The Top 3 WordPress Caching Plugins Compared and Choosing the Best One for Your Site
Have you ever pushed the Back button on your browser because a page took more than 5 seconds to load? There’s no need to be bashful – we’ve all done it.
If you run a WordPress site, excessive load times can limit your traffic, lower your Google search rank and lessen your website’s overall potential. However, a free or low cost caching plugin can easily prevent this lag and the problems that accompany it. What’s more, they don’t have to be a hassle to set up and they’ll make visitors more likely to stay on your site.
In this post, we’ll provide a breakdown of the top three most popular caching plugins on the market and score them in four important categories.
What is Caching?
In a computing context, a cache is a place to temporarily store data.
Active data is often cached in order to reduce load times. When you return to a frequently accessed website, chances are that your browser will have a good portion of the site’s files stored within its cache. This means that the browser needs to receive less ‘fresh’ information from the site, resulting in a faster load time.
The way caching plugins work is by saving the dynamically generated HTML files and serving them from the cache (i.e. reusing previously generated data) whenever a request is made, rather than loading all of the PHP scripts from WordPress every time you hit refresh.
The result is that your site loads far quicker for all its visitors.
How to Select the Best Caching Plugin for You
The first step is to identify what you expect from your caching plugin and create criteria accordingly. Criteria could include:
- Cost. Like a lot of plugins, the price of caching solutions can range from free to a few hundred dollars, but the price does tend to reflect how feature-rich and reliable the end product will be.
- Complexity and intuitiveness. This will depend on your own experience with plugins – are you happy to dive in and get it sorted without much help, or do you need a simple, step-by-step procedure to get you up and running?
- Power and functionality. Some plugins come with extra features such as integration with content delivery networks, GZIP compression (file compression essentially), and minification (removing all unnecessary characters from source code). These all enable your site to run even faster but are really only necessary for large sites.
- Support. Some plugins have support lines, forums, documentation – the full shebang. Others may have very little support or even none at all. How much support do you feel comfortable having?
So now that we have our basic criteria sorted out, let’s have a look at the top three most popular caching plugins:
- Easy to install and configure.
- Support for Content Delivery Networks.
- It's free!
- A few issues with compatibility (themes, other plugins etc) have been reported by some users.
- If a user is logged in, they won't experience supercaching.
The Bottom Line
WP Super Cache is most helpful if your server isn’t all that powerful or if you are experiencing a lot of unexpected traffic.
WP Super Cache
At the top of the list is WP Super Cache: the most downloaded caching plugin on the market. According to the official WP Super Cache page, it has been installed over a million times. Also, it’s free, easy to use and requires little to no configuration.
WP Super Cache can deliver static pages with mod_rewrite (which is faster than the usual PHP generated HTML caching) or PHP, depending on your preference, meaning that each visitor doesn’t need to load all of the WordPress PHP files – they simply receive a static HTML page. However, there is the ‘legacy caching mode’, meaning that if you’re logged in, you won’t experience the supercached HTML files. WP Super Cache also enables you to change the order in which plugins load, so if you need certain plugins to load with lighting speed, you’re in luck.
For convenience in maintenance, WP Super Cache comes with a scheduler that clears cached pages at a time that you can designate in advance. It also supports Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and can export your customized settings so that you can import them into your future sites.
If you hit any snags, WP Super Cache has a support forum – though you may find yourself waiting for an answer for a fair amount of time – along with a reasonably detailed FAQ section.
- Supports CDNs, minification and GZIP.
- Vast customization options – 16 pages worth!
- So many customization options could be a little daunting for some.
The Bottom Line
With a plethora of customization options, W3 Total Cache really does suit everyone's needs. However, if you're not so hot on caching plugins, this one might be a little daunting.
W3 Total Cache
With more than 900,000 downloads, W3 Total Cache is the second most downloaded caching plugin on the market. If you’re looking for a free caching plugin that offers a boatload of customization options, you’ve found it.
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With 16 pages of configuration options, you’ll be able to tailor a caching solution to your precise specifications. If complete customization sounds like a headache, don’t worry – W3 Total Cache also comes with a simple one-click setup (see instructions below).
To cut a tremendous amount of loading time, W3 Total Cache utilizes file minification and GZIP compression. Like WP Super Cache, W3 Total Cache also supports Content Delivery Networks and allows you to export your settings for future use.
