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If you came here looking for the best free premium WordPress theme in 2021, then look no further.
I have been using WordPress and blogging since 2014 which means I’ve tried my fair share of free and paid WordPress themes over the years.
Use the Kadence theme review guide below to jump around as you need:
Over the years, I’ve used several WordPress themes including the X Theme (by ThemeForest), Neve, OceanWP, Astra, and GeneratePress.
They all have their pros and cons as any theme does.
However, it always felt like I was spending too much time trying to develop my website and perfect my design and not enough time writing content (anyone else?).
Then came a fast, customizable, intuitive, and, best of all, FREE WordPress theme – Kadence.
From the second I saw the free Kadence theme, I was blown away. It was everything I had hoped a theme would do (along with being fast), but after years of searching for a free premium WordPress theme, I had never found one… until now.
The Kadence theme checked my main 3 checkboxes I look for in a free WordPress theme:
- Lightweight, SEO-friendly code for fast page loading (helps your pages rank high in the SERPs)
- Tight integration with the Gutenberg WordPress editor
- Easy to use customizer interface so beginners can start a blog in less time
- (Bonus) A dedicated Gutenberg blocks plugin to extend Gutenberg and help replace page builders (Kadence Blocks)
The best part? The free Kadence theme gives you more options than most paid WordPress themes do.
Yes, you heard that right. Header and footer builder? Sticky header? Transparent header? Scroll to top? SVG social icons without needing a plugin? Lightweight code for really fast performance? All of that… completely free – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I have purchased Astra Pro (which is Astra’s paid add-on for $50/year), and I have also purchased GeneratePress Premium (which is the paid add-on for GeneratePress for $50/year). If I had to choose between Kadence vs Astra vs GeneratePress to build WordPress sites, I would choose the free Kadence theme every single time.
Have you heard of the Astra theme before? If so, you should definitely check out my very detailed comparison of Astra vs Kadence including speed comparisons, ease of use tests, and much more.
I also have a very detailed comparison between Kadence vs GeneratePress.
If you have used or currently use page builders with your WordPress theme such as Elementor, Elementor Pro, Beaver Builder, Thrive Architect, or even a theme like Divi, I would highly suggest you give the Kadence theme a try.
Here at Start Blogging 101, I’ve never been an advocate for page builders. Easily one of my favorite things about the Kadence theme is how tightly integrated it is with the Gutenberg WordPress editor and Kadence Blocks which is the most popular Gutenberg block extension plugin on the WordPress market right now.
If you’ve tried out the Gutenberg editor in WordPress before and hated it (as I did at first), you might want to give it another shot.
Okay… enough blabbing. Let’s get right into the Kadence theme review and how it’s better than other premium WordPress themes out there and the best free WordPress theme in 2021.
Kadence Review Overview
|Ease of Use||★★★★★|
|Gutenberg Blocks Plugin?||Yes|
|Overall:||4.8 / 5|
Overall, the Kadence Theme is my #1 rated WordPress theme on the market for 2021. Both the free version and the pro version of the theme offer an insane amount of features that allow you to build any website you want.
The Kadence Theme is built on lightweight, SEO-friendly code which means your site will load extremely fast and also rank high in the Google search results.
Additionally, adding the Kadence Blocks plugin will unlock a page-builder type of experience directly within Gutenberg, the built-in WordPress editor. Both Kadence Theme Pro and Kadence Blocks Pro come in a website builder’s dream package called the Kadence Suite (formerly known as the Kadence Membership).
Kadence Theme Performance
First of all, let’s talk about my #1 top priority in a theme – speed performance.
Since Google’s Core Web Vitals are now officially a ranking factor for websites, you absolutely want to make sure you’re using a lightweight WordPress theme that loads fast so you can pass the Core Web Vitals and get that precious ranking boost.
Years ago, WordPress themes were usually either one of two things:
- Packed full of features and customization options, but bloated and loaded very slow
- Loaded quickly, but lacked useful features which meant it took a lot longer to get your site to look the way you want
Fortunately, with faster, better coding frameworks maturing over the years, there are now WordPress themes that are both fast AND that give you access to tons of features without slowing your website down.
The Kadence Theme is built on the latest technologies that allow the theme to be both fast loading AND packed full of features.
Kadence Speed Test
Let’s take a look at a Kadence speed test in Google PageSpeed Insights:
WOW! Now that is fast. Notice that this Google PageSpeed Insights test is showing the mobile tab which is the main item you should be optimizing your site for if you want to pass Google’s Core Web Vitals.
