
- Customize your brand new professional website!
If you want to design websites for clients, this is a HUGE efficiency gain for you, as Astra has tons of templates in every industry.
Click here to download a huge image that shows every single type of demo you can create!
#10: Works With Any Page Builder
Although the Astra Sites are specifically designed for Elementor or Beaver Builder users (Beaver builders?), Astra will play nicely with ANY WordPress page builder. I have tested Astra with:
- Beaver Builder
- Thrive Architect
And they all work wonderfully. Great job Astra!
5 More reasons to upgrade to the Pro or Agency version
It’s true that the free version of Astra should be all that is needed to run a successful blog, eventually you will want to take a look at the Pro features and decide if you want to take it to the next level.
I won’t go through all the benefits in the image above, but here are some of the highlights that really make Pro worth the investment in my opinion:
Astra Pro Benefit #1: Scroll to the Top Link
Yes it seems insignificant.. and maybe it is – but when you like to write meaty posts like I do, it’s great to be able to offer your readers a quick way to navigate back to the top of the page!
Astra Pro Benefit #2: Integrate with LearnDash and Lifter LMS
Selling online courses is all the rage today, and with good reason: It’s a fantastic way to reach your audience and provide incredible value on demand.
You can choose to host the courses on your own website, or use an external service like Teachable.
If you go the self-hosted route, you will quickly find the 2 leaders of the pack in this space: Learndash and Lifter LMS.
Astra has some special integrations with these tools to make sure they look beautiful and seamless with the rest of your site experience. Big win!
Astra Pro Benefit #3: Tons of additional Astra Sites
There are currently 64 total Astra Sites available to pro members.
The free sites can definitely get you started, but if you want to make a business out of building professional websites, this is an absolute must-have!
Astra Pro Benefit #4: Transparent Headers
This is a flashy design skill you’ll see on super professional websites. Want to add a beautiful image that spans the entire screen? Transparent headers can make the image pop even more for your readers.
Astra Pro Benefit #5: More Blog Layouts
Just looking at an endless stream of blog posts can be boring – why not spice it up a little with Masonry view, customizable columns, and other nice tricks with Astra Pro?
How to Get Started with Astra Free
Getting started with Astra couldn’t be easier. Just watch the video above where I take a brand new WordPress site and turn it into a professional site with Astra in about 4 minutes:
The basic steps are:
- Go to Appearance -> Themes -> Add New Theme
- Search for Astra, and install and activate
- Under Astra Options, select to install the Astra Sites add on
- Go into Astra sites and select whichever page builder you prefer to use (if you don’t know either, I recommend Elementor)
- Browse your options and select one!
- Install any plugins that it recommends, and click Import Site
- Get started making it your own
How to Upgrade to Astra Pro
Just head over to WP Astra’s Website to get started! They currently offer 3 different levels of Astra from simply upgrading to Astra pro (on unlimited sites) for $59 per year, all the way up to a lifetime deal that includes several other premium plugins and ALL 64 Astra Pro sites for $699…
Pick which one makes sense for you!
Other Benefits of your Astra Subscription
While the additional Astra theme features is clearly the main benefit of getting the Pro license, there are some additional great benefits when you sign up with the wp astra team.
When you sign up for either the Mini agency bundle or Agency bundle, you will get additional plugins that further extend your functionality. I specifically love the Schema Pro plugin, as this makes it easier to add rich snippets to your post (which helps them stand out on Google results).
What Astra is Missing?
One feature I love about Thrive Themes that is currently missing from Astra is built-in image optimization.
The theme I run currently optimizes every image I upload to it automatically. It will scale images that are too large down to size, and will even perform image compression through the Kraken service.
This is an important tool to keep your page speed fast by keeping your image sizes small, but there are other ways you can do this with Astra.
In particular, ShortPixel is a paid plugin that can do essentially the same thing as Thrive Themes and can work on any plugin.
Aside from image optimization, Astra strikes a nice balance of including most necessary features while avoiding bloat.
A lot of themes have additional built-in short codes to help enhance your content – but don’t be fooled. Using content-specific features of your themes creates a lock-in effect. If you ever switch off of that theme, you will be left with a mess in your content… Astra is very smart for avoiding these common features.
Should You Switch to Astra?
If you are on a tight budget and have not yet chosen a theme, I think Astra is perfect for you.
If you have already put a ton of time and effort into your existing theme, it may not be worth the switch at this time. After all, a theme is a necessary piece of your digital marketing stack, it’s your content and service to your audience that will matter most.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this thorough review of the Astra and Astra Pro theme! Is Astra your favorite theme? Let me know why or why not in the comments below, and especially leave a comment of the next WordPress Theme you’d like me to take a look at!