In this day and age of mobile browsing and dwindling attention spans, website speed and page load time are crucial. Not only does a slow loading site kill readership and increase bounce rates, but it also has an effect on search health and the overall attractiveness of a web presence.
One of the most important ways to improve site speed is to use a caching plugin. This is particularly important for WordPress websites as factors such as regular content publishing and the use of multiple plugins can all decrease site efficiency.
This blog post aims to describe the process of caching, how it will improve the performance of your WordPress website, and detail a collection of the best caching plugins for WordPress.
What is Caching and How do Caching Plugins Work
When a web user visits your website for the first time, their browser connects to your server and requests all of the relevant site files (content from your database, imagery, CSS files and more).
Due to the nature of the WordPress CMS working dynamically, multiple database calls will run and retrieve information each and every time the user visits a web page.
In computing terms, a cache is a component of either hardware or software that allows for the storage of data and files. Enabling caching allows for the storage of frequently requested active data files so that when a site viewer returns to your site, only the updated content will be loaded dynamically, resulting in a faster load time.
Typically, there are two main forms of caching that most plugins offer: page and browser caching.
- Page Caching: When a page is requested for load, WordPress runs a number of requests to retrieve relevant resources such as PHP scripts and MySQL entries in order to display the specified page. A caching plugin will create a static version of your website’s pages. Here, bypassing dynamic loading and presenting significantly smaller and cached static files will increase load speed.
While not standard features, most modern caching plugins offer a combination of the following features:
- Minification: Typically for CSS and JS files, minification removes unnecessary characters from code without affecting the functionality. Here, characters such as comments, lines, spaces etc. are removed to decrease the overall file size and increase load time.
- Gzip Compression: One of the many compression methods, Gzip compresses files on the server and returns these (smaller files) during requests. As well as caching and compression-only plugins, Gzip compression can be set up manually by manipulating the code in the .htaccess file.
- Support for a CDN: A CDN (or Content Delivery Network) allows for the storage of static content within multiple cloud storage facilities. Particularly useful for websites that are releasing image-rich content on a regular basis, using a CDN will relieve quite a bit of stress from a single server. Although not all websites will need to make use of a CDN, it’s worth noting which caching plugins offer support for CDNs in the event that it applies to your or your client’s particular needs.
If you’re looking for more information on CDNs, read our post ‘Everything You Need To Know About Using A CDN With WordPress’.
Top Caching Plugins for WordPress
Below are a few of the most popular and widely used caching plugins for WordPress.
Of the vast number of caching plugins – both free and premium – readily available for download and purchase, we collated this list by cross-referencing a number of sources writing on the topic of page speed and caching plugins, and tallying the number of most frequently cited products.
W3 Total Cache
One of the most well known of the WordPress caching plugins is W3 Total Cache. With the plethora of configuration options (divided into several pages) presented in the plugin, W3 Total Cache can be extremely overwhelming especially for new users and might best be left to more advanced users with in-depth technical knowledge of caching systems.
Becoming familiar with the vast configuration settings will require research, but this is a worthy exercise for those who need a very particular caching solution for their website.
Along with a vast number of features (including page/browser/database caching, minification and Gzip compression and much more), W3 Total Cache offers support for a number of CDNs. While the W3 Total Cache free plugin is more than adequate, there is the option to upgrade to a Pro version for additional features.
After activation, W3 Total Cache will have its own menu item in the WordPress admin menu. Along with the various caching settings, the plugin offers instructions/tips, an extensive list of FAQ entries as well as a Support tab to assist you in troubleshooting any queries or concerns.
WP Super Cache
WP Super Cache is another popular, free caching plugin that is extremely easy to use and quick to set up. The plugin guides users throughout the set-up process by offering settings recommendations that simply need to be selected via the checkbox interface. For new users, simply navigating to the Easy tab and ticking the ‘Caching On’ checkbox is enough to already begin noting a significant increase in site speed. More in-depth configuration options can be found in the Advanced tab. Here you’ll find various configuration options such as page caching and compression options. WP Super Cache offers support for CDN. After installing and activating WP Super Cache, a new menu item will be located in the Settings tab. Through each of the plugins pages, a handy Help guide is present. This offers outbound links to installation guides, FAQs and support forums.
WP Fastest Cache
A great option for new users, WP Fastest Cache is simple, straightforward, and finds a perfect harmony in balancing a number of essential features with ease of use. With fewer customization options, WP Fastest Cache is easy to set up and configure and may be best suited to a new user. On the flip side, WP Fastest Cache doesn’t present all of the in-depth customizations as other plugins do, and some more advanced users might find the plugin a bit too basic.
As well as generating and serving static HTML pages of your website to visitors, WP Fastest Cache offers browser caching, Gzip compression, minification (of HTML, JS and CSS files) as well as the option to combine CSS and JS files (to reduce the number of server requests).
Once installed and activated, WP Fastest Cache will appear within your WordPress menu. Operating on the freemium basis, WP Fastest Cache offers a number of additional features (such as optimization for imagery, statistics and more) in the premium version.
WP Rocket is a premium caching plugin that is both powerful and easy to use. Unlike the other free plugins listed here, WP Rocket is paid, with packages ranging from $39-$199 depending on the number of sites intended for use.
As well as great features (including page and browser caching, cache preloading, Gzip compression, minification of HTML, JS and CSS files), WP Rocket is multisite compatible, offers optimization for Google Fonts, includes LazyLoad (which sees images load only as a user scrolls through the page and not all at once), as well as many, many other features. WP Rocket has been built in such a way that developers are able to manipulate and customize the source code if desired.
One of the benefits of opting for WP Rocket and paying for a package is the plugin support. In the event that anything goes wrong or you’re seeking additional assistance, you’re able to open a ticket and receive dedicated support toward solving your problem.
Autoptimize & Cache Enabler
While Cache Enabler takes care of the HTML files by turning them into static resources and storing these instead of the dynamic WordPress files, Autoptimize operates on the minification side of things, taking care of the various script and style files by compressing them to help save on load speed.
While we have only listed only a few WordPress caching plugins, there are a vast number of other plugins readily available. Other caching plugins include Hyper Cache, Comet Cache, Cachify and Simple Cache.
We want to hear from you!
Are you using a caching plugin on your WordPress website? If so, which plugin do you use, and what do you like about it?
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