Astra is a beautiful WordPress theme that can be used for portfolios, blogs, businesses, online shops, and more.
The free version of Astra is being used on over 200,000 websites. It has amazing support for page builder WordPress plugins and lets you customise your whole website via the WordPress theme customiser.
The ability to import dozens of high quality website designs means that you can transform your website at the click of a button.
Functionality can be extended further by upgrading to the pro version of the theme, however a number of free extensions are also available that add new options.
In this article I would like to show why Astra is so popular. I will walk you through the free version of the plugin and explain the benefits of upgrading to Astra Pro.
The Team Behind Astra
It is no surprise that Astra integrates with page builders so effectively as Brainstorm Force have launched the Ultimate Addons for Beaver Builder and Ultimate Addons for Elementor plugin extensions. They therefore have an advanced understanding of how popular WordPress page builders work.
Brainstorm Force are incredibly active within the WordPress community. They frequently attend WordCamps from around the globe and their free WordPress plugins are updated regularly.
Check out their 2018 Year in Review to learn more about Brainstorm Force.
What Does Astra Offer?
Astra is a highly customisable WordPress theme that has got many amazing features.
The theme is super lightweight. The developers point out that with default WordPress data, a website using Astra should load in less than half a second. They have achieved this in a number of ways such as disabling jQuery and keeping resources under 50kb.
One thing that distinguishes Astra from many other designs is its native support for popular WordPress page builders. It integrates beautifully with page builders such as WPBakery Page Builder (formerly Visual Composer), Beaver Builder, Thrive Architect, Elementor, Divi Builder, Brizy, and Gutenberg.
As you will see later, their starter site system requires you to use Elementor, Beaver Builder, Gutenberg, or Brizy; however you only need to use one of these four page builders if you are importing a website design.
The support for page builders is a major selling point of Astra as there are many WordPress themes that were not designed with modern page builders in mind. This can result in situations where a stylish page created by a page builder does not fit in well with the activated WordPress theme.
When you activate Astra, a new settings box is available when you edit posts, pages, and other custom post types. You can change many common page settings here such as where the sidebar is displayed and whether the content is boxed, content boxed, or full width. Features such as the header, page title, featured image, and footer bar, can be completely disabled from here.
The great thing about this setup is that you can customise how everything looks on a page by page basis.
When it comes to design, Astra has you covered. Anyone, regardless of their technical experience, can customise their website design through the WordPress theme customiser.
One problem that many WordPress users face, including myself, is that it can be difficult to modify a theme’s design to your liking. This is not something to be concerned about with Astra.
If you activate the Astra Starter Sites plugin, you can import a number of pre-built website designs.
Over 70 designs are available. You will find pre-built website designs for blogs, businesses, online shops, portfolios, and more.
For me, this is one of the best reasons to use Astra as it essentially makes it 70 WordPress themes in one (35 in one if you are using the free version of Astra).
Astra was designed so that beginners can create professional websites without touching any code, however the theme has been created with developers in mind too.
It is ready for custom post types and has great support for WooCommerce. The theme follows WCAG 2.0 standards and follows best SEO practices. The design is also translation and RTL ready.
Hooks and filters allow developers to insert content into websites easily. Non developers can do this easily too using the free Astra Hooks plugin. It makes inserting unique content and code into your website a breeze.
Astra is 100% open source so if you want to examine the theme’s code, you can do so on Github.
Astra can be downloaded from WordPress.org or directly within the themes area of your WordPress admin area.
The theme does not force you to install any WordPress plugins in order for the theme to work, however you will need to install the Astra Starter Sites WordPress plugin if you want to import a design into your website (more on this later).
You will find the “Astra Options” page under the WordPress appearance menu.
This page is more of a hub than a settings page as all options for the theme are contained within the WordPress theme customiser.
All customisations options can be found in the WordPress theme customiser; which means that you can preview any changes you make in real-time. You can also switch the preview mode from desktop to tablet or mobile.
The options are spread aross cross eight top-level sections and many sub-sections. This uncluttered layout makes it easy to find the settings you want to change, though you do have the option of adding a search box in the theme customiser via a plugin.
There are many useful options within the WordPress theme customiser.
For blog posts you can change the structure and enable and disable meta information. In the footer you can change the layout easily and add custom text.
Colours and typography can be modified easily too and there are quick links to your WordPress menus and widgets.
