Dramatically Improve your website load speeds and TTFB (time to first byte) with the W3 Total Cache WordPress plugin

Who doesn’t like a fast website? I know I do! When I first started building my WordPress website in 2008, there weren’t too many options to speed it up. All I could do for speed was to ensure that my code and images were optimized and that the server was fast enough. Speed was relative in those times and most customers did not mind a website that took an extra second to load.

Fast-forwarding to 2021, times have changed and Google now penalises slower websites. Customer abandonment rates of slow websites have peaked, and more than 50% of customers leave sites that take more than 5 seconds to load. This has increased page speed awareness amongst webmasters, and site owners are now taking steps to improve page speed dramatically. Terms like FCP, FID, TTFB and LCP have become commonplace since being highlighted in a Google PageSpeed Insights post.

Why is website speed so important?

Your website speed determines your customer experience. As customers increasingly prefer faster websites, it is important that you manage every aspect of your website speed. This includes managing the time taken for requests to be served by your server and the time taken by page elements to load. Two distinct factors determine page speed, and these factors include:

  • Time to first byte or TTFB
    TTFB is a metric that denotes how responsive your server is. TTFB is the time taken between requesting a web page from a server and the time taken to download it to your computer(or mobile device). Simply put, TTFB is the time taken for the server to provide your browser with the HTML needed to show the website to you.
  • FCP, FID, CLS and LCP
    FCP (first contentful paint), FID (first input delay), CLS (cumulative layout shift) and LCP (Largest contentful paint) are parameters set by Google that showcase how fast your page loads. 
    • FID is the time taken for the site to react to the first interaction. This can be a button click or a tap on a hyperlink. A good score here means that your site is quick to respond to inputs.
    • LCP is the time taken for the largest piece of content to be rendered on the browser. 
    • CLS checks if content moves around in your site while loading. This controls the Z-order of objects on your site. Although this is not a page speed indicator, it is good to check the order in which objects load to ensure a seamless browsing experience for those with slower connections.
    • FCP is the time taken for the first block of text or image to load on the browser.

Are these metrics important?

Google uses these metrics to determine your page score. This means that these metrics are important to ensure that your website shows up at the top of the list in searches. As Google continues to penalise slow sites by removing them from search results, it is important that your site performs well on these parameters. After all, it won’t hurt if your site is faster than the competition, will it?

How to measure TTFB for your website?

You can measure TTFB for your website in several ways. Many companies such as Geektools and Pingdom offer free tools to test your TTFB. There are many other tools such as those by Sucuri, ByteCheck, KeyCDN, and more that can help you measure TTFB for your website.

How can I reduce TTFB and improve website load speed?

There are many ways to reduce TTFB and improve website load times. These include:

  1. Choosing a fast hosting service
    There is nothing that can beat a fast, reliable hosting service such as Pack Web Hosting. Our world-class fast servers have SSD drives, ample RAM and are optimized for performance so that you can see blazing fast load speeds. Faster hosts can boost your TTFB scores by up to 200%
  1. Implementing WordPress Caching
    WordPress caching is a great way to decrease both load times and TTFB. Caching reduces the time it takes for the server to process your request, directly impacting load times. Plugins such as W3 Total Cache, LiteSpeed Cache and many others can help you implement WordPress caching and boost cache scores. In our tests, we found that sites running a WordPress caching plugin such as W3 Total Cache improved load times by up to 300%, making your site load much faster than before.

How can I further speed up my website?

There are many ways to speed up your website after you’ve reduced TTFB. These include:

  1. Implementing a Content Delivery Network or CDN
    Content delivery networks help to speed up the web browsing experience for your customers in diverse geographical locations. For example, if your website is hosted in the US and your customer base is in India, they might see high load times and may even abandon your website for the competition. A CDN will serve your website from the closest geographical location, greatly improving website load times and directly affecting your TTFB. CDN services such as those from Kinsta, Rackspace, Cloudflare, Google Cloud CDN, CacheFly and many others can quickly boost page load times, giving your website an edge over the competition.
  2. Transforming images to WebP format
    The WebP format by Google is an optimised modern image format that will help you to maintain high website speeds while ensuring lossless images. In short, WebP images are high-quality, yet have a small footprint, making them perfect for the web. WebP images are 25% smaller than PNGs and 25-34% smaller than JPGs.

What makes W3 Total Cache better than the competition?

W3 Total Cache is a platform-agnostic, freemium plugin that will help you to speed up your website without requiring any specific hardware or software. W3 Total Cache works with all types of web servers and will easily reduce TTFB and the page load time of your website. The plugin is extremely easy to use, powerful and offers a host of configuration options from standardized suggestions for beginners to advanced options for power users.

