Three ways to speed up your site load time, Part 3: Caching!

Editor’s Note: This article is the third and final post in our “Three Ways to Speed Up Your Site Load Time” blog series.

laptop with coffee on desk

One of the best things you can do for your WordPress blog is to install a caching plugin. We strongly believe that a caching plugin is essential for good blog performance for sites of all sizes. Before you brush it aside as being too technical, check out these very simple options below. Your readers and your wallet will thank you!

This is the third and final part in a series about ways to speed up your WordPress site. If you missed the other installments, be sure to check out how to optimize your images, your JavaScript, and your HTML and CSS.

You Need A Caching Plugin

WordPress is a workhorse, doing everything from pulling content from your database, running your plugins, and building the content, to displaying the resulting screen for the person visiting your site. Each such request from your visitors requires server resources (e.g., things like processing power and memory).

Once enough visitors are visiting the site at the same time, the server simply doesn’t have enough resources to keep up and will effectively force people to wait their turn before it can respond. The result is your readers telling you your site is slow.

A caching plugin takes advantage of all the work your server does to generate a post the first time it’s requested, and saves the result to a static file. The collection of these static files is called a cache. Your site can then serve that static file to subsequent visitors rather than tying up resources to regenerate the same post over and over. The end result? Better bang for your buck with your server hosting, and your visitors experience a much quicker site!

Plugin Reviews

AGhosted WordPress Plugin PicksThankfully, there are several excellent WordPress plugin options to help optimize your site this way. All of the plugins reviewed below are simple to install and configure. Even better, they’re either free or have a free option.

Below we give you an overview of 3 solid WordPress caching plugins, and provide recommended settings to get you up and going with each.

While they differ in approach and functionality, they are all a great improvement over running a WordPress site without caching. As such, they all earn our AGhosted Plugin Pick. Choose one that best fits your situation and don’t look back.

Caching Plugin Picks

Now, let’s get started.

WP Super Cache

WP Super Cache logo

Best Pick For …

  • Advanced features, with granular configuration and troubleshooting
  • Integration with Content Delivery Networks (CDN) services
  • AGhosted clients. We provide additional optimizations for all our WordPress hosting packages taking advantage of the caching files, so be sure to tell us which caching plugin you’re using!

With over 1 million installs, WP Super Cache (WPSC) is the most popular caching plugin. It provides great flexibility with numerous configuration settings, but if you simply stick with a few recommended options, there’s very little setup required.

Recommended Settings

After installing the plugin in your WordPress dashboard, press the Activate Plugin link and go to Settings —> WP Super Cache. There you’ll see the tabbed sections of the plugin’s admin area.

Press the Advanced tab, then enable the settings listed below. Oddly enough, some of their Recommended settings aren’t enabled by default. Typically you can start by enabling the following options, which are not set initially:

  • Cache hits to this website for quick access.
  • Use mod_rewrite to serve cache files.
  • Compress pages so they’re served more quickly to visitors.
  • 304 Not Modified browser caching.
  • Don’t cache pages for known users.

The “Don’t cache pages for known users” option is worth a quick explanation. That ensures that when you are logged in with WordPress, you will bypass the cache and see the dynamic pages when browsing the site. This can be helpful for WordPress administrators to see updates immediately without having to clear the cache.

Press the Update Status button to save your choices.

Next, you’ll likely see a banner stating, “Warning! Garbage collection is not scheduled!” Press the link to scroll down to the Expiry Time & Garbage Collection section. This setting determines how often WordPress will look for expired items in your cache that need to be refreshed. If you’re unsure what to choose, select Timer and 3600 seconds. Scroll to the bottom and press Change Expiration.

That’s it!

Confirming Cache

To confirm the cache is working, go to Easy and press the Test Cache button. You can also confirm a page is served from cache by logging out of WordPress and viewing the source in your browser:

<!-- Dynamic page generated in 0.118 seconds. -->
<!-- Cached page generated by WP-Super-Cache on 2016-03-23 19:54:27 -->

Additional Options

WPSC also works with CDNs, if you’re using such a service with your site.

If you’re needing to dig deeper, there are numerous configuration tweaks available throughout the other sections of the WPSC admin area. You can also view the status of the cache, and use the the logging information under Debug if you’re having problems.