Please be aware that the screenshots above demonstrate what options are available in the core version of Astra. If you upgrade to the pro version, or install one of the many free plugin extensions available, you will see many more options in the WordPress theme customiser.
Astra Starter Sites
The Astra Starter Sites WordPress plugin is referenced in the main Astra Options page on the right-hand side. This plugin is free to download.
Once activated, you will see a new page in the appearance menu entitled “Astra Sites”.
You are asked to select your favourite page builder: Elementor, Beaver Builder, Gutenberg, or Brizy.
If you select a design that uses, say Gutenberg, you would need to have the Gutenberg page builder activated for the website design to work properly. This is because each design was created using page builder elements from a particular page builder plugin.
When you have selected a page builder, the starter website designs will be displayed with a note of how many designs are available for it.
It notes that 70 designs work with Elementor and Beaver Builder, 10 with Gutenberg, and 20 with Brizy. These designs can be further filtered by type of design: All, Blog, Business, eCommerce, Free, and Other.
Premium designs are marked with an “Agency” label; which refers to the Astra Pro agency packages.
At the time of writing there are 35 free designs and 35 premium designs.
The standard of all designs, free and premium, is very high.
Brainstorm Force have did a magnificent job with the whole system.
When you select a design you are shown a full preview. By browsing around different pages you can get a feel for what the design can do.
At the left-hand side of the page is a list of the required plugins for the design to work correctly.
The “Install Plugins” buttons at the top and bottom of the page will install all required plugins.
I ran into a slight problem at this stage as Elementor was already installed on my test WordPress website. Therefore, when the installer tried to install the plugin, it said the destination folder already existed. To resolve the issue, I had to delete Elementor so that I could install the plugin again from this page. This is clearly a bug that they need to address in a future update.
Once all plugins are installed, the “Install Plugins” buttons will change to “Import This Site”.
A warning appears when you choose to import a website design. This is a reminder that you should not perform the import on a live website and that copyrighted images will not be imported.
Once the website design has been imported, the button changes to “Done. View Site!”. Clicking on this will load up your website and let you see what the design looks like.
Apart from a couple of copyrighted icons and images, my website looked identical to the one displayed in the preview area.
Check out the Astra Starter Sites page on the official Astra website to see a list of all the designs that are available. This demonstrates the wide variety of designs that are available to you.
Extending Astra with Free Plugins
In the Astra Options page you will see a box that advises that you can extend Astra with free plugins. A total of 12 plugins are listed here.
Five of the free plugins were designed specifically for the Astra WordPress theme.
There is a good argument for this additional functionality being integrated into the main theme, however I do appreciate that by keeping this functionality separate they keep the core version of Astra lightweight.
You may recall that earlier in this article I explained how meta settings, such as the page title and the sidebar position, can be configured for each page on your website. The Astra Bulk Edit plugin helps reduce the time it takes to make adjustments for these settings on multiple pages. You can apply changes for hundreds of pages at a time if you wish.
The Astra Customizer Reset plugin adds an option in the theme customiser to reset all settings. It’s a useful plugin, though it does surprise me this is not built directly into the theme customiser in the first place.
Another cool Astra only WordPress plugin is Home Page Banner for Astra Theme. As the plugin name suggests, this adds an option in the WordPress theme customiser to add a banner on your home page.
It allows you to change the style of the banner, the image, the text, padding, and more.
The other free plugins work great with Astra, but can also be used with other WordPress themes.
If you are using Gutenberg, you may want to give Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg a try. It adds 16 additional blocks to your page builder, such as an info box, post layouts, and price list. Check out their official website to see demos each block.
Sidebar Manager is a useful plugin too. It’s a lightweight solution that simplifies the process of creating new sidebars and managing them.
The Unlist Posts & Pages plugin can be used to hide certain pages on your website from search engines. Customizer Search is a useful plugin too. Once activated, the WordPress theme customiser will have a search bar to help you find options quicker.
The last free plugin that is recommended is Templator. This is an interesting new plugin that allows you to save your pages and templates in the cloud. You can then export them to any website.
At the moment it only works with Elementor, however they will be adding support for Beaver Builder and Divi Builder in the future. The service is currently free until the end of 2019.
You can find out more about this plugin at the official Templator website.
It is easy to see why the free version of Astra is installed on over 200,000 websites. It is easy to use, has a great selection of website designs that can be imported, and there are additional plugins available that extend functionality further.
