Page loading time is a crucial factor that determines the success of a website. The higher the page load time for a web portal, the higher are its chances of experiencing less traffic. These days the majority of websites all over the world are designed in WordPress. These site owners are pretty much concerned about what they can do to cut down the page loading time of their digital portals.
Thankfully, for WordPress sites too, it is possible to minimize the load time factor and enhance overall performance. In order to achieve this objective one needs:
- Well-coded plugins
- An efficient CDN (Content Delivery Network) and
- Proper caching
Plugins - that too for WordPress sites - are widely available across the virtual world of the internet. In this context, it is relevant mentioning about the plugin W3 Total Cache. It is one of the most popular WordPress plugins in the recent times to improve load times of websites.
Installation and setup of this particular plugin involve quite simple procedures. In fact, it is highly possible for even the most technically challenged individual to successfully install and set it up on the system. Without proper setting up of the plugin on the system, it will not provide the optimum benefit. However, after the setup process is successfully completed, one needs to combine the plugin with a CDN service. This effort makes a website load even faster.
First thing first
Before anything else, it is crucial to check performance of the website with the help of online tools like Google pagespeed insights and Pingdom Tools. This study will help to make out the difference of the website’s performance both before and after installation and setup of the plugin.
In order to facilitate greater convenience for folks who do not have a technical background, it is better to spare some information here on exactly what W3 Total Cache is.
W3 Total Cache - a brief introduction:
- W3 Total Cache happens to be the most efficient and all-inclusive WordPress plugin for performance optimization of websites.
- It improves the user experience of an online portal by improving its server performance.
- Moreover, the plugin is capable to cache every single aspect of a web portal in question.
The above clauses invariably contributes to minimizing the site’s loading time along with facilitating both integration and transparency in Content Delivery Network (CDN) for any website.
Prior to install W3 Total Cache, just make sure all other cache-related plugins (WP Super Cache for example) are uninstalled first. Else, activating W3 Total Cache turns out to be unbelievably challenging.
Once the existing plugins, if any, are uninstalled, it is time to get into some real action.
First step to plugin installation:
- Go to the WordPress Admin Panel
- Click on plugins
- Choose Add New and then search for “W3 Total Cache” without the quotes.
This search option will yield a result similar to the image given below.
Now, one has to click the Install Now button to start the installation process of the plugin.
Working on settings and configuration - W3 Total Cache
Successful installation of W3 Total Cache plugin is the first successful step towards achieving the bigger goal. Now it is time to work on its settings and configurations. However, before explaining it in details, it is important to note something in advance.
W3 Total Cache is an effective and dependable plugin. There are innumerable options to customize its settings and change the configuration to derive the maximum benefit. For some beginners, the aspect of multiple options to personalize the settings and configuration option may prove a bit confusing. As such, there is nothing to worry. The confusion and the inconvenience will gradually wear out within a short time.
For the sake of greater convenience of the majority of our reader base, we are discussing the general settings first.
- To access the General Settings page, first go to the WordPress admin panel.
- Then click on the Performance menu button
It is here at this General Settings page that one will setup the plugin. Mistakenly, most newbies access the Promotional Dashboard page in stead of the General Settings page to customize the setup.
Now, the first option that one sees on the General Settings page is Page Cache.
Page Cache is responsible for creating static cache memory for each webpage that is loaded. Thus, the static cache need not be dynamically invoked each time when a page is loaded. Enabling the Page Cache option helps to cut down on the load time of a website to significant extent.
Now, as people who are not from any technical background may be unaware, whenever a user visits a site, the WordPress simultaneously executes PHP scripts and MYSQL queries (the later to the existing database) to find a requested page.
Then, PHP parses the data and a page is generated. In order to achieve this, it needs to utilize certain resources of the server. When the page caching option is turned on, it allows the website to bypass the server load time and exhibit a cached copy of a requested page.
However, most beginners opt for Shared Hosting and for them Disk Enhanced method is more appropriate to choose as the Page Cache Method option.
Now, we will take up the Browser Cache option.
