ThemeForest vs. WordPress: Theme Comparison

Seattle Animal Shelter Foundation contacted me in fall 2021 about a website rebuild.

The organization was satisfied with their overall brand identity, as well as the look and feel of their existing site. However, the board of directors wanted to address concerns of very poor mobile page load speeds, often in excess of 12 seconds.

Scope of Work

My goal was to clone the site content and mimic the existing visual look and feel – while optimizing accessibility, performance, and search engine optimization.

  • accessibility testing
  • front-end web development
  • performance optimization
  • security hardening
  • search engine optimization
  • WordPress training and consulting

It was easy to identify the root cause of the performance issues: a template ThemeForest Theme, with too many Plugins. Overall page size was 3.6 Mb, well above the industry average of 2.4 Mb. However, the main contributor to page load latency is usually ‘web server file requests.’ Together, the Theme and Plugins generated 89 server requests – including 36 Javascript files. In addition to a rotating content carousel, the Visual Composer Plugin was generating significant code bloat. These poor development practices impacted usability, site engagement and conversions.

Below are screenshots during development. Do you notice significant changes in the look & feel?

Before (left) & After (right) optimization screenshots

Performance Analysis

By switching to a WordPress.org-approved Theme, _Underscores, and consolidating and removing Plugins – web server requests were reduced 64%, from 89 to 32; overall page size also decreased 71%, from 3.6 Mb to 1 Mb. Replacing the Visual Composer Plugin with WordPress’ native Gutenberg Block Editor significantly improved performance. These efforts improved page load speed to reasonable sub 3 seconds on mobile devices.

MetricThemeForest (Anima) ThemeWordPress _Underscores Theme
Google Lighthouse: Accessibility88/10096/100
Google Lighthouse: Best Practices80/10092/100
Google Lighthouse: Mobile Speed31/10085/100
Google Lighthouse: Desktop Speed64/10099/100
Google Lighthouse: Search Engine Optimization70/10086/100
WebPageTest Speed Index7.5233.267
Homepage File Size3.6 Mb (1.9 Mb Images + 1.3 Mb Scripts + 199 Kb CSS + 305 Kb Fonts + 70 Kb HTML)1.05 Mb (720 Kb Images + 125 Kb Scripts + 68 Kb CSS + 120 Kb Fonts + 28 Kb HTML)
Web Server Requests89 (21 Images + 36 Scripts +15 CSS + 7 Font + 9 Other + 5 HTML)32 (9 Images + 11 Scripts + 7 CSS +3 Fonts + 2 Other + 1 HTML)
Homepage Load Time~7.5 seconds~3.3 seconds
WebPage Test Speed Index: median = ~3.591; top 10% = <1.388
In 2021, the average page size = ~2.4 Mb and median page size = ~2.1 Mb.
Database-driven websites, like WordPress, are more performance optimized when server requests are < 40 – 60.

The final result is a simpler, faster, yet on-brand, website that is easier to maintain.

Site Credits

WordPress Theme Development by Scott Marlow