Your Internet experience is only as fast as the websites you visit. Typically, the best websites are also the ones with the quickest load times. A slow website makes for a terrible user experience, and let’s not forget the impact that it is likely to have on your search engine rankings. Google has confirmed the same in the past.
WordPress is dynamic. While this helps keep your website up to date and live, it also slows down your site. So, to tackle this little problem, developers created caching plugins. They help produce a static version of your website and this makes your website much much faster.
I’ll take you through a few plugins that can help speed up your WordPress site. If you aren’t currently using a caching plugin, you’ll certainly find it an interesting and rather important read. And if you are using a caching plugin then you’ll have a few more options to check out and find out which plugin works best for you.
If all these caching plugins fail you and it doesn’t make your site any quicker, then you’ll probably have to upgrade your host. But before you do so, try a few caching plugins and see how they work for your website.
W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache is popular as one of the most powerful caching plugins with a plethora of options at the disposal of the user. Its users include Yoast (author behind the most popular WordPress SEO plugin, which we use on Colorlib as well), Matt Cutts (works on search quality and web spam for Google), Mashable, Smashing Magazine, and many other equally influential websites.
Update (1): Yoast no longer uses plugin based caching and have switched to server side caching. Likely a similar caching we use for Colorlib which is combination between HHVM, Redis and fastcgi_cache.
Update (2): Matt Cutts has switched from W3 Total Cache to WP Super Cache. It’s similar to W3 but is much easier to setup and according to some benchmarks can deliver even better website performance under certain conditions.
Update (3): We now use a completely custom built server side caching. It uses Nginx, HHVM and Redis as base but we have made some tweaks specially for Colorlib. This includes custom comment and bbPress forum thread handling to make sure that they are posted in real time. If you like how well our website perform, make sure to read our hosting guide to find out how you can achieve similar results.
A WordPress newbie may find it daunting to negotiate through the plugin’s many options. That being said, W3 Total Cache offers tips on how to best use the plugin above the plugin’s settings page on your WP dashboard.
The tips actually seem more daunting than the advanced options themselves, how well you use this plugin depends on your ability to attend to each instruction provided. At the bottom, you’ll notice a “Toggle all caching types”, this is sufficient but doesn’t maximise the impact of the plugin.
Even an experienced user would find the instructions helpful because installing the plugin is only part of the process, it needs to be configured appropriately for full impact. Else you can simply choose to enable the default settings, it should be sufficient for most websites.
The plugin isn’t complicated, it is merely vast with a number of options. If you can get past the clutter of options and follow suggestions as presented by the plugin below your WordPress dashboard and may be watch a tutorial or two then it can speed up your website ten times over, which is an impressive feat.
At $99 per year for the paid version, you can enable fragment caching module for better performance with themes/plugins that use WordPress transient API and the paid version also provides CDN mirroring.
WP Super Cache
When I first used this plugin, it was far easier to figure stuff out than the previous plugin. The plugin settings screen greets you with an easy to use version of the plugin. There are multiple tabs, the first one titled “Easy” is displayed first. And it is easier when you aren’t bombarded with as many options as with W3 Total Cache.
WP Super Cache creates a static HTML file which is served to users who aren’t logged in, users who haven’t left a comment on your blog and users who haven’t viewed a password protected post on your site. That pretty much means almost every visitor to your website.
This plugin caches files in three ways:
- Supercached Static files – PHP is completely bypassed and it served as such to unknown visitors.
- Supercached Static files ( served by PHP ) – Server more likely to struggle with large increase or bursts of traffic.
- Legacy Caching – Slowest caching method used for known users.
The difference between supercached served by PHP and not served by PHP becomes more apparent only when there is an increase in traffic, so much so that the host’s server struggles to keep up, else the differences are imperceptible.
You can selectively choose which sections of your website get cached. The plugin also handles sudden spikes in traffic using lockdown and directly cached files.
WP Super Cache helps get rid of your cache files as well by deleting them at specified intervals of time. Preloading the files will create supercached static files for your most recently published posts or for every page and post on your site. With preloading, dealing with cached files after they become redundant is all the more important.
Which One Is The Best One?
I’ve looked at the tests conducted by different people with differing recommendations for caching plugin.
Those tests do provide a great deal of information, however they do not include WP Rocket which I feel would have certainly been just as good as the competition. This test is very comprehensive, we compared several caching solutions for WordPress. WP Rocket came out as the winner, with special mentions for WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache.
The fact is it is very difficult to figure out which among all the plugins is the best. In my opinion, WP Rocket certainly seems to have the edge. But rest of the pack aren’t too far behind at all.
If you’re selecting a caching plugin, then you should consider your requirements. Whether you’d need CDN support? Questions like this become pertinent to selection of the best plugin for your website. Because the differences in performance is largely imperceptible to average user.
Test Your Site With A Cache Plugin Fully Configured.
You can use one of the following,
To keep track of your website regularly, you can access site performance under labs via your Google Analytics account, if you’ve added your website to GA. And most hosting services also provide access to basic page load speed information.
But if you are insistent on running a cache plugin and benchmarking your website thoroughly, it would come in handy if you understood the benchmarking methods used on our post. You’ll see that performing a thorough check is rather tiresome. It is only worth it, if you’re website receives sufficient traffic. Else one of the three aforementioned tools should be sufficient.
Based on your level of comfort with caching plugins you can select any one of the 6 plugins presented in this post. Try each one of them (even the paid ones have refund periods) and arrive at what works for you.
Be sure to use the same theme, plugins and same host for your tests. And also test a number of URLs (apart from just your website’s homepage) for some variability and to ensure that the test is fair.
Choose the plugin that you are comfortable with, spending an hour each day to constantly reconfigure your plugins simply isn’t worth it. The differences, when comparing these 6 plugins are marginal. But it can become a chasm depending on your ability to rightly configure the cache plugin in question.
Personally, if I read this article I’d look at the plugin screenshots check for the one that seems least daunting and try that one out first, provided it meets all my requirements. And then test your plugin. Compare it with similar websites that are known for their speed and popularity.
If you have very good results with your first try, you can stop there unless you need to specifically tackle a problem, like say a burst in traffic. Then it gets a bit trickier, I’d suggest strongly that you read the benchmarking methods used on our tests before trying your own tests.
If you were wondering, Colorlib uses W3TC in combination with Memcached for object and database caching and CDN management.
For every website there is a speed ceiling and once you’ve hit it, you need to upgrade your hardware perhaps a top notch CDN service like MaxCDN or CloudFlare.
If you know of other awesome internal caching solutions, please do weigh in on the comments section. I look forward to reading them!
I hope that you found the post informative about the WordPress caching choices available to you. And that you’ve found the right plugin for your site.