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w3tc pluginA while ago I talked about the benefits of installing the W3TC plugin on your WordPress blog 3 Ways The W3 Total Cache Plugin Can Speed Up Your Wordpress Blog 3 Ways The W3 Total Cache Plugin Can Speed Up Your Wordpress Blog Read More in order to speed it up with various caching, but some readers were understandably a little wary about the plugin without some sort of tutorial to help them through the process. Luckily, the defaults will work well for 90% of us.

Bear in mind, I’m not an expert on the subject and to deal with everyone’s individual issues may be difficult. Follow the guide, and if you hit a snag then it’s likely that someone else has also, so a quick Google search reveals a lot. This plugin is difficult to configure perfectly for optimum performance, but even with some basic settings you’re going to see some form of speed improvement.

Some things to bear in mind though – if you’re running anything on a shared hosting provider The Various Forms Of Website Hosting Explained [Technology Explained] The Various Forms Of Website Hosting Explained [Technology Explained] Read More , your results will vary and you may even see little or no improvement in performance. There is only so much a plugin can do for you – if the disks are slow, if CPU cycles are limited, and your database provider is running slowly in another remote part of the world….well, there will be no miracles. This plugin will perform best for you when running on at least a virtual private server The Various Forms Of Website Hosting Explained [Technology Explained] The Various Forms Of Website Hosting Explained [Technology Explained] Read More level of hosting. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t give it a go anyway even if you are on shared hosting.

Activating The Plugin & File Permissions Errors

Assuming you’ve downloaded and tried to activate the plugin, you may find a slew of errors appearing related to permissions. Tackle them one by one as the plugin instructs and you should be fine.

1. WP-Content Is Not Writeable

w3tc plugin

Log into FTP and change the file permission information for the folder “wp-content” to 777


w3tc wordpress

2. Unable To Edit WP-Config.php

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Easiest to just edit this file yourself. Just open it up and add the line as the instructions specify. This turns on WordPress built-in caching abilities that w3TC needs to work.

w3tc wordpress

3. .htaccess Is Not Writeable

w3tc wordpress plugin

Again, change the file permissions on this, via FTP, to 777 temporarily. The plugin will also give you a helpful reminder to change the wp-content permissions back once you’re done.

Bear in mind that when preview mode is enabled, the changes won’t occur until you click deploy – or you can just turn on preview mode and work with the site live.

Check Compatibility

w3tc wordpress plugin

The button to perform a compatibility check should be your first action, as it will determine what w3tc can actually do for you and will be the primary limited factor. If you have your own private server then configuring areas in red or orange shouldn’t be difficult, but on shared hosting you are generally stuck with what they give you. Here’s some helpful tutorials on how to fix some of the individual points it will likely pick out as not optimal:

w3tc wordpress plugin

Note On CDNs: Configuring a CDN would take another article and is something I might cover at a future date. For now, be sure to disable the CDN functionality.

Now that we have some caching abilities set up and the plugin installed and activated, let’s look at configuring the individual components of the plugin.

Page Caching

If you have installed some caching extensions on your server or your shared host provides one for you, you should  be able to select them on the main configuration page for page caching and others too.

The individual configuration for page caching is fine as defaults, so leave them as is.


This is where the difficulty comes in for most people, but luckily there is a help wizard to get you started. By default, nothing is actually minified so you will need to use the wizard or manually enter filenames if you want something to happen. I’d suggest running the wizard, which will search through your theme files and identify any scripts and CSS being called.

w3tc plugin

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules here for what can and can’t be minified. CSS should be OK to simply minify everything, but Javascript can give you some real headaches. Here are some general rules to stick to:

  • Analytics and tracking codes shouldn’t be minified, so uncheck them.
  • Amazon and other ad modules shouldn’t be minified.
  • The order is very important, and should be minified in the order they appear in the theme code.
  • Don’t enable comment removal if using jQuery.

If you’re using jQuery plugins such as cufon, be sure to minify the JS in a logical order: jQuery -> cufon -> fonts. I also had issues when embedding outside of the head so leave all embedding in the head as the default is the safest option.

Other Settings

Everything else should work fine with the defaults. Once you’ve confident you’ve got it working, head on over to pingdom again to test the speed. Using only the basic settings above, I managed to get my site from 10 seconds down to 5.5 seconds, and that’s without any additional server-side caching modules.

Further support

For setups beyond the basic, the W3TC plugin forum is a great source of troubleshooting information as you can be sure you aren’t the first to have difficulties. The plugin creator is also often on hand to help out, which is rare for free software of this quality. You’re also welcome to post a comment here or on the answers forum with your specific issues, but I can’t promise anything.

Let us know how it works out for you, and how much of an improvement you see in your site.

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