Kissmetrics published an infographic a few years back called “How Loading Time Affects Your Bottom Line”. Intrigued? You should be. The infographic demonstrates how important website loading speeds and overall performance are to the user experience.
For those that are willing to wait, 79% of consumers say that slow speeds make them less likely to return to a website. For those who aren’t, a delay of just one second costs you 7% conversions right on the spot (that means 7% fewer sales, subscribers, clients, etc.).
As users grow more and more impatient, you can’t afford to be stingy with performance optimization in WordPress. The below guide will teach you about a very important aspect of this: website caching.
Performance Optimization: Why It Matters
Before we dig into performance optimization and how website caching plays a role in it, let’s take a quick look at Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
Here is an example assessment:
You receive a page speed (if available) and optimization score for both the mobile and desktop versions of your website. Below that, you have a list of recommendations on how to improve those scores. See the one that says “Leverage browser caching”? That’s what we’re looking at right now.
WordPress Website Caching Explained
It’s not enough to create a basic static landing page for your website, right? That’s why you use things like:
- A WordPress theme for professional-grade design
- WordPress plugins to add features and functionalities you otherwise would have to code
- Tracking scripts for services like Google Analytics and remarketing
- High-resolution, full-screen photos
- Videos, animations, and other dynamic content
But every time you add something new to WordPress – a file, plugin, script, or even new pages – you increase the number of requests your server has to process. It’s something that has to be done if you want to impress visitors with your website, but it does take its toll on performance. Here’s why:
Every time a visitor attempts to access your website, their browser sends a request to your web server.
“Hey, can I have a look at your website?”
Your server, in turn, has to gather every piece that comprises your website, from all of the snippets of code to the images and theme the visitor actually sees. The larger or more complex your site, the longer this process can take – and this is where that delay in loading times comes from (for the most part).
While you could delete unnecessary pages and image files, clean up the code, and do other performance optimization tricks to get your site’s weight in line, website caching is also an incredibly effective tool.
Basically, once your server has gone through the process of sending your website’s files over to a user, it then stores a static copy of that version of the website. This is the cache. When new visitors (or even the same ones) come to the site, the server has to make a decision:
- Repeat the laborious process of compiling your site’s files and sending them out to every visitor.
- Immediately deliver the cached copy of the website (which is one static file).
The second scenario is ideal as it drastically cuts down the time between the visitor request and when the website shows on their screen. And you can easily do this for your website by using a WordPress caching plugin.
Best Caching Plugins for WordPress
One of the great things about WordPress caching plugins is that they don’t just cache your content. They typically include other performance optimization tricks, too.
Here are the best caching plugins for WordPress:
W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache covers a wide range of caching needs in WordPress. To start, it handles server-side caching (described above). And it can also target specific parts of your website that are infrequently updated and that would benefit from caching. W3 Total Cache also handles browser caching. While browser-side caching is something your visitors control, you can use this plugin to directly communicate with browsers and let them know there’s a cached copy available.
WP Fastest Cache
The caching mechanism from WP Fastest Cache is pretty straightforward: apply server caching to your WordPress site, but always be on the lookout for newly created or updated content. What’s nice about this plugin is that it also allows you (as the admin) to decide what is cached and for how long (if you even want that kind of control).
WP Super Cache
WP Super Cache is Automattic’s contribution to caching plugins (Automattic is the parent company of WordPress). Like other Automattic plugins, this one has simplified the process of caching a WordPress site. Rather than give you a number of controls and decisions to make regarding how to handle caching, there are three “levels” offered. It’s important to note that you will need another plugin if you’re interested in other performance optimization tasks.
By improving speed through caching, you’re not only improving the user experience, but you’re also giving a boost to SEO. There are, of course, other things that must be done in terms of performance optimization in WordPress (file minification, Gzip compression, image resizing, CDN integration, and so on), so don’t stop at caching.
If you want assistance in optimizing your site for performance and search, talk to Flagstone Search Marketing today.