The mobile tab in Google PSI also happens to be the hardest one to optimize for. It’s very easy to get high scores on the desktop tab, but where you see many sites fail is when you switch to the mobile tab, many of them have scores below 50, especially if you’re using a third-party page builder.
How fast is the Kadence Theme? On this website, I received a score of 99 in Google PageSpeed Insights on the “mobile” tab with a Largest Contentful Paint of 2.1 seconds, a Total Blocking Time of 0 ms, and a Cumulative Layout Shift of 0 which passes all of Google’s Core Web Vitals.
These speeds are insanely fast considering that this Kadence speed test was run against a full-blown landing page with multiple sections and images.
Getting high scores like these is very easy by doing four things:
- Using fast, reliable hosting (See hosting page)
- Using a lightweight, customizable WordPress theme (Kadence Theme)
- Not using third-party page builders and using the built-in WordPress editor (Gutenberg) to build your page (WordPress Without Page Builders – Facebook Group)
- Using a high-performance caching plugin (such as WP Rocket or you can read my WP Rocket Best Settings to pass Core Web Vitals)
Load Google Fonts Locally
Have you ever had issues with Google Fonts slowing down your website? Many of us have been there.
When you go to test your page speed, Google fonts are always one of those picky things that many speed test tools complain about.
The truth is, if you use Google Fonts and care about the speed of your website, you should absolutely be hosting your Google Fonts locally.
In order to do this, most people suggest using the OMGF plugin (Optimize My Google Fonts) which requires some configuration. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
With the Kadence Theme, you no longer have to worry. The Kadence Theme allows you to simply flip a switch to host your Google Fonts locally and it will do all the magic in the background automatically for you.
How amazing is that?
Have you ever noticed how fast the fonts load in on Medium.com, your WordPress dashboard, or even this site, Start Blogging 101?
That’s because those sites are using system fonts.
What are system fonts? System fonts are the fonts that come preinstalled with every OS (MacOS, Windows, Android, iOS, etc.)
The Kadence Theme gives you the option to choose “System Default” for your typography options which will use system fonts on your website.
If you choose to use the System Default font stack on your WordPress website, it means that your site will show the default font for whichever device is accessing your website at the time.
Therefore, they don’t require any download time by the browser which means your site is going to be blazing fast with no font files holding it back.
Even better, you get access to all nine font weights (100-900) to use at your disposal along with the italics version of all the weights as well. That’s a lot of opportunity for design!
Best Features of the Free Kadence Theme
- Header and footer builder
- Sticky and transparent header
- Global color palette
- Extremely intuitive design
- Beautiful SVG social icons (no plugin needed)
- Related posts built-in
- Scroll to top
- Tight integration with Gutenberg and Kadence Blocks
I could rave all day about the best features of the free Kadence theme, but I’ll highlight the ones I love most.
Kadence Header and Footer Features
First of all, there is an amazing header and footer builder where you can easily drag and drop different sections onto your header and build a fully functional (and good-looking!) header for your blog or website in a matter of minutes.
For example, here’s a screenshot of the free Kadence theme header builder used for Start Blogging 101:
Oh, and you know how certain WordPress themes or Elementor try to upsell you on things like getting a top or bottom header bar to add announcements, countdown timers, and other flashy items?
Well, Kadence includes 3 header rows – your top header row, main header row, and bottom header row – all for free.
It also took me about 5 minutes to build my header exactly the way I wanted it.
One of my favorite parts about the header builder is I can have my primary navigation, SVG social icons (don’t even need to install an extra plugin like every other theme), a CTA button, and a search icon all laid out nicely in my header using simple drag and drop functionality. Try doing that quickly in a theme like Astra without a page builder. 😂
As I said, this was a 5-minute job using Kadence. I tried doing the same using the Astra Pro theme and you can’t even add a button and a search icon next to each other in your header without writing hacky code. How many beginner bloggers are going to know how to do that? Kadence is better and a life changer for bloggers.
If you want to see the differences between Astra and Kadence for building headers, I did a header builder test in my Astra vs Kadence WordPress theme comparison.
Also, if you need a mega menu builder for your website or a WooCommerce site using the Kadence theme, that’s a feature that included in the pro version of the Kadence Theme (more on that in the Kadence Mega Menu & WooCommerce Add-on section).
On top of the header builder is a footer builder. The footer builder works exactly like the header builder. There isn’t much to say here except for the fact that you also get 3 rows for your footer for free with several widget areas. You can also use the beautiful SVG icons to add your social pages, icons for contact information, and much more!
