Nobody likes a slow site
You can devote as much time, care and attention to creating wonderful content for your website and make it prettier than Michelle Pfieffer when she was 25 years old, but you’ll be wasting your time and effort if it’s slow.
Slow websites cost visitors, big time – a fact you know all too well yourself. If you visit a website and the page takes a second to load, you start reading. If it takes two, you’re already a little itchy by the time the screen settles. If it takes more 5 seconds, you’ll have given up waiting long before it’s put on its make up and opened the door. Slow is generally unforgivable and unforgiven, and slow is bad for your Google ranking.
A real-life example
We’ll use this website as an example, and we’ll use tools.pingdom.com for our speed measurements. Our server is based in the UK and our visitors will come from both the USA and Europe, and also maybe further afield.
The images below show you that without a cache plugin, the front page of this site loads in 3.19 seconds for visitors from the USA East Coast, and 2.69 seconds from Western Europe. It doesn’t feel that slow in real life, but the numbers do the measuring better than us.
What is WordPress caching?
A WordPress caching plugin basically creates a static version of your webpages. Instead of having to assemble a 1000 piece jigsaw each time a visitor wants to read a page, the plugin pushes WordPress out of the way and shows visitors a photograph of the page it prepared earlier. And so, it’s a lot quicker. Obviously, it’s not quite that simple, but it’s a good enough analogy.
What’s the best WordPress cache plugin?
Well, that depends who you ask. The most popular cache plugin is W3 Total Cache (W3TC). We’ve used W3TC in the past and still have it installed on several sites. The most common complaint about W3TC is that it’s complicated to set up and has more options than a city banker who wrote his own employment contract. The criticisms are fair, but all those options make W3TC enormously flexible. It can do more or less everything except make a nice cup of tea in the morning. But we don’t like it anyway.
Why? If we’re honest, it has never made a truly significant difference to any of the sites we’ve used it on. It was better than others we’d tried, but it was a major disappointment.
The winner is…
In the course of sorting out a website that was just too slow, we did a quick review of WordPress cache plugins and realised that we’d never tried WP-Rocket. It was more or less unique in being a ‘premium’ product.
We downloaded the plugin, and installed it. We ran some performance tests on the website and then set up WP-Rocket. We activated it, spent about two minutes setting it up and another 5 minutes making sure we weren’t missing something important, then told the plugin to preload the cache. We logged out, cleared our browser caches and checked that nothing on the site was broken – as can happen with cache plugins. We then tested the site with pingdom.com. Pages that had been loading in 4.50 – 6.00 seconds were now loading in a second or so.
We then revisited a couple of other sites we ran and switched replaced W3TC with WP-Rocket. The differences were less marked, but they were there and plain to see. Since then we’ve used it on every WordPress site we’ve created. You might not like paying for a cache plugin, and we understand that. You might love the writeups W3TC gets, and we’d understand that too. They’re often very good. However, in our humble opinion (we don’t get a cent for saying so, or for any sales or visits to WP-Rocket from this site) it’s the only cache plugin we’ve ever used that actually did what it promised to do.
Proof of the pudding..
Having tested this site without a cache plugin, we installed WP Rocket. We activated all the options, including minification and concatenation of both css and js files. We then headed off to Pingdom.com. The times we got were great, but when we looked at the actual pages, there were some errors, as expected. Minification and concatenation of the js scripts had caused the slider we use on some pages to fail. No problem; we don’t actually need or want a slider, so we replaced the slider with a static image. Problem solved. The results we got are shown below.