A WordPress User’s Guide to Effective and Reliable Website Caching

When it comes to internet success, the name of the game is speed.

You want to make sure you get content out faster so you can launch social media campaigns about it more quickly so your clients can check it out on your website sooner. Information travels at the speed of light these days (quite literally), and there’s no time for slow or outdated websites.

Website caching can be a fantastic tool for keeping your site speed high and your load times low. Read on to learn more about this technique and how it can help improve your site performance. 

Importance of Website Speed

Before we dive into how website caching works, let’s talk about the importance of web speed.

One of your primary goals is to drive traffic to your pages when you have a web page. And one of the primary factors impacting your web traffic is your page loading speed.

Users don’t want to sit around and wait forever for the web page they’re looking at to load. Some studies have shown that 40 percent of users will abandon a web page if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Losing almost half, your viewers can have devastating effects on your website’s success.

What Is Website Caching?

Website caching is a process that allows you to speed up your web page load times.

Each time a non-cached web page loads, the server storing that page effectively rebuilds that page from scratch. It figures out what’s supposed to be in each section of the page, loads the latest content, drops in image files, and configures everything you see when you open the page. You’ll also want to learn how to choose the right image file type.

But in most cases, all these calculations are the same each time a web page gets loaded. Caching allows you to bypass the calculations and load the final web page, significantly increasing your load speed.

Think of it like adding 2 and 2 in your head; you don’t have to do the calculation behind that problem because you know the answer is 4.

How Cached Pages Work

Loading a cached web page for the first time is very much like loading a non-cached page. The server hosting the website will run the necessary calculations and generate the HTML for that web page.

It will then store the HTML generated for that page in the server’s random access memory banks.

The next time someone loads that page on a website, the server won’t need to recode the whole page from scratch. Instead, it can send the pre-written HTML to the browser. This makes the page loading process much faster and more efficient, improving your user experience. 

Benefits of Caching

Of course, the most significant benefit of caching web pages is the increased page load speed.

Not only will this increase your site traffic, but it will also make a better impression on the customers you’re trying to win over. A customer who’s on the fence about your company may be persuaded to spend their money with you if they see quick load times.

You may also be able to save your company some money by caching your web pages.

Because the server has already done the HTML conversion, it doesn’t have to spend as long loading each web page. If you’re paying for additional server time to meet your needs, you may be able to dial that back thanks to caching.

How to Manage Content Changes 

If you have a dynamic website that includes features like a blog or store, you may be wondering how content updates work.

After all, if your server sends the same HTML it wrote for the last version of the page every time, how will your readers see your updated content? Luckily, caching systems are built with precisely these problems in mind.

Caching systems have protocols built-in for when to empty the cache and then regenerate it as web pages are loaded. Whenever you publish new content, certain sections of your website have their caches deleted.

For instance, if you post a new blog post, the server will delete your blog and homepage caches and regenerate them with your new content included.

Browser Caching

There are two primary types of website caching: browser caching and server caching.

When you visit a web page for the first time, your browser gets a lot more than just the plain HTML script from the server. It also downloads site fonts, stylesheets, Javascript files, and more from the site server.

Browser caching allows you to temporarily store all of these resources in your browser, rather than retrieving them from the server every time.

The first time you visit the web page, it may take a little longer for content to load while those elements download. But for a short time after that, you’ll notice significant improvements to page load speeds since your browser will already have all the background information it needs to load the page.

Server Caching

The other primary type of website caching happens on the website provider’s end and is known as server caching. This is the process we described earlier in which a server saves the HTML code it generates for a web page.

The next time someone loads the page, the server sends the HTML to the browser, rather than calculating it all from scratch.

Server caching and browser caching happen on two different ends of the website loading operation. Browser caching is up to the end-user, though most browsers have this feature automatically enabled.

This means that both kinds of caching will work together to speed up page load speeds in an ideal scenario.

Full-Page Caching 

Within server caching, there are two different approaches you can use to cache your web pages. The first, full-page caching, is the system we’ve already discussed here. Your server saves the HTML generated for an entire web page in cache and then sends that to users’ browsers as needed. 

Full-page caching is a good approach for websites that experience a high volume of traffic, either regularly or as a part of large spikes. The server will send the entire web page in one go, rather than building anything out, which will significantly reduce server loads.

This approach can also work well for sites that regularly update content since only the updated pages will need to be regenerated in the cache; everything else can be streamlined.

Object Caching

Object caching is a somewhat smaller version of the caching process used to target code-heavy objects. Let’s say, for instance, that you want to use a video as the background image for your website header. Videos are large files and will take a long time to load, even if your users are using browser caching.

Object caching on Pressable is a cache of database query results designed to reduce the load on the database servers. This allows you to use more extensive, more complex elements on your website without slowing down your load speeds. 

WordPress Caching Plugins

There are several different plugins that can enable you to set up website caching tools. Plugins like WP Rocket, W3 Total Cache, and WP Super Cache are all well-respected options. Configuring one of these properly can allow you to start using either full-page or object caching.

However, the golden rule of caching plugins is you should never have more than one running at once. This sort of multiple caching will cause your website to slow down dramatically and may even break it. Always make sure you delete one caching plugin before switching to another, and never enable two simultaneously.

Caching with Managed WordPress Hosting

If you use managed WordPress hosting to power your site, they may offer caching services as well.

It is important to note that you should not run your own caching plugins if your hosting provider offers caching services. Not only does this remove stress from your site maintenance requirements, but it also may help your caching to function better.

Managed hosting providers will run caching at a much earlier step in the loading process than WordPress plugins. Furthermore, their caching systems will be perfectly optimized for the WordPress environment. This helps ensure that you’ll have the best caching setup and most efficient web page load times possible. 

To Wrap Things Up…

Website caching can be a fantastic way to keep your page load times down and your site traffic high.

Decide on whether full-page caching or object caching will work better for your needs. And if you work with a managed WordPress hosting provider, avoid having caching plugins activated at the same time!

Zach Wiesman

Zach has 12+ years of experience with WordPress, from creating and maintaining client sites, to providing support and developing documentation. A knack for problem-solving and providing solutions led Zach to pursue a job with Automattic providing customer support in 2015 working with WooCommerce support, and now Zach has recently joined our team here at Pressable. Outside of work, Zach enjoys spending time with his family, playing and watching sports, and working on projects around the house.

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