Astra Review (2022): Starter Templates, Page Builder Speed Tests, And The Cons

Astra review

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know about Astra’s starter templates. In my humble opinion, Astra is ideal for 2 types of audiences.

If you’re new to building websites, their Starter Templates have excellent designs, are easy to edit with Elementor’s drag and drop page builder, yet they’re still speed-optimized with Astra’s clean code and minimalistic design (where you’ll rely on plugins to add functionality). Seems like there are millions of YouTube videos showing you “how to start an online course website” (for example) with the exact same process: sign up for domain/hosting, install WordPress with the Astra Starter Templates plugin, and import a business, course, or whatever type of website. Starting from scratch, you can easily have a pre-designed website installed in about 10 minutes.

Then there’s the web design agencies who use Astra to pump out websites like vaccines on Christmas Day. There’s a template for pretty much every industry which can be imported in Elementor, Gutenberg, and other builders/editors. This flexibility lets you design a website for almost any client – whether they want user-friendly with Elementor or speed with Gutenberg.

So who is Astra not for? For what it’s worth, I redesigned my blog in GeneratePress. The main reason was to avoid the extra CSS/JS from Elementor which can hurt core web vitals. You really need to use Astra + Gutenberg to get the fastest speeds. But Gutenberg is a block editor (not drag and drop like Elementor) and many people lean towards GeneratePress/Kadence for this.

Another thing to consider is template plugins: Ultimate Add-ons For Elementor & Gutenberg, GenerateBlocks (what I use for GeneratePress), Gutenberg Blocks by Kadence, etc. These give you more templates to design individual sections/blocks while speeding up the design process.

I’ll try to cover key things in my Astra review, but reviews only go so far. To really know which one you will like, you should set it up (either on a new website or staging site) and play with it.

 

1. Astra Starter Sites

Here’s a summary of 90% of “how to start a website” YouTube tutorials. If you already have a website, you should setup a staging site so you can push it to the live site and skip to step #3.

Step 1: Get Domain + Hosting

Everyone has their own opinion and is an affiliate for someone, including me. My suggestion is NameHero (good for small sites, easy to use cPanel, cheap, and fast with LiteSpeed). You could also use Cloudways Vultr High Frequency. Or if you’re willing to pay more for the best, go with Rocket.net. Some hosts include a free domain for your first year, otherwise NameCheap is fine.

Step 2: Install WordPress

Instructions depend on your host but they will have an option to install WordPress on your domain name. For example in NameHero, you would login to cPanel, find the WordPress Manager by Softaculous, and use it to install WordPress. In the process, you can choose HTTPS (automatically installs SSL), and your WP login info. Install WordPress and login to your website.

Namehero install wordpress

Step 3: Install The Astra Starter Templates Plugin

Go to Plugins → Add New then search for “Astra.” Install and activate the Starter Templates plugin. Now go to Appearance → Starter Templates. You’ll be prompted with a few steps to setup your website where you can choose page builders, fonts, colors, and even upload a logo.

Astra starter templates plugin

Step 4: Select Your Page Builder

Things to consider when choosing a page builder:

  • Some templates are only built in specific page builders.
  • Some load faster than others (Block Editor is the fastest).
  • Elementor + Beaver Builder are drag and drop builders, not a block editor.
  • Ultimate add-on plugins (Gutenberg is free, Elementor is paid, Beaver is freemium).
  • See section #2 for a detailed comparison including a speed test I ran for each builder.

Select astra page builder

Step 5: Choose From 300+ Templates

Astra has over 300+ starter templates for pretty much every type of business, but 180+ of these (and some of the nicest ones IMO) require Astra Pro which is usually about $500 for the lifetime license. They have filters for different types of businesses, free vs. pro, blogs, and eCommerce. It can be overwhelming to settle on one single theme, just know it’s easy to change content using pre-designed widgets, blocks, and modules especially with help from Ultimate Add-on plugins.

Astra starter templates selection

Step 6: Upload A Logo And Choose Colors + Fonts

Astra gives you the option to upload your logo and change fonts/colors before you even import the site. I have a feeling Astra (and most WordPress themes) will start using setup wizards more.

Upload logo to astra

Customize astra colors fonts

Step 7: Import The Starter Template

Make sure the following options are selected (I always choose not to share my data) but that’s up to you. If you already installed a template and want to change it, you will see an option here to “delete previously imported site” which will replace the old template with the new template. Otherwise, import the site and Astra will import everything needed to use that starter template.

Import astra starter template

Step 8: Visit Your Website

Your site now looks exactly like the starter template. I like to go through the Astra settings, theme customizer and page builder settings first before I start adding or importing content.

Astra starter site example

 

2. Block Editor vs. Elementor vs. Beaver Builder (With Speed Test)

Speed and learning curve are the biggest reasons to use one page builder over another.

Speed Test – I installed the same Astra starter template (Outdoor Adventure) on a fresh WordPress install using each page builder offered by Astra. Then I used GTmetrix Waterfall to test how much CSS/JS/fonts they added to the site. I didn’t measure core web vitals and fully loaded time because each speed test fluctuates (it’s not accurate to run tests on scores, TTFB, LCP, etc). It should be noted that Elementor Experiments and font optimizations (hosting fonts locally + preloading) were turned off. When enabled, the total size was less than Beaver Builder, but then again, you could use OMGF and make the same argument with any of these. No cache plugin, server caching, or CDN were used, and they were all tested on the same server/location.

Gutenberg block editor vs elementor vs beaver builder speed with astra

Block Editor

The fastest option with minimal CSS/JS/fonts compared to Elementor and Beaver Builder, which means faster core web vitals. But if you’ve never used Gutenberg’s block editor, it takes time to get used to. I hung onto classic editor for dear life until I finally switched to Gutenberg. It doesn’t have much in terms of pre-designed layouts so you’ll want to use Ultimate Add-ons for Gutenberg or another plugin that extends design options, which makes everything much easier.

