Having a website that looks great is all well and good, but having that site work fast and efficiently is even more important. Long page load times are one of the biggest downfalls a website can have. They result in your visitors leaving the site prematurely or clicking backwards.
The solution to this problem is the use of a caching plugin. What this does is it temporarily stores anything related to your website in a cache. When the visitor comes back to that page a while later all the data can be retrieved from that cache rather than requesting it from the server all over again. This saves time on getting the files the browser needs and your website will load faster.
Now, when it comes to WordPress, this caching problem can be solved using a caching plugin. Most of the ones out there right now are free plugins with some of them having premium add-ons. If you’ve used W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache, Hyper Cache, or any of the other caching plugins out there, you know that while doing a good job (once configured correctly) they are all missing those extra features we crave to improve our site’s performance. Most of the time you would end up combining a number of free plugins to cover every aspect of caching you want to cover.
In addition to the limitation of features in these plugins, there is also the issue of being user-friendly. Some of the plugins are overly-complicated for any beginner who hasn’t researched caching in detail, while others are so simplified that you don’t have the flexibility you need to enhance your site’s performance in the best way possible.
Three French web developers who specialise in web optimisation decided to try and solve this problem, developing the first premium-only caching plugin out there – WP Rocket. You’re free to follow my written review or watch the video version below.
Why Pay Premium?
Some of you might ask why anyone should pay for a premium plugin when there are so many free plugins out there that are held in such high regard. Well, those free plugins might do a good job, but they don’t offer the same level of performance and support that a premium plugin does.
WP Rocket not only offers better performance levels than the free options but also includes a better, and easier-to-use settings area. Most free caching plugins have very simple configurations, limiting your options, while others have premium add-ons to add advanced features, all of which come at a high cost.
Some other perks to purchasing a premium plugin are Regular Updates & Support. Updates are vital to keeping a plugin working efficiently , and at one time or another you are always going to need help from the developers.
The support for premium plugins is faster and more in depth than that for any free ones out there. In fact the guys behind WP Rocket have some raving reviews for their quick and helpful support. Just check out their Wall of Astronauts on their homepage to see what I’m talking about.
WP Rocket’s Features
WP Rocket offers many features, all of which could be seen in the image below. You can also see the differences between WP Rocket and some of the other top free caching plugins out there. Just a quick glance will suffice for you to realise the extent to which WP Rocket has gone to optimise your site’s performance.
Rather than looking around for other plugins to work in tandem with your caching plugin, WP Rocket introduces these extra features right into the caching plugin, making your job easier and much more efficient.
Besides your normal page caching function, WP Rocket introduces cache preloading. Here WP Rocket use their own robot to simulate a visit to your site, preloading the cache and hence improving speed as well as the indexing of your site by search engines.
Besides all this, the developers smartly incorporated an images on request function. This cool feature loads only the visible images on your page, with the rest appearing as the user scrolls down. The effectiveness of this feature is well known, so much so that it’s used by top websites such as YouTube and Facebook.
Using WP Rocket
Before starting to test WP Rocket on WP Mayor founder Jean’s blog, I ran a few speed tests on the same site to compare the results before and after using WP Rocket. For these test I used two websites, namely pingdom and GTmetrix.
This blog uses shared hosting from hostnine. I’ve kept the locations and settings on both sites the same before and after installing the plugin to ensure the fairest results possible. I also ran the test three times with each site and took the middle time as the benchmark for the test. All the data in each test was very similar so discrepancies were not an issue.
Below are the results for Fit for Blogging before installing WP Rocket.
Installing the Plugin
Installation is as easy as can be. Once you’ve purchased and downloaded the plugin you can head to the Plugins section in your dashboard and click Add New. From here you can upload the downloaded file straight into your site. Once uploaded it will show up in your plugin list from where you will activate it.
Once activated you will find that under the Settings section you have a new section called WP Rocket. The next step is setting up the plugin to optimise the site.
Setting it up
Once you have opened WP Rocket you will find 7 tabs; 4 for options and 3 for support and documentation. One thing you will notice throughout these tabs are the instructions that are given with every option, except those that are self explanatory of course.
Starting with Basic Options you’re given a list of the most basic options you can set to optimise your site. Firstly you’ve got Lazyload, whereby the images on your page are only loaded when visible. The images further down the page will be loaded only when the user scrolls down that particular page.
Next is Files Optimisation; this constitutes the minification and concatenation of HTML, CSS and JS files. Following this you find Mobile Cache, Logged In User Cache and SSL Cache; all simple options that depend on your own preferences.
