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How to Use WordPress W3 Total Cache Plugin for Faster Websites

September 16, 2021

9 Min Read
w3 total cache

WordPress Core is somewhat lacking when it comes to using caching systems to decrease site load time and use of server resources. Luckily, there are a few best plugins available in the WordPress repository; one of them is the WordPress W3 Total Cache plugin that helps to make websites load faster using caching rules.

Using a caching mechanism on the WordPress site ensures an enhanced user experience by reutilizing the data user has already requested by making use of browser caching. Due to caching, files are instantly available which makes a website load faster.

On Cloudways, each new install of WordPress instance comes with preconfigured Breeze, our custom-developed WordPress cache plugin. But, if you still want to use W3 Total Cache for WordPress sites as it is also compatible with our managed cloud hosting stack, then this guide is for you. (You may also use other WordPress cache plugins with similar settings.)

In this guide, we will show you how to use the W3 Total Cache on WordPress website with some recommended W3 Total Cache configurations to get the most out of it.

Install WordPress W3 Total Cache Plugin

Log into your WordPress dashboard and navigate to PluginsAdd New and search for W3 Total Cache.

W3-Total-Cache-Plugin-Installation

W3-Total-Cache-Plugin-activation

Install and Activate the plugin to configure the setting of W3 Total Cache for WordPress. You can also install the plugin manually if you have downloaded the plugin file. In that case, you may use FTP access provided by the Cloudways platform.

First, we will overview the plugin settings we have available. For beginners, the settings might be confusing, so it is useful to know exactly what each option does.

How to Use W3 Total Cache For WordPress?

Assuming you have installed and enabled the W3 Total Cache on WordPress website, you will see a new option in the Admin sidebar i.e. “Performance” under the General Settings tab. You will see different types of caching that can be enabled or disabled. Each widget type of area holds general settings for the caching and the type of caching method to be used.W3-Total-Cache-General-Setting

Dashboard

From the dashboard, you can perform a few quick actions like:

  • Compatibility check
  • Empty different kinds of caches

Before moving ahead, do not forget to perform a compatibility check that will display the Server Modules & Resources installed, and enabled/disabled. This will give you an idea of how well this cache plugin can perform according to the resources you have, not only this, it will also show you the software that may need to install to get the advantage of more W3TC features.W3-Total-Cache-Compatability-Check

General Settings

In this mode, you can Enable preview mode before actually saving the caching settings. And this section also has the option for Save Settings and Purge Caches which can be used to flush the existing cache.

W3-Total-Cache-Enable-Preview

In our today’s W3 Total Cache Configuration guide, we will configure the settings mentioned in the General Settings tab.

Page Cache

The page cache creates copies of your previously visited WordPress posts/pages. If it is not enabled, then on each page view on your site WordPress generates the page content by executing PHP and sending queries to the database.

When this setting is enabled, a cached version of the page is served to the visitors. It reduces the page load time and also decreases the load on server resources, hence increasing your server’s capability to handle more traffic.

For example, the header or the footer of a site does not change so frequently and does not require a fresh copy from the server every time the user goes back to the same page. The copy of the static file is stored in a user’s browser and is served when requested again.

W3-Total-Cache-Page-cache

The suggested Cache method is Alternative PHP Code on both PHP 5.6 and PHP 7.

Advanced Page Cache

If you are an advanced user, navigate to the WordPress Dashboard > Performance, then click on the Page Cache option and configure W3 Total Cache for WordPress Page Cache as per your requirements.

Minify

As the name suggests, this option enables minification of your CSS, JS, and HTML files. This isn’t a caching setting and will behave differently on different WordPress setups.

Minification is the process of eliminating unnecessary spaces, comments, and indentation from the files so that space can be saved and reduces the overall file size. These are the files responsible for viewing and other user interactivity and if not delivered fast enough, it can harm the user experience.

We suggest you test it separately on a WordPress staging site before. In some cases, it will harm your website’s performance because the process of minification is server-intensive.

W3-Total-Cache-Minify

The suggested Cache method is Alternative PHP Code on both PHP 5.6 and PHP 7.

Advanced Minification

If you are an advanced user, go to the Performance > Minify from the left sidebar and configure the minification as per your requirement.

Database Cache

Caching the database queries will reduce the load on your server, hence the server will have more resources to serve the website to the incoming flow of traffic.

In this type of caching, frequent queries are cached and utilized when the user makes a similar request over and over again. This saves the trip of searching all the tables inside the database and brings back the required result faster.

This will be particularly useful if you have a WordPress website that sends out a lot of database queries per page load.

The suggested Cache method is Memcached.

W3-Total-Cache-Database-cache

Advanced Database Cache

If you are an advanced user, then go to the Database Cache option under the Performance tab on the sidebar menu and configure Database Cache as per your requirement.

Object Cache

Object caches are particularly useful for database-intensive websites. Cloudways integrated Redis on their servers some time ago, you need to install it by going to the Servers → Settings & Packages → Packages and then click on install Redis and then Enable Object Cache here. We have written an extensive guide to add Redis on WordPress.

