If you’re tired of having to wait for your website to load on your browser each and every single time, then your customers and clients are probably even more annoyed than you.
But, of course, they don’t have access to your website’s backend, so they can’t do anything about your site’s speed. They’re technically at your mercy if they choose to wait for your site to load.
However, chances are they’re going to just up and leave your site altogether, never to be seen again. No matter how good your content is and how awesome your products are, if your site is slow, then you’re going to get dismal conversion rates, if at all.
The question is, why would you subject your visitors to torturous waiting when they don’t have to?
The thing is there are plenty of ways you can follow to speed up your website – and web caching is probably one of the most important methods all webmasters should follow.
While those who’ve been building sites for a long time probably already know all about caching, a novice webmaster may feel overwhelmed. Admittedly, web caching can be quite technical, and it is but normal to feel like a deer stuck in headlights!
So, What Exactly Is Web Caching?
To understand web caching, we’re going to have to break it down into two parts:
The first part is the word ‘web’ which means the website. A website is comprised of many files like HTML documents, CSS stylesheets, scripts, content, images and other media files.
The second part is the word ‘cache’ which is the root word for ‘caching.’ It means saving something for later or future use.
When we put these two words together, ‘web caching’ literally means ‘saving website files for later use’.
But, why is it important? How can saving website files for later use help with your site speed?
When someone visits your website either by clicking on a link or typing your domain name directly on their browsers, their browsers sends an HTTP request to your web server (which is owned by your web hosting company).
Your visitor’s browser is basically asking your web server to send over your website’s files so it can display your content.
So, your web server will then honor the request and send over your website’s files – all the HTML codes, CSS stylesheets, the images, videos, scripts, etc.
If these files have not been optimized, that is, the images are super big, and scripts haven’t been minified, then it will take quite some time for your server to send over everything to your site visitor’s browser.
Once everything is transmitted, your website will then appear on the user’s browser.
As you can imagine, the page loading time won’t be ideal, and many of your visitors would probably have bounced after the 5-second mark.
Now, imagine having a lot of people going to your website at once. Your server will have to do the same process over and over again which can often cause undue stress to the server.
If the web server were a person, it would be extremely stressed out. And when you’re stressed, your performance is affected. The same thing applies to web servers – they can get stressed out too, and your site will run even more slowly than before.
I’m sure you wouldn’t that to happen to your website and your web server. So what do you do then?
Well, this is where web caching comes into the picture.
With web caching, you’re essentially reducing your web server’s burden. Instead of serving the same heavy, uncompressed files over and over again, your server will send a lightweight copy of those files in the form of a static HTML file.
Web caching is a win-win for everybody
It helps reduce server load, and your website visitor will be able to view your site much faster!
But what about when you update your site? Will the updates not show up on the front end?
Well, the server is smart enough to detect when changes have been made to the site. When updates are made, the server will dump the old cache, and when an HTTP request comes in, the server will make a new cache and serve that copy until the next update is made.
Web Caching and Content Delivery Networks
Content delivery networks (CDN) are basically a network of powerful computers located in various parts of the world. One of the main benefits of signing up for a CDN is their caching feature. They’ll take a copy of your website cache and distribute it throughout their network.
Let’s say for example your website files are stored in a server in Dallas, Texas. Your site is quite popular, and you’ve got a global audience.
Now, the thing is the physical distance between your site visitor and your web hosting server can affect your website’s loading times.
So, your visitors from Australia, Europe, Asia, and South America will probably find your site slow, while those closest to your server will find your site much faster.
With CDNs, your website visitors no longer have to retrieve your website files from thousands of miles away. Instead, it will retrieve a cached copy of your website from the nearest proxy cache server.
For example, if your CDN has a data center in Sydney, Australia, then your Australian visitors no longer need to retrieve your website files from Dallas, Texas (your main server).
Instead, they’ll get your files from the Sydney data center. As you can see, the distance will be much, much shorter and your website files will load on your visitor’s browser far quicker than if it was retrieved in Dallas!
CDNs help reduce your site’s loading times which translates directly to a faster website. Your international visitors will be happy, and your web server will be happy too!
The Best Caching Plugins For Your WordPress Website
Before I give you a list of the top caching plugins for WordPress, here are a few tips you should take note of:
- Check with your web host first if it’s okay to install a caching plugin. You may not know it, but some hosting packages already come with free server-side caching so a plugin may not be needed.
- Don’t use more than one caching plugin! You only need one. If you use 2 or more, it can cause your site to slow down which utterly defeats the purpose of using a caching plugin in the first place.
- Once you’ve chosen and installed a plugin you like, check your site to see if it’s working.
Use Google PageSpeed Insights (https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights) or Pingdom’s Website Speed Test Tool (https://tools.pingdom.com).
With that said, here is the list of some of the best caching plugins for your WordPress site:
1. W3 Total Cache (https://wordpress.org/plugins/w3-total-cache)
W3 Total Cache is one of the most popular caching plugins on the WordPress Plugin directory. It’s relatively easy to setup, but if you get lost, there are tons of tutorials online that can help you out. Your files, content, and scripts are minified on your server.
2. WP Super Cache (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-super-cache)
WP Super Cache is another popular caching plugin which you can use to speed up your site. It has similar features to W3 Total Cache, but users say WP Super Cache has a better (and easier to understand) user interface.
The plugin gives you 3 caching options: expert, simple and WP-cache caching. If you’re a newbie to WordPress, the simple option should be sufficient, and you don’t need to touch code. However, if you’re a more advanced user, then the expert and WP-cache modes may be better suited for your skills.
3. WP Fastest Cache (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-fastest-cache)
Additionally, it supports Gzip compression, file minification (HTML and CSS) as well as browser caching. There’s even an option to enable or disable caching for users on mobile devices and those logged in to your site.
4. Hummingbird Page Speed Optimization (https://wordpress.org/plugins/hummingbird-performance)
If you run a news site or at least a site which encourages discussions and you’ve got plenty of Gravatar comments, then this may be the best caching plugin for you.
Hummingbird features full-page, browser and gravatar caching options. It also includes image optimization, minification, and Gzip compression. Once you’ve activated the plugin, head on over to Google PageSpeed Insights and see if your score has improved!
Website caching is no longer optional. If you want people to actually land on your site and check out what you have to offer, then you need to implement web caching right away. Leverage the power of web caching on your WordPress and non-WordPress sites and watch your traffic numbers increase!