On Tuesday, Brainstorm Force announced its Astra theme passed 1 million active installations. It is the only non-default theme in the official WordPress theme directory to reach such a height.

Popularity breeds popularity. Once the theme broke 50,000 installs in January 2019, it was a quick hop and skip to 500,000 in October and 1 million less than a year later. With the winds of momentum at its back, the theme may become an unstoppable force. It is anyone’s guess when growth will begin to plateau.

“We recognize that this is not an ordinary feat,” wrote Sujay Pawar in the announcement post. He said the team has no plans of resting at this point. “1 million is just a milestone in our journey.”

Many WordPress plugins have long ago passed the million-install milestone. Several have multi-millions. However, this is a much tougher feat for themes. One of the limiting factors is that users can only activate one of them at a time. There is no limit when it comes to plugins, and users often have dozens running at once. One million active installs is a level of popularity that is almost unheard of in the theming world.

“There is a huge gap between Astra and all others,” said William Patton, a WordPress Themes Team representative. “Hitting 1 million is pretty astounding honestly.”

This is not simply a major milestone for the Astra theme. It is huge for WordPress. For a third-party theme creator to reach a number that only the default themes can boast is the sort of thing we should all rejoice in a bit. It is a testament to how much WordPress has grown over the years.

Aside from the default themes that ship with WordPress, there are currently five themes with more than 100,000 active installs:

Once that first theme passes the 1 million mark, it is only a matter of time before others start breaking the barrier. OceanWP has the shortest striking distance and could be next. However, Hello Elementor is moving fast and earned its install count in a year and a half.

Regardless of the next theme to hit the milestone, this is one of those moments we should look back on in a few years to see how far we have come. Perhaps 1 million active installs will merely be a stepping stone to even greater heights for large numbers of themes.

What Makes Astra Special?

The default Astra theme is not anything particularly revolutionary on the surface. Out of the box, users are given a nearly blank canvas. It seems little more than your run-of-the-mill WordPress theme that would not garner much attention. However, it has one of the easiest setup processes that I have ever experienced with any theme. At the click of a button, end-users can pick from a plethora of starter templates.

There are hundreds of starter templates for Elementor and Beaver Builder. The Brizy page builder gets a little love too. There is even a modest 20 starter templates for Gutenberg. The theme’s block editor styling leaves a lot to be desired, but I would wager that Brainstorm Force is serving a primary audience of Elementor users. The team probably won’t have a huge incentive to change that anytime soon. And, there is really no need to. Elementor passed 5 million active installs in May and is showing no signs of slowing down. Smart theme development businesses are making sure they support the plugin. Elementor support is where the money is right now.

Astra’s starter templates are not merely templates. The theme will install and activate plugins needed too.

Many of the templates are free, but some are available for purchase. The theme allows users to filter the search between free and “agency” templates, so there is no trickery going on as is often the case with similar themes from the directory. They clearly label any upsells in the admin. At a time when the WordPress Themes Team struggles with theme authors circumventing advertising guidelines, Astra seems to be hitting a sweet spot that is both user-friendly and within the directory rules.

While good marketing and business plans go a long way toward getting installation numbers up, you cannot keep those numbers without building a product that users will continue using. Its simple import process makes it an easy go-to choice for anyone who doesn’t relish the idea of spending hours trying to make their site look like the demo.

The theme’s users can probably best answer the question of Astra’s popularity. Brainstorm Force is clearly doing something right.

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