Over the last couple years, premium themes with page builder functionality have become all the rage. And why not. In fact this site runs on Divi, one of the original premium themes not sold on ThemeForest and using Visual Composer. Not long after Divi came out, a new one called Elementor came out. I know a lot of people who have made the switch to Elementor as they said it gives them greater design creativity. And while I am not changing at this time, I did want to do a test of caching plugins to see which ones work best.
What is a caching plugin?
As we all know (or should know) page loads are a big deal when it comes to user experience. Ideally, our sites should load in less than 3 seconds and even better if it is less than 2 seconds. There are several ways we can do this.
- Make the site simpler. This is difficult given that we are using a publicly available CMS and a theme designed to do lots of things. Still, reducing animations and extra code and plugins will help.
- Optimize Images: I will talk about optimizing images at another time, but the smaller the image, the quicker it loads
- Better hosting. There is a reason we now have wordpress specific hosting. In fact WP Engine is a great host if you have the money. But even without that extra hosting, we can still increase page speed by not using the cheap hosts that every guru recommends. Blue something or other…
- Use Content Delivery Network. A CDN keeps local copies of your website ready at various nodes around the world so it serves a copy that is closest to the computer. Just like it takes less time to drive across town versus across the country, keeping the files close to a computer increases their speed.
What a caching plugin does is take the web page that would normally be rendered each time a browser asks it to, and serves the last known page to the browser. Because the cogs don’t have to work over and over, the increase of speed can be dramatic.
All caching plugins work a little differently and some work better with different hosts. Over the last two years, on average, the best caching plugins for me have been WP Rocket, Lite Speed Cache and WP Fastest Cache.
Setting up the caching test for Elementor
The first thing I did is set up a test site with the Astra Free theme and Elementor Pro installed. I then created a series of 5 web pages just using the premade templates Elementor provides. Ideally I would clone a customers site but I didn’t want to spend hours recreating it just for this test. Since many will just use the premade templates anyway, this is a good test.
I then installed the other plugins I normally do for customer sites. This includes:
- Antispam Bee (use instead of Akismet)
- iThemes Security Pro
- MainWP Child
- All in One SEO Pack
What I then did is set up a second site and clones my initial test site to try different plugins on. I actually would blow out and reinstall the site after every test to make sure there were no residual code left from the plugin that was tested.
My Technology Stack for this test
I think it is important to tell you what the technology stack I am using. Because what I use might be different, your results might be different as well.
I use a reseller program to host customer accounts. This allows me to set up separate independent CPanels for each and every website. This allows you to protect individual sites and to allocate resources to each one. If you want a reseller account, the two I recommend would be:
If you are looking for a step up and don’t need all the bells and whistles of cpanel, then take a look at:
The hosting company I use is not WordPress Specific but uses Cloudlinux and Litespeed to give a little boost to the speed.
Criteria for choosing a plugin to test
I have tried to be consistent when I test plugins. They have to have the following criteria to be tested. I am sure I have missed some, and if I do, please let me know.
At least 1000 installs – I figured with 1000 installs kinks will be worked out.
At least 4 Star Rating – Most people reading this don’t want to deal with hassles so a good rating is key.
Updated in the last year – no need for a caching plugin to open up security holes. This is one advantage to a premium plugin.
Control Elementor Site
I ran the control site through GT Metrix to give me a baseline of what my site would look like without caching involved. My initial tests were quite impressive. 2.2 second load times on the first test and 1.9 on the second test. That is impressive with no caching. But lets try some more.
WP Rocket is a premium plugin and one I have had very good luck with when it comes to speeding up websites. It normally sits in the number one or number 2 spot when it comes to speeding up websites. It is inexpensive at $39 a year for a single site. Easy to configure as well. And if you are using a managed wordpress provider like WP Engine, you can use it on their platform as well.
Disclaimer: WP Engine gave me a review copy two years ago but at renewal, I paid of the renewal myself. Yes it is that good.
Here are my results:
WP Fastest Cache
WP Fastest Cache has always performed really well. The only issue I had with WP Fastest Cache on Divi, is some of the forms would not work on pages that had caching. In particular the contact forms and email optin forms. But, if you are using something like Sumo me or another pop up, you will have to test..
Just turning the plugin on got me to 1.3 seconds. Wow! Interestingly enough, minimizing the CSS actually slowed down the website and turning on things like Gzip didn’t decrease load speeds. Only thing to test is the forms to make sure it doesn’t mess with them.
WP Super Cache
WP Super Cache is created and run by Automattic. Automattic is the company that runs wordpress.com and are kinda the unofficial/official wordpress folks. Installing and turning it on gave me a speed of 1.3 seconds. Turning on some of the advances settings brought the load time down to 1.1 seconds.
Hummingbird is a plugin created by the folks over at WPMU. They make a variety of plugins including the Smush it plugin for image optimization. I tried their caching plugin before when I had a membership and it didn’t work great on Divi but in reading, some people were getting better results with it. I am only using the free version from the repository, lets see how it works.
After installing you run a performance test and it gives you recommendations you can turn on such as caching, gzip etc. Turning on Page caching brought me down to 1.2 seconds. Turning on Gzip did not change the load times and minimizing the css of elementor actually increased load times. So 1.2 seconds is what we get.
Ok I will be honest, this caching plugin won’t work for many of you because it only works if you are using the litespeed software in place of apache. This is the plugin my hosting company recommends so lets see how it performs. 1.3 second load time. Advanced functionality didn’t push it further past that.
W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache used to be the standard in caching plugins. They have an extremely robust set of instructions that truthfully was really hard to configure properly. With the page builders, it seemed to break a lot of sites when it minified css and others. For themes like Avada, for a while they have a configuration file you could download and upload. Initially I just turned on page cache, opcode cache, database cache and browser cache.
Like the others 1.3 seconds is what I got in load times. I did minify just using the standard settings and it didn’t seem to break the site and did bring it down to 1.1 second load time. Finally I turned on a few other functions which ironically, increased the load times .
Cache Enabler is built by the folks over at KeyCDN. It has 60,000 installs and a four star rating. After installing, i didn’t know if I was doing something wrong because it said the current cache size was empty. But I ran it through the speed test, and I got 1.3 seconds. Go figure.
Breeze WordPress Cache
This is a new caching plugin I have not tried before. It is a plugin created by the Cloudways folks, one of the recommended hosting companies. Just the basic caching brought me down to the 1.3 second load times all the other plugins were able to create for me. Minifcation didn’t seem to help a lot.
This had 7000 installs and a good rating so I thought I would try it out. It is, like its name sames, very simple. You only have 3 options in its non-advanced mode. Engable caching and enable compression. I am going to test with compression on and off. If you guessed 1.3 seconds then you got it right. Compression did reduce load speed to 1.2 seconds.
I decided to add one additional cache to the test. I wasn’t sure if I should since it hasn’t been updated in 6 months and wasn’t tested with this version of wordpress. So since I was doing this on test sites, what the heck. And at 1.9 seconds load times, that would be a no. But now we know…
Best Caching Plugin for Elementor
So there is one thing I learned in this test. Elementor is very well codes. For a page builder it has pretty fast page loads and it responds about the same across the board when it comes to caching plugins. So just about any caching system will help you. If you are using WordPress hosting or need more technical support, then go for WP Rocket.