Back in March we ran a poll to see what our visitors thought was the Best WordPress Framework. The winner was Ultimatum, followed by Gantry, Divi, and Headway. We thought it would be interesting to compare these four head to head and see who came out on top.

We spent about a month setting up WordPress installations, installing and testing each framework, running benchmarks, and writing the reviews. At the end of the process we have some very clear ideas of the strengths and weaknesses of each framework.

It’s tempting to make a singular recommendation, if only because these reviews never seem to do so, but in this case it’s difficult. While each framework is able to achieve the goal of allowing a developer to create beautiful website designs in WordPress, none of them was the clear winner.

If you’re not comfortable with code we’d recommend staying away from Headway and Ultimatum. They tend to require more HTML and CSS knowledge and non-coders may be frustrated by their inability to achieve the layouts they desire, especially on mobile devices.

We can’t recommend the Divi Builder to developers of large websites because there is no way to bulk assign layouts to content, but for people with smaller sites, new projects, or sites that don’t require a lot of custom designs for sub-pages and posts, it’s a very strong option. Same goes with Gantry due to it’s lack of inheritance.

Our in-depth (and in some cases, too in-depth) reviews of each tool are linked below. Be sure to let us know what you think in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Elegant Themes' Divi Builder Review

While Divi Builder has the strongest layout designer and the best modules, it’s not a true WordPress framework because you can’t assign the layouts en masse. As we mentioned in our review, the developers refer to the plugin as a page builder, but we feel that if a few features were added it would stand above the crowd as the best WordPress framework on the market.

Ultimatum WordPress Framework Review

Ultimatum has a powerful, if bland, interface that gets the job done but doesn’t always make it easy. There is still a lot of manual CSS editing and at times it can difficult to know where to find things. Their premium templates have issues and require work out of the box to get them to function as seen in their demos. Ultimatum didn’t perform well in our benchmarks, so it’s hard to give it a strong recommendation unless you’re comfortable with code and have time to smooth out rough edges.

Headway WordPress Framework Review

Headway allows you to draw your design on a blank canvas, allowing for more unique and creative designs. However, with the significant increase in mobile device usage it’s important to have great responsive controls and Headway doesn’t. Like Ultimatum, the templates you get with Headway require work out of the box to fix issues so if you’re going to use the framework we’d recommend you simply build your design from scratch.

Gantry WordPress Framework Review

Finally, there is Gantry. Like Divi, this one is close to greatness but due to some technical issues it comes up short. There is no inheritance at the moment, so any design you create cannot share elements with any other design, meaning you may have to change single elements many times over to keep them uniform. The developers are aware of the issue and have made resolving it a priority. We also think they should allow users to create themes from scratch from within the layout builder rather than relying on a pre-made theme. Based on Gantry’s solid foundation and strong benchmark performance we think this is going to be a serious contender once a little more work has been done.

WordPress Frameworks Benchmarks

 

Methodology

A new WordPress installation was created for each framework using the latest version of WordPress (4.4.2) and the framework as of early April, 2016. Each was a clean install using the ZIP from WordPress.org and a separate database, but all running from the same server. No further optimization was enabled, and no caching was configured. Only the plugins required by the frameworks and/or their templates were added and the two plugins included with WordPress were removed.

We considered manually re-creating a generic layout using each framework but decided to implement templates created by their developers instead. Not only did this reduce the already lengthy testing and review process, but it allowed us to test the frameworks using templates the developers themselves deemed high quality and suited to their audience. In order to have comparable test results we chose templates that were similar in design and made sure that all content ran off of our test server rather than being pulled from third party sites.

YSlow Grade

“YSlow grades web page based on one of three predefined ruleset or a user-defined ruleset. It offers suggestions for improving the page’s performance, summarizes the page’s components, displays statistics about the page, and provides tools for performance analysis.”

  • WordPress – Twenty Sixteen 93% 93%
  • Gantry – Hydrogen 92% 92%
  • Headway – White Wash 91% 91%
  • Elegant Themes – Divi 90% 90%
  • Ultimatum – Clean 89% 89%

Google Page Speed

“When you profile a web page with PageSpeed, it evaluates the page’s conformance to a number of different rules. These rules are general front-end best practices you can apply at any stage of web development.”

  • Elegant Themes – Divi 97% 97%
  • Ultimatum – Clean 96% 96%
  • WordPress – Twenty Sixteen 94% 94%
  • Gantry – Hydrogen 93% 93%
  • Headway – White Wash 87% 87%

Page Load Times – Homepage

After installing each framework and a simple template/layout we measured the page load times of each three times using GTmetrix.com and averaged the scores to come up with a final value. The clear winner here is Gantry and their Hydrogen theme, which impressively outscored the default WordPress Twenty Sixteen theme.

1.13s Gantry – Hydrogen WINNER

1.29s WordPress – Twenty Sixteen

1.41s Elegant Themes – Divi

1.60s Headway – White Wash

1.92s Ultimatum – Clean

Page Load Times – About Us Page

For a more apples-to-apples comparison we also tested a simple About Us page with each framework. This consisted of the default header/footer, three paragraphs of lorem ipsum, and a single image. As you can see, the rankings were largely the same. The surprise was that two of the five frameworks actually had slower sub-pages than homepages.

0.93s Gantry – Hydrogen WINNER

0.97s WordPress – Twenty Sixteen

1.63s Elegant Themes – Divi

1.71s Ultimatum – Clean

1.72s Headway – White Wash

What We Tested

Here’s what each homepage looked like after it was setup on our test server.

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