A speedy website attracts more traffic, reduces bounce rates, and ranks better on search engines. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your site’s caching needs and invest in an upmarket plugin to reap the rewards of your hard work.
High page load times have an adverse effect on your WordPress website and caching ensures that you never have to face them head on. In this article, we’ll aim for the lowest possible page load times with the right caching plugin by evaluating several different available options and ranking them based on page load times conducted in a real-world testing environment.
Let’s put this all into context before we move on to the tests.
A Note on Caching
In a nutshell, a cache is a component that stores data so future requests for that data can be served faster.
Generally, data is cached to reduce site speed and improve data fetching times. This is immensely useful in cases where a user frequently returns to a particular website. The site is cached and the browser doesn’t have to retrieve the entire site – it restores the cached version and receives the fresh information thus resulting in faster page load times.
Search engines take site speed seriously in their ranking algorithms. It’s quite simple: a faster site ranks better. When it comes to improving a WordPress site’s speed, most webmasters take to caching plugins. Installing a reputable, upmarket caching plugin can dramatically improve your site’s page load time and save you a ton of effort (and money) figuring out how to do it otherwise.
Caching plugins save all of the dynamically generated HTML files onto the cache and serve them directly from there. Basically, what’s happening is that your site is repurposing previously generated data. Therefore, each time a new request is made to retrieve some data, the browser fetches the cached version instead of having to load all of the PHP scripts over and over again. Doing this improves the page load time for your site’s viewership.
Our Testing Strategy
The strategy we adopted for this experiment was to test a real WordPress site running WPExplorer’s Total theme. The website tested, Color Awesome, is a full-fledged WordPress site which was purposefully kept that way to imitate a real-world website.
The website had all of the essential plugins installed that you’d find in a typical WordPress installation, including Contact Form 7, Slider Revolution, Visual Composer, Formidable Forms, WooCommerce, and Yoast SEO. Color Awesome has demo data loaded onto it and an integrated e-store, as well. The page to be tested was nearly blah KB in size – which is much heavier than a stripped down version making it closer to a real site in size.
Let’s take a look at the hosting and benchmarking tools used for the experiment.
Hosting Provider and Hosting Plan
According to the Bluehost website,
Bluehost and WordPress have worked closely since 2005 to create a hosting platform ideal for running WordPress websites.
The Color Awesome website is hosted with Bluehost‘s Shared Hosting plan. We specifically chose this particular hosting provider and hosting plan because Bluehost is one of the best hosting services out there for WordPress sites being the most optimal and cost-efficient alternative – it’s recommended by WordPress!
Benchmarking Tools Used
During the experiment, the state of the website remained the same for all caching plugins which means that no isolated plugin was given an extra advantage over the others. Moreover, to acquire accurate, real-world data on the performance of each caching plugin, we sampled a wide range of benchmarking tools for the experiment.
- GTMetrix is based on Yahoo’s Performance Guidelines and provides much more detailed results as compared to Google PageSpeed Insights. With this tools, users get an entire waterfall that breaks down the entire page loading process for an in-depth analysis.
- Google PageSpeed Insights‘ standout feature is that it tests a given site from both a desktop computer and mobile device standpoint and allots it points based on a scale ranging from 1 to 100. Although it may not provide much insight into Google’s ranking algorithm or help us determine which factors are important to Google, it’s still a widely used site grading tool due to the advice it offers for every test.
Timing Tools. Timing tools are used to measure the page load times of a website from different server locations. In addition to computing the speed at which a particular page on a site loads, these tools also benchmark how well a given server performs under load. For this purpose, we employed Pingdom.
- Pingdom is essentially a testing and server monitoring service. Though it also has a site grading module built-in, we opted for its timing module instead and recorded the page load times for each caching plugin tested with the server location kept constant.
The Candidate Line-Up
Now that we’ve described the testing strategy and elaborated on the tools we were going to use, let’s check out the caching plugin’s lineup. Aside from WP Rocket, we found all of the caching plugins in the WordPress plugin directory.