The suggested Cache method is Redis.

W3-Total-Cache-Object-Cache

Advanced Object Cache

If you are an advanced user, you can configure the Object Cache as per your requirement. Simply click on the Object Cache option under the Performance tab.

Browser Cache

Browsers these days cache the static content of websites to improve the user experience. In the W3TC option of browser cache, you can enable/disable it. Additionally, you can add exceptions and expiry dates of the elements.

We suggest you enable it and then navigate to the Browser Cache tab and enable the following settings for maximum effect.

  1. Set Last-Modified header
  2. Set expires header
  3. Set cache control header
  4. Set entity tag
  5. Set W3 Total Cache header
  6. Enable HTTP (GZIP) compression

Browser cache is important especially if your site has regular visitors. The static content is already cached in their browsers as per the rules you have implemented in settings. Only the updated content is loaded from the server which makes the whole website load faster and saves bandwidth.

W3-Total-Cache-Browser-Cache

Advanced Browser Cache

If you are an advanced user, you can configure the Browser Cache as per your requirement. Simply click on the Browser Cache option under the Performance tab.

CDN

Content Delivery Networks for WordPress have become popular, especially for websites that get traffic from all over the world. CDNs, like MaxCDN and Cloudflare, are popular and you can easily integrate them with your WordPress website through the W3TC plugin.

CDNs serve the static content of your website from different locations rather than just your WordPress hosting server. This helps in reducing the load on your server and improves the speed at which the website is served to visitors coming in from different locations.

This is highly recommended for higher traffic websites targeting the global audience. CDN like Cloudflare which is also compatible with W3 Total Cache has over 150+ data centers across the globe. These networks create a copy of your website and server through its server rather than going back and forth to the web host for every request a user makes.

W3-Total-Cache-CDN

Advanced CDN Configuration

If you are an advanced user, navigate to CDN from the left W3TC (Performance) menu and configure W3TC CDN as per your requirements.

Reverse Proxy

Cloudways servers come with a pre-installed Varnish cache. Varnish is a very powerful cache that caches entire content (that can include both static and dynamic content of your website) and serves that content to returning and even new visitors. This cache speeds up the HTTP requests and sits in front of Apache (webserver).

In W3TC the Reverse Proxy setting is used to purge the Varnish cache whenever you make an update to your website. It is highly recommended to keep it enabled or else you would need to purge Varnish manually each time.

W3-Total-Cache-Reverse-Proxy

Monitoring

If you use New Relic with WordPress, then you can connect it with your website just by entering the API of New Relic of your account.

But this is not required as Cloudways servers come with a built-in New Relic account that you can access under the Server Management → Monitoring → Application.

New Relic is an application performance monitoring tool that gives you an insight into how well your application is working and identifies the spots which are causing performance-related issues.

Cloudways-Relic

Licensing

If you want support from the developers of the W3 Total Cache for WordPress sites and a configuration guide, then you can purchase and verify your license key here.

W3-Total-Cache-License

Miscellaneous

Under this tab, you will find general options that you may want to use as the Google Page Speed dashboard. We suggest keeping the “Verify rewrite rules” and keeping other options unchecked.

W3-Total-Cache-Miscelleneous

Debug

Debug mode is particularly useful if you want to know which cache is working and how much effect it has on the pages. To view the debug information, view the source code of your website and navigate to the end of the page. You will see the comments notifying you if a cache is enabled, how many queries were cached, and how long it took to build the cached page.

W3-Total-Cache-Debug

Import/Export Settings

If you have a lot of websites and don’t want to go over the same process of setting up W3TC over and over again, you can easily export all your settings and import the settings into your other website.

W3-Total-Cache-Import-Export-Setting

W3 Total Cache Configuration of Cloudflare

If you intend to use Cloudflare CDN using W3 Total Cache plugin then head over to the Extensions tab and assuming that you already have set up Cloudflare for WordPress, simply activate the Cloudflare plugin → go to the plugin’s settings, and provide your email and API key for authorization.

W3 Total Cache Configuration of Cloudflare

Once authorization is completed you will be able to configure Cloudflare using the W3TC plugin.

Breeze – WordPress Cache Plugin

Breeze is a free and user-friendly WordPress Caching Plugin developed by the Cloudways team. It offers various options to optimize WordPress performance at various levels. It works equally great with WordPress, WordPress with WooCommerce, and WordPress Multisite. This is a lightweight plugin with features targeted towards a faster website.

Conclusion

Today, we have learned how to set up W3 Total Cache for WordPress for a better page loading time. There are many advanced settings that you can tweak to better optimize the WordPress website using W3 Total Cache Plugin. It all depends on various WordPress setups. Keep in mind that you could mess up the settings, which is why using the suggested settings will prove to be most useful for you. However, if you still want to experiment with various caching combinations; I suggest you take a full backup of your site.

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Ahsan Parwez

Ahsan is the Community Team Manager at Cloudways - A Managed Cloud Hosting Platform. He loves to solve problems and help Cloudways' clients in any aspect he can. In his free time, you can find him playing RTS PC games.

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