The header can become a sticky header with the flip of a switch. The Kadence theme also includes the ability to have a transparent header AND a sticky mobile header – once again, you guessed it, all for free.
Having a transparent header and a sticky mobile header is a premium feature on many paid themes, but you pay $0 for those features if you switch to Kadence.
Kadence Global Color Palette
The Kadence theme comes with a genius feature that I’m surprised hasn’t been a thing until now – a global color palette.
If you’ve ever built a WordPress site before, you probably have spent a lot of time in the Customizer tweaking the design to get your site to look exactly the way you want it.
This most likely consisted of you copying and pasting colors (hex code, HSL, RGBa) over and over and over again in certain areas that all shared the same color scheme for your site.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a color palette that you could set to match your brand’s color scheme and choose from those values throughout your site?
Well, with the Kadence theme, you get exactly that.
If you’re wondering how to use the Kadence color palette, I wrote a detailed blog post showing you exactly how to use the Kadence global color palette to supercharge your brand.
The first two colors are your accent colors (your main brand color), the next four colors are your contrast colors for things like your strong text, medium text, and border colors, and then the last three colors are your base colors which are used for subtle backgrounds or your main website background (usually white or light gray).
Kadence Theme WordPress Customizer
The Kadence theme easily has the most intuitive WordPress customizer out of any theme I’ve used in years.
When I am building a WordPress site, I build it section by section. So, for example, I’ll work on the header first to get all of the elements in the header (logo, main navigation, social icons, search functionality) where I want them along with the correct colors set.
With Kadence, all the options you need for each section of your site is exactly where you’d expect to find them.
For example, here’s a screenshot of the “Header” section in the Kadence theme customizer:
Everything you need for the header of your website is in one, convenient spot.
You can easily get to your logo section where you upload your brand logo and upload your site favicon.
You have a shortcut to your primary navigation where you can determine exactly which pages you want to show.
Then, you have drag and drop elements such as secondary navigation, search, buttons, social icons, or generic HTML that you can add to your header in a matter of seconds.
But what about your header design? You know, the header background color, primary navigation link colors and hover colors, social icon colors, etc?
In other themes I’ve used, the design and colors of your site are in an entirely separate section of the customizer. I’m not sure why this is. If I’m designing my website header, why wouldn’t the design elements and colors be accessible right within the header section itself?
With Kadence, you don’t have to worry. Each separate section of your website also has a Design tab linked right to it. See below:
Boom. All of the colors of each section are right there (where they should be) and can be tweaked very easily.
Also, notice the Globe icon over the blue color of the header background. This means this color is tied to your global color palette. That way, if you ever change the colors of your website, all you have to do is change the color in the Kadence color palette and it will automatically update the header for you. How awesome is that?!
All in all, the intuitive design of the Kadence customizer blew me away. I have used the customizer extensively in the Kadence, Astra, and GeneratePress themes and Kadence wins the award for the easiest to use by far.
In fact, I challenge you to try the WordPress customizer in the free Kadence theme on a demo or staging site and let me know if you like it better than your current theme in the comments at the end of this post.
I’ve asked several bloggers which WordPress customizer they enjoyed using the most when comparing Kadence vs Astra vs GeneratePress and every single blogger has said Kadence so far.
Kadence Free SVG Social Icons (without a plugin)
SVG Social Icons. This feature is so simple, yet something that many popular WordPress themes don’t come with.
With Kadence, you can choose from a plethora of SVG social network icons to add to your header or footer. Even better, you get the SVG social icons for free without needing to install a separate plugin.
Most other popular lightweight WordPress themes such as Astra or GeneratePress make you install a plugin in order to get social icons into your header or footer. Why? Adding social icons (which are SVG icons) does not add bloat to your WordPress theme.
As the Gutenberg WordPress editor matures, more and more people are going to drop page builders and will need features like SVG social icons built into the WordPress theme itself. Kadence is one of the first themes that has support for a large array of social icons that you can add with ease.
If you don’t know much about SVG, here’s a super quick rundown. SVG (which stands for Scalable Vector Graphics) is a very lightweight way to include icons and images on a site. Because they are so simple and can be injected inline with your code, they take up a lot less space than an actual image and therefore allow pages to load faster.
Also, my favorite part of SVG is that the icons look extremely sharp on high-resolution screens (MacBooks, 4K screens, high-resolution phone screens) because the image can scale as big as you’d like without losing any quality.
