There are a lot of things you can do to optimize your WordPress website, however installing a cache plugin will have the biggest effective on your page loading times.
A database powered platform, such as WordPress, generates content dynamically. This means that it requests fresh information about a page every time a visitor views a page. This can be unnecessary as when an article has been published, it only changes when an administrator, editor, or author, goes in and modifies it.
Caching plugins address this issue by creating a static version of your content and delivering it to visitors. This can reduce your page loading time significantly. You could see an improvement in overall website performance of around ten times.
In this article, I would like to show you how you can use a cache plugin for WordPress to speed up your website. All plugins listed in this article are free to download from the official WordPress plugin repository.
W3 Total Cache is the cache plugin I use on all of my WordPress websites. It is also the second most popular cache plugin on WordPress.org.
After activating the plugin, you may need to configure some files to fully install W3 Total Cache. For example, change the file permissions of your wp-content folder to 755 and modify your .htaccess file. The plugin walks you through this whole process by displaying notification messages at the top of the page. If any part of the installation process needs to be completed, W3 Total Cache will advise you of what still needs to be done.
The number of features that W3 Total Cache offers is impressive. There is very little that the plugin cannot do.
The downside to this is that the number of options can be overwhelming. Thankfully, the default settings should be ok for most WordPress users, therefore you do not need to modify any settings.
All major features of W3 Total Cache can be enabled and disabled in the General Settings page. The General box at the top of the page lets you enable or disable all caching features at the top of a button.
Alternatively, you can configure each feature independently. Caching sections include, Page Cache, Minify, Database Cache, Object Cache, Browser Cache, CDN, Varnish, and Monitoring. There are also miscellaneous settings, a debug option, and and import and export functionality.
I believe the default settings will be fine for most W3 Total Cache users. Should you wish, you can configure each feature further as there is a dedicated settings page for each one.
W3 Total Cache has support for extensions such as WordPress SEO and CloudFlare. It also works with every major Content Delivery Network (CDN). Whenever you activate or deactivate a plugin, you should clear your cache so that it can rebuild your pages correctly.
Once again, do not be put off by the hundreds of options that are available to you. When I use the plugin, I simply activate all features from the general settings area and then watch my page loading time drop. I don’t ever mess with technical settings that I do not understand. I leave that to my hosting company 🙂
WP Super Cache is the most popular cache plugin available for WordPress. The plugin promises to deliver static files to 99% of your visitors by utilizing mod rewrite, PHP, or legacy caching.
The plugin is very simple to configure. There are seven tabs in the options page. All you have to do is enable caching through the Easy tab and the plugin will begin to cache your pages. The contents tab will then show you how many pages have been cached and how many have expired.
You can choose what type of caching you use within the advanced settings area. Many settings, such as compressing files and not caching pages for known users, have a note that these settings are recommended. Bizarrely, they are not enabled by default, so you will need to enable them yourself.
The plugin allows several plugins to be loaded in WP Super Cache so that they load quicker than other plugins. This includes Bad Behavior, the Jetpack Mobile Theme, and WPTouch. It also has support for content delivery networks.
All in all, I was impressed with what WP Super Cache can do. It offers a better user experience than W3 Total Cache, however it still has everything you need.
Quick Cache is a great cache plugin that promises “Speed without Compromise”. The plugin takes a snapshot of your pages to deliver a quicker reading experience to most visitors, however it knows not to serve cached pages to logged in users or people who have recently left a comment.
The options page has eight sections, although there are actually not that many settings to configure.
What sets Quick Cache apart from all other cache plugins is the helpful explanations it offers for each setting. A plugin such as W3 Total Cache assumes that you already have the technical knowledge to customize the plugin; however Quick Cache offers a detailed explanation so that you know exactly what each setting does.
It is easy to understand why Quick Cache has a loyal following as it is easy to configure and well documented.
Hyper Cache is a cache plugin that caches normal and Gzip compressed pages. It is a basic cache plugin that works right out the box.
There are a few options available such as mobile device configuration and feed caching. You can also exclude specific URLs from being filtered.
WP Fastest Cache uses mod rewrite to cache your pages and deliver a fast browsing experience to visitors. The main settings page only offers ten options.
Options include whether cached files are delivered to logged in users and mobile visitors, and whether CSS and HTML minification is applied. Several settings have an information button that explains more about what the setting does.
Cached files can be deleted through the settings area. You can also specify the regularity in which cached files are deleted automatically.
I love the simplicity of WP Fastest Cache. It lacks the features that a plugin such as W3 Total Cache offers, but if you are just looking for a simple cache plugin, it is a great choice.
I know that many of you are keen to hear my views on the plugins I review. Specifically, you want to hear what I consider to be the best solution.
I have seen case studies by WordPress users that show that W3 Total Cache is (marginally) faster than other WordPress cache plugins; however I have also seen case studies that state that other solutions are quicker.
All case studies appear to show that the benefits of using one cache plugin over another is very small. Small enough that most people would not notice it. Of course, when you are trying to optimize your pages, every millisecond counts.
The last three plugins in this list, Quick Cache, Hyper Cache, and WP Fastest Cache; do not have support for content delivery networks. Therefore, if you will be utilizing a content delivery network such as MaxCDN, you should use W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache. If not, you might prefer the simplicity that the other cache plugins have to offer.
I am going to continue using W3 Total Cache on my own websites as I am happy with the results. While the plugin does have many settings that I do not understand (nor care about), it is not something that concerns me as the default settings work fine. That is also true for all cache plugins. They are all designed to operate correctly after activation.
My advice to you is to test the plugins in this list. Review your own needs and look at the features they offer. You can then make an informed decision on which one to use long term.
As always, I would love to hear your views about cache plugins. Therefore, I encourage you to take the time to leave a comment and share with us all what cache plugin you are currently using 🙂
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