Four premium extensions are also available to further extend the plugin’s functionality, along with a whole host of support options. Not only is there an FAQ section and forum on the plugin page, but w3-edge also have their own support forums, articles and contacts if you ever need any help.
- One of the fastest on the market.
- Excellent tech support available.
- Does cost between $39-$199 to install.
- Limited advanced options.
The Bottom Line
While this is the only premium plugin featured, the simplicity and proven speed of WP Rocket make it a good choice for pretty much any site.
Unlike the previous two plugins mentioned, WP Rocket requires you to purchase a license. The cost is $39-$199, depending upon how many sites you’d like to install it on. While you might be thinking of free alternatives, you should know that WP Rocket might be a wise investment.
First off, this benchmarking test done by Swedish Marketing expert Philip Blomsterberg suggests that WP Rocket was the fastest option on the market at the time the test was completed. And while WP Rocket has few advanced options, its incredibly user-friendly interface and efficient design offer awesome caching results with minimal effort. In addition, WP Rocket tech support is quick to respond and eager to show you the depth and quality of their product.
WP Rocket features lazy image loading (which prevents unloaded pictures from being stored), cache preloading and GZIP Compression. In the plugin’s settings, there’s a separate tab for minification and excluding pages from caching. Content Delivery Networks are supported and customized settings can be exported and used down the road.
Due to this being a premium plugin, there isn’t the usual question/answer forums on the WP Rocket site, but you do get technical support through a ticket system once you buy a license. There is also an FAQ on their website.
The initial setup for this plugin is quite simple, but check out this short tutorial on how to enable additional options:
Make Your Site Fly with Hummingbird
There’s also a new caching plugin in your neck of the woods (or internet) and it’s called Hummingbird. It can vastly improve your site’s speed and handles caching, minifying, GZIP compression and more. All in a super easy-to-use interface which makes it the easiest plugin option to use for both small and large sites or networks.
You can scan your site in one click and see a full analysis of your site including suggestions for improving the loading speed. In a few clicks, you can also apply these suggestions to automatically give your site a boost.
Hummingbird also goes the extra mile because it offers extra features other caching plugins don’t have such as site monitoring. You can make sure your site is consistently fast while also letting you rest easy knowing you’re notified if your site goes down so you can quickly fix it.
- When you get Hummingbird for your site, you also get:
- All WPMU DEV plugins – Including Defender to harden your site’s security and block hackers, WP Smush Pro to optimize and compress your images, and Snapshot Pro to backup your site or network.
- Upfront theme framework – The infinitely customizable and intuitive theme that you can use to create professional, robust sites through editing on the front-end, and dragging and dropping page elements.
- Fast, expert support – We’re here for you 24/7, lickety-split.
- The Academy – Learn the ins and outs of WordPress and online business.
- The VIP WhiP – Our regular emails full of WordPress news and updates on technology in the world.
- Plus a lot more.
When you install Hummingbird, you can get all the features you need while ensuring your site flies as fast as, well, a hummingbird. You can also try everything out for free with our 14-day trial.
To learn more about the Hummingbird caching plugin, you can check out Make Your WordPress Site FLY with Hummingbird.
Which Plugin is Right For You?
Still not sure which one of the plugins above you’d prefer?
While I’ve ranked the above plugins by the number of downloads, it’s good to consider what is most important to you as the user:
- If you’re looking for a free, easy to install caching option, WP Super Cache is one of the best options out there. However, some users have experienced compatibility issues with themes and other plugins.
- With its mountain of customization options, W3 Total Cache is great if you crave total control over your plugin. If you’re new to plugins, however, this option may be a little too in-depth.
- If you want things simple but effective, WP Rocket is a great option, as long as you don’t mind spending a little money for a quick and efficient caching solution.
Since everyone’s site is different, some caching plugins work well on some sites, but not so well on others which make caching somewhat of a subjective experience when plugins are involved. That’s why it can also be helpful to take certain precautions in case things go south.
Whichever you choose, make sure that any advanced settings you intend to implement are supported by your web host and don’t do anything without backing up first!
You can also try testing out the plugin in a staging environment before trying it out on a public-facing site. Keep in mind that caching plugins don’t work on local installs so you would need to run tests on a live site that’s closed to regular visitors. You can find details on how to do this in a couple of our other posts How to Set Up a Staging Environment for WordPress with Cloner and Quick and Reliable Bug Testing with Cloner for WordPress Multisite.