Chalk this up as yet another reason the Kadence theme is better than Astra or GeneratePress and the best free WordPress theme in 2021.
Kadence Extra Features
If you’ve read to this point about all of the amazing features the free Kadence theme includes and are already impressed as I was, there’s a lot more in store.
As I said in the beginning of this post, the free Kadence WordPress theme includes a lot more features that most paid WordPress themes include.
In fact, here’s a list of features that you get with the free Kadence theme that you have to pay for with most other popular WordPress themes:
- Scroll to top
- Multiple navigation menus
- Three rows for both your header and footer
- Sticky and transparent header
- Sticky sidebar
- Typography options for any section of your site
- Spacing control for padding and margins
- Related posts slider at the end of your blog posts
- Extra custom WooCommerce options
Plus even more. But don’t just read about it, give the free Kadence WordPress theme a try and see for yourself!
Whew. That’s a massive amount of features and value thrown into a completely free theme which is why Kadence is the best free WordPress theme in 2021 by far.
However, imagine the best free WordPress theme on steroids… what features could possibly be added to an already feature-packed theme?
Well, that’s where the Kadence Theme Pro comes into play. Check out the section below to see all of the best features of the pro version of the Kadence theme.
Kadence 40% Off Stellar Sale
Kadence is currently offering a MASSIVE 40% OFF the Kadence Full Bundle which is only good for a very limited time. Discount applied at checkout.
Ends August 4th!
Best Features of the Kadence Theme Pro
- Advanced header builder add-on
- Element hooks
- Mega Menu
- WooCommerce add-on
- Header/footer scripts
- Custom sticky header
Now it’s time to go over the Kadence Pro Theme which is the pro version of the already incredible free Kadence theme. Kadence Theme Pro packs in a ton of premium features that will allow you to create almost any site you can imagine. Read about the best features of the Kadence Theme Pro below.
Kadence Advanced Header Builder Add-on
The free Kadence theme header builder is already extremely impressive as is. However, you can supercharge your header builder with the advanced add-on that comes with Kadence Theme Pro.
Do you need a more complex design for your header? An account dropdown for a membership login site? Extra dividers and areas to include HTML? Additional buttons to include a CTA for an offer? Additional navigation menus? A search bar? You get all of that with the Kadence Pro Theme.
In fact, here are all the additional elements you get with the Kadence Advanced Header Builder Add-on:
- Account Icon with Dropdown/Modal (Login View, Logout View)
- Search Bar
- Contact Elements
- Widget area
- Toggle with slide-out panel (Widget Area)
If you purchase a Kadence Membership, you get access to the Kadence Pro Theme, Kadence Blocks Pro (pro version of Kadence Blocks which adds additional Gutenberg blocks), and much, much more.
Here’s a header I created for a demo membership site in 5 minutes using the Kadence Advanced Header Builder Add-on:
There are several things to point out here. First, notice the fantastic looking SVG social icons. These are what I talked about in the SVG Social Icons section. These icons are completely free in the free version of the Kadence theme and there are 23 various social networks to choose from – all with lightweight SVG icons.
Secondly, notice the Membership button with a nice divider to the right of it (you get 3 of these dividers to use and style however you want with the Advanced Header).
Lastly, notice the Account icon all the way to the right. This is an awesome feature included with the Kadence Advanced Header Builder Add-on which would be perfect to include on membership sites where you want to charge a subscription-based fee for offering services, courses, or premium content.
Here’s another example of a header built with the pro version of the Kadence theme header builder for a demo WooCommerce site:
Check out (no pun intended) the customizable Cart icon that comes with a WooCommerce site built with the Kadence theme.
I added a Search Bar to the left of the cart icon which is really nice to help customers search for your products on your WooCommerce site.
Also, notice how I took advantage of the top bar to add a current promotion (20% off your first order) using an HTML block and a CTA Button along with the simple SVG social icons on the right side of the top bar to link customers to your Ecommerce social sites.
Here’s a screenshot showing how simple it was to create the WooCommerce header with Kadence:
Once again, a fully functional WooCommerce built with the Kadence drag and drop header builder in less than 10 minutes. This thing is incredible.
Kadence Element Hooks
Kadence Element Hooks is one of the biggest reasons I purchased a Kadence Membership to get access to the Kadence Theme Pro. If you don’t know what theme hooks are, they allow you to build custom sections and hook them into different places throughout your site using conditionals.
If that’s too confusing, here’s a more simple explanation. Hooks are various areas within your theme where you can include custom code to be run on all pages or only pages that you specify.
