Optimize your website before using a caching plugin

Optimize your website before using a caching plugin

Many posts are written about just one thing: speeding up WordPress. Some of them very useful, many of them very obvious, telling the same story in different words. Probably 95% of the posts I’ve read, contain more or less the same advices, so most of them are definitely useful. Best practices, as they are called.

What are the best practices for performance?

  • Choose the right webhost
  • Optimize images
  • Use a fast theme
  • Don’t use too many plugins
  • Test plugins on performance
  • Use a CDN (Content delivery network)
  • Keep the database clean and optimized
  • Enable GZip (available on good hosting…)
  • Enable leverage browser caching
  • Avoid shared hosting
  • Optimize HTML, CSS and JavaScript

No caching plugin?

That’s right, no caching plugin. I left the caching plugin out. And I did that on purpose. Because I truly believe that using a caching plugin shouldn’t be part of the best practices. A caching plugin becomes necessary when a lot of other things are not right on a website or the hosting and you want or need a quick fix. Or when you are absolutely non-tech and have no idea where to start optimizing your website. And even then a caching plugin isn’t a guaranteed success. Because setting up a caching plugin can be a challenge. Or the caching plugin is plug-and-play, but doesn’t fit your website and kills the design or the functionality.

The trick is to have no need for a caching plugin. Then you can be certain your website is setup properly, your hosting is good and the mix of theme and plugins works.

[easy-tweet tweet=”The trick is to have no need for a caching plugin” user=”RonaldHeynes” hashtags=”WordPress performance”]

wordpress-cloudAlways start with the hosting

It can’t be said enough: start with good hosting. Took a good look around before you decide which hosting you choose. Read the reviews and the specs. I once dismissed a hosting company, specialized in WordPress, because their own site took over 30 seconds to load. Not once but for three days in a row! I wasn’t going to host my websites there, as you can imagine.

Specialized WordPress web hosts can have an advantage. They are familiar with the software itself and all the additional theme and plugin load. Most of these specialized web hosts use the fastest hardware possible and use special caching techniques on server level. This should be enough for most of the WordPress websites. A good web host always has the use of GZIP enabled.

Is your website growing and growing and therefore slowing down? Start by looking at the web hosting. Is it still sufficient for the type of website you’re running? Should you upgrade to a bigger, faster plan, or even move to a better web host?

Good hosting is usually more expensive. But what if you are on cheap hosting and can’t reach the targets you set? What if customers leave the website, because it’s too slow or doesn’t function well? In the long run, that will cost you a lot more money! To get the best results, you will have to invest.

Use a CDN

A lot of so called static content can be served from a CDN, a Content Delivery Network. By using a CDN most of the static files of your website are served by specialized servers worldwide, instead of being served from the server your website is hosted on. This means faster loading of your website.

A few CDN’s like Cloudflare, offer a free plan. I use Cloudflare on three of my websites and they perform very well. On shared hosting!

The other best practices

A lot has been written about the best practices I’ve mentioned. So I won’t do that again. Everyone agrees on them. Me too. I also use them on my own websites, and they are performing very well. This website has a 100% score on GTMetrix Pagespeed (96% on GTMetrix YSlow)!

I don’t use a caching plugin

But I must be honest. The plugin I use to optimize CSS, JavaScript and HTML can cache its optimized CSS- and JavaScriptfiles. And the CDN I use, Cloudflare, also caches files.

I am not against a caching plugin, I believe a caching plugin should be the last step in speeding up a WordPress website. By setting up your website following the basic principles step by step, it is very well possible you don’t need that last step. Which saves you an extra plugin (!), and a lot of time to set it up and maintain the plugin.

wordpress-cache-plugin
Click to launch search for caching plugins!

You still want or need caching?

It is possible you have set up your website properly and still you have no satisfying performance. And you want a caching plugin to fix it. Go look for the right one! There are a lot of, free, caching plugins out there, all trying their best to please you. I can’t advise you on that. Click on the image above to launch a search for caching plugins on WordPress.org!

There is only one thing I can advise: test them thoroughly! Make sure everything works fine after you’ve installed and configured a caching plugin. And test the performance before and after installing the caching plugin! You might be surprised…

Conclusion

After optimizing all the parts of my websites, I was more than satisfied with the overall performance and that is why I don’t use a caching plugin. Optimizing all the parts of my website before even thinking about using a caching plugin proved my point: I don’t need an extra caching plugin. Even though I am on shared hosting.

Again, I am not against using a caching plugin. But I am convinced you should try to prevent the need of using a caching plugin. That way you can be sure your website is very well configured and maintained and you are aware of all the aspects of setting up a good WordPress website!

What’s your opinion about caching plugins? How do you speed up your WordPress installation? Please leave a comment in the comments section below!

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Ronald Heijnes

Since 2008 I have been busy with the functionality, management, maintenance and performance of self hosted WordPress. I like to share this knowledge!

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2 Comments on "Optimize your website before using a caching plugin"

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Eric

Well, this explains why your website is so slow. I mean, you are so close to getting a decent speed. Don’t be shy, and install a caching plugin.

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