Using Cache Plugins for WordPress
Using caching can provide a major improvement in your site's performance, without having to do the kind of careful analysis and re-organizing of your site and its content required to do offloading. Some of the plugins are practically "fire and forget." Install the plugin, activate it, set a few basic settings (in many cases you can just use the defaults), and boom! Your site loads twice as fast as before.
Here at the IMC there are there WordPress plugins that we have evaluated and use on a regular basis. All three do a good job, so which one you choose has more to do with what features you actually need on your site, and how much complexity in the configuration you are willing to deal with.
Let's start with the simplest-to-use caching plugin, "Zen Cache." This plugin is the youngest of the three we will cover, and it has been developed with a focus on simplicity. It has fewer configuration options than either of the following two plugins, but still does a very good job of improving your site's performance. If your requirements are fairly simple and you are not doing content offloading and CDN work, or if you are just a little inexperienced and don't want to jump in the deep end, this one is an excellent starting point.
The primary means the developers have used to simplify this plugin are two-fold:
- They focus on methods that are unlikely to conflict with other functionality
- They have worked out a solid, safe set of defaults which will work for most people
This plugin can be almost fire-and-forget. For any simple WordPress site that doesn't have a lot of extra functionality or enough traffic that you need to optimize it to the Nth degree, this plugin works very, very well; you just install the plugin, activate it, go to its configuration page and submit the form to accept the defaults; done! In our experience, just doing this on any basic WordPress site will cut the average page load time somewhere between 40 and 60%.
There are plenty of configuration options that you can still tweak, however, to improve performance even more. You just may need to do some studying to understand what those settings will do and how it will affect your site before you start messing around with them. We'll run you through the Zen Cache configuration page with this video:
Fastest WP Cache
This plugin is much simpler than W3 Total Cache; its focus is on doing the simplest and highest-payoff optimizations on your site, and doing them very, very well. It focuses primarily on local optimizations of your site on your server, not providing a huge framework for optimization like W3 Total Cache. For example, it had no support for CDNs until the most recent series of dot releases, the 0.8.5.X series. We have not done any testing or benchmarking of CDN integration with this plugin yet, but based on our experience with the plugin, the developers have probably done a solid job on these new features.
Fastest WP Cache has a solid installed base, it is very well supported and updated frequently. When WordPress 4.3 series became available, this plugin was updated to work with it in less than three days!
Let's run you through the setup for Fastest WP Cache, with some explanations of what the basic configuration settings do and why you might or might not want to change them...
W3 Total Cache
This one is the 800-lb gorilla. It has almost any feature you might want in a caching plugin, including the ability to integrate with many of the available Content Distribution Networks like Amazon CloudFront, Akamai, Limelight Networks, MaxCDN and more. It provides an amazing variety of configuration choices that let you control its behavior down to the smallest detail. It has a huge installed base, it has been available for years, and it is very well supported. You can't go wrong using W3 Total Cache on your site.
The biggest downside of W3 Total Cache is that the configuration is so complex that many users, especially newer users, will find it daunting. We plan to do one or more separate articles about W3 Total Cache in the near future, so if you would like to try it out but are concerned about dealing with all those details, come back to the IMC and check for those articles within the next few weeks. Or you could just subscribe to our RSS feed to keep tabs on new content!
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