Excessive load times can harm your website in more ways than one. There are quite a few ways to improve your site’s speed but caching has the greatest impact.
With the above in mind, in this article we’re going to evaluate the performance of the top five caching solutions for WordPress. We will also look at the features each one has on offer to help you determine which one is truly the best (not just the fastest).
Let’s put all of this into context before we get started.
What is Caching?
A cache is an area in the computer’s memory that stores recently used information. When a site is cached, it means the site’s pages, images, files and Web objects are stored on the user’s local hard drive. This in turn means that when a user opens a frequently accessed file, the browser will have most (if not all) of its files cached.
When a browser doesn’t have to retrieve new information every time a site is accessed it results in faster page load times. Caching plugins work the same way. The save dynamically generated HTML files in the cache and serve them next time a request is made instead of re-loading all of the PHP scripts from WordPress.
Setting the Stage
We performed speed tests for ZippyMagazine.com prior to installing any caching plugins. All GT Metrix tests were performed on a test server located in Vancouver, Canada and the test server for all of the Pingdom tests was located in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Let’s take a look at the results.
GT Metrix is an online speed testing tool based on Yahoo’s performance guidelines and my personal favorite when it comes to page load testing. Without a caching plugin installed, the site loaded a 719 KB sized page in 1.9 seconds.
Double-checking your results never hurt anybody. Pingdom – a server monitoring and online testing service – was my next choice. According to Pingdom, the un-cached 746.0 KB sized page loaded in 3.13 seconds.
01. WP Rocket
WP Rocket is one of the best caching solutions for WordPress and the only premium plugin on our list. It is tremendously user-friendly and a lifesaver for webmasters who find technical terms and web programming to be perplexing.
The plugin will function correctly after activation; as a result you won’t be racking your head against the wall trying to configure it. Those of you who are technologically literate can dive into it’s advanced options and set up a custom configuration.
It’s lazy image loading feature sets it apart from the other popular caching solutions. Those of you who don’t already know, this feature makes it so that the images you have set on your page are loaded only when the user scrolls down the page. This non-preemptive approach significantly improves load times.
Here are some other features you’ll find on every license of the caching plugin:
- Simple, fast, and intuitive setup.
- Page caching is immediately activated.
- Google Fonts Optimization minimizes HTTP requests.
- Integrates seamlessly with CloudFlare.
GT Metrix – I went back, installed and activated WP Rocket on Zippy Magazine. This time, it gave a total page size of 716 KB which loaded in 1.7 seconds!
Pingdom – According to Pingdom, installing WP Rocket dropped the page load time to 2.11 seconds for a 742.5 KB page size.
02. W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache is the only WordPress Performance Optimization framework that is designed to boost user experience and improve page load times. This caching solution is highly recommended by some of the top hosting providers in the industry including Page.ly, Flywheel, and SiteGround.
The first thing you need to know about this plugin is that its Settings area is divided into 16 pages. Whoa! This may be quite overwhelming (even for some developers) but the important thing to remember is that you don’t have to manually configure the settings to make the plugin work – its default settings work pretty great too.
W3 Total Cache has a dedicated Settings page for every type of caching – page caching, object caching, database caching, browser caching etc. The level of customizability that you get with W3 Total Cache is difficult to find elsewhere.
- GZIP compression to optimize web browser rendering.
- Support for Content Delivery Networks (CDN).
- Compatible with CloudFlare.
GT Metrix – After WP Rocket, I went ahead and installed W3 Total Cache on the test site. As stated by GT Metrix, the total page size of 719 KB loaded in 1.8 seconds.
Pingdom – Testing it on Pingdom gave the total page size as 746.2 KB at a load time of 2.76 seconds.
03. WP Super Cache
WP Super Cache is a free caching solution available for WordPress. Its caching mechanism is fairly easy to understand. The plugin basically generates static HTML files from your dynamic WordPress blog and caches it instead of the WordPress PHP scripts.
It offers three options for decreasing load times:
- Use mod_rewrite to deliver static pages
- Serve static pages using PHP
- Use a legacy caching mode that caches pages for users who are logged in
- Page compression and dynamic caching.
- Support for Content Delivery Networks (CDN).
- Caching for visitors using a mobile device.
- Scheduler to manage deletion and re-caching at given intervals.
GT Metrix – On installing WP Super Cache, the total page sized came in at 719 KB and the page loaded in 1.2 seconds.
Pingdom – And according to Pingdom, the page size was 745.8 KB and its load time was 2.92 seconds. Not bad.
