Speeding up the load times of your website can have many advantages. The main one of course is that you will be less likely to turn off potential visitors, who get fed up of waiting an extra microsecond for your page to load, and then click the back button.
Another advantage is that Google uses page load times or site speed as part of their calculations for ranking websites. This means slow sites run a risk of being moved down the results pages and therefore, reducing the number of visitors they receive from Google searches.
How Caching Works
As WordPress sites are dynamic, making much use of PHP scripts, creating a temporary static file for the site is one way to speed up the loading times for a website. This approach is known as caching and is one popular and relatively simple way to improve the time it takes for your pages to load and therefore enhance the user experience and avoid being penalised by Google.
Another option to help improve site speed is to make use of a WordPress managed hosting service, to find out more read our WP Engine review and case study.
Poorly conceived themes, as well as complex designs, and a heavy use of plugins can also contribute to slow site speeds, thanks to inefficient uses of PHP functions or just too much dynamic action going on. Switching these dynamic actions to static ones is a way to help combat slow loading times. By using a WordPress caching plugin, this can be done without negatively affecting the necessary dynamic functionality of a WordPress site.
WordPress Caching Plugins
Unless you go down the managed hosting route, with a service like WP Engine (who forbid caching plugins), installing a plugin for WordPress is potentially a quick and simple way to speed up your site. There are two popular options to choose from, both of which are available in free versions.
This plugin has been downloaded over 2.6 million times and has a rating of 4.6 out of 5, making is a safe bet for caching your WordPress site without spending a penny.
This plugin comes recommended by many experienced WordPress bloggers and developers. Hosting services are also keen to endorse W3 Total Cache, including HostGator, Dreamhost and Go Daddy, to name but a few.
The plugin is easy to install as it can be found by searching for ’W3 Total
Cache’ from inside your WP installation, or by downloading it and then FTPing it to your server.
However, the setup process can be a little overwhelming, due to the many options that are able to be tinkered with in W3 Total Cache.
Once installed the settings for the plugin can be accessed via the newly created ‘Performance’ menu item. For a quick setup, go to the ‘General Settings’ page, where you can enable the plugin, and by selecting ‘Disk: Enhanced’, you have done enough to start caching your website and speeding up its loading times.
The other settings enable you to cache other parts of your website. They will require you to carry out further investigation to see whether they benefit your site or not.
The plugin also includes support for content delivery networks (CDN), for those who are optimising their page load times by deploying servers based around the world. Mobile devices are also catered for. In fact, this plugin boasts ‘at least 10x improvement in overall site performance when fully configured’ making it well worth installing on your site.
While the plugin is free, there is also a premium version which can be upgraded to should the need arise.
This is the other popular caching plugin for WordPress. While it has over 4.8 million downloads, it has a slightly lower user rating of 4.2 stars out of 5 compared to W3 Total Cache.
As with other caching services, WP Super Cache generates static HTML files that are served to users, removing the need to process the performance hungry PHP scripts used by WordPress.
Logged in users aren’t shown the cached pages. This is handy as you can still instantly see any changes you make to your posts and pages, rather than seeing a cached version and wondering why your site isn’t updating.
Again installation is easy as it’s a free plugin that is available from WordPress.org and can be installed from within your admin dashboard.
While this plugin doesn’t have quite as many options and settings to wade through, compared to W3 Total Cache, it still has its fair share. Thankfully they are divided into different categories labelled ‘Easy’ and ‘Advanced’ to help you get setup quickly and start reaping the rewards of a cached site without getting too technical.
Again there is support for content delivery networks (CDN) and mobile devices with this plugin.
Best WordPress Caching Plugin
Out of WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache, there isn’t much to separate the two. Both have millions of downloads and very high user feedback ratings. Both have easy setups for a quick start, with lots of more options in the background for power users to get to grips with.
Of the two I’d recommend WP Super Cache as it seems slightly more user friendly for users new to caching in WordPress. However, if you are a power user or want more control, W3 Total Cache looks a good option.
How to Test your WordPress Site Speed
While you are configuring these plugins, and making any other adjustments to your site, you need to be able to see how the page loads times of your site are affected.
By using these free services you can measure your site speed while working through the settings of the above plugins:
If your website generates an income, either directly or indirectly by marketing an offline service, the free online Conversion Loss Calculator can help you see how much money a slow loading site could be losing you. This can make it easier to justify the cost of moving to a managed hosting service like WP Engine.
Installing a caching plugin for WordPress seems like a no brainer, especially when it comes to finding a cost effective way of speeding up your website in order to please your readers and search engines like Google.
If you don’t want to, or aren’t ready to yet, go down the managed hosting route and let someone else take care of the caching and performance enhancements of your site, then installing W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache is a great option.
The main drawback with this approach is that some plugins aren’t compatible with site caching. This means that it is essential to research your existing plugins to determine whether they will continue to work once you have enabled site caching.
Apart from that, it is well worth experimenting with these caching plugins and seeing what positive effect they can have on the load times of your site.
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