Wordpress & Web Development

3 Ways The W3 Total Cache Plugin Can Speed Up Your WordPress Blog

James Bruce 13-03-2011

Self-hosted WordPress is a fantastic system, no doubt about it. It is simply the best choice for anyone from beginner bloggers to large corporations to run a simple yet extensible content publishing system. But with a few plugins installed, a elaborate theme with lots of stylesheets, some Javascript jQuery effects – well, it can become a little bloated resulting in a slow load time.


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.

Note: This article only related to self-hosted WordPress press installs, whether that’s on a shared host, a dedicated private host The Various Forms Of Website Hosting Explained [Technology Explained] Read More , or on your own home server How to Build a Linux Web Server With an Old Computer Got an old computer taking up space? Want to use it to host a website? Here's how to set up an old PC as a Linux web server. Read More .

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.


speed up wordpress

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.

speed up wordpress

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.


2. Minify Your Javascript & CSS:

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.

The wonderful process of minification takes all those files, and squeezes them into one compact, efficient CSS file that covers all the style elements you need. Don’t worry, when you come to edit the files they’ll look exactly the same to you – but the W3TC plugin will make one new file and serve that to readers instead. The same goes for Javascript files

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 8 Proven Tips to Make Your WordPress Blog Popular Having trouble getting visitors to your WordPress blog? Here are our tips for making your WordPress blog more popular. Read More , be sure to check that out too.

Download the W3TC plugin here

Image Credit: ShutterStock

Related topics: Blogging, Wordpress, Wordpress Plugins.

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  1. Menzch
    April 11, 2011 at 1:56 am

    Can you please tell the right settings for shared hosting? i installed it and activate it but im bit confused about settings to get best results?

    What are the settings for shared hosting?

    • James Bruce
      April 14, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      Hi Menzch. If you havent seen it already, I published a part 2 to this article which explains some of the settings in detail. Unfortunately, there are no "correct settings" as such, especially with shared hosting. //www.makeuseof.com/tag/configure-w3tc-plugin-wordpress/

      There are some settings that will definitely speed things up, but other parts that will need some tweaking and testing to find something appropriate to you.

      One thing which certainly will help (but which costs extra money, and I havent covered it so far) is to use a CDN to serve the images. You can either wait for a tutorial which ill write in the next few weeks, or do a quick google search for "wordpress w3tc amazon cdn".

      • Sunil J
        May 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm

        Try free CDN. A wordpress plugin is available for that.

  2. Anonymous
    April 3, 2011 at 11:59 am

    hey, James, you promised a part II...waiting!!!

    • James Bruce
      April 3, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      I'm pretty sure it will be published this week, today in fact, i think

  3. Mark
    March 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    When are you going to post your "next week" follow-up on how to configure it? This was a nice intro post but I'm not willing to make the jump until I fully understand how to configure it right. It's been 13 days -- almost 2 weeks!

    • James Bruce
      March 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      Sorry Mark, as you know the MUO site has been through a major theme and system overhaul in the last week, and I'm afraid that as "the tech guy" as well as staff writer I've not yet found the time to write a full configuration write-up for the w3tc plugin. My apologies, I'll try to have it written up this week so you will see it published next week.

      • Mark
        March 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm

        Thanks James, good to know. I installed it and have it in preview mode but I'll hold off on make it live till I review your guide. I'm particularly running into issues with my JS minification causing my Cufon font replacement to stop. I look forward to part 2!

  4. Jan Husdal
    March 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Great post and a great tool. W3TC brought my site down from around 7 secs to 3 secs.

    I've been monitoring my page load on pingdom.com for a couple of months now (did you know that you can sign up and have pingdom check your load time automatically, say, every 15 minutes or so?), using different cache programs and trying with and without CDN.

    What I notice is that while W3 Total Cache manages to load faster than WP Super Cache when it is at the fastest, the loading speed of W3TC varies a lot more than WPSC, e.g. WPSC stays within +/- 0.5 secs, while W3TC stays within a range of +/- 1.5 secs. To the average user that may seen insignificant, but to me it's annoying.

    The loading speed also seems to vary a lot more after I started using a CDN, presumably because the content is now fetched from different servers instead of just one.

    Interestingly, the non-sign-up check loads my page in 3-6 secs usually, whereas the sign-up check says that my site loads in 1-2 seconds, which seems odd. However, Google Webmaster tools reports the same 1-2 secs in their crawl stats.

  5. Muo-4pr
    March 13, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Wow, once again you post an article with no link to the program you recommend - oir at the very least, rather well concealed. Off to Google I go...

    • James Bruce
      March 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm

      Apologies. I've added a link to the start and end of the article.

  6. Sunil J
    March 13, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    I got pretty good result. from around 12 sec I was able to bring it down to as low as 4.1 sec.
    I don't think CDN would give you a great result unless you have a lot of readers, and there should be CDN server near the user for it to make a difference.

    • James Bruce
      March 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm

      CDNs produce a speed increase no matter how many readers you have, and any decent CDN has servers in many local areas in order to perform optimally. Though, since they do cost extra money, it's difficult to justify the cost without a large user base.

      For me, the main point of the W3TC plugin is caching and minifying - CDN is a premium service but the plugin offers lots of functionality for free.

      • Sunil J
        May 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm

        @muo_jamesbruce:disqus I was using a free CDN, and as far as I could see, they had only 1 server in India. But, after I switched to Hostgator, I am getting really good speed.

  7. skykid
    March 13, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    I use W3 Total Cache , however has problems with it and the latest version of WordPress - resolved by installing the developers version of the plug-in. However even with it and CDN enabled I get 9 to 15 seconds on the test I make. Will be interesting to see your results

    • James Bruce
      March 13, 2011 at 11:29 pm

      Are you on shared hosting?

      It is a difficult plugin to setup correctly, and you may need to do a bit of configuration that ill show next week. What are you using for a CDN?

  8. Sunil J
    March 13, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    I got pretty good result. from around 12 sec I was able to bring it down to as low as 4.1 sec.
    I don't think CDN would give you a great result unless you have a lot of readers, and there should be CDN server near the user for it to make a difference.