How to pick a FREE WordPress Theme That is FAST!

In my research on SEO for a small website, one topic I came across a few times was experts saying that my site should have a “modern design” and that it needs to be “mobile ready”. The writers of these articles almost always mention website responsiveness, speed, and loading times.

Websites should load in under 1 second!!

Said many of the articles I read…referring to short attention spans, mobile internet speeds, etc.

With my past websites, I would dabble in trying to make my site a little more lightweight, but I never really cared too much. If it loaded in a couple seconds then I was good.

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.com

However, a couple years ago I came across this website speed test over at Pingdom.com. It opened my eyes as to how slow some sites are, including my own past blogs!

But no more!!

After a bit of research, and some fiddling with various WordPress themes, I’ve found a theme that has significantly sped up my own site. I also adopted some tools and tips on things to consider when trying to make your website faster. While load speed isn’t quite the same as mobile SEO…if your SEO is amazing but your site won’t load, will people read it?

Who needs a Fast and Mobile ready Website?

Anyone and everyone. As previously mentioned, the shift to mobile has dictated the need for faster load times as over 50% of internet searches are generated from a mobile device. Whether you are a write, blogger, tech reviewer, or more…mobile design and SEO is crazy important.

WordPress hosting and themes aren’t just for the little guys either. Here are some pretty big sites and companies that use WordPress.

  • TechCrunch
  • The New Yorker
  • BBC America
  • Bloomberg Professional
  • The Official Star Wars Blog
  • Variety
  • Sony Music
  • MTV News

What is a WordPress Theme?

Essentially the theme you pick is the layout of your website. According to WordPress…

a theme is a collection of templates and stylesheets used to define the appearance and display of a WordPress powered website.

This is basically how your site will look and your theme will dictates how your readers will interact with your site. If things are not laid out well, your bounce rate (when people come to your site and leave without clicking around) will be much higher.

Why Does a WP Theme Matter?

Design matters but not 100%. This is largely because you probably don’t want your website to look like something from the 90s…unless that is what you’re going for. You will want to get your site looking like you want, and how you want people to interact with it…but load speed will be a HUGE component of your initial traffic inlet…or at least what lands people on your front page or keeps them reading your blog link they clicked. You are MUCH MORE LIKELY to have someone come to and browse your website (or conduct a session as Google Analytics calls it) if it loads as fast as possible when they click that link.

I mentioned Pingdom.com and the speed test tool that it has. If you are curious, try out your own site, then try out some of the one I listed below in that speed test tool. (Or just look at the results for each that I screenshot and put below)

I was surprised when I saw that my website got the best grade out of all of them. Especially Daring Fireball, as John Gruber is known for his take on design and simplicity. Yet, as you can see…if you are a giant news outlet or popular apple blogger…you don’t have to worry about it as much because in the end…

Content is King

Bill Gates

How do I pick a good WP Theme?

First it helps to have a vague idea of what you want. Don’t be afraid to preview a WP theme for your site and go ahead and activate it, throw your URL in to the Website Speed Test tool and see how it does. Make sure you write down what your current theme is so you can switch back if you don’t like the ones you are testing, and I would also do this in the off hours of when your readers normally come to your site. (Google Analytics has a great readout for higher traffic hours if connected with your site)

Read some of what Pingdom.com says is slowing your site down (large images, url redirects, etc) and see if you can find ways to improve in those areas. Or…find a theme that does those for you, like I did.

theme selection screen in wordpress
theme selection screen in wordpress

I use the Hermes Theme by Themes Harbour and it was mostly by accident that I realized how fast it was. I was actually looking for a specific design, tried this one a few others out (Canard, Verity, Dyad 2, Carbon) and once I saw this one in action I was sold. I had to customize it with some of my own CSS to tweak it to my liking, but that is a post for another day.

Ultimately it’s what you want…and I used to accept that C or D grade as long my site looked the way I wanted. Now, with more than 50% of internet searches generated via a mobile device, mobile SEO and site design has never been more important.

Written by Scott

The mountains are calling, let me grab a jacket and my kids.

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