The problem is compounded if you’re using shared hosting, and you may find your blog has a total load time of around 10 seconds or more. Not only is this obviously a bad experience for users, but Google will penalize your site for being slow too.In fact, a 2006 study showed that most users will give up after 4 seconds, and that was 4 years ago!
The W3 Total Cache Plugin is here to help, so let me explain what it can do to speed up your WordPress blog.
How Do I Know If My Page Is Slow?
Firstly, simply visiting the page in your own browser is not a good test because most of the objects will be cached locally and hence the loading will seem quicker than it really is. To find out the real page load time of your site, you’ll need to use a special testing tool. You can do this quickly online by typing in the URL of your site at tools.pingdom.com
The tool will attempt to load your page without any caching, and will record how long and what elements exactly it has to load. You’ll get a nice graph which can highlight any particular slow elements.
When it’s finished, scroll down the bottom of the page and look for the grey summary box. Curiously, my page has slowed down to about 13 seconds total, which is shockingly appalling! Next week, I’ll go through a step by step install process as it can get a little tricky, as well as show you the results.
What Does W3 Total Cache Do?
1. Caching Pages & Database Queries:
Wordpress is a dynamic system. What that means is that everytime a page is viewed, WordPress will run to the database, fetch some data (like your latest blog posts, comments etc), play around with it to produce a page according to your theme layout, then serve it back up to the reader. All that takes a lot of effort and happens for every single page on your blog, even though for most part the content doesn’t change. Instead of going back to the database and recreating the whole page everytime, W3TC will keep a fully made copy of that page in memory, and send that straight to user instead. If a new comment has been added, it’ll make sure that gets displayed too so your posts are always up to date.
Some more complex WordPress themes can use up 10 separate CSS files, a lot of which is repeated or unneeded code. Plugins also come with own their own CSS files if they display some kind of output to the user. Again, for every page load the browser must send a separate request for each of these files, and even if they are quite small, the overhead time involved with requesting a file and beginning the transfer really adds up.
3. Optimize Your Browser Cache Settings:
Browsers generally don’t automatically know what files can be cached locally on a users computer, and most websites don’t include the relevant information that tells the browser something is ok to cache and for how long. That’s where W3TC comes in, as it will make sure the correct settings are being sent to the users browser so that their local cache is used effectively, reducing the number of files that need to be sent to them each time.
MakeUseOf uses W3TC as just one of the ways we try to optimize the page and make it as fast as possible for you, the readers. Without it, we honestly wouldn’t be able to serve the amount of pages we do as the server would cripple over and burn all the time. But W3TC can help every WordPress system large or small to run more efficiently, and your readers and Google will thank you for it. If you’re following my advice last week on how to make your blog popular, the next logical step is to be able to cope with that popularity by optimizing your site. Keep your eye on the site as I walk you through a complete install of the W3TC plugin next week.
If you’re feeling a little confused about the whole idea of caching to speed up WordPress right now, then be sure to ask us in the comments or post a question to our ever growing and vibrant questions and answers community. Let us know if you use a different plugin also, and how you’d rate it. If you missed my last post where I showed you 8 useful strategies for making your blog popular, be sure to check that out too.
Image Credit: ShutterStock