How I Found the Best WordPress Cache Plugin to Speed Up My WebSite case study on wordpress cache plugins

 

Much before I could woo visitors with my site’s content and beauty, its load speed started talking. And it was NOT a good speech!

“Slow and steady wins the race” – but does it hold any water in the world of Internet? We access a link and it doesn’t load in 2 seconds. Our patience runs out and we move on, guilt-free!

One of my readers informed me recently how bloated my WordPress website was and had it not been for his loyalty, he would have ditched me for some other website with similar content and faster speed. It got me thinking of all the traffic and reader-base I had literally ‘blocked out’ because of my ignorance. Not to forget, how it tanked my SERP rankings.

So, I started investigating and educated myself on everything that could possibly slow down a website and ways to breathe a new life into it.

 

Why is your Website Slow

Every time a user loads a website, requests are sent to its database to fetch content (images, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files). If these files are bulky, they will beef up your website which is not pretty at all.

Let’s fix these files:

  1. Unoptimized images: PNG is the best format to shrink size without compromising on the image’s quality. Web-optimize your images before uploading using tools like, Kraken and Photoshop.
  2. Flashy flash content: Just get rid of it – It doesn’t work on mobile devices and out of all your code on a page, Flash’s code sits like a sumo!
  3. Embeds: They’re not hosted on your site, which means that if their (host) website is slow, the embed will load slow and your website will stall. Avoid embeds unless crucial.
  4. Excessive code: Redundant items like white spaces, comments, dismissed code, revisions, etc., weigh down your website. Sweep them away with WP Sweep and cache the rest.

 

As you can see, none of these elements was beyond my control – My website is devoid of flash and embeds, and I was already using WP Smush for Image Optimisation. So, all I had to do was fix #4, bulky code.

My website desperately needed caching.

WordPress is dynamic. It downloads and fetches a fresh copy of website every time it is accessed. This puts undue load on the servers. Caching WP files create their static versions in a temporary storage area (browser or server), so that next time same files are requested, they are served readily from this storage instead of the database.

Result? A dramatic reduction in load time.

Now, each filetype requires a different caching technique:

  • HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files are minified (removal of excess code),
  • Dynamic PHP files are replaced with their static HTML versions (complete bypass), and
  • Heavy HTML and XML files are Gzipped (content is pulled in a tiny zip file and decompressed on a device)

Look how compressing a file with these techniques trimmed its size from 147 KB to 20 KB, a reduction of 83%!!

Supposing my website earlier loaded in 5 seconds, then by using one WordPress cache plugin, it will start loading within 1-1.2 seconds. What a feat!

minify js css html in wordpress

 

Finding the Best Caching Plugin for Your WordPress Site

  1. Cost: Sadly, most feature-rich plugins are paid, or reserve best features for premium versions. I’m not looking for a paid plugin, I’d still consider if it provides value for money, both features and reliability.
  2. User experience: I don’t hesitate to hit delete if a plugin tries to freeze my brain with options I don’t need – “Plugin, do your job. Make my life easier!”
  3. Support: Features take a backseat if the plugin’s support is damned. It must have support, documentation, tutorials, and forums for guidance and query redressal.
  4. A little something: A cache plugin is supposed to cache your content. But if it also offers advanced features like, CDN integration and GZIP compression, what’s the harm? Everybody loves a little something extra!

 

FEATURES COMPARISON OF 8 WORDPRESS CACHE PLUGINS

Plugin Rating (out of 5) WordPress compatibility Active Installs Current version User experience Cost Support Top 3 Add-ons
W3 Total Cache 4.3 3.2 (min.), up to 4.6.1 1+ million 0.9.5.1 Customizations and medium difficulty level Free, $99/ year Yes GZIP, SSL, AMP
WP Rocket 4.7 160,000+ 2.2.3 Superb Paid, $39/ year Great DNS prefetching, CDN, SSL
WP Super Cache 4.3 3.0 (min.), up to 4.5.4 1+ million 1.4.8 Good overall Free Yes CDN integration
WP Fastest Cache 4.8 3.3 (min.), up to 4.7 200,000+ 0.8.6.3 Confusing configuration Free Yes Mod_rewrite caching, Image optimization, GZIP
Hyper Cache 4.5 2.5 (min.), up to 4.4.5 50,000+ 3.2.6 Great and easy Free Yes HTTPS, CDN, custom setting for mobile theme and comment systems
Comet Cache 4.7 4.2 (min.), up to 4.8 alpha 50,000+ 161221 Superb! Free, $39 (single site, lifetime), $139 (multisite, lifetime) Best Caching of RSS, RDF, and Atom Feed, caching for 404 requests, lifetime updates
Cachify 4.7 3.8 (min.), up to 4.6.1 20,000+ 2.2.4 Good Free Yes Caching options (DB, HDD, APC, Memcache)
Cache Enabler 4.7 4.1 (min.), up to 4.6.1 10,000+ 1.1.0 Great and easy Free Yes GZIP, WebP images, mobile responsive