If you want to unlock the full potential of the Astra WordPress theme, you need to upgrade to the premium version.
In addition to receiving priority support from the developers, Astra Pro offers many new features via modules. Those who purchase one of the agency bundles will also gain access to the full starter site design library.
A total of 18 pro modules are included with Astra Pro.
Most of the modules expand and enhance the functionality that is available in the WordPress theme customiser. You can activate and deactivate modules as you see fit.
The Colors & Background module can be used to change the colour of just about any part of your design whilst the Typography module adds many more options for customising and styling your fonts. The Spacing module adds more options for margins and padding.
If you are looking to change your blog and archive pages more, you should activate Blog Pro. It lets you display an author bio underneath blog posts, load a previous blog post under the current one, and remove padding from the featured image.
Astra Pro adds many additional layout options too.
Mobile Header allows you to display a custom header on responsive devices such as tablets and smartphones.
Header Sections adds a new section above and below the header. You will find this useful for adding banners and other content. You can also use the Sticky Header module to display a fixed header at the top of the page.
The Page Headers module lets you create more advanced headers. You can display the page title against a large background image and show breadcrumb navigation links.
One of the coolest modules is Nav Menu. This module lets you transform your boring old navigation menus into complex mega menus.
You can display menu items in columns, use colours, use background images, highlight labels, and more.
These additional features can greatly improve navigation as you can display many more links within the same menu.
The Custom Layouts module adds the ability to save custom layouts for your header, footer, 404 pages, and for hook locations. Layouts can be saved and easily added into other areas of your website.
In contrast, the Site Layouts module enhances the WordPress theme customiser by giving you more control over the design’s width and container.
Scroll To Top lets you add a scroll to top button to the bottom-left or bottom-right of pages. You are given full control over its styling, the icon size, and whether it is displayed on desktops, mobile devices, or both.
Footer Widgets offers seven diferent layouts for your footer area.
You are given control over the padding and width of the widget area. Colours and typography settings are available too.
Integration modules are available for Easy Digital Downloads, WooCommerce, LearnDash, and LifterLMS. Activating these modules will give you more control over how these plugins integrate with your website’s layout and styling.
The last module is White Label. You can use this module to rebrand Astra as your own product. This is something design agencies will find beneficial as it stops clients from knowing what WordPress theme you are using to create their website.
I believe that most website owners that use Astra will upgrade at one point as the additional modules unlock hundreds of new options; especially as Astra Pro is available from only $59 per year.
Astra Pro Pricing
Astro Pro is an affordable WordPress theme. Those who want to upgrade can select one of three packages. All packages include the Astra Pro modules that I discussed in length in the last section.
The Astra Pro package costs $59 per year, the Mini Agency Bundle costs $169 per year, and the Agency Bundle costs $249 per year. These packages can be purchased on a lifetime basis with no yearly fees at a cost of $249, $499, and $699, respectively.
All packages come with a 14 day no fuss 100% money back guarantee and there is no restriction on how many websites you install the theme on.
The Astra Pro package gives you all Astra Pro modules and acess to premium support from the theme developers.
In other words, when you upgrade to the full Agency Bundle, you gain access to Astra Pro and all other Brainstorm Force products.
Which Astra Pro Package Should You Choose?
Which Astra Pro package is right for you will depend on your requirements and it will depend on your budget.
The entry level package is perfect if you do not need access to additional starter site designs and do not want to use any of the additional plugins that Brainstorm Force sells.
On their own, WP Portfolio retails from $49 per year, Ultimate Addons for Beaver Builder from $69 per year, Ultimate Addons for Elementor from $49 per year, Convert Pro from $99 per year, and Schema Pro from $79 per year.
If you were already planning on buying some of these plugins, it makes sense to upgrade to one of the agency bundles. If not, I would recommend saving money and sticking with the entry level package.
Astra is without doubt one of the best free WordPress themes around.
The theme lets you easily import dozens of professional looking website designs and there is a good selection of free plugins that extend functionality.
I am sure most users will appreciate that all options are contained within the WordPress theme customiser too, as it makes customisation simpler.
Despite the free version being solid, I believe that most WordPress users who use Astra on a live website will eventually upgrade to Astra Pro.
From only $59 per year you will gain premium support and hundreds of new styling and layout options. Those that select an agency package will also be able to use the starter sites website designs marked as “Agency” and be able to download other premium Brainstorm Force plugins.
Used/using Astra? Thoughts?