The Browser Cache option in W3 Total Cache plugin sets a time limit on browser cache. So, just enable the Browser Cache option and click on the Save All button. However, one can ignore the 404 Error option under Browser Cache.
As already mentioned above, CDN is the abbreviated form for Content Delivery Network. Actually, it enables a website to serve the static contents from multiple cloud servers and not just one hosting server. This approach cuts down the server load time to a significant extent.
W3 Total Cache currently supports the following CDNs:
- Amazon S3
- Rackspace Cloud and
- Amazon Cloudfront
However, for rookie folks, it is being strongly recommended to opt for MaxCDN.
Now, when one is opting for MaxCDN, one needs to create a Pull Zone in the MaxCDN dashboard.
Pull Zone on MaxCDN dashboard
In order to accomplish this, first log into the MaxCDN account and click Manage Zones. Then, click on the Create Pull Zone button.
One the following screen, one needs to fill up the following details for the desired Pull Zone:
- Pull Zone name - Provide any name so that one can identify it in the MaxCDN panel
- Origin Server URL - Fill this up with your WordPress website URL, starting with http:// and ending with / at the end
- Custom CDN Domain - Here one can provide any sub domain
- Label - It provides a description for the Pull Zone
- Compression - Making this option enabled helps a website owner to save bandwidth. Therefore, it is crucial to check this box without fail.
Now that all the fields are properly filled up, one should click the Create button below. Thus, the Pull Zone is created.
The next screen displays a URL, which could be like wpb.wpbeginner.netdna-cdn.com. Copy it to a notepad and safekeep it for this link will be required later.
After the Pull Zone gets created, now is the turn to create the Content Zone.
Creating the Content Zone
Here are the sequential steps in simplified form:
- Go to the MaxCDN dashboard
- Click the Manage button right next to the Pull Zone, which is just created
- Click the Settings tab on the next screen
The reason behind creating Content Zone is to add subdomains. Thus, it is possible to improve user experience by queuing content from different subdomains into the user’s browser.
This can be done by clicking the Custom Domains button. In fact, one can add multitudes of subdomains through it.
After getting this far, one needs to click the Update button.
In the following step one needs to setup CNAME records for existing subdomains. Most of WordPress Hosting providers hand over a cPanel to their clients. This is a vital tool to manage different settings.
Now it is time to setup a CNAME record in the cPanel. The process is pretty simple and involves the following steps:
- Log into cPanel dashboard and click on Simple DNS Zone Editor under Domains menu.
- The next screen will show a form having a pair of fields.
- Enter the subdomain name that was set previously while creating the Content Zone.
cPanel will fill in the entire domain on its own. In the CNAME field, provide the URL that MaxCDN provided while creating the Pull Zone. In fact, we have already recommended to save that URL in a separate notepad earlier.
To make your task simpler, just keep repeating the above process for all the subdomains, like CDN1, CDN2 and so on.
Every time the Name field will change and the CNAME field will always have the same URL as above. After creating CNAME records for all subdomains, go back to WordPress and setup MaxCDN with W3 Total Cache.
Setting up MaxCDN
Follow the sequence of procedures given below.
- Go to Performance
- General Settings (now, scroll down to find the CDN Configuration box)
- Check Enable and select MaxCDN from the dropdown menu of CDN Type
Now, click the Save All button.
At this stage, a notification will pop up asking for information on Authorization Key. Along with that an option showing Replace default hostname with, followed by field names. Select a Pull Zone and click Specify It Here option. This will enable W3 Total Cache to land one on the specific CDN page.
This is all about successfully configuring the W3 Total Cache.
Now, it is time to set the Authorize button. As soon as one clicks on the Authorization button, it takes one to the MaxCDN website. It is here at this website where the authorization key will be generated. Copy and paste the key back on the W3 Total Cache plugin. Just replace the Site’s Host Name with subdomain which was previously created.
Now is the time to save all settings. Finally, the website is now configured to serve static components through MaxCDN. In other words, from now on whenever the website is loaded, the URLs of static images will be served from the CDN subdomain and not the website’s actual domain.
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