How to Choose a WordPress Caching Solution

By Adrian Try
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You know you need a fast website. Your visitors don’t want to wait, Google rewards speed, and you just want to create the best site you can.

We previously talked about some strategies for speeding your site in our article How to Optimize Your WordPress Site’s Performance. One key strategy we covered in that article is caching.

Once you start googling the topic, you find that it becomes quite complex, and there are a lot of caching solutions out there. Which one should you choose?

In this article we’ll explain the options and help you make a decision.

How Does Caching Speed Up My Site?

There are a lot of benefits to using WordPress for your website. It’s easy to add new posts, tweak the way your site looks, and add new functionality. It’s definitely the way to go, and why it’s the most popular CMS in the world, powering almost 75 million sites, or over 25% of the web.

But all of that convenience comes at a price. Your web site has more work to do when someone visits your site, making it slower. Scripts need to be run, your database accessed, your theme displayed, your plugins run.

Caching changes all that.

A cache is a place to store temporary data. It takes your dynamic, easy-to-change website, and stores it as static HTML files, which are much faster to read. Each time your site is modified, the cache needs to be cleared and regenerated, which is normally triggered by a WordPress plugin.

What Are the Benefits of Caching?

There are three major benefits to using a WordPress cache:

  1. Caching enhances the speed and performance of your website, particularly page load times. Your visitors will spend less time waiting, and more time reading.
  2. Caching reduces the load on your web server. Your database doesn’t need to be accessed as often, and less system memory is used. This can make a big difference on a limited shared hosting plan.
  3. You will rank better on search engines. All other things being equal, Google punishes slow sites by ranking them lower in search results. Your site will become more discoverable, which may lead to an increase in traffic.

So, should you be using a WordPress caching solution? For most people the answer is a resounding “Yes!” It’s the one thing you can do that give a huge performance boost to your site, especially when you have high traffic.

When shouldn’t you use a cache? When you want your site to display differently to each visitor. One example is an ecommerce site, where the shopping cart will be updated differently for each user.

But these are special cases. For most WordPress sites a cache is a great idea.

So where do you get one? There are two options: pre-packaged, or roll your own.

Option 1: Use Your Hosting Provider’s Custom Caching Solution

Some hosting providers have their own custom caching solution, which may involve server-side software plus custom WordPress plugins. These are carefully tweaked to maximize the speed improvement.

If your provider offers such a solution, strongly consider using it. Not only will it save you time and effort, but you’re unlikely to match their results in tuning the cache for maximum speed.

Some examples:

SiteGround’s caching solution is SuperCacher, which is based on NGINX (“Engine X”). It supports HTTPS and is claimed to make your pages load four times faster:

The SuperCacher is developed by SiteGround exclusively for our customers. It increases the number of hits a site can handle and boosts the website loading speed. The SuperCacher includes 4 different caching options for maximum optimization of your websites.

It’s a suite of four different caching solutions (well, actually three for shared hosting):

  1. Static Cache, a caching solution for your static resources which is enabled by default.
  2. Dynamic Cache, which is effective for dynamic sites powered by WordPress and similar.
  3. Memcached, which caches the results from the database queries .

For best results on your WordPress site, enable all three.

WP Engine call their caching solution Evercache, which is set up and ready to go out of the box. They describe it as their “secret sauce”, and claim will load pages 4-6 times faster. They recommend you don’t use your own caching solution. In fact, they explicitly block the use of many caching plugins.

Because of WP Engine’s EverCache, there is no need for site owners or developers to manage caching plugins. WP Engine takes care of that for you.

Varnish is a caching solution used by many hosting providers including Bluehost and DreamHost, and it may be part of WP Engine’s secret sauce. It’s fast, but has a major limitation: it doesn’t support HTTPS. Some hosting providers run it in conjunction with NGINX or other software to get around this limitation.

Does your hosting provider offer a caching solution out of the box? Check it out before deciding to install your own cache—it can make your job a lot easier. In fact, one good reason to choose a hosting provider is because they offer a fast and easy-to-use caching solution.

