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Which WP Theme is Best? Fun With Theme Download Stats – WP Tavern

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Today I embarked on a mission to figure out which WP.org themes are used the most and why. 

As you likely know, “Top 5” lists, as a rule, are generally very opinionated and based on fuzzy assumptions and non-standard use cases.  I want to assure you – this article is no exception to that rule.  

I had to make some very subjective leaps of logic with data to come to my conclusions.  I hope you’ll enjoy being part of this fun conversation.

Astra Is the Most Downloaded Theme but Doesn’t Have the Highest Usage Rate

The top themes in wp.org with a minimum of 5 million downloads ordered by WP Data Dashboard’s “usage rate” are Hello Elementor, GeneratePress, Astra, Storefront, and OceanWP (a higher “usage rate” is better):

  • Hello Elementor: 6+ million downloads, 15% usage rate.
  • GeneratePress: 5+ million downloads, 11% usage rate.
  • Astra: 11+ million downloads, 9% usage rate.
  • Storefront: 7+ million downloads, 1% usage rate.
  • OceanWP: 7+ million downloads, 1% usage rate.

(How WP Data Dashboard’s “usage rate” metric is calculated.)

For additional context, “usage rate” is the holy grail for commercial theme developers.  In ad speak, “usage rate” is similar to “conversion rate.”  

A higher “usage rate” means the theme owner’s marketing team gets more mileage from each annoying banner ad they force to the top of your WP dashboard.  It means, potentially, more money in the theme owners’ bank accounts with less effort.  

And, more important to us in the greater WP community, a higher “usage rate” on the theme means more people might actually like it!  (Imagine that!) So, based on that “usage rate” number, Hello Elementor is the most-popular theme in the wp.org repo.

Oh wait…

Flowers arranged from short to tall so it looks like a chart.
Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash

OceanWP and GeneratePress Crush Hello Elementor in User Enthusiasm

Below is an arbitrary metric I created called the “enthusiasm gap”.  This is the number of 1-star reviews divided by the number of 5-star reviews (lower “enthusiasm gap” is better):

  • GeneratePress: 1378 5-star reviews, <1% enthusiasm gap.
  • OceanWP: 5412 5-star reviews, <1% enthusiasm gap.
  • Astra: 5297 5-star reviews, 2% enthusiasm gap.
  • Storefront: 122 5-star reviews, 11% enthusiasm gap.
  • Hello Elementor: 90 5-star reviews, 14% enthusiasm gap.

GeneratePress and OceanWP seem to have rabid followings based on this enthusiasm gap metric.  Astra also has a great enthusiasm gap at 2%.  But Hello Elementor…14% – that’s…high compared to the competition.

Theme reviews are, of course, totally subjective and can be manipulated by marketing pushes.  

However, it’s also possible that a high volume of 5-star reviews is actually an indicator of enthusiasm for the theme. For example, OceanWP has 5,412 reviews, whereas Hello Elementor has only 90 reviews. 

What’s that say about those particular themes?  Who knows?!  It’s not clear why OceanWP has 60x the 5-star reviews of Hello Elementor, but surely something good is happening over at OceanWP, right?  

And maybe Hello Elementor is awesome despite its low enthusiasm gap numbers. It is, after all, dominating the “usage rate” metric, which is the metric WP Data Dashboard endorses.

Perhaps my “enthusiasm gap” metric is pointless dribble that I made up on the spot as I wrote this article and didn’t run it through a deeper analysis to learn if my assumptions were sound. If you believe this reality (and, admittedly, I won’t deny it), then speak to me as if I were a golden retriever and let me know what’s wrong with my amazingly mathy “enthusiasm gap” metric.*

10 people in a line holding hands on a beach.
CC0 licensed photo by Sanyogg Shelar from the WordPress Photo Directory.

Let the “Best Theme” Arguments Commence!

To my great surprise, some members of my local Minneapolis-St. Paul WordPress User Group community disagree with my somewhat arbitrary and very mathy choice for the best theme available.  What gives?!

Arguing about why one theme is better than another is part of the fun of being a member of the WP community.  

