Why Your WordPress Site Needs W3 Total Cache

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WordPress is easily the most popular blogging platform for blogging. It’s free, powerful, stable and easy to get to grips with.

However, arranging the right kind of hosting can be a challenge.

WordPress is a dynamic system built on PHP. A basic site will live happily on a shared hosting site, but if a traffic spike hits, the site becomes vulnerable to slowdowns. In extreme cases, a traffic spike could force your host to take your site offline due to the potential performance impact.

Cache plugins can help speed up WordPress significantly.

Cache Plugins for WordPress

Many users are familiar with WP Super Cache, a caching plugin that reduces server load by serving static pages rather than dynamic content. This makes the site faster and more stable, especially when demand is high.

But W3 Total Cache could be a better solution. It serves static pages and can be used to hook in a CDN. This may make your site faster to load and cheaper to host.

How W3 Total Cache Works

W3 Total Cache is a plugin like any other. If you have an up-to-date version of WordPress, you can install and activate it from the admin panel. You’ll then need to spend some time setting up the following features.

  • Page Caching: Like WP Super Cache, W3 Total Cache serves static pages whenever it can. When you enable this feature, choose the method it will use to create the pages. Basic disk is probably fine. You can then configure what will be cached and how long the cached version will last before it expires.
  • Minify: W3 Total Cache can ‘minify’ HTML, JavaScript and CSS files. This removes all whitespces in the files, making them smaller. This setting needs to be reviewed when you set up the plugin.
  • Database Caching: W3 Total Cache caches database queries, speeding up the site significantly. Make sure this doesn’t cause problems with your content.
  • CDN: Integrate W3 Total Cache with a range of CDNs, including Amazon S3, Amazon CloudFront or any CDN that accepts FTP uploads. You’ll have to set up the CDN separately.

If you have the time, setting up all of these features could be worthwhile.

W3 Total Cache Limitations

W3 Total Cache is designed to improve loading times, not reduce server load. That’s simply a fortunate by-product. It’s a fairly complicated plugin, and one that you might need to learn about before you can use it properly.

Also, the plugin does require a certain amount of maintenance. If you add other plugins and switch around often, you’ll have to keep clearing the cache manually. That can be annoying.

Finally, make sure you set up the plugin properly according to the type of hosting you have. If you’re on a shared hosting account, look for guidelines; the wrong settings could cause your site to be disabled.

Should You Use W3 Total Cache?

W3 Total Cache is not for everyone. If you have a very basic setup, don’t need a CDN and don’t have time to read around the subject, it could be overkill, and WP Super Cache is a better option.

But if you have the knowledge, or the time to experiment, W3 Total Cache could make a big difference to the speed of your site.

Claire Broadley

About Claire Broadley

Claire has been creating websites for over 20 years and has been using WordPress for over ten. She is an expert in web hosting, design, HTML, and more. She lives with her husband and son in the United Kingdom.

Comments

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Richard

January 19, 2010

As a long-term WP Super-Cache user, this sounds very interesting indeed. Bookmarked for a trial.

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Frederick Townes

February 4, 2010

Thanks for the review!

W3TC is for everyone actually. As you can see from various reviews around the web, this is exactly how users with an inexpensive shared hosting can dramatically improve the user experience and performance of their blog:

http://www.larre.com/2010/01/24/amazon-s3-and-cloudfront-with-wordpress-and-dreamhost/
http://kovshenin.com/archives/w3-total-cache-with-amazon-s3-and-cloudfront/
http://www.freedomtarget.com/w3-total-cache-with-amazon-s3-and-cloudfront

With Google making a site’s speed a factor in rankings, only tools like W3TC successfully simplify the implementation of performance optimization techniques.

Also note, that the moment you install it your blog is 300% faster or more, without changing any settings.

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