Van Isle Websites puts a major focus on making WordPress websites that are quick and fast loading. While using well designed themes, optimized images, and lowering your number of plugins is a good start, caching your content can really help reduce load times. One of the most used caching plugins out there is W3 Total Cache. I use the free version of the plugin on almost all websites I build. Let's take a look at the difference it makes, and how to get it up and running.
What is W3 Total Cache?
W3 Total Cache is a WordPress plugin that enhances the user experience for your website by increasing website performance and reducing load times through the use of caching technologies and optimization of your website code. The version we are looking at today is their FREE version, which includes a ton of functionality and improvement capabilities for your website. There is also a paid upgrade, that provides additional performance capabilities.
Speed Testing Tools
Before we can get a sense of how much W3 Total Cache can improve your WordPress website, we need to find a baseline of load times and performance scores. There are many tools out there to measure your website speeds and efficiencies. The three most popular tools are:
These tools provide a good guideline, and all use different metrics, but it should be noted that it's a fools errand to try to perfect scores on all of them. Use these scores as a guideline, but don't waste hours upon hours trying to get perfect marks on load times.
Scores Prior to W3 Total Cache Installation
To get a sense of how much a caching plugin like W3 Total Cache can help your WordPress website, I've used the blog website that I built, BriskWP.com, as a before and after experiment. Before installing the plugin for the first time, I ran speed tests on the website to get a baseline of loading times.
By scrolling through the scores above, you can see some of the tests are kinder to my website than others. With using the fast loading GeneratePress premium theme and keeping plugins to a minimum, the site has decent scores:
- 84 on PageSpeed Insights Mobile
- 93 on PageSpeed Insights Desktop
- 77 from Pingdom
- 66 | 85 from GT Metrix.
Not bad scores, but not great. It should be noted that there is more to assessing you website speed than just the overall grade that these tools give you. To keep this article simple, I'll focus on the overall scores - but there are deeper metrics within those scores that can help focus your improvements and understanding of your website speed.
Now let's look at installing W3 Total Cache and configuring it's settings.
Step 1: Find, Install and Activate the W3 Total Cache Plugin
Login to your WordPress admin, go to your plugins section, and search for W3 Total Cache.
Once you find the plugin, click the "Install Now" button. After that, make sure you then activate the plugin.
Step 3: Tweak the General Settings
W3 Total Cache is a very robust plugin, which provides tons of areas to tweak the cache and speed of your website within the free version of the plugin. The settings you should change all depend on things like the web host that you use, other plugins that are in-use on your website, the type of content that is on your website. You can try different things and test your site to see what works best, as there is no one single answer to the settings that you should use. There are some baseline settings that I update that should be a good starting point for new users.
Page Cache and Minify
In the General Settings, the first thing you should do is "Enable" Page Cache, as well as Minify. These are some of the baseline efficiencies that caching plugins provide. "Disk: Enhanced" is the best option for your Page Cache Method if you are using Shared Hosting.
Database Cache and Object Cache
Update the Database Cache to be enabled, but leave the Object Cache disabled. Object Caching can slow down WordPress, so it's not initially recommended (but a setting you can tryout if you want to test it).
Update User Experience
In the User Experience settings, enable "Lazy Load Images". This means that when a user visits your site, it won't try to load images all at once, and will defer loading images that are off screen until you scroll to them.
For me, I also check the "Disable wp embed script" option as I don't used the embed functionality on this site.
Step 4: Save Settings and Purge Caches
Now that you've got your baseline settings updated, it's time to Save all settings and Empty your caches. This will set W3 Total Cache to rebuild your website caches.
Other Options for W3 Settings
What I've shown above is a good baseline setting for W3 Total Cache, but that doesn't mean that it's 100% optimized. There are other guides out there that you can Google to help tweak your settings based on your website architecture and hosting. If you use, or plan to use, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) such as Cloudflare, that also affects how you should setup W3 Total Cache. Check back soon for more guides on speeding up your website and optimizing W3 Total Cache.
W3 Total Cache in Action: Before and After
Now that I've walked you through installing the plugin and tweaking your W3 Total Cache settings, let's take a look at the real life differences that it makes for this site, using our same speed testing tools. Again, I'm using the overall scores from these tools as a general indicator, but when assessing your own site, look at the specific metrics that make up your score.
Across the board on all tools, we saw page load and efficiency improvements.
- Google PageSpeed Insights for Mobile went from 84 to 90.
- PageSpeed Insights for Desktop went from 93 to 97.
- GT Metrix went from 66 | 85 to 80 | 86.
- Pingdom went from 77 to 85
Increases in all tools with a free plugin that took 5 minutes to configure.
Is your site now as fast as possible?
The caching plugin is just one step in the bigger picture of speeding up your website. As you can see, my scores increased, and in a modestly significant way, but there is still room to move the needle.
Other things that I will soon be adding to speed things up even more include image optimization, and connecting a CDN. Check back soon for more guides on speeding up your WordPress website
This site may contain affiliate links to products talked about. I only recommend products and tools that I use myself and that were used in the creation of this website and other websites that I have built.