What is Astra?
Astra is a freemium WordPress theme created by Brainstorm Force. The basic theme is a free download from the WordPress repository. If you want more advanced features, you can purchase more from their website at https://wpastra.com/. Prices start at $59/annually, or $249 for a lifetime membership.
Astra brags about being fast, having a light footprint, and being SEO ready. According to their website:
Astra is made for speed. It is the most lightweight theme available in the market and offers unmatched performance.
It integrates with different page builders, including:
- Beaver Builder
It’s not altogether clear on why it needs to integrate with Gutenberg, since the Gutenberg block builder is now part of WordPress core anyway. (I suspect it’s because installing the starter template also installs a plugin which adds functionality to the block editor.)
In addition to the free theme, you can also download free templates. It’s obvious that Astra loves Elementor, offering 102 integrated templates. There are 87 templates for Beaver Builder, 42 for Brizy, and only 20 for Gutenberg.
I decided to test it with a Gutenberg-integrated template.
There are two ways to download and install Astra.
The simplest way to install the Astra WordPress theme is to log into your Dashboard, and then navigate to Appearance / Themes.
Click Add New and type Astra into the search box. You’ll see this result.
Be sure to choose the Astra theme on the left, not Astral on the right. Click Install, and then Activate.
The other way is to download it directly from the company’s website. Click that big yellow Download Now button, then navigate in your WordPress dashboard to Appearance / Themes. Select Add Theme, and then Upload.
Find the theme file where you downloaded it, and then click Install Now, then Activate. If you need more complete instructions on installing a theme from a download file, check out How to Install a WordPress Theme.
Now you have the basic theme installed, and you can start putting your site together. . . or, take advantage of one of the free Starter Templates.
Download a Starter Template
Once you activate Astra, you’ll notice a new item in the Appearance menu.
Click Astra Options to see direct links to Customizer settings, and links to select and install Starter Templates.
To import one of the Starter sites, you must first install a plugin. Click Install Importer Plugin under the Import Starter Site module in the sidebar.
Both times I tried it, after a few seconds I saw this scary message: “Sorry, you are not allowed to access this page.”
Don’t stress! Just click your browser back button and you’ll be fine. I’m trusting it’s some minor glitch and they’ll fix it. . .
If you look at your installed plugins now, you’ll see that Starter Templates has been installed and activated.
Click See Library and you’ll be able to download your Starter Template.
Your first click takes you here, where you choose your builder. I selected Gutenberg.
This will take you to a page of different starter templates for the page builder you’ve chosen. I selected one called Sierra Nature.
Decide whether you want to import the entire site or just the homepage.
After you click the Import button, you’ll see a few new choices.
If you previously imported a starter and you want to replace it, you can delete it during this process. Selected by default are Import Customizer Settings, Import Widgets, Install Required Plugins, and Import Content. Click the question mark next to each for more information.
The plugins required for the starter I chose were WPForms Lite and Ultimate AddOns for Gutenberg.
When you’re ready, click the Import button. The import process can take several minutes, and when it’s done you’ll see this announcement.
Click View Site and you’ll see a beautifully designed site just like the sample on the Astra site.
Now you’re ready to start customizing it for yourself.
Astra Theme Customization
Astra provides lots of ways to customize their theme for your website.
Go to Appearance / Customize and you’ll see the following choices:
- Global, which includes typography, colors, container, and buttons
- Header, which includes Site Identity, Primary Header, Primary Menu, and Transparent Header
- Homepage settings
- Additional CSS
I’ll save details of how to do all these things for my in-depth review, coming soon.
Before you start customizing, it’s a good idea to look closely at the imported pages to see how they’re put together. The starter I chose, Sierra Nature, relies heavily on the Section block from the Ultimate AddOns Block plugin. It’s similar to the WordPress Group block.
The free Astra theme also includes several free plugins to extend functionality. The Starter I selected installed Ultimate AddOns for Gutenberg, and I have the option to install and activate several more.
I decided to install Astra Widgets to take advantage of the:
- List icons
- Social profiles
The List Icons widget lets you choose from among hundreds of icons to dress up your plain vanilla bullet lists. Choose emoji, social media images, arrows, and common web icons. You can select the text color, icon color and the border and background colors, and change them on hover if you want. You can even choose a different icon for each item on your list.
Talk about choices!
Or, instead of an icon, select an image from your media library.
Here’s what the social profiles widget looks like:
If you’re using WooCommerce to power your online store, it integrates nicely with the free Astra theme. For extra styling options, you can add the WooCommerce Module, which is included with the paid Astra Pro Addon plugin.
And There’s More. . .
Astra is a complex theme. I’ll dive deeper into individual features in another article.
Here’s what I like
The free theme is more than adequate for a freelance, solopreneur, or small business site. It’s easy to upgrade to Pro, and the price is reasonable.
There are plenty of premade designs available for you to download and customize yourself, without having to start with a blank page.
It’s easy to customize the important elements of your site, from typography to colors to layout, headings, and a whole lot more.
If there’s something you want to customize and can’t do with the free theme, you can probably do it once you upgrade to Pro.
It’s very popular, so the likelihood of ongoing development is high.
It loads fast. Really fast. I ran my sandbox site through GTMetrix, and my jaw dropped. Overall site speed was A+, at 99% (out of a possible 100%). Here’s what the top of the Page Speed report looked like.
The tool measures 26 elements the affect page speed, and 20 of them scored 100%. Notice the lowest score is 92% (out of a possible 100%). Compare that to another site running a different theme, but on the same server . . .
This site scored an overall B (85%) for speed. Notice here that, out of 26 elements measured, 12 of them scored below 100% — four of them a lot below.
Here’s what I don’t like
Documentation could be a little better organized. That’s one area where StudioPress really shines.
I’d like to see more Starter Templates available for Gutenberg.
That’s not a long list of things I don’t like, so I’ll be testing Astra Themes more over the coming weeks. Look for more information and updates.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for a speedy (and free!) theme, Astra is a solid choice. Go here to download it.