 

W3 Total Cache

W3 Total cache wordpress plugin

It enjoys the trust of companies like AT&T, Mashable, Smashing Magazine, Godaddy, and Hostgator. W3TC’s default setting works well for most users, but a fully configured cache plugin can speed up the website by 10x! You can play around with different options and customise it as much as you want.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Challenging interface and mind-numbing settings
  • Conflicts with certain themes and plugins, such as Rev Slider

Best suited for: Expert users, High traffic, and content-heavy websites

W3 Total cache wordpress plugin dashboard

 

WP Rocket

WP Rocket wordpress cache plugin

Simple, smart, fast – this is WP Rocket. It’s designed with a central focus on user experience – One-click start, no cumbersome features, and a navigable interface. Apart from regular compression, it employs browse caching.

Pros:

  • Image loading only on request (lazy load)
  • Full compatibility with eCommerce plugins and CloudFlare
  • Google fonts and image optimisation
  • Multisite and multilingual compatible
  • Supports DNS prefetching, CDN integration and SSL caching

Cons:

  • Only paid version is available

Best suited for: Everyone, eCommerce, websites with lots of external linksWP Super Cache

WP Rocket wordpress cache plugin dashboard

 

WP Super Cache

WP Super cache wordpress plugin

A simple interface – if you are new to caching, stick to the ‘easy’ tab and if you’re an expert, dive ahead. WP Super Cache’s caching techniques depend on the visitors – PHP bypass for new visitors, super-cached static files for heavy traffic, and legacy caching for known visitors.

WP Super cache wordpress plugin dashboard 1

Pros:

  • Superior customization
  • ‘Lock Down’ and ‘Directly Cache’ features for selected sections
  • CDN integration

Cons:

  • Struggles to keep up during traffic floods
  • Advanced caching (mod_rewrite) requires .htaccess file modification
  • Overrides mobile theme

Best suited for: Everyone, medium traffic websites

WP Super cache wordpress plugin dashboard 2

 

WP Fastest Cache

WP Fastest cache wordpress plugin

All other features aside, what WP Fastest Cache offers is the ability to cache for mobile devices and logged in users separately, giving you superior control over your website’s speed.

Pros:

  • Expiration directive
  • Fastest and most advanced caching
  • Selective caching just with a shortcode
  • CDN support, GZIP compression, and browser caching
  • Image optimisation for the web

Cons:

  • Not multisite compatible
  • Complex configuration

Best suited for: Expert users, image-rich websites

WP Fastest cache wordpress plugin dashboard

 

Hyper Cache

Hyper cache wordpress plugin

Hyper Cache prides itself on being a pure PHP caching plugin designed specifically for commenting systems and BBpress where caching can be automatically stopped if a page has been live for a preset number of days.

Pros:

  • Separate cache and theme for mobile devices
  • HTTPS ready and CDN support
  • Browser caching

Cons:

  • Limited Configurability

Best suited for: Bloggers, websites hosted on servers with fewer resources, websites with separate mobile sites

Hyper cache wordpress plugin dashboard

 

Comet Cache

Comet cache wordpress plugin

Comet Cache, known previously as Zen Cache, is famous for its support. Although it is paid, $9-29 per year, it the best support provided by any of the listed plugins. Comet cache starts caching in no time and is extremely intuitive. A surprising feature is the ability to exclude specific child blogs from a multisite network!

