The Best WordPress Caching Plugins and Why Testing Them is So Important
Reducing the page loading time of your website pages improves your visitor’s user experience and reduces the chance of them hitting the back button on their browser. Search engines such as Google have also confirmed the speed of a website is a contributing factor in how they rank it in their search results, therefore it pays to have a fast loading website.
There are a number of ways in which you can improve the speed of a WordPress website, however a caching plugin will make the biggest difference. Caching is the process of creating a static HTML page of every page on your website. This means that visitors don’t need to retrieve data from your database, or execute PHP code, in order to display your page.
As a result of this, the number of your requests from your server greatly decreases. This also lowers CPU load and reduces the risk of bottlenecking.
There are a lot of caching solutions available to WordPress users. In this article, I would like to show you what I consider to be six of the best.
With more than 6 million downloads, WP Super Cache is by far the most popular caching solution available to WordPress users.
This plugin offers three different options for speeding up your website: you can choose to use mod_rewrite to deliver static pages, serve static pages using PHP, or use a legacy caching mode that caches pages for logged in users.
Don’t worry if this sounds complicated – WP Super Cache is one of the simplest WordPress caching plugins to use.
The settings area is divided into seven sections: easy, advanced, CDN, contents, preload, plugins, and debug.
I have used WP Super Cache on one of my websites in the past with the default settings, however the plugin does offer advanced settings such as page compression, dynamic caching, and a scheduler that allows cached pages to be deleted and re-cached at certain intervals.
The plugin offers support for content delivery networks and has an option to load certain plugins before others so they load quicker. Pages are normally cached once a visitor lands on a page, however WP Super Cache allows you to preload all content on your website beforehand so that visitors are always served static pages.
W3 Total Cache is a highly configurable WordPress caching plugin that is recommended by many respected hosting companies. It supports content delivery networks, GZIP compression, and minification.
This plugin’s settings area is split into a whopping 16 pages, which are then further divided into several sections (though a few of these pages are information pages). The number of configuration options available can be a little daunting, however the plugin should work out of the box. All you have to do is go to the General page and switch the option “Toggle all caching types” to “on”.
W3 Total Cache has a dedicated settings page for each type of caching. This includes minification, page caching, database caching, object caching, and browser caching. The default life of cached objects can be changed in the settings area. You can also adopt different rules for user agents. For example, you could apply one set of rules to Android devices. Four premium extensions are also available for the plugin that further extend its functionality.
While W3 Total Cache should work correctly out of the box, you may need to ask your hosting company for help in order to configure the plugin correctly. All good hosting companies should be familiar with the plugin, therefore they should have a lot of experience in using the plugin. Once you have configured the plugin to your liking, you can export the settings to another website you own using the plugin’s built-in import and export tool.
WP Rocket is a new caching plugin released earlier this year. It is also the only caching solution in this article that can’t be downloaded free of charge.
Like WP Super Cache, WP Rocket divides its settings area into seven sections. The plugin will function correctly after activation, therefore you don’t need to spend a lot of time configuring it. You can, however, choose what features are enabled and disabled.
WP Rocket is one of the most user-friendly caching solutions available as there are no advanced settings to be concerned about. There is an Advanced Options tab, however this is only used for excluding pages and files from caching and minification.
The plugin also has support for CDNs and your plugin settings can be exported to another website you own using the plugin’s import and export tool.
A license for WP Rocket is available for $39 for one website and comes with one year of support and updates. A license for three websites costs $99 and is $199 for an unlimited number of websites. All licenses come with a 30 day money back guarantee.
Hyper Cache is a basic caching plugin that was specifically developed for websites that do not have a lot of available resources (e.g. those on shared hosting). It only has one settings area; which is divided into three separate pages.
The General tab allows you to define the period that pages are cached and whether you want to enable page compression. The Bypasses tab allows you to specify pages to be excluded from caching. Cookies, user agents, and comment authors, can also be bypassed.
The last tab relates to mobile settings. The plugin allows you to bypass caching for mobile devices or use a separate cache. You can also change the theme that is displayed to mobile visitors.
Hyper Cache also supports 404 error page caching and works with plugins that add custom post types, such as bbPress.
If you have tried another caching plugin and have been concerned about the load that it put on your server’s CPU, you may want to take a closer look at Hyper Cache.
The plugin lives up to its reputation of being simple. It only has one small settings page with three tabs. The first tab displays settings, the second tab allows you to delete cache and delete minified files, and the third tab allows you to define the rate at which cached files are deleted.