For example, say you want to know how to add Google Analytics code without a plugin to your WordPress site. You could easily use a Kadence hook to include your Google Analytics snippet of code in your
wp_head which would remove the need to use a plugin. The less plugins I need, the better.
Or, say you are an affiliate marketer who takes part in the Amazon Affiliate Program or another large affiliate network such as CJ or ShareASale and you need a disclaimer to show up at the top of each of your blog posts. You could write a simple affiliate disclaimer that links to your Disclosure Policy page and hook it into the Before Entry Content hook which will show up before the content of every single blog post on your site.
But wait… you don’t want the affiliate disclaimer to show up on every single blog post and page, right? Because every blog post you write may not include affiliate links.
So, what do you do? That’s where the conditional power of the Kadence element hooks comes into play.
One solution to the problem would be to add a WordPress tag of “affiliate” to each post that includes affiliate links. Then, for the conditional part of the Kadence element hook, you would specify that you only want that affiliate disclaimer to show before the content of every post tagged with “affiliate.” Voila! Now you don’t need to manually add an affiliate disclaimer on every single post yourself. The Kadence hook has you covered.
This feature is so powerful and extensible that I wrote an extended tutorial teaching you how to use Kadence Element Hooks for endless customization on your website which shows you exactly how to create this affiliate disclosure that I just talked about and much more – check it out!
I also have a Kadence Element Hooks video tutorial on YouTube for the visual learners out there.
Some other common scenarios would be including social share icons before or after your content, adding an affiliate ad banner before or after your WordPress sidebar depending on what category your blog post is, including a “Subscribe to Newsletter” section after each of your blog posts, adding a countdown timer above your WordPress header with a CTA button for an offer, and so much more.
Here are some additional bite-size Kadence Element tutorials teaching you how to add specific elements to your website. I’ll update this as I create more Kadence Element tutorials:
Kadence Element Hooks are extremely powerful and are easily one of the most exciting features included with the Kadence Pro Theme.
Kadence Mega Menu & WooCommerce Add-On
The Kadence Mega Menu & WooCommerce Add-on covers all of the WooCommerce sites and any sites that need a mega menu to easily show the deep linking navigation between their pages.
Imagine being able to easily create a mega menu to show off all of your website’s categories, pages, services, courses, and much more in a visually appealing way.
The Kadence Mega Menu allows you to create multi-column dropdowns and also include icons in your navigational items. For a simple example to show you what I mean, you can hover over the Shop menu item on this beautiful demo using one of Kadence WP’s other premium themes, Ascend.
Likewise, the Kadence WooCommerce Add-on, which comes with the pro version of Kadence adds a number of custom WooCommerce features.
These include a quick view for product archives, the ability to build a custom shop page, AJAX add to cart from single product pages, a sticky add to cart banner as the user scrolls on your page, and even more.
These features are amazing and help take your WooCommerce site to a whole new level by providing a killer user experience and increased conversions especially with the sticky add to cart banner.
If you consider the fact that Kadence includes more features for WooCommerce sites and is much easier to use than other sites like Astra Pro’s WooCommerce add-on, I have a feeling many people will find a ton of value in the Kadence Theme Pro and be switching from Astra and other popular themes.
I show specific side by side WooCommerce features between Astra and Kadence in my Astra vs Kadence comparison article.
More features will be added to the Mega Menu and the WooCommerce Add-on as time goes on which is why grabbing a Lifetime Kadence Membership may be more cost-effective than a yearly membership!
Kadence Custom Sticky Header
The Kadence Custom Sticky Header will allow you to create a completely different header for your site and only have it show when users scroll down on your website.
Say your header has all of your navigation items when the user first comes to your page, but then you want your header to show a different logo while displaying a search bar and social icons as they’re reading your content. You’ll be able to do that or anything else your imagination can come up with!
So, there you have it! All of the best features of the free Kadence theme along with all of the best features of the Kadence Theme Pro.
I don’t know about you, but I’m absolutely blown away by all the features that come for free with the Kadence Theme. And if you aren’t convinced, perhaps you need to give it a try. 🙂
The Kadence Theme is hands down the best free WordPress theme that has been released in the past decade while also NOT giving up performance.
If you care about your site speed (and you should because Google ranks pages higher that load faster), then Kadence should be a no-brainer for the number of features you get.
Have you tried the Kadence theme yet? If so, what theme are you currently using, and do you like Kadence or your theme better? Let me know in the comments below.
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