Caching is an incredibly important part of speeding up your WordPress website. A fast website translates into better user experience which translates to better bounce rates and more time spent by visitors on your website. Fast, responsive websites with low load times are definitely more popular than websites that are slow and take a few seconds to load.
Google tried a couple of experiments with speed and their results were as expected. They introduced a server side delay for their search result pages to create the perception of a slow website. Users whose search results were delayed by 200 milliseconds performed 0.22% less searches in the first three weeks once the delay was introduced. And with time, the impact seems to get worse and the number of searches dropped by 0.36% in the second three week period of the experiment.
When they increased the delay time, the decrease in the number of searches decreased even further. And again with time the results of decreased speed always amplified.
Amazon, the online retail giant figures they would lose $1.6 billion in sales should their website slow down by as much as a single second. You can read more about it in this very insightful article by Kit Eaton on FastCompany.
There are many factors that make websites snappy. Caching is one of them. W3 Total Cache is an incredibly popular caching plugin for WordPress websites and it performs a number of functions that make a website faster.
W3 Total Cache
Today, we’ll have a look at what you can accomplish from the general settings of the W3 Total Cache Plugin.
Open your WP dash, select Add New under Plugins. Search for W3 Total Cache Plugin, install and activate it. Or you can download the plugin directly from WordPress.org as a zip file and then you can upload it via using an FTP client to your website.
Once the plugin is installed, open General Settings under Performance from your WordPress dash.
WordPress runs multiple database queries and calls on PHP scripts when a page is requested and is served to any visitor.
If you enable caching for a particular page, it decreases the workload on your servers and makes things run faster and smoother. If you are using a shared server, you can either use basic or enhanced disk caching.
If you are reading this article, chances are you are running your site on a shared server. Opcode disk caching and multiple server caching are both available only with rather expensive and considerably superior hosting plans.
When people create code for websites, the code contains comments, new line characters and some blank space. This adds to your site’s size. When you minify the code, the website is rid of redundant code.
Enable the plugin and set the mode to auto. Use the default minify options unless you see problems arise on your site. In that case, try changing from default to other options.
Database and Object Caching
The Database Cache caches SQL queries. Your WordPress site basically runs off a very big database. Caching these queries reduces the time required to process these requests.
Object caching is designed to bring down the execution times for complex database queries and operations that tax your server’s processing power.
Both Object and Database Caching Options are not recommended, if your website is hosted on a shared hosting environment.
Enable browser caching. It serves to reduce response time and decrease server load.
The site user’s/visitor’s cache stores data on the browser, thus the number of requests for data from a returning visitor who already has information about the site on his or her browser decreases. Browser caching also enables HTTP compression and adds headers to reduce server load and decrease file load times.
A content delivery network is basically a number of servers located across the globe to serve static content for your website. Caching plugins like W3 Total Cache help take your dynamic content and make it static.
A caching plugin like W3 works in tandem with a CDN to deliver (as described by Wikipedia) web objects (text, graphics and scripts), downloadable objects (media files, software, documents), applications (e-commerce, portals), live streaming media, on-demand streaming media, and social networks. If you have never heard of a CDN, do read this RackSpace article on CDNs.
If you aren’t using a CDN, disable it.
Other Details on Speed
- Reverse Proxy – Performs the same function as CDNs (serving static content) via a cloud network of servers. CDNs are better for websites whose viewership is more geographically diverse. WP sites tend use CDNs over proxy servers in most cases.
- Monitoring – Monitor your site’s performance and that of your server. You can use this later when you’re scaling your website and possibly are required to upgrade your hosting plan.
- Licensing – If you decide to upgrade to a premium version of the plugin. This is not necessary for most newly started websites, the free plugin should be sufficient.
Apart from the aforementioned, there is a miscellaneous section, a debugging section and an import/export feature to help with settings if you’ve used the plugin before. This isn’t particularly important when you are just starting off.
W3 has more functions which go beyond general settings. Some people prefer using other caching plugins because they are sometimes a lot easier to figure out than W3. If you want to scale your website, this is a great caching plugin definitely worth taking the time to get comfortable with.