A Guide to WordPress Caching and the Best Caching Plugins

As your WordPress website grows, with the publication of new content and the installation of additional wordpress plugins, it will, unfortunately, start to slow down.  Even a fresh installation of WordPress platforms can suffer from poor performance during spikes of high traffic or if you’re using a low-quality web host.

Statistically speaking, Neil Patel says that 40% of people abandon a website if the load time takes more than 3 seconds. So it comes as no surprise that Google continues to emphasize site speed in its search algorithm. The fewer the load time, the better your search rankings, and the more organic traffic you can attract.

Caching WordPress is a fundamental factor in determining a site’s overall performance since it generates HTML pages dynamically – by applying PHP code alongside MySQL database queries. If properly, your WordPress site can be orders of magnitude faster. It helps prevent redundancy and speeds up the load time of your site. Speeding up your WordPress site can be employed in 3 primary ways:

  • Use high end, insanely powerful, clustered servers
  • Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
  • Configure WordPress Caching

The first two points can be very expensive and usually depend on the number of visitors a site has. However, WordPress caching can be used even in the smallest of websites.

Do you want to increase the speed of your WordPress website? Using a caching plugin on your website is one of the best ways to ensure your website loads faster.

What is Caching?

A cache is an area in the computer’s memory that stores recently used information. When a site is cached, it means the site’s pages, images, files and Web objects are stored on the user’s local hard drive – this is called the cache file. In turn, this means that when a user opens a frequently accessed file, the browser will have most (if not all) of its files cached.

To put it simply, when a user visits a page of your website, he loads all the elements. So there are a number of requests that are sent to the server. Each of them increases the loading time of the page. This is the principle of a dynamic website, every time the page is displayed by a new visitor, all elements are requested from the webserver through queries.

The caching plugin instructs the server to store some files to disk or RAM, depending on the configuration. Therefore, it can remember and duplicate the same content it’s been serving in the past. As a result, your web pages load much faster, directly from cache. Basically, caching reduces the amount of work required to generate a page view.

Types of Caching

Broadly speaking, there are two types of caches — server and browser. Browser caching is done on the client (user) side, while server caching is (unsurprisingly) done on the server. Let’s look at the differences between the two.

Browser Caching

When you visit a website, you don’t just need to retrieve the content of the page you’re seeing — you also need a bunch of resources such as Javascript files, stylesheets, and fonts and so on, which your browser downloads in addition to the content of the page.

Browser caching allows your browser to store these files for a while, so it doesn’t need to retrieve them every time you visit the site.

Server Caching

This is a dedicated server acting as a storage for web content, usually to have it available in a local area network. This serves to make web browsing and other services that need to go out over the internet, like software updates, faster because all of the usual data that used to be fetched from the outside is made available within the local vicinity.

Instead of processing every request, the server takes the results of these requests and stores them. It then serves these saved results instead — making everything much faster.

WordPress Caching: Why important?

Caching plugins help WordPress work more efficiently. By default, each time a page on your WordPress website is accessed by a visitor, the content is generated dynamically with lots going on in the background, including multiple database queries and code executions. A caching plugin will create a static version of your content, removing many of the steps that take place when a page is generated dynamically. You need proper caching set up to improve your WordPress speed and performance.

  • When it comes to page speed and load time, an improvement of just a single second can have huge implications for your bottom line. The result of this is faster loading times and happier visitors.
  • According to Kissmetrics, 40% of your visitors will lose patience and leave your site if your pages take more than three seconds to load. A single second of delay can reduce your conversions by 7%. Faster websites are known for decreasing bounce rates since people are not interested in waiting around for a page to load for 10 seconds.
  • It also puts less of a strain on your server. This is very important when it comes to highly dynamic sites. It reduces the load on your WordPress hosting servers and makes your website run faster.
  • Google uses page speed as a factor when determining where to rank your content in its search engine results pages. So, if you want greater search engine visibility and more traffic from sites like Google, you need to speed up your website.
  • Caching is one of the easiest ways to lower your TTFB (Time To First Byte). In fact, caching typically reduces TTFB by up to 90%. TTFB is the amount of time it takes from when a client makes an HTTP request to it receiving its first byte of data from the webserver. This is an important aspect of website optimization since the faster the TTFB, the faster the requested resource can start being delivered to the browser.
  • Caching can also help reduce the load on your hosting server. This can save server memory and I/O operations. As a result, caching is fast becoming a vital feature, especially for folks with limited hosting plans. Save a substantial amount of the server’s resource consumption – very helpful for people who host their sites in shared hosting servers.

