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WordPress caching plugin basics

By Drew Strojny on April 23, 2014

A WordPress caching plugin can make your site faster.

Can a WordPress caching plugin really improve your website’s performance? The WordPress community thinks so. And we agree.

If you’ve never heard of caching or aren’t sure how it works, don’t worry. We’re about to discuss the basics of caching and the potential benefits of using a caching plugin for your WordPress site. We’ll also examine the strengths and weaknesses of the most popular caching plugins available.

Caching basics

Caching plugins store your website’s HTML for delivery to users’ browsers. The version of your site these plugins store is called a “cached” copy, hence the plugin’s name.

To better understand caching, imagine a piano recital. Under normal conditions, an audience convenes in an auditorium and the lights go dim. The pianist advances to the stage, sits at a bench, and commences to play. But think what would happen if things didn’t proceed so smoothly. What if, instead of sitting down to play, the pianist had to assemble the piano herself while the audience waited and watched?

The latter scenario, though absurd, parallels what happens when you don’t use a WordPress caching plugin. Whenever somebody visits your non-cached site, WordPress has to “assemble” the HTML, line by line, so that it displays correctly in a browser.

A cached site, on the other hand, is more like the ready-to-play piano from the first scenario. Thanks to caching, your HTML comes pre-assembled before your audience begins exploring your domain.

How caching helps

If WordPress doesn’t have to painstakingly assemble your site every time someone new arrives, it will load faster. And a faster site can benefit you in multiple ways:

  • Lower bounce rate – If visitors seem to retreat shortly after they arrive, it might be because your pages load too slowly. Caching could lower your bounce rate and lead to…
  • Increased readership – Some bloggers unwittingly send readers away by making them wait forever just to access content.
  • More sales – Selling something directly from your website? Faster load speeds can help you increase conversions, sales, and, ultimately, revenue from e-commerce activities.

And if you think the few seconds a caching plugin sheds from your load times – yes, the difference between caching and not caching adds up to just seconds – probably doesn’t make much difference, think again. In one survey, 40% of consumers said they abandon websites that take more than three seconds to load.

If a WordPress caching plugin could help you take back up to 40% of your traffic, wouldn’t you be ready to upload, install, and activate that plugin ASAP? Of course you would.

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Caching options for WordPress

Google “WordPress cache plugin comparison” or similar and you’ll find numerous speed tests, feature reviews, and tutorials from fellow WordPress enthusiasts. While any of that content could be helpful, we’ll focus here on what are, unquestionably, the two most popular caching plugins for WordPress: W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache.

To date, these are the only caching plugins with download totals in the millions. Why are they so popular? It’s simple: they work.

W3 Total Cache

Love features? W3 Total Cache offers every caching-related feature you could ever want for your website, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Why a curse? Because with a variety of settings for page cache, browser cache, object cache, and minification, many first-timers will have a hard time just understanding the lingo, much less configuring W3 Total Cache for optimal performance.

To be sure, WordPress developers and power users will love this plugin. Novice or non-techie website administrators, on the other hand, might prefer something a bit simpler.

If you opt for W3 Total Cache, check out this guide for comprehensive setup and configuration instructions. Given the plugin’s impressive feature set, a little guidance could go a long way.

WP Super Cache

Bloggers rejoice – this plugin was built just for you.

With straightforward configuration for PHP caching and page compression, you won’t have to spend all day deciphering the options in WP Super Cache to enjoy faster load speeds. And for bloggers who maintain relatively small websites with simple user interfaces, it’s probably all you need.

Wondering how to configure WP Super Cache? Follow this simple tutorial, and you’ll be caching in no time.

The good news is that W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache both offer effective caching for WordPress sites. You won’t go wrong with either – just know what you’re in for when you install one or the other.

Next steps

Ultimately, caching is just another tool for WordPress users. On its own, it offers limited performance improvements.

But combine caching with other activities that boost audience engagement – things like effective storytelling, productive blogging habits, and choosing a theme that fits your brand – and you’ll start noticing real, tangible benefits over the long term.

And don’t forget about other adjustments that can make your site load faster as caching is but one of many. For suggestions specific to your site, try Google PageSpeed Insights. The app will grade your site’s load speed on desktop and mobile devices and offer tips that can help you increase it.

That being said, download a WordPress caching plugin today. Install it. Activate it. Configure it. The sooner you build your cache, the sooner you’ll win back all that lost traffic.

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5 Comments

  1. Kristy Ewing

    Would be interested in your comments about the caching feature that is now included with the Wordfence plugin.
    Thanks

  2. Drew Strojny

    Hey Kristy!

    I haven’t personally used Wordfence, but I’ve heard good things about it and it seems to be a well supported security and caching solution. Has it worked well for you?

  3. Kristy Ewing

    Only just started using the caching function recently but have found the plugin itself to be of great value and as you say well supported.

  4. Tim Mayo

    Anything specific we need to keep an eye on when using either of these plugins with themes from ThemeFoundry?

  5. Zack Tollman

    Hi Tim!

    You should not see any problem with caching with our themes. We utilize very heavy page caching (not using these plugins) with our demo site. The caching methods operate on the same principles and our themes are definitely optimized for being cached.

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