Pros:

  • Multisite, multiple CDN support, GZIP compression, browser caching
  • One time purchase and lifetime updates
  • RSS, RDF, and Atom Feed caching, double-side caching, and caching for 404 requests
  • Most user-friendly and well-written documentation with in-dashboard tips
  • Developer-friendly with the highest number of resolved forum threads

Cons:

  • Paid support
  • Incompatible with other caching plugins and Google AMP

Best suited for: All users, all websites

Comet cache wordpress plugin dashboard

 

Cachify

cachify wordpress cache plugin

A set-it-and-forget-it plugin, Cachify continues to work silently in the background. It allows automatic cache expiration to regulate website load time.Pros:

Pros:

  • Unique cache storage option – database, server HDD, Alternative PHP Cache (APC), and Memcached
  • Multisite support
  • ‘Flush Cache’ button, cache size, and widgets right on WP dashboard

Cons:

  • Compatibility issues with WooCommerce
  • Pages cached on HDD vanish from HTTPS sites

Best suited for: Non-techies, medium volume websites

cachify wordpress cache plugin dashboard

 

Cache Enabler – WordPress Cache

Cache Enabler - WordPress Cache plugin

This is a featherweight plugin with least number of settings and ability to bring site speed under 400ms!Pros:

Pros:

  • Automatic as well as manual clearing and purging of cache
  • Displays actual WordPress cache size in the dashboard!
  • HTML and inline JS minification, level 9 GZIP
  • WordPress multisite support
  • Supports WebP (responsive images via secret) when combined with Optimus

Cons:

  • Compatibility issues with eCommerce sites
  • Requires .htaccess editing

Best suited for: Newbies, medium volume websites and those that receive most traffic from mobile devices

Cache Enabler - WordPress Cache plugin dashboard

 

As per my preference, expertise, and requirements, my top picks are Comet cache, WP Rocket, and WordPress Cache Enabler. But, in the end, it’s a matter of speed and these plugins should handle that effectively.

For assistance, I used two Speed test results shared in  this article. It’s old but provides a reasonable estimate.

I’m leaving out server related tests, because – (1) baby steps for a non-coder, and (2) let’s focus only on one item.

 

Google PageSpeed test (desktop) Google PageSpeed test (mobile) WebWait
No plugin 52 41 16.80 s
W3 Total Cache 55 43 10.60 s
WP Rocket 64 56 5.70 s
WP Super Cache 80 74 10.30 s
WP Fastest Cache 67 54 10.70 s
Hyper Cache 53 42 11.60 s
Comet Cache 53 42 11.60 s
Cachify 53 42 13 s
Cache Enabler

Cache Enabler wasn’t tested and out of the other two, WP Rocket wins (but it’s paid!). WP Super Cache stands out too and I’ll have to decide between features (Comet Cache) and speed (WP Super Cache).

At this stage, some questions become pertinent:

  • Can I do without CDN support?
  • Am I smart enough to resolve certain caching aspects with less support?
  • Is the premium price worth the trouble?

What I understand from my research is that the difference in performance would be imperceptible and so, I should just worry about the cash in my wallet.

 

How to know if the plugin is working

It’s simple. Run your website some tests before and after fully configuring a plugin, and compare the before and after performances. You can use the following tests:

http://gtmetrix.com/

http://www.webpagetest.org/

https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/

 

Side Note

One thing that I didn’t discuss and which contributes immensely to a site’s speed – it’s framework.

The foundational code of a website determines its base speed and if it is multimedia-rich and bulky, there is very less that a plugin would be able to do. Most themes clash with plugins and hence, WP developers advise using a theme that comes preinstalled with a caching plugin.

Finding such a theme is so unnerving that I’d prefer building it from scratch. And TemplateToaster is the best software I’ve used to develop beautiful themes that can be integrated with any plugin of my choice or are fully compatible with them.

Best Drag and Drop interface to Design stunning WordPress Themes

 

Conclusion

As you saw, there isn’t one best WordPress Cache Plugin. That said, evaluating your site’s requirements, your level of expertise, and your willingness to forgo features for the price would ease the section process a lot.

In my search of finding my site a decent solution to site load times, I covered some of the most feature-rich, flexible, and robust WordPress plugins and assessed their pros and cons. I hope this article helps you make an informed decision.

Once you do, share in the comments which plugin you chose and how it worked for you. Which other plugins made to your final list? I’d love to hear everything!