WordPress is one of the most powerful and flexible platforms for creating websites. Loads of features and options available in the platform have made it a very popular choice. That much functionality has some burdens too. As WordPress depends too much on the database, it has a few performance issues. Using a dedicated WordPress caching plugin could be an excellent way to address these issues.
Among all the WordPress caching plugins, W3 Total Cache is the most popular choice. With more than one million active installs and an impressive rating, this is worth a try. In today’s post, I will show you optimal W3 Total Cache settings to improve your website performance.
Being a robust and very powerful plugin, W3 Total Cache comes with lots of options. The options range from basic to advanced level. As the situations and expectations are different for everybody, there is no ideal setting for this cache plugin.
Installing W3 Total Cache Plugin
First of all, download and install W3 Total Cache from WordPress plugin directory. Once you activate the plugin, it will provide you with notice. There will be an option to enable the edge mode in the notice. That feature will unlock the pre-release features, which is intended for advanced users. Click the ‘Hide this message‘ button and the notice will be gone.
You will also notice a new menu item titled ‘Performance‘ in the dashboard.
If you want to measure the improvement made by the cache plugin, you can do so by using free tools like Google Pagespeed Tool. Keep a note of the results before you make any changes. And when you have finished configuring the plugin, run a complete test and compare the result with previous ones.
Setting up W3 Total Cache
Go to Performance -> General Settings to access the configuration section. There, you will see, the page is divided into several sections. I will discuss each of them one by one.
W3 Total Cache General Settings
This section has only two options. By selecting the checkbox, you can turn ON or OFF all the caching types at once. And the ‘Preview mode‘ feature enables you to test the changes you make before applying them to the live site.
Here are general settings for W3 Total Cache plugin:
- Page Cache: Check the ‘Enable‘ box.
- Page Cache Method: Disk Enhanced
- Minify Cache: Enable
- Minify Mode: Auto
- Minify Cache Method: Disk
- Database Cache: Enable
- Database Cache Method: Disk
- Object Cache: Unchecked
- Browser Cache: To use the feature, check the ‘Enable‘ box.
- CDN: Unchecked
- Reverse Proxy: Unchecked
Page Cache Settings
Page cache creates static versions of dynamic pages. When a visitor requests a page of your website, WordPress cycles through some PHP pages and MySQL queries to deliver the page. Finishing the whole process takes some time. When you have the page cache turned on, every time a visitor requests a page, a static version of that page will be created. From the next time, the visitor will be able to load those pages way faster.
You will find more settings options for page cache in the Performance -> Page Cache section. Here are settings for those:
Minify reduces the size of the files of your website. However, the reducing process might require more resource than delivering the actual files.
While this is certainly a useful feature, sometimes it causes issues on many hosts. I would suggest contacting your hosting provider first before enabling this option.
Here are the minify settings if you wish to proceed:
This unique caching method decreases the load on your server by caching the SQL queries. For larger sites, making the query and executing it takes some time. Enabling this feature will be helpful in those cases.
This is another website caching method that is helpful for large, complex websites. If your website requires expensive database queries, you might find this caching method useful. If your site is hosted on a shared server, enabling this caching method could slow you down.
In general, it is wise to use the object cache in dedicated server or VPS only.
This cache method is another excellent feature of W3 Total Cache. Let’s see what this feature does.
When a visitor enters your website, his browser will download some image, CSS, JS files, etc. and save them in a temporary folder. As a result, when the visitor visits another page, they won’t have to download these things again. But the browser only stores these files for a short period. The Browser Cache feature will extend the durability of these files. If you run an average website, you can safely keep the browser up to 24 hours.
CDN is the abbreviated form of Content Delivery Network. CDN services allow you to store the frequently used static content on their servers and load them from the closest location of the visitor. This has two benefits –
- Reducing the load on your server and
- Speeding up your website
W3 Total Cache comes with native support for most of the modern CDN services including MaxCDN, Amazon Cloud Front, Rackspace and Amazon S3. The setup process for each CDN provider is different. Therefore, we won’t go into details about setting up CDN here.
However, do let me know if you want instructions about setting up W3 Total Cache for a particular CDN provider.
At this point, you have spent a considerable amount of time in reading this article and making the necessary changes in your website. If you have another website(s), you will most likely want to apply the same settings on those sites too.
You can do that easily by exporting the settings. To do that, come to the ‘Import/Export Settings‘ section. This is usually the last part of the general settings page.
Click the ‘Download‘ button in the ‘Export Configuration‘ field. This will download a PHP file with all the settings changes you have made so far. Now, go to the other site. Open up the general settings page and come to this section. In the ‘Import Configuration‘ field, upload this file and you are done.
If you want to reset the plugin settings, you have to use the ‘Restore Default Settings‘ button. This will undo all the changes you have made.
If you want to use same settings that we are using on our site WPDean.com, you can download this file and import it in your W3TC import wizard.
The general settings page also has some other settings options. As these are not recommended for the beginners, I will discuss them briefly.
First of all, Reverse Proxy is almost similar to CDN. These proxies allow you to cache the regular static file on third-party servers. As the users will access the files through the cloud, it will improve the page loading speed.
If you are familiar with New Relic, you will find the Monitoring section useful. In this section, you can configure your New Relic account to get intricate details about the performance of your website and the server.
The Miscellaneous section includes different types of options. From this section, you can enable the Google page speed dashboard widget, enable edge mode, etc.
The Debug section allows you to troubleshoot any problem created by the plugin. Once you enable the feature and choose the particular cache method(s), the caching information will be added as HTML comments in each page. You can view them from the page source.
Fragment caching comes in handy when you don’t want to cache the whole page, but a particular fragment of the page only. And the extensions are useful for adding third-party services to the plugin.
Other Options to Increase Site Speed:
Apart from configuring W3 Total Cache, it is wise to use some fast loading WordPress themes that loads quickly in the browser.
While caching is a very effective way to speed up the loading time of your website, it is a tricky area too. Beginners often feel overwhelmed with the tremendous amount of options and settings to choose from.
So, are you using W3 Total Cache on your WordPress site? Or maybe you are using some other caching plugin. Whatever it is, let me know in the comments.