Back to Plugin List

W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache logo

Best Pick For…

  • Code minifying, image, and other optimization options in addition to caching
  • Advanced features, with granular configuration and troubleshooting
  • Integration with CDN services
  • AGhosted clients. We provide additional optimizations for all our WordPress hosting packages taking advantage of the caching files, so be sure to tell us which caching plugin you’re using!

W3 Total Cache is striving to become a Web Performance Optimization framework rather than only a caching plugin. It provides the most comprehensive and granular feature-set of all the caching options we’ve used. In addition to providing caching of static files, it can provide code minifying, database caching, PHP object caching, monitoring, and quite a bit more. It even offers extensions for a few common combinations (e.g., those of you using the Genesis Framework).

The community version of the plugin offers more than enough features to provide a solid caching solution, and adds a premium purchase option for features like a statistical dashboard and CDN capabilities.

Recommended Settings

After installing the W3 Total Cache plugin, go to Performance —> General Settings to get started. At a minimum, enable the following:

  • Page cache

and press Save all settings. Congratulations, your site is now being cached! One other option we typically recommend is under the Page Cache tab:

  • Don’t cache pages for following user roles

and selecting at least Administrator.

While the number of options can be overwhelming, it really is easy to setup and the features all seem to Just Work.

Additional Options

If you want to add other optimizations, it’s typically safe to enable the other Cache options under General Settings (e.g., Database, Object). Likewise, the Minify section contains numerous options to optimize your site’s code, if you aren’t using another solution for that functionality.

Given the vast number of configuration options, they helpfully provide the ability to Import / Export all settings under Performance —> General Settings. This is a great way to migrate these same settings to another site, or to even make a backup of your current settings in case you ever need to reinstall the plugin.

Confirming Cache

As with other caching solutions, you can view the page source in your browser and confirm at the bottom of the code that it is pulling from cache properly. W3 Total Cache even customizes the comments to show which features you have enabled:

<!-- Performance optimized by W3 Total Cache. Learn more: http://www.w3-edge.com/wordpress-plugins/
Page Caching using disk: enhanced
Database Caching using disk
Object Caching 434/865 objects using disk

Back to Plugin List

WP Fastest Cache

WP Fastest Cache logo

Best Pick For…

  • Simple configuration
  • Code and image minifying options in addition to caching
  • Integration with CDN services
  • AGhosted clients. We provide additional optimizations for all our WordPress hosting packages taking advantage of the caching files, so be sure to tell us which caching plugin you’re using!

WP Fastest Cache claims to be the simplest caching option. It certainly is straightforward to configure, saving some of its more advanced features for a Premium license.

Recommended Settings

To enable only the caching, you can choose the following:

  • Cache System: Enable
  • Logged-in Users: Don’t show the cached version for logged-in users

and press Submit.

It’s as simple as that!

Additional Options

If you want to optimize the code on your site in addition to caching, you can also enable the following on the same screen:

  • Minify HTML: You can decrease the size of page
  • Minify Css: You can decrease the size of css files
  • Combine Css: Reduce HTTP requests through combined css files
  • Combine Js: Reduce HTTP requests through combined js files (header)
  • Gzip: Reduce the size of files sent from your server
  • Browser Caching: Reduce page load times for repeat visitors

WP Fastest Cache also works with CDNs, if you’re using such a service with your site.

Confirming Cache

As with other caching solutions, you can visit a page on your site and view the source in your browser to ensure the page is being served from cache. The hidden comment will appear at the very end of the code:

<!-- WP Fastest Cache file was created in 0.11108613014221 seconds, on 30-03-16 19:52:36 -->

Back to Plugin List

What’s next?

Adding caching functionality is one of the easiest and quickest ways to speed up your site, and save on server costs. Combine that with the other optimization functions we shared with you in the previous installments of this series (optimizing your images, Javascript, and HTML and CSS), and you’ll have your site running more efficiently and faster than before.

If you find that you need help selecting any of the plugins we reviewed in the series, or would like for us to handle these optimizations for you, contact Support, and we’d be happy to assist!

Be sure to let us know which caching, image, or other optimization plugins you use, whether it’s one we’ve reviewed or not. We’d love to hear your experience!

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