Implementing W3 Total Cache in WordPress to improve TTFB and reduce page load time

Implementing plugins such as W3 Total Cache on your website is easy. Use the following steps to install the plugin, configure it, and you’re done! W3 Total Cache takes care of the rest.

Note: for most users, the default options in this plugin are more than enough to speed up your website dramatically. If you do not know what you’re doing, contact Pack Web hosting support or consult your own IT team.

  1. Login to the WordPress administrative interface of your website
  2. Click on Plugins > Add New
  3. Search for W3 Total Cache and install the plugin
  4. Activate the plugin

That’s it. The plugin is now installed on your website. Once you install the plugin, you will see an additional menu called Performance added to your WordPress Menu.

Note that this plugin is paid and some features will only be available in the paid version. We will only cover the free features in this article.

Once installed, click on the Feature Showcase tab to see the newest features of the plugin. This view allows you to see all the available options in one go.

For beginners, we would recommend using the Setup Guide, which is a wizard-style configuration tool for W3 Total Cache. This will ensure that you do not miss any option while configuring your server and you can also test your existing options and see how they compare with available options.

For example, in this screenshot for Page Cache you can see your existing page load time and how using Disc Enhanced can reduce your page load time by 17.4%

Choosing the setup guide will help you configure W3 Total Cache plugin even if you’re a beginner.

Some important configuration options for W3 Total Cache

Although the setup guide can help you understand most of these features, we believe that adding information so you can use this plugin to its best capability is a good way to help you improve site speed.

Here are some important options that you must consider while optimizing your website for speed:

  1. Activating Image Service
    Images increase your website’s loading time. Images are important for the look of your website and must be optimized to ensure quality viewing experience and high-speed loading at the same time. W3 Total Cache’s Image service adds the capability to transform images into Google’s WebP format. This makes loading images up to 25% faster. Click on settings to fine-tune the service. The settings are simple. You can choose between lossy and lossless compression. Lossy compression is for low-quality (jpg) images and lossless is for transparent images and high-quality images (png). Click Auto-convert to automatically convert all images on upload. Click the Convert All button converts all images to WebP using their remote API.
  1. Page Cache
    All static content that is not rendered by the server in real-time can be easily cached by W3 Total cache to reduce load times. Use the recommended settings for page caching for the most effective way to speed up your site. Disk Enhanced is the best way to speed up your site if you are on a shared server. Click Enable, choose the cache method and click on Save All Settings.
  1. Object Caching
    Object caching improves performance for dynamic sites that use the Object Cache API. This works by saving database query results so that the next time a result is needed, it is served from the cache. This will also automatically optimize your database cache and you will not need to change caching settings for your database. This option is good for all high-traffic, dynamic sites. Click Enable, choose the cache method and click on Save All Settings.
  1. Minify Code
    You can reduce your website load time by minifying CSS and JavaScript code. Minification will also remove unnecessary data from CSS and JS code, feeds and POST HTML. Click Enable to enable minification. Use the default values unless you know what you’re doing. Set the minify mode to Auto. Click Save All Settings to save changes.
  1. Browser Cache
    Browser cache reduces the load on the server by fetching files such as CSS, JavaScript, images, and fonts from the browser’s local cache. This speeds up your website by serving the pages that you visited last from the local machine. Click Enable and click on Save All Settings.
  2. Database Cache
    Database caching must be kept disabled. Object Caching is a much better way to optimize database query results.
  3. CDN or content delivery network
    For websites that are visited by a geographically diverse audience, using a CDN can greatly reduce load time. You can easily configure W3 Total Cache to rewrite URLs for theme files, media library attachments, JavaScript files and CSS files. Click Enable to enable the feature. Choose your CDN and click Save All Settings to save changes.
  4. User Experience (Lazy Load images)
    Lazy loading means loading images when they come into focus. This reduces the load time for your website. Check the Lazy Load Images checkbox to enable this option. You can also disable emojis and wp-embed if you do not use them. Click Save All Settings to save changes
  5. More Caching Options (Miscellaneous)
    Most of the other general options are in this tab. You can enable file locking, enable the Google Page Speed dashboard widget, choose to not allow W3 Total Cache to track your usage and more.
  6. Import and Export
    Import and Export settings allow you to import an existing setting for W3 Total Cache or export your current settings to use in other websites you may manage. This helps you to get your sites up and running quickly.

Final Thoughts

Whew! That’s quite a list. Although, we’ve only scratched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to W3 Total Cache and all its available options, and this article could span dozens of pages, but we believe that too much information can sometimes confuse beginners. We’ve added all the settings we believe are important for speeding up your website and then some. Feel free to contact us if you have a specific query or question regarding this plugin. Additionally, at Pack Web Hosting we ensure that your website is served faster than the competition from the get-go. Our shared servers offer the same reliability and speed as our premium offerings and ensure that your website page ranks stays at the top of the charts.