Review – WP Rocket cache plugin

In case you didn’t already know, WP Rocket is a WordPress caching plugin and, unlike most cache plugins, is only available in a ‘premium’ (you have to pay for it) version. With so many free options available, you might ask why people would pay for a caching plugin. So did we. But let’s step back a moment and remind ourselves why WordPress websites need cache plugins.

Why use a wordPress cache plugin?

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.

cache test 1

What is WordPress caching?

Good question. We’re not going to give a technical answer because it’s pretty boring to read. Suffice to say that when you visit a WordPress website, the page you want to see probably doesn’t exist. Instead, WordPress works its socks off, finding all the text and images required, visits your database, and loads all sorts of javascript and css in order to create the page. It then shows it to you. If WordPress was a human it’d be totally stressed-out, overworked and generally unappreciated. There’d be a strike brewing.

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…

wp-rocket-logo

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.

cache test 2

rocket-1
  • Plugin Review - WP Rocket

WP Rocket Review

Review - WP Rocket cache plugin In case you didn't already know, WP Rocket is a WordPress caching plugin and, [...]

  • WordPress Security

WordPress Security – 2

WordPress Security Plugins You can take care of the basics of WordPress security yourself, and it doesn't take long. The [...]

  • WordPress Security

WordPress Security – 1

WordPress Security Out of the box, WordPress is a relatively secure publishing platform, but a magnet for hackers. Unless you [...]

  • feat-starter-plugs

Essential plugins at startup

Startup plugins and themes Like most people who create WordPress website regularly, we have what you might call a default [...]

  • feat-notification-mails3

User Notification Emails

Changing the 'from' in notification emails Stopping WordPress sending user notification emails to new members from 'wordpress' or using 'wordpress@yourdomain.com'. [...]

  • feat-logins-1

Display User Logins

Showing User Logins If you're running a WordPress website with multiple users, administrators, authors, contributors or just normal subscribers, it's [...]

  • displaying code

Displaying code

Displaying Code Snippets Creating the content for a WordPress 'help' website like this, it's very difficult to know where [...]

  • WordPress and GPL

WordPress and GPL

WordPress and GPL WordPress is a fantastic piece of software, a content management system (CMS) based on PHP and MySQL [...]

We were pretty pleased with the results until we checked the site on Chrome (always check on multiple browsers) and we spotted that the navigation dropdown menus weren’t working.

This was a js issue, so we looked at our page source, found the two js files that we thought might be causing the problem, went into WP Rocket’s ‘advanced’ page and pasted the urls of these two files into the ‘never minify or concatenate these js files’ box. Lo and behold, the menu worked again in Chrome, so we went back to our speed testers. They were a little slower, and we’ll certainly be looking at ways to speed the site up a little more, but the results weren’t bad.

cache test 3

Summary

WP Rocket can cache all the posts and pages on your site, enable browser caching, defer loading of JavaScript files, decrease bandwidth use with gzip compression, optimise Google fonts, minify and concatenate CSS and JS files (not all js files can be minified) and defer loading of images with lazyload.

Cached web pages are normally created when the first visitor opens a page. Once generated, all subsequent visitors receive faster, cached versions of each page. To help with this, WP-Rocket uses a crawler that is called to visit your pages each time you create or update content on your site. This ensures that the cache is generated in preparation for your first visitor.

And, in terms of positives, we just can’t stress how damned easy it is to set up. It’s almost as if the best caching plugin was created with absolute beginners in mind. Not a bad policy to follow….

Negatives?

Well, it’s not free. Still, $39 per site per year is hardly going to break the bank, and the improved performance should be more than enough payback.

If the plugin is activated, we find the backend can be as slow as hell, and we often disable it when we’re working on the site. That said, we’ve found the same to be true of all cache plugins.

Another negative is that when it comes to multi-site operation, WP-Rocket needs to be installed separately on every site on the network, with each site having its own config set up. On the positive side, setting up is a doddle and you can also import configurations from one site to another.

If you want to know how much it costs or want to see demo videos or read the entire FAQ, you’ll need to visit the WP-Rocket website – sorry but we’re not their salesmen! You’ll find them at https://wp-rocket.me/. If you like to see if people practice what they preach, look at our page source, scroll to the bottom of the page and see what cache plugin we’re using. Nuff said.