Option 2: Use a WordPress Caching Plugin

If your hosting provider doesn’t provide a caching solution, or you prefer a more DIY approach, you can install a WordPress caching plugin. As a bonus, many of these have features beyond just caching, using techniques we described in our article How to Optimize Your WordPress Site’s Performance.

Which plugin should you use? Firstly, one that will give you a significant speed boost. Secondly, one that will meet your preference of configurability or ease-of-use. Thirdly, consider cost.

Two independent benchmark tests done earlier this year (by Design Bombs and Dev Shed) agree on the fastest three WordPress caching plugins out there. They rank the plugins differently, and debates about the best or fastest plugin are fierce and never-ending. But these three perform well, and one of them should do the trick for you.

WP Rocket “Simplicity & Speed” at a price

  • Active installs: used by 233,995 sites
  • Cost: $39 for a single site, 3 sites $99, unlimited sites $199 (includes one year of updates and support)
  • All plans come with a 30 day money-back guarantee
  • The fastest caching solution according to some benchmark tests

Don’t waste your time struggling with complex plugin settings. WP Rocket launches upon activation – minimal configuration, immediate results.

Features:

  • Page caching: fast loading for web pages
  • Cache preloading: improves indexing by search engines
  • Images on request: images are loaded only when they come into view, improving the initial page load time
  • Static files compression: HTML, Javascript and CSS files are minified so they can be downloaded quicker
  • Developer friendly: designed to be easily customized.

WP Super Cache by Automattic, creators of WordPress

  • Active installs: 1+ million
  • Cost: free
  • A “Top 3” caching solution according to benchmark tests
  • One of the fastest free caching solutions

This plugin generates static html files from your dynamic WordPress blog. After a html file is generated your webserver will serve that file instead of processing the comparatively heavier and more expensive WordPress PHP scripts.

The plugin serves cached files in three ways, and is fast and easy to set up. It’s recommended that most users should enable the following settings:

  1. PHP caching
  2. Compress pages
  3. Don’t cache pages for known users
  4. Cache rebuild
  5. CDN support
  6. Extra homepage checks.

W3 Total Cache “Web Performance Optimization for WordPress”

  • Active installs: 1+ million
  • Cost: free
  • A “Top 3” caching solution according to benchmark tests
  • Another of the fastest free caching solutions

W3 Total Cache improves the SEO and user experience of your site by increasing website performance, reducing download times via features like content delivery network (CDN) integration.

This plugin does more than just caching—it has a feature set similar to WP Rocket. According to the website, those features provide the following benefits:

  • Improved search engine page rankings, especially for mobile-friendly websites and sites that use SSL
  • At least 10x improvement in overall site performance
  • Improved conversion rates and “site performance” which affect your site’s rank on Google.com
  • “Instant” repeat page views: browser caching
  • Optimized progressive render: pages start rendering quickly and can be interacted with more quickly
  • Reduced page load time, increasing visitor time on site
  • Improved web server performance, and the ability to sustain high traffic periods
  • Up to 80% bandwidth savings via minify and HTTP compression of HTML, CSS, JavaScript and feeds.

Time to Make a Choice

Which caching option is best for you? The one that gives you the best balance of:

  1. Speed and functionality
  2. Configurability vs. ease-of-use
  3. Cost.

Here are our recommendation.

  • If your web host provides a caching solution, strongly consider using it, especially if you value ease of use. SiteGround, our preferred hosting provider, packages an excellent caching solution into their affordable hosting plans, and would be an excellent choice.
  • WP Rocket is fast and easy to use—you can be set up in 3-4 minutes. If you don’t mind the $39 price point, it might be perfect for you.
  • On the other hand, if you prefer a user-friendly solution that’s free, choose WP Super Cache. It was written by the team that know WordPress best, and because it has less options, is easier to set up.
  • Or if you prefer a free solution that’s more configurable, choose W3 Total Cache. It has features beyond caching that may save you from installing additional plugins.

Which caching solution do you prefer? Why? Did we leave out your favorite? Let us know in the comment section below.

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