- WP Rocket
- WP Super Cache
- W3 Total Cache
- WP Fastest Cache
- Zen Cache
- Hyper Cache
- Hyper Cache Extended
- Lite Cache
- Gator Cache
We selected the Top 10 WordPress caching plugins based on their popularity and number of active installs to provide you with the crème de la crème.
Page Grade Test Results
After testing out each caching plugin with both site grading tools i.e. Google PageSpeed Insight and GTMetrix, the final computed results were:
Analysis of Page Grade Test Results
As is evident from the test result, caching plugins don’t have a significant effect on site grading experiments – in fact, most of the values remained the same regardless of whether a caching plugin was installed or not! It’s quite surprising that where there is a difference, it is miniscule at best.
For Google PageSpeed Insights, we find that WP Super Cache and Hyper Extended Cache have ranked highest for both desktop and mobile scores giving a score of 52 and 45, respectively.
In the GTMetrix category, WP Fastest Cache comes in first place with the highest PageSpeed score at a whopping 83 with WP Rocket following closely behind boasting an 81 score. Pretty impressive!
That said, in the YSlow category, WP Rocket does considerable better than all the others bringing in a score of 86!
As per the site grading test results, we conclude that the best caching plugins are WP Rocket, WP Fastest Cache, WP Super Cache, and Hyper Extended Cache.
Timing Test Results
Once we completed the site grading tests, we moved on to the timing tests in which we tested out each caching plugin and recorded its best page load time. Here are the results:
Analysis of Timing Test Results
Prior to testing caching plugins, we checked the page load time for the test site on Pingdom. Without caching, the site loaded in 9.45 seconds (don’t judge!). After recording the page load times for each caching plugin, we computed its difference from the original value (without caching, 9.45 seconds), and how much faster each caching plugin was.
Once again, WP Rocket came in first place being nearly 2.25 times faster than the site without a caching plugin installed. Scoring a total page load time of 4.19 seconds (that’s 126% faster than the original test site!), WP Rocket takes the first prize in the timing test.
WP Super Cache follows with a total page load time zeroing in at an impressive 5.29 seconds and W3 Total Cache comes in third place with 6.02 seconds on the clock.
As per the timing test results measuring the page load times of the test site with each caching plugin installed and activated, we conclude that the best caching plugins are WP Rocket, WP Super Cache, and W3 Total Cache.
The Best WordPress Caching Plugins Ranked
Based on both test results, WP Rocket is hands down the winner. The premium caching plugin came in with the highest YSlow score and loaded the testing website more than twice as fast as the reference site. WP Rocket comes with a wide range of features, customization options, and a friendly support staff – all for a reasonable price.
WP Super Cache takes the silver with an impressive page load time and scoring highest on Google PageSpeed Insight’s desktop and mobile test. The plugin is insanely easy to set up and configure. Those of you who’d prefer to hold on to their wallets should definitely give WP Super Cache a shot.
Coming in third place we have W3 Total Cache. Although the caching plugin did fairly well on the page load tests, it didn’t perform as remarkably on site grading tests. That said, this one of a kind caching solution is often the top choice for webmasters who are technically minded and like to configure its 16 pages of settings to fit their site’s needs down to every last detail.
Wrapping It Up
There you have it. We’ve completed the caching experiment, presented the data, and performed an analysis for each of the two testing scenarios. Each plugin on our list of candidates has its own set of unique features and standout points that differentiate it from the others.
The caching plugin you ultimately decide to go with depends entirely on your site’s needs, your level of expertise, the features you’re looking for, and your budget.
We strongly recommend WP Rocket to those of you who are willing to fork out a few bucks for a premium plugin or feel that they may require support from the customer representatives from time to time. However, if you’re in search for a free plugin than WP Super Cache is a great choice that features an easy setup, and blazing fast speeds. On the other hand, if you’re more tech-savvy, perhaps W3 Total Cache’s extensive settings pages will pique your interest.
Which caching plugins have you tried on your WordPress site? Which criteria do you evaluate your caching solutions against? We’d love to hear what you have to say so let us know in the comments section below!