Increasing site speed is one of the most effective ways of improving user experience as well as SEO. For this reason, website owners add a caching plugin to minimize load time and boost the site’s performance. Most WordPress site owners use W3 Total Cache plugin to ensure their website can perform well under spiking traffic.
What is W3 Total Cache?
W3 Total Cache (W3TC) is a popular WPO (Web Performance Optimization) framework, known for its efficiency in optimizing WordPress installations. The plugin provides users with a host of caching features such as:
- Object, page, database and browser cache
- Combine and minify files
- User agents, referrer and cookie groups
- CDN integration
Despite its popularity, it is difficult for users to setup the plugin and get best site performance. This guide focuses on how to add W3TC plugin to your site and some of its main features. If you feel W3 Total Cache has numerous settings then try free W3 Super Cache or premium WP Rocket plugins.
Install and Activate W3TC in WordPress
It is always advisable to try new plugin on a local WordPress site before installing them on a live website. W3 Total Cache works on localhost environment, alternatively, you can install and test on staging site to get test thoroughly.
- Login to your WordPress admin dashboard.
- Click “Plugins” on the left pane menu to view the installed plugins.
- To add a need plugin, click the “Add New” button at the top of plugins page.
- Type ‘W3TC’ on the search box and click the search icon.
- Look for the plugin in the results and click the “Install Now” button. Once installed, click “Activate” to start using the plugin.
Setting up W3 Total Cache
You will notice a new item “Performance” in the sidebar menu that contains all available options for W3 Total Cache plugin. Float your mouse over “Performance” on the left-side pane and click “Dashboard” on the extended menu. The first thing is to perform a compatibility test to determine the plugin’s capabilities within the current server configurations. To do so, click the “Compatibility check” option.
The result of the test shows the features that will work with your server configurations.
With this compatibility check you can understand the caching features supported by W3 Total plugin on your server. The dashboard section also has a button to empty all caches on your site and other premium features that you can purchase with a subscription.
Plugin Setup Guide
Basically, you can enable disk or disk enhanced caching for all types. However, you can easily find the supported caching type for your server by going to “Performance > Setup Guide” menu. Here you can go through step by step and test each type of supported caching on your server. For example, go to “Page Cache” section and click on “Test Page Cache” button.
The plugin will run through the testing and show all compatible options available like below. As you can see “Disk: Enhanced” is the recommended caching with 99.92% saving in page loading time. The page needs 1862.17 milliseconds without caching and with disk enhanced option it will load blazing fast in 1.47 millisecond.
Similarly, you can navigate to database cache and test that option. In most cases, the plugin will recommend disabling database cache using “Disk” method as it may slow down the site.
You can test object and browser caching and find the optimal settings for your site. In addition, you can also enable “Lazy Load Images” under this “Setup Guide” section that many users do not aware.
Make sure to follow this step instead of trying different options on your own and using sub-optimal setup.
W3 Total Cache General Settings
After finding compatible caching methods from “Setup Guide” section, go to “General Settings”. Here, you can enable or disable specific features without navigating to each menu section.
Some of the important W3TC features that you need to enable include:
- Preview mode – Allows you to test new changes in a preview mode before you publish on the site. Click the “Enable” button to activate and make sure to disable this after your testing.
- Page Cache – Check the “Enable” box and for the method, pick the “Disk: Enhanced” option (this should be the optimal method you found from “Setup Guide”).
- Opcode Cache – in most cases this option will not be available unless. If available, you can select PHP or Zend option as recommended from the “Setup Guide” section.
- Database Cache – Saves a copy of database queries to minimize the post, feed and page creation time. However, if your site is running on a shared server, database caching can compromise the website performance. You may leave the “Enable” box unchecked to disable the function.
- Object Cache – WordPress by default caches each object on the page. However, it does not reuse the cached objects when next requests. W3 Total Cache can help here to cache objects and serve on all requests to improve the page loading speed. Object cache will create hundreds of thousands of directories on your server. This may easily violate the terms of usage on many shared hosting environments. Therefore, do not enable object cache on shared hosting servers. As you might see from the “Setup Guide” section, this may not help unless you have highly dynamic sites like online forums.
- Browser Cache – Check the box to enable. This saves a copy of the visited page on the visitor’s browser from which the page will load next time they visit the page. This reduces loading directly from the server, increasing the loading speed.
