Top plugins every WordPress site needs

Performance

The performance of your website has a huge impact on user-experience, the time in which persons decide to stay on your homepage and hit that back button is determined in seconds. Large companies such as Amazon are meticulous in shaving off mille-seconds off their page load speeds to increase the chances of customers buying products. Why wouldn't you install a plugin to manage this?

All performance plugins are created equal, but some are more equal than others. The above mentioned plugins follow the general rules of website performance optimization:

  • Caching
  • Page Compression
  • Minify CSS, HTML and JavaScript

WP Super Cache

Features:

  • Serves cached files in 3 ways ranked by speed (click to learn more):
  • Mod_rewrite
  • PHP to serve cache files.
  • Legacy Page Caching
  • Easy mode enables PHP caching, cache rebuild, and mobile support.
  • 304 Not Modified browser caching. Indicate when a page has not been modified since last requested.
  • Able to ignore caching pages for known users that visit your website.
  • Cache rebuild. Serve a supercache file to anonymous users while a new file is being generated.
  • Clear all cache files when a post or page is published or updated.
  • Don't super cache any request with GET parameters.
  • Extra homepage checks. (Very occasionally stops homepage caching).
  • Expiry Time & Garbage Collection for cache.
  • CDN: Content Delivery Network support.
  • Preload Cache: Preloading creates lots of files however. Caching is done from the newest post to the oldest so please consider only caching the newest if you have lots (10,000+) of posts. This is especially important on shared hosting.

Downfalls:

  • Once installed, you can opt to just use the easy mode of the plug-in and see a moderate increase in performance or check out the advanced options for further improvements. Some of the advanced options come with a 'recommended' annotation beside them, but most don't, leaving you wondering what the other options are for. With no clear explanation as to how the other options will affect your website, you are left to trial and error. Boo.

Autoptimize

Features:

  • Easy Optimize options, Optimize html code. Optimize JavaScript. Optimize CSS.
  • Force and look for JavaScript in the <head> tag of your webpage.
  • Allows you to create a list of scripts you want to be excluded from optimization.
  • Try-catch wrapping: Catches script errors that may break due to optimization.
  • Generate data: URLs for images: This allows you to include small background-images in the CSS itself instead of as separate downloads.
  • Looks for styles only in <head>: Don't autoptimize CSS outside the head-section. If the cache gets big, you might want to enable this.
  • Lightweight easy to use plugin overall with descriptive text.
  • CDN: Content Delivery Network support.

Downfalls:

  • This plug-in does not have a caching feature. It explicitly states this so it really isn't a downfall. However, it does recommend to be paired with a caching plug-in such as WP Supercache, which I did then ran my performance test. You can see the results below.

WP Fastest Cache

Features:

  • Mod_Rewrite is used in this plugin.
  • All cache files are deleted when a post or page is published.
  • Cache Timeout: All cached files are deleted at the determinate time.
  • Block cache for specific page or post with Short Code.
  • Combine CSS & JS: Reduce number of HTTP round-trips by combining multiple CSS resources into one.
  • CDN: Content Delivery Network support.

Downfalls:

  • WP Fastest Cache came to the conclusion that Mod_rewrite is the end all method for caching that should be used. This simplifies things but it would have been nice to have the option to choose between PHP Caching and Legacy Page Caching as well.

W3 Total Cache

Features:

  • Easy mode: Toggle all caching types on or off (at once).
  • You can choose your page cache method for the type of server you are on.
  • Database Cache: Enable database caching to reduce post, page and feed creation time.
  • Object Cache: Enable object caching to further reduce execution time for common operations.
  • Create groups for specific users to only see certain themes depending on what device they are using. Also redirects to different domains as well.
  • Performance Monitoring with a API called relic – uses a free key.
  • Users can be categorized by referrers as well through search engines.
  • CDN: Content Delivery Network support.

Downfalls:

  • Features can seem overwhelming at first but that isn't the case. After being exposed to the three different methods of caching mentioned in WP Super Cache, I'm inclined to wonder to why that isn't implemented here but I defer to the performance table for un-biased results.

Page load speed results

I went ahead and did a performance test using a fresh install of Firefox and the settings recommended for each plugin on a basic blog homepage; the results speak for themselves.

It was my intent to give you an unbiased comparison of these various plugins. I hope it was helpful to you!

Words: Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson is an expert web developer who has earned his Bachelor's in Computer Science. He has been employed and freelanced as a web developer for various clients and has over five years' experience in the field of IT and Design.

Like this? Read these...