Gutenberg block editor

Astra block editor speed test
Block Editor CSS, JS, fonts

Elementor

Drag and drop page builder known for its user-friendliness. Just be careful – there are lots of free/paid plugins for Elementor that look enticing (including Elementor Pro) but it will usually slow down your site even more. Many people end up adding all these plugins to add templates and extend design capabilities of Elementor, then wonder why they don’t pass core web vitals.

Elementor editor

Astra elementor speed test
Elementor CSS, JS, fonts

Beaver Builder

I don’t have much experience with Beaver Builder honestly, but I know it’s not as popular as the other two (probably why it’s the last page builder choice in Astra). You can try it with Ultimate Add-ons for Beaver Builder if you like, but I would learn towards the Block Editor or Elementor.

Beaver builder editor

Astra beaver builder speed test
Beaver Builder CSS, JS, fonts

 

3. Ultimate Add-ons Plugins

Each page builder has an Ultimate Add-ons plugin which gives you more Gutenberg blocks, Elementor widgets, or Beaver Builder modules. Astra and page builders don’t have these built-in or they would become more bloated, so you will need to rely on plugins to add functionality. The Ultimate Add-on plugins are one of the only plugins I would consider almost mandatory.

There are usually for:

  • Design
  • Forms
  • SEO & Schema
  • Social
  • WooCommerce

Astra Pro (Essential and Growth Bundle) include Ultimate Add-ons for Elementor + Beaver, so you only need to buy these if you’re using the free version of Astra or beginner “Astra Pro” plan.

Price
Ultimate Add-ons For Gutenberg Free
Ultimate Add-ons For Elementor Paid
Ultimate Add-ons For Beaver Builder Lite + Paid Version

Ultimate addons for gutenberg

Ultimate addons for elementor

Ultimate addons for beaver builder – lite

 

4. Theme Customizer

Regardless of which page builder you use with Astra, you’ll rely on the built-in WordPress theme customizer to design several areas of your website (found in Appearance → Customize). All Astra Options are actually just links to different settings in the customizer. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials on this but if you’ve worked with WordPress before, you already know this.

Wordpress theme customizer

 

5. Astra Plugins To Extend Design

You can find this list in your Astra Options, but it’s probably just easier to give you a list with links. Maybe you want Custom Fonts, otherwise you probably don’t need most these plugins.

Free astra plugins

 

6. Elementor Speed Optimizations

If you use Elementor, there are a few things you can do from the start to speed up your site.

Activate Elementor Experiments

Go to your Elementor Experiments Settings (Elementor → Settings → Experiments) then activate the following: improved asset/CSS loading, inline font icons, optimized DOM output.

Elementor experiments

Optimize Fonts

Fonts are a big reason Elementor is slow, but there are ways to optimize them. First, go WordPress theme customizer → Performance. Select load Google Fonts locally and preload fonts. Then flush local font files. If you refresh your site and check GTmetrix Waterfall, fonts should be served from your domain instead of fonts.gstatic.com, and will take less time to load.

Elementor font optimization

Now go to Elementor  → Advanced and choose a method for loading fonts. Swap adds font-display: swap to your font’s CSS which can fix ensure text remains visible during webfont load in PageSpeed Insights by setting a fallback font while the normal font is loading. This prevents FOIT (flash of invisible text) when visitors don’t see text because the fonts are loading.

Elementor google font swap

On a fresh install with an Astra starter template, this reduces CSS file size but has the most impact on fonts, since they’re now hosted locally (not fonts.gstatic.com) and are preloaded.

Elementor experiments and font optimization impact
Impact of enabling Elementor Experiment settings, local fonts, and preloading fonts

 

7. Astra Free vs. Pro

I bought the lifetime plan of the Essential Bundle because:

  • You get the premium starter templates
  • The WP Portfolio plugin is a solid plugin
  • You get Ultimate Add-ons for Elementor or Beaver

I wouldn’t pay for the Growth Bundle though. I’ve used the Schema Pro and while it’s good, Rank Math Pro should have everything you need for schema (I ended up deleting Schema Pro and just using Rank Math). I’ve never used Convert Pro because I hate popups, so I would never do that to my visitors even if it works at collecting emails or using call-to-actions. Of course since I switched to GeneratePress, I even use Astra anymore so I just use it for testing purposes. If you use a free Astra theme with Ultimate Add-ons for Gutenberg, everything is free – and fast!

Astra pro pricing
View Astra Plans

 

8. Cons Of Using Astra

I’m all about transparency and it’s not all sunshine and roses with Astra:

  • There have been a lot of negative reports of Astra’s support and billing.
  • WP Johnny says most of their plugins (including Ultimate add-ons) are bloated.
  • He says they have too many autoloads + database queries and increase CPU usage.
  • Like SiteGround, they also remove posts in Facebook Group that look bad on them.
  • You probably remember Astra was removed from WordPress repo for violating terms.

I can’t comment on this myself because I don’t use them anymore and when I did, I contacted their support maybe once. So I’ll leave it up to you whether you want to support their company.

Cheers,
Tom

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2 thoughts on “Astra Review (2022): Starter Templates, Page Builder Speed Tests, And The Cons”

  1. Hi Tom! Great article! I love Astra and Elementor but now I’m thinking about changing to Blocks. I just hope it has more for the design aspect. Being an artist, I have a ton of photos, some videos and a Woo Commerce store. I’m finding that I have to basically remove a bunch of elements in order to get my site running fast…and I hate that! I’m curious to see if there is a difference in speed while keeping the look and feel.
    Thanks!
    Debbie Johnson
    debbiedidit.com

    Reply

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