Finally you’re given an option to set the Clear Cache Lifespan time. This is the time you want the cache to be stored in the browser after being created, before it gets removed and reset.
The Advanced Options tab opens as is shown in the screenshot above. Under this tab you will find options to Prefetch DNS Requests, Empty the Cache of particular pages when updating a post, an option to Never cache a particular set of pages and an option not to cache pages that use particular cookies. All these options are self explanatory and have informative tips and video links beneath them to help you out even further.
Besides those you’re also given the options to select CSS files to exclude from minification, JS files to include in the footer during the minification process and JS files with deferred loading. Explanations and warning signs are once again given to help guide you in your selection
The third tab is CDN. Here you can enable content delivery network and state the url to replace the site’s hostname with. For further information on how a CDN works you can visit our WP Mayor Guide.
The final options tab is Tools. Here you’re given the option to become a Beta Tester for WP Rocket – a choice left completely up to you. The real and useful tools come next. The Clear Cache option is there to clear the cache for the whole site. Preload Cache will request a bot crawl to preload the coach. This bot was developed by WP Rocket themselves and preloads the homepage as well as internal links.
Settings Exporter and Settings Importer do just that. You’re given the ability to import and export your settings from your computer should you want to use a previous settings configuration on another site.
Last but not least you are shown 3 documentation tabs; Tutorials, FAQ and Support. Here you will find youtube tutorials (in French – not very helpful for the non-French speaking users out there, but you might be able to follow some parts just through viewing), frequently asked questions that you will probably have too, as well as a link to the WP Rocket support.
Testing the Results
Pingdom GTmetrixAs I mentioned earlier I ran the same tests on Pingdom and GTmetrix, only using some of the basic options on offer from WP Rocket, plus I excluded a couple of pages from caching, namely the contact and news pages. I also left CDN unticked since there was another plugin running CDN for images already installed.
The results seen above need a bit of explanation. First of all, the Pingdom test shown here is a test that was run by the WP Rocket guys themselves. This is simply due to an error in my initial test that was pointed out to me by Jean-Baptiste from WP Rocket. Nevertheless, the page load time of 1.12 seconds and better grade are a big improvement on the previous test where WP Rocket was not present.
The GTmetrix test does show an improvement too, but not to that extent. This is for three main reasons also explained to us by the WP Rocket developers themselves. Firstly, on FitForBlogging the image size is not specified in the html; secondly it’s loading images that are much bigger than the ones being displayed; and thirdly WP Rocket adds all the good expires headers to the content on your site, but if you have external resources they can’t control their expires. All issues that are completely out of WP Rocket’s control.
All these reasons contributed to the lack of improvement in the GTmetrix grade, and it’s important to remember that this is purely down to FitForBlogging not following all the best practices rather than anything to do with WP Rocket’s performance standards.
So, in both tests we can see that there were considerable improvements with just the most basic of options any beginner can handle. This is a testament to WP Rocket’s capabilities and is a clear indication that with a bit more tinkering and testing the improvements can be even bigger.
The more variations you test out, the better your site will perform, and the more worth it WP Rocket will become.
WP Rocket is available in three packages. Single is priced at $49, Plus is priced at $99, while Infinite costs $249 and can be used on an unlimited number of sites. All licenses come with 1 year of updates and support and a 30 day refund policy.
These prices are for licenses, and not subscriptions, meaning you are free to use this plugin for as long as you’d like, without the need to pay every year. However, while renewing a license is not compulsory, you will only receive updates and support if you renew the license every year.
My thoughts on WP Rocket
Without a doubt, WP Rocket is an outstanding plugin. It’s so easy to configure that any novice can use it and get his/her site to perform that much better. With just a few clicks you can have WP Rocket up and running on your site. If you do run into problems, such as noticing your CSS is getting messed up, these can usually be easily solved. If not, there’s always the ever-efficient Support to guide you through it.
Performance wise, there can be no complaints. My experience proves the improvements possible from even the most basic of options, while the countless reviews you can find on Google are a testament to the wide array of support this plugin is getting.
The only things that I’d suggest improving are the tutorial videos, but that’s simply because I don’t understand a word of French. Seeing as not everyone knows French, an English version might be helpful to those who prefer video tutorials to written documentation.
WP Rocket hits all the right spots. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who affords to set up their site with a premium plugin, and for who doesn’t I’d still recommend the investment. You might end up spending even more by investing in multiple smaller plugins to do each job that WP Rocket does separately.
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