- CDN – You can use the CDN function to mirror server-cached files to the CDN server when using a content delivery network. To enable the function, tick the “Enable” boxes and select a type from the drop-down options. W3 Total Cache supports some of the popular CDN services like StackPath. If you do not find your service not included in the list, probably you have to disable this option. In order to use Cloudflare, you can use additional extension under “Extensions” section.
- Reverse Proxy – enable this option if you use varnish caching on the server and provide the server details in the text box. Otherwise, you can leave this section disabled.
- User Experience – under this section, you can enable lazy loading for images, disable emoji, disable embeds and disable jQuery migrate.
- Fragment Cache – enable fragment cache to reduce execution time and remove slowing issues with admin AJAX calls. You can use this feature especially when you use WooCommerce plugin.
There are few other premium options available under “General Settings” section like statistics, licensing and logs. You can also enable Google PageSpeed Insights, debugging and import/export plugin settings.
The general settings mainly allow you to enable / disable the W3 Total Cache functions. To refine the settings for a particular feature, click the option on the sidebar menu and customize the settings. For instance, click the “Page Cache” link, check your preferred page caching options and click “Save all settings” to implement the changes. Repeat the same process for other features to modify the W3TC plugin features. Here are some of the important settings you should take care:
- Exclude pages, Sitemap and setup purge interval for page caching.
- After enabling HTML / CSS / JS minification, make sure to test your site is working properly. non-blocking JS options will help you to overcome render blocking issues in Google PageSpeed Insight tool. However, it may break your site’s layout. Therefore, test all functionality after enabling minification.
- Enable GZIP compression and cache control headers under “Browser Caching” section.
CDN, Fragment Cache and User Experience
- The CDN section will be useful only when you have StackPath CDN. Here, you can link your StackPath CDN account and customize the settings.
- Fragment Cache is a premium feature to handle unchanged cache segments.
- Under “User Experience” section, you can enable lazy loading and script embed method.
W3 Total Cache plugin offers three groups option to customize caching for user agents, referrer and cookies. For example, you can serve cached pages using theme1 on desktop devices and theme2 on tablets / phones. In this way, you can improve the page speed for mobile users by serving optimized content. In most cases, you may need to enable separate caching for phones to serve cached content.
Remember, these are advanced features that you can even redirect users to different domain name. If used wrongly, it may hurt your search engine ranking. Therefore, leave them as it is if you do not understand.
W3 Total Cache offers handful of extensions to support integration with other plugins and services.
- Google FeedBurner
- Fragment Cache (Pro)
- Genesis Framework by StudioPress (Pro)
- New Relic
- Yoast SEO
- WPML (Pro)
You can activate and configure required extensions as per your need. For example, below is the configuration screen for AMP extension.
Some extensions like “Yoast SEO” does not need any further configuration.
Before using the plugin, we recommend you read the instructions and documentation.
- Under “Performance > Install” section, you can find the instructions for using the plugin. In addition, you can also get the directives written in .htaccess file by the plugin for your current settings.
- Go to “FAQ” section which will take you to the GitHub FAQ page with detailed documentation.
- You can get free support from WordPress.org forum. In addition, you can submit custom support request under “Support” section for fixed payment amount.
WP Total Cache Pro
One of the problems with W3 Total Cache plugin is that there are multiple premium features shown in-between free features. If you really like the plugin, go for $99 yearly subscription to get the following features:
- Get the advanced statistics under “Statistics” section.
- Enable Full Site Delivery (FSD) to host HTML and RSS feeds with CDN.
- Get extensions support for Fragment Cache, WPML and Genesis Framework.
- Cache REST API
W3 Total Cache is one of the best optimization tools for WordPress users. The caching plugin offers several features including caching for page, browser, database and object as well as CDN integration. These features help to improve the performance of your site to enhance both user and search engine optimization. Adding W3TC to your WordPress site is easy and straightforward. However, you need to understand various features of the plugin to maximize the performance of your site. with numerous settings available, you have to test the site thoroughly for each setting and make sure it works as expected.
- Detailed sections allow you to manage complete caching
- One of the old and free caching plugins with high user ratings
- Normal users may get lost with numerous settings
- Limited pro features with high cost