Metrics like “usage rate” and “enthusiasm gap” add context in much the same way that “Free Throw %” does in basketball or “Shots Per Game” does in soccer.  That is, these numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they sure can lead to some fun conversations!

Random “Best Theme” Opinions from the Minneapolis-St. Paul WP User Group:

I asked my local WP user group members what their favorite themes are. Below are some of their opinions.

“Beaver Builder (specifically using the Beaver Themer plugin) because it is almost just as powerful as creating my own theme (what I used to do before Beaver Themer was released), but with the fast, easy and powerful features of Beaver Builder. I’m never going back!” – Barbara S.

“Impreza.” – Aaron H.S.

“I also use Beaver Builder/Themer, but not the theme. I’ve always used Genesis and still do. I use Mai Theme as my base, much to the horror of the dev who never intended it to be used with a builder. Sometimes I try to use the block editor on a basic page, but it still feels clumsy and unintuitive to me. I love Mai Theme because of the scalable fonts and spacing and the navigation is very well done.” – Jodi S.

“My favorite theme is either “Hello Elementor” (the barebones vanilla theme when building a site with Elementor), or just using Bricks.” – John V.

“+1 for Impreza! Have built 20-30 sites with it.

  • $59 one time purchase.
  • Comes with WP Bakery Page Builder, which is my go to. Love the backend editor.  Extremely intuitive.
  • Theme Options are very integrated with WP Bakery and include drag-n-drop Header/Footer builder, Reusable Blocks, Grid Builder, and Template Builder.
  • When used with ACF, I never have to touch code because WP Bakery has a Custom Field element that pulls in any ACF field I want.
  • Comes bundled with Slider Revolution, ACF Pro, to name a few.
  • Theme Support is incredible!

My 2.7 cents!” – Matt C.

“My favorite theme is Enfold. They have a really nice drag-and-drop system and the theme is super versatile. Good customer support and good performance improvements as browser changes are implemented.” – Beth B.

“I’ve been a Divi user since almost the beginning. It also has a drag-and-drop system and a visual builder that allows edits from the front end as well as the dashboard.”—Lisa D.

“I have been using Astra theme a lot. Got a lifetime license for Astra Premium & Astra Pro which has been so worth it for fast customization.” – Donna

“We have been using Astra a lot for the past three years or so. It has great benefits and a few unfortunate flaws, but on the whole it is a win for us. Astra is a more traditional theme than Genesis, easier to build child themes with, but it has a huge depth of hooks, making it just as flexible and customizable for our clients as we found with Genesis years ago.” – Eric C.

“GeneratePress is a powerful lightweight framework.” – David S. 

About the Data

I used WP Data Dashboard as my data source. 

WP Data Dashboard pulls raw data from the WP.org API and then give each theme a “usage rate”, to determine whether or not people actually like the theme enough to use it.  [See specific calculations.]

“While the data from the data has it’s limitations and should be taken with a grain of salt, the available numbers paint a pretty clear picture of what users actually want to use,” says WP Data Dashboard founder, Hendrik Luehrsen said.

For example, Twenty Fifteen theme has a very high download count but very low “active install” numbers – It therefore has a very low “usage rate” on WP Data Dashboard.  

Conversely, Twenty Twenty-Three theme, being a relatively new default theme, has both a high download count and high “active install” count, giving it a high “usage rate”.  

“A WP core update is a download of a ‘Twenty’ theme,” said a member of the WP Core team.  “Even though the theme might not be in use, it’ll get a lot of downloads.”

Therefore, for the purposes of this article, I ignore all the default “Twenty” themes since their download counts are inflated:

Two final caveats on the data:

  1. Download counts can be inflated by releasing more updates to the theme, marketing efforts, purchased reviews, etc.
  2. The download counts are correct, but the “active_installs” data point is capped at 1,000,000. So we have no idea if a theme has 1,000,000 or 5,000,000 installs. For example, Astra and Hello Elementor each have at least 1 million active installations.

Still, this is the best data we’ve got, so let’s have some fun with it.

What is your favorite WP theme?  

Keep it light and share what your favorite theme is and why in the comments below.

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