There are many ways to improve the speed of WordPress, one of the easiest options is to use a caching plugin.

Why should you care about your page speed?

When it comes to page speed, if your website takes more than 2 seconds to fully load, it can be a serious concern. A slow-loading website can cause significant loss – most website owners lose their loyal audience just because their website loading speed is not acceptable. Not only it will dramatically increase your bounce rate but also it affects your SERPs standing.

Backlinko recently conducted a study where they analyzed over one million search engine results pages (SERPs) on Google. And they quickly found that average page load speed for any given website was a huge factor in ranking higher:

source: https://backlinko.com/search-engine-ranking

This correlation was recently backed up and supported by Google’s new PageSpeed industry benchmarks. They found that as page load times go up, the chance of someone bouncing from your site increases dramatically:

source: https://think.storage.googleapis.com/docs/mobile-page-speed-new-industry-benchmarks.pdf

So in conclusion, a few extra seconds could have a huge impact on your ability to engage visitors and make sales. So focusing on page speed is paramount to having a successful company and a website that best converts.

The Best WordPress Caching Plugins

Before anything else, we need to stress out a very important rule: Never ever use more than one caching plugin. This will not make your site faster instead it’ll likely make your site a lot slower, and break it in the process.

Always use a single caching plugin. When configured correctly, it’ll help speed up your site quite a lot.

Here’s a short list of the top WordPress caching plugins for you.

W3 Total Cache (Free)

w3 total cache image

Version: 0.9.7.5 | Active Installations: 1+ million | WordPress Version: 3.2 or higher

  • As one of the most popular plugins in the WordPress plugin library, W3 Total Cache is a common WordPress caching plugin.
  • The backend settings are often quite plentiful and difficult to understand. Although it includes all the features you will need, beginners will still find it confusing.
  • Features include page cache, object cache, gzip compression, limited minification support, CDN support, and more.
  • With over a million active installs, W3 Total Cache is one of the most popular caching plugins for WordPress. It improves your server performance by caching every aspect of your site and also offers content delivery network integrations.

WP Super Cache (Free)

wp super cache caching plugin

Version: 1.6.8 | Active Installations: 2+ million | WordPress Version: 3.1 or higher

  • Anyway, WP Super Cache is free and open-source, with no upgrades needed after the installation.
  • It works efficiently by creating static HTML files and serving those files instead of the heavy WordPress PHP scripts. A benefit of going with WP Super Cache is that it offers three caching modes.
  • (a) Simple: This is the most recommended method of file caching because you don’t have to edit PHP files, plus the .htaccess file does not need to be configured. (b) Expert: This is the fastest caching method to serve super cached HTML files to users, but requires a modification of your .htaccess files. (c) WP Super Caching: This method is used to cache pages for known users (the ones who log into your site, leave comments, etc.). Though it’s the most flexible caching method, it’s slightly slower compared to other methods.

WP Rocket (Premium)

wp rocket wordpress caching plugin
  • WP Rocket is the most popular premium caching plugin for WordPress.
  • The ease of configuration is what sets WP Rocket apart from its competition. Once you activate the plugin, page caching will immediately be activated in one-click.
  • It is the easiest and most beginner-friendly caching plugin, which is a big help if you don’t know the technical terms used for different caching options.
  • Its crawler automatically fetches your WordPress pages to build up the cache. The plugin then automatically turns on recommended WordPress caching settings like gzip compression, page cache, and cache pre-loading.

WP Fastest Cache (Free + Premium)

wp fastest cache wordpress caching plugin

Version: 0.8.9.5 | Active Installations: 1+ million | WordPress Version: 3.3 or higher

  • WP Fastest Cache is similar to many other caching plugins, but with fewer customization options it’s easier for the average user to get to grips with. It’s updated often and has over 100,000 active installations.
  • The premium version of the plugin comes with a lot of unique features to increase your page speed, like image optimization, database cleanup, mobile caching, and a lot more.
  • Similar to WP Super Cache, WP Fastest Cache generates static HTML files based on your dynamic WordPress blog and saves it in the cache.
  • Provides an easy-to-install plugin. You don’t even have to modify the .htaccess configuration file.