04. WP Fastest Cache
According to its developers, the WP Fastest Cache plugin is “the simplest and fastest WP Cache system”. Similar to WP Super Cache, WP Fastest Cache generates static HTML files based on your dynamic WordPress blog and saves it in the cache.
WP Fastest Cache prides itself on providing an easy-to-install plugin – and it delivers. You don’t even have to modify the .htaccess configuration file.
- Mod_Rewrite which is the fastest method is used in this plugin
- All cache files are deleted when a post or page is published
- Supports CDN and SSL
- Enable/Disable cache option for mobile devices and logged-in users
- Block cache for specific page or post with Short Code
GT Metrix – WP Fastest Cache gave some pretty awesome results on GT Metrix. The page size totaled in at 719 KB and it only took 1.2 seconds to load it.
Pingdom – On Pingdom, the total page size amounted to 746.0 KB and the page loaded in 2.92 seconds.
05. Zen Cache
ZenCache (formerly Quick Cache) is quickly gaining popularity under its new name. It takes a real-time snapshot of every post, page, category and link and caches them intuitively. This simple yet effective method saves you processing time that was initially causing the page load time of your site to rise.
The plugin uses advanced techniques to determine when it should send a cached version and when it shouldn’t. By default, users who are logged into the system and visitors who have commented on the website recently are not served cached pages. You can edit these configuration settings from the Settings page.
- Options to control the automatic cache clearing behavior for Home and Posts Page, Author Page, Category, Tag, and Custom Term Archives, Custom Post Type Archives, RSS/RDF/ATOM Feeds, and XML Sitemaps.
- The ability to cache or ignore URLs that contain query strings (GET Requests).
- User agent and HTTP referrer exclusion patterns.
- Set automatic expiration times for cache files.
GT Metrix – The total page size on GT Metrix turned out to be 719 KB and loaded in 2.1 seconds.
Pingdom – The result turned out better on Pingdom which reported the total page size to be 745.7 KB and page load time of 2.66 seconds.
06. Cache Enabler
Cache Enabler is the new kid on the block (with only about 100 downloads so far) but it looks promising. The plugin is a lightweight caching solution for WordPress that does two things to decrease your site’s page load times – generates static HTML files and provides WebP support. The static HTML files are saved on the server’s hard disk.
Once a file is accessed or requested, the web server delivers the static HTML file while avoiding all of the backend processes which may be resource intensive. This caching strategy dramatically increases your site’s speed, results in lower page load times and improves the performance of your WordPress installation.
- Efficient and fast disk cache engine for faster caching
- Display of the actual cache size in your dashboard
- WebP Support (when it is combined with Optimus)
- HTTP/2 focused
GT Metrix – The total page size on GT Metrix turned out to be 718 KB and loaded in 2.0 seconds.
Pingdom – The result turned out better on Pingdom which reported the total page size to be 745.7 KB and page load time of 2.72 seconds.
Here’s a comparison table of the page load times of all five caching plugins. Page load times are recorded in seconds for both GT Metrix and Pingdom tests.
|Prior to caching||WP Rocket||W3 Total Cache||WP Super Cache||WP Fastest Cache||ZenCache||Cache Enabler|
The Best Caching Plugins Ranked
WP Rocket performed significantly better than the others. After installing the plugin, the page load time dropped to nearly half the original amount. That’s pretty impressive. Blazing fast page load times paired with excellent customer support and easy one-click installation makes WP Rocket the best caching plugin in my books.
We have W3 Total Cache as the runner-up. In terms of usability and installations, W3 Total Cache is fully customizable with 16 pages of Settings to prove it. It outperformed the free plugins in our lineup and loaded the site in just 2.0 seconds.
WP Super Cache came in at number three in our experiment. It’s much easier to set up than W3 Total Cache but didn’t perform as well on our tests. Both plugins compete in a head-to-head battle as the best free caching plugin for WordPress — W3 Total Cache is faster, but WP Super Cache does better in the usability department.
Wrapping It Up
There you have it. WP Rocket stands tall as the fastest caching solution for WordPress. The thing with caching plugins is that there can’t be one overall winner. At the end of the day what really matters is your site’s needs and what features you’re looking for in a caching solution.
It’s best to set an evaluation criteria and rank the caching plugins against it. We recommend WP Rocket to those of you who don’t mind spending a reasonable amount of money on a caching solution and may require assistance from the support staff.
Which caching solutions do you use for your WordPress site? What features do you look for in a caching plugin? We’d love to hear from you so let us know in the comments section below.