If you own or publish a website, you should be aware that speed and performance are as important as the content you deliver. One of the tools utilized to improve page loading speed is caching. In this article, we’ll explain what caching is, and why you need to use it. Specifically, we’ll discuss the resources available for caching if you publish your website using WordPress. These resources are called Plugins. We’ll compare a few caching Plugins and make some recommendations regarding the ones that might work best for you.
What is Caching?
The technology and details of caching can be complicated, but the concept is quite simple. When a user requests a web page, a server returns data that creates what is displayed in the web browser. This process sounds straightforward, but a lot goes on behind the scenes to generate the page including querying the database and processing PHP files. If a server has to process all the data required to create a web page every time the page is requested, the server load will increase, and a lot of unnecessary data would be exchanged between the server and the browser. All that data exchange would increase the page-loading time. But there is a way to speed up the process. Instead of returning all the data every time, data that hasn’t changed since the user’s last request for the same page is kept in memory for quick recall. The process of keeping this data in memory is called browser caching.
Why Caching Matters and What are the Benefits
Search engines give sites with faster response times a higher score. A higher search engine score means your page will be listed near the top of a search results page. Having your page show up in the first few listings on the results page, specifically on the first page, is critical because most people will find what they’re looking for without the need to continue to the second results page.
For an e-commerce business, listing low in a search can be fatal. If you’re selling products online, buyers must be able to find your store easily and experience a fast, seamless interface while perusing your website. Poor performance while shopping online will turn potential buyers into frustrated shoppers who move on to another merchant.
Caching in WordPress
If you are using WordPress to manage your website, you’re in good company. WordPress is used by many individual and commercial publishers to get their websites up and running quickly and easily. As with any web publishing software, you may sometimes find yourself in need of functionality beyond what the basic software provides. WordPress has many modules available to help you utilize additional functionality. These modules are called Plugins and can be found on the WordPress Plugin Directory. As you might expect, among the many Plugins available for extending the basic functionality of WordPress, there are Plugins available to help you achieve optimum caching results without forcing you into the meticulous details of coding.
Now that we’ve discussed what caching is, how it works, and how important it is to utilize it on your website, let’s explore just five of the many caching Plugins that are available to you. They are not listed in order of preference or performance since there is no caching Plugin that is best for everyone, but there are options that will best suit your needs.
1. W3 Total Cache
With more than 1,000,000 active installs, W3 Total Cache is one of the most popular caching Plugins for WordPress. It also gets high marks in the WordPress Plugin Directory. It’s updated more frequently than many cache Plugins. W3 Total Cache reduces loading time by more than one second. A second may not sound like much, but in terms of web page loading, it can make or break the complete user experience.
2. WP Super Cache
Like W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache boasts a number of active installs measured in millions, making it the most popular cache Plugin for WordPress. WP Super Cache is also free. In a number of tests, WP Super Cache significantly reduces loading time by over 25%. WP Super Cache serves cached files in one of three modes: Expert, Simple and WP-Cache mode. Expert mode requires the most tweaking by developers but delivers the fastest results. Simple mode, the recommended way to configure WP Super Cache, requires less configuration effort than Expert mode, with comparable results. The WP-Cache mode is typically reserved for use in caching pages for known users, URLs with parameters, known users, visitors who leave comments or those who should be shown custom data. It’s slightly slower than the Expert and Simple modes, but much more flexible.
3. Comet Cache
Comet Cache has a free version, and a premium version that contains professional features. Comet Cache is considered truly plug-and-play. It is the successor to what was formerly known as Zencache. While Zencache was highly regarded in its own right, Comet Cache is considered superior to its predecessor. In terms of speed, the free version of Comet Cache is the fastest of all the no-cost cache Plugins.
4. Simple Cache
Simple Cache is one of the easiest caching Plugins to use. It has two settings; on and off. Like most of the other cache Plugins, Simple Cache is free. This Plugin is probably the best option for the owner of a non-commercial website, who would rather concentrate on content creation than spend valuable time learning the fine details of website performance. Simple Cache is another cache Plugin that achieves desirable results at no cost.
5. WP Rocket
WP Rocket has no free version but remains one of the most popular premium WordPress caching plugins. Installed on over 100,000 sites, it doesn’t have the hefty user base of many other caching Plugins, possibly due to the seat license fee; however, it improves loading time by over 35%. WP Rocket might currently be the fastest of all WordPress caching Plugins.
There are dozens of cache plugins listed on the WordPress Plugin Directory. Your situation will dictate which Plugin is right for you. For instance, if you publish a small website that doesn’t require peak SEO, Simple Cache, with only two settings and no fee, is most likely best for your needs.
WP Super Cache might be the better Plugin for larger publishers with IT staff, or for those in the e-commerce space. It requires some configuration effort, but with that effort comes a considerable amount of customization.
All the WordPress cache plugins discussed here are impressive, and presumably adequate for most WordPress publishers, but Simple Cache and WP Super Cache rank highest on our list.