Hyper Cache (Free)

hyper cache wordpress caching plugin

Version: 3.3.9 | Active Installations: 30,000+ | WordPress Version: 3.9 or higher

  • The Hyper Cache plugin runs solely on PHP, so no complex configurations are required and you can run the plugin on any type of WordPress blog.
  • It’s also aware of mobile environments, so the caching still occurs when someone is looking at your site on a phone or tablet.

Comet Cache (Free + Premium)

comet cache wordpress caching plugin

Version: 170220 | Active Installations: 70,000+ | WordPress Version: 4.2 or higher

  • This plugin is fully “plug and play” – just install and activate, and you’re set.
  • Comet Cache is fairly easy to install and simple to move around the dashboard. However, it beats out the majority of the competition in the documentation department.
  • Comet Cache features a fast configuration and a reasonable backend for setting up your caching within minutes.

Cache Enabler (Free)

cache enabler wordpress caching plugin

Version: 1.3.4 | Active Installations: 70,000+ | WordPress Version: 4.6 or higher

  • The disk caching engine is quite fast and reliable, while the WordPress multisite support is an advantage for those with networks of websites. This is a top-notch caching plugin without the price tag.
  • Cache Enabler is a lightweight caching plugin that creates a static HTML file of your site and serves them to the vast majority of your website visitors upon request. It needs minimal configuration and comes with all the important features you’ll ever need from a caching plugin.
  • Extensive documentation that helps you explore the different plugin features.

How to check the Cache Plugin’s effectiveness?

When assessing the effectiveness of any WordPress caching plugin of your choice, it’s important that you are able to correctly measure and check the page loading time of your website.

There are several tools available for this. These types of tools work by just entering your websites URL into the tool and running the test. Here are our best picks in testing your page speed:

Google Page Speed Insights

Since page speed is an important ranking factor for SEO said by Google – to help you improve your site’s speed, they have their very own speed testing tool, Google Page Speed Insights, which measures the performance of a page for mobile devices and desktop devices. The Page Speed Score ranges from 0 to 100 points. A higher score is better which indicates that the page is performing well. The report page also gives you a useful breakdown of the steps you can take to improve performance.

GTMetrix

Another popular and the best-known speed analysis tool of all the Pingdom alternatives. It is easy to use and beginners can pick it up quite fast. This tool provides a comprehensive analysis by combining the performance and recommendations provided by Google Page Speed Insights and YSlow. This is an effective tool for all of your speed optimization needs.

This tool is best known for its free website speed testing tool. It has gained popularity over the years due to the fact that it is super easy to use, especially when compared to similar speed test tools. For beginners, Pingdom can be a great way to start. Also, what’s great about this tool is that you can test your website’s speed from different parts of the world by checking the content delivery network (CDN) for a better and effective web testing.

WebPageTest

Run a free website speed test from multiple locations around the globe using real browsers (IE and Chrome) and at real consumer connection speeds. You can run simple tests or perform advanced testing including multi-step transactions, video capture, content blocking and much more. Your results will provide rich diagnostic information including resource loading waterfall charts, Page Speed optimization checks and suggestions for improvements.

Conclusion: Caching is essential for Website Speed

It’s easy to test how different caching plugins affect the speed of your site using a combination of GTmetrix, Pingdom, and Google PageSpeed Insights. Simply install the plugins you are considering, then activate them one at a time, configure them if needed, and run your website through the various testing tools, taking note of the results.

When it comes to choosing a WordPress caching plugin for your site, there is no “one size fits all” solution. If you’d like to choose the best free WordPress caching plugin that does the job, then choose either W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache. Both of them are constantly being updated and are used by over a million websites. If you need a premium WordPress caching solution that offers tremendous support and requires minimal configuration on your end, choose WP Rocket.

Just remember that when caching wordpress is implemented properly, it can reduce the load time of your WordPress site which can further contribute to SEO rankings and deliver a better user experience.

Please tell us which WordPress Caching Plugin you are currently using and why you think it’s the best choice in the comments below.

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