There are various types of caching methods, but a particular one causes more admin headaches than most methods – browser caching in WordPress. The reason is that there’s a vast amount of WordPress-based sites with a lot of them being run by not very experienced admins.
Still, browser caching is an important tool for optimizing your site and making search engines happy. And you DO want to make search engines very happy.
So what is browser caching?
Caching in general means temporary storage of data which will be needed again or soon. The idea is simple – instead of sending a data request to the HDD or the remote server, the application, site, CPU etc. keeps the information in the RAM or local storage.
The majority of this data remains static, i.e. the same. So, having the browser re-download it with every visit to the site is just a waste of web traffic for the user, causing network congestion and slowdowns.
This is where browser caching comes to the rescue. The browser has storage for static files and loads them with every visit to the site. It simply checks if the static data has been updated. If it hasn’t, it loads the cached version. If it has – the browser downloads the new stuff. The exact rate of these checks is up to the configuration of the browser and websites/servers.
On the whole browser caching is quite good. It speeds up browsing, eases the network load, and lowers the traffic consumption of the user. Of course, there are some issues, too. Sometimes changes to the site take a while before being updated by the browsers. Other times, the configuration causes all sorts of issues with the site in general. Or… you have it enabled, yet still get a message from the Google Page Speed Insights check-up to “leverage browser caching” (tip: check if the server allows browser caching as well).
Why does it matter for WordPress in particular?
WordPress is all about sites which look good, but are also easy to load. It’s the platform of choice for the majority of blogs and quite a few of the big sites.
These days users are used to getting everything quickly. Most people won’t wait around for your site to load every time. A sluggish site can be devastating to your online presence. Leveraging browser caching can speed up your site a whole lot without the need to upgrade servers, hosting plans or bandwidth.
There are plenty of ways to leverage browser caching in WordPress. You can simply edit the .htaccess file and add the needed commands. However, this requires a bit of knowledge and experience.
Another way is to use a plugin. There’s a huge variety of optimization plugins. From W3 Total Cache which offers a vast amount of settings, various caching features and more, to server and platform-specific plugins for niche cases. Other popular plugins are WP Fastest Cache and Cache Enabler. It’s definitely worth checking them out and seeing which one will yield the best results for your particular site and configuration. As with many things, with WordPress it’s a bit of a trial and error until you find the right match, but when you do, the results are worth it.