WP default themes 2010-2014: performance going down

Although it is easy to download and install free or “premium” themes, WordPress does come with a default theme that is updated yearly. Last year I did performance tests of Twenty Twelve and there were some performance-issues, which led me to create a cleary faster child theme (2012.FFWD). But how does Twenty Thirteen fare, you might wonder? And how did the WordPress themes do before? And what about Twenty Fourteen? Just the questions I was asking myself as well, so here goes!
I decided to compare the raw performance of the default WordPress themes from 2010 to 2014, creating new blogs in my multi-site test-environment. All 5 test-blogs’ homepages were tested 9 times with webpagetest.org, using the Amsterdam node, IE9 as browser and with a DSL traffic shaping profile and the median test result was used. No performance enhancing substances (such as WP Super Cache or Autoptimize) were used in this test, a few bunnies might have been slightly injured though … The result? Well, Just look at this graph;
wordpress default theme 2010-2014 performance
As you can see performance (until document loaded) got worse with every release. Download time skyrocketed from 1.7s to 4.2s (and even 5.3s the upcoming 2014), mostly because download size went from 60Kb for Twenty Ten to a whopping 489Kb for Twenty Thirteen (and 659Kb for the non-final Twenty Fourteen). All details of the tests can be found in this Google Docs spreadsheet.
So what is the reason for this important performance degradation? Web Fat, that’s what. In 2013 jQuery & co were added (there was already one smallish JS-file in 2012), but even more damaging is the explosion in font-file downloads; 4 in 2012, 9 in 2013 and 15 in 2014! I’ve already expressed my dislike for webfonts and -although I think it can be immensely useful and I use it for the admin pages of my plugins- I think one should also try to avoid including jQuery where possible, especially for content-oriented sites such as the ones powered by WordPress? Unless you don’t care about performance off course.
(In case you’re wondering; the use WP Super Cache and Autoptimize or similar solutions will clearly improve performance, but not having JavaScript is better then having to optimize JavaScript and font-files cannot really be optimized, so the problem will be less but will remain.)

5 thoughts on “WP default themes 2010-2014: performance going down”

  1. It’s the web. Who cares about performance?
    Using the web on high-latency, low-throughput links has essentially become impossible. It’s only going to get worse.
    I just wish the web people would stop trying to pollute my mailbox as well. Used to be than email averaged a couple of Kbytes. Now it averages a couple of hundred Kbytes. Soon it will also be impossible to read email on high-latency, low-throughput links.

    • well, people care somewhat, theoretically, as google uses performance as one (of many) factors to determine ranking and as performance has a known impact on conversion (so profits, ultimately).
      but in reality performance always seems to loose when pitched against design (webfonts, huge pics) and plug-and-play developers (e.g. jquery-abusers).
      and you’re right about mail, in 95% of use cases plaintext suffices. there was a time when most mailinglists allowed you at least the choice, but that is rarely the case any more.

    • Oh, but it can be done. If you

      1. choose a theme which has no web fat (fonts/ jquery)
      2. use a caching plugin such as wp super cache
      3. aggregate and minify css and javascript with autoptimize (plugin I maintain)
      4. pay a lot of attention at the size of images you upload

      you can have a pretty darn fast WordPress-based website. This one for example, isn’t to shabby, is it? 😉

      • I reduce my images for web prior to uploading them, and try to link external images as often as possible (where I am allowed to). Not sure if it is last rule is helpful or not for speed.
        Congrats for your plugin. I have checked before and after use with google tool and it works!


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