The settings tab lists all of the plugin’s features. All you have to do is click the checkbox for each feature so that it is enabled.
Due to this simplicity, WP Fastest Cache has become popular with many WordPress users.
Quick Cache is a feature-rich caching plugin that supports caching of RSS feeds, 404 error pages, and get requests. It also supports browser caching and GZIP compression.
This plugin helps beginners by displaying a long and detailed explanation about what each feature can and can’t do. This is a great addition to the plugin as most caching solutions assume that you know what each feature will do.
A pro version of Quick Cache is available for only $15. It adds another 9 settings options to the existing 9. This includes additional options for logged in users, exclusion patterns, and a “Clear Cache” button in the admin bar. Import and export functionality is also added.
What is the Fastest Caching WordPress Plugin?
With all WordPress plugin lists, readers want to know which is the best plugin. Or in the case of caching plugins, which plugins will improve their website speed the most. It is a difficult question to answer as there are so many factors to consider.
The page loading time produced by a caching plugin can be influenced by:
- The type of hosting used (sharing, VPS, dedicated etc)
- Whether the server has been configured correctly
- Whether the cache plugin has been configured correctly
- The number of images displayed on the page
- The type of content displayed on the page (e.g. tables, videos, text etc.)
These factors are why there are so many conflicting reports online about which WordPress caching plugin is the best. I could test all caching plugins and rank them one through six. Someone else could do the same on their website and rank the plugins in a completely different order.
This is perhaps why Kyle Robinson Young from Tutorial 9 found that Hyper Cache was the best caching plugin, while Kim Tetzlaff from Dashboard Junkie found that W3 Total Cache was the quickest.
Bhagwad Park from WebHostingHero found that W3 Total Cache was quicker than WP Super Cache if minification was enabled, but WP Super Cache was marginally quicker if it was not. More recently, WPSeer found that WP Rocket was quicker than WP Super Cache.
As you can see, different WordPress users are producing different results. In general, WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache seem to be the quickest in these tests, though the results are far from conclusive.
Therefore, the most accurate way of seeing which caching plugin will speed up your website the most is to test them yourself and compare the results.
The best way to test the performance of a WordPress caching plugin is to test your website performance using a speed benchmarking service such as GTmetrix (my favorite), Google PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom Website Speed Test, WebPageTest, or YSlow.
First, test your website with no caching plugin activated and then test your website with your chosen caching plugin configured. In order to get an accurate result, test your website two or three times and then take an average score. This is necessary as benchmarking services tend to produce a slightly different result every time you test the speed of a URL.
You should also remember to clear the cache after activating or deactivating any other plugins during this period. This ensures that all active plugins are displayed in your cached files.
To give you a better understanding of how much a caching plugin has improved the speed of your website, you should test the following pages:
- Your home page or blog index
- A long blog post with many images
- A short blog post with few images
- A page (e.g. about page or contact page)
It may seem overkill to test four different URLs before and after activating a caching plugin, but it is the most accurate way of testing performance as caching plugins handle different types of pages in different ways.
You should also be aware that different speed benchmarking services will give different results. For example, GTmetrix might say that a page loads in 0.9 seconds whereas Google PageSpeed Insights might say it takes 1.1 seconds. To remove this issue from the equation, be sure to use the same service to test your pages before and after activating your caching plugin. Otherwise, your figures may be skewed.
If you are not already using a caching plugin on your website, I recommend installing one of the above plugins listed in this article. Doing this will cache your content and deliver faster loading pages to your visitors.
Those of you who already have a caching plugin activated on your website will be familiar with a few of the plugins shared in this article, however you may want to consider testing another to see if it performs better.
I have tested all plugins listed in this article, however I have only used W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache, and WP Rocket, on live websites. The quickest solution that I found for my own blog was W3 Total Cache, however I used the plugin in conjunction with four or five other optimization plugins in order to achieve that speed. On its own, I did not find W3 Total Cache to be any quicker than other solutions.
I currently use WP Rocket without any other optimization plugins installed and have been very happy with its performance. I also love how easy the plugin is to use.
If you are looking to further improve the speed of your website, you may want to consider using a CDN such as MaxCDN or Amazon CloudFront. For reference, WP Super Cache, W3 Total Cache, and WP Rocket, all support content delivery networks. Hyper Cache, WP Fastest Cache, and Quick Cache, do not.
Do you use a caching plugin? If so, which caching plugin have you had the most success with? Let us know in the comments below.
Image credit: Dan DeChiaro
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