How To Get Better Page Speed With W3 Total Cache

I have heard many great WordPress sites espouse the importance and necessity of having a good cache plugin to help deliver content faster from your WordPress sites. So to follow the crowd in this area I did a little research and found that there were some great many tutorials on setting up an EC2 instance with Varnish and W3 Total Cache.

Sadly though I didn’t really notice much of a performance boost in my WordPress sites. In fact, I found them to be a little sluggish. So I did some further digging around and found that W3 Total Cache is perhaps best utilised for a high traffic WordPress site.

The highest amount of traffic I’ve ever exhibited on one of my WordPress sites was about 1,000 visitors, yet I understand that there are WordPress sites which are being utilised to serve 50,000 unique visitors per day!

Upon realising this I decided to do a quick test on one of my most sluggish sites (it has a few images that need loading on the front page) and tested the results on what happened BEFORE I deactivated W3 Total Cache and then what the results would be AFTER deactivating W3 Total Cache.

I used the services of GT Metrix to perform my superficial analysis and here were the results of doing four scans:

Performance of GT Metrix on one low traffic website
  • The first result (far left) shows the results of the website loading on the first instance
  • The second result shows the results of the same website – just to show that the server hasn’t been “put to sleep” and that the first instance was “waking it up”
  • The third result shows the W3 Total Cache plugin deactivated
  • The fourth result shows the CloudFlare plugin installed with API data inserted

So without W3 Total Cache and by replacing it with CloudFlare’s free service my site’s performance improved by over 50%!

If you have a low traffic site then I wouldn’t recommend installing W3 Total Cache and I’ve now disabled the plugin from all my sites.

W3 Total Cache – Recommendations

I would recommend that if you REALLY wanted to install W3 Total Cache to your WordPress site then do the following:

1. Get a feel for what your current site’s page load speed is – you’re not going to know whether W3 Total Cache has been of any benefit unless you know how your server is serving

Search around for some website analysis tools firstly analyse the speed of your website by using a free tool such as GT Metrix. There are heaps out there, but I like GT Metrix as it allows me to see a side-by-side comparison of the sites tested.

Work out your average site page load time from a variety of different sources (eg. Vancouver, Sydney, London, etc) – run the test several times on your site (use the “Compare to another URL” link to the left of your website’s analysis and enter the same URL as this will help to show you a side-by-side comparison).

2. Install & configure W3 Total Cahce

Once you’ve got an idea of how your site runs and the average time it takes to load, install the W3 Total Cache plugin. Play around with the configuration of the plugin.

A good read for most beginners would be this W3 Total Cache configuration page.

3. Test your site again with your page analysis tool

Go back to your page analysis tool and test your sites results. Again, test from a variety of sources and not just from your home.

What do you notice about the page load times? Are they improving? Are they staying about the same? Are they getting worse?

4. Deactivate the W3 Total Cahce plugin and install an alternative

Now you have an idea on the performance of the W3 Total Cache plugin you might want to compare it to other alternatives such as:

  • Another cache plugin such as WP Super Cache
  • Just plain CloudFlare – this will require you to create a free account and route your DNS through their server

Once again test these new instruments and see which one is best served for your site.

Don’t get too emotional over whether W3 Total Cache is going to be the best or whether another service is going to be the best.

Just try all alternatives, and the experience you will gain from it will be MORE valuable than reading someone else’s opinion regarding the matter – INCLUDING MINE!

Don’t be lazy – do the work and analysis yourself. I’ve given the core methodology.

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