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Consider this: you’ve set up your website and you finally have customers. However, the wait is long, and the website is slow to load. By the time it loads, you’ve lost your opportunity to convert a visitor to a paying customer – leading to a loss of revenue. In a matter of seconds, they’ve moved on.

Why?

Studies have shown that nearly half of the customers expect page load times of about three seconds. By recognizing this problem early enough, you can take steps to prevent this from happening. How? By implementing the right caching solution for your website.

What is Web Cache?

Caching refers to the process of storing data, temporarily, in a computing environment – namely a cache. When customers look at your web page, those files are automatically stored on the hard disk, in a cache subdirectory on their browser. When they return to look at that page, the browser can access those files from the cache, rather than returning to the original server to fetch the data again.

Without caching: When a customer visits your website, the browser will send a request to your server for site data, like content, media, code etc. The data is then sent to the customer’s browser. Each piece of this data needs to be loaded individually before it can be displayed. There are always delays while the transfer is happening and a lot of additional factors that can slow the process down. For e.g., if the visitor is located far away from your server, it can adversely affect your loading time.

With caching: The data is stored in a location close to your customer – it goes to where your customer is, cutting down on loading time. For example, web browser stores data at your customer’s end once the page is loaded for the first time. This reduces the page load speed by a mile for a returning user.

The advantages are clear. What you need to do is choose a caching solution that suits your website. There are many methods of caching available. We’re going to discuss three: server caching, browser caching and caching plugins and how each could impact your website.

Server caching:
If your website is busy, dynamic, content heavy and experiences high volumes of traffic, you may want to look into server caching. One of the best cache servers is Varnish. This is how it works – when your customer visits your site, a series of requests are sent to the server to enable the page to load. The server then looks for the files pertaining to the request, execute any code related to that request and then return the web page to the user. By installing caching mechanisms like Varnish, it essentially acts as a middleman, between the user and the server and look out for duplicate requests from before. The next time the customer visits your website, Varnish will respond by quickly sending a cached version of the result. This can increase the speed of your site exponentially. It also cuts down on how much processing power you need to respond to high volumes of traffic.

Browser caching:
Whenever a browser loads a web page, it needs to download all the files to display the page properly – this includes HTML, CSS, images and JavaScript. If your website has a lot of files, you can face two issues – first, large files take longer to load (especially if your customers are using a slow internet connection). Secondly, each file makes a separate request to your server, which adds to the work your server needs to do. Browser caching will help by storing some of the files on your customer’s browser. The first time your customer visits your site, it may take time to load, but as they continue to interact with your website (either by refreshing, revisiting or even moving to another page on your site) files are being cached onto their browser. This cuts down on the data that your customer uses to load your site, and it saves bandwidth on your server.

Browser caching works by identifying elements of your website that can be saved offline. These elements are those that are not likely to be changed on a regular basis – like your logo for instance. To enable browser caching, you’ll need to edit your HTTP headers in order to set expiry times for certain files. If certain files are updated frequently, you can give them shorter expiry times.

Caching plugins:
Currently, WordPress powers nearly 33 per cent of the web. If your website is one among this number, you can look at third-party caching plugins. These are simple and easy to install. The only catch is the sheer number of plugins available to you. However, some of these plugins are highly recommended, like W3 Total Cache, which offers caching via memory, disk or CDN (Content Delivery Network). It also removes unnecessary or redundant data on posts, pages, feeds, JavaScript and more. Thanks to this you can save on server bandwidth, which leads to increased server performance, reduced download time, and boosts conversion rates – all good news for you. You can also look at other popular plugins like WP Super Cache and WP- FFPC.

What are the benefits overall?

  1. Reduced network burden: Between your content and your customer, data can be cached at several points. For example with server caching, web pages are stored and served to your customer efficiently. When it is closer to the customer, requests will not place a burden on the network between the customer and your website – just the cache.
  2. Increased performance: When you choose caching as an option, it frees up resources on the original server to improve the overall performance.
  3. Ranking: Site speed is one of the most important factors when it comes to your website’s ranking. Faster websites are favoured by search engines (and aided by great SEO setting and good quality content). The slower your website, the lower you drop in the rankings.
  4. User Experience: You want your customers to have the best experience on your website. A faster website will help your customers browse better. What’s more, cached data saves on your user’s data (to a certain extent) due to the fact that static files are less of a load, as compared to dynamic requests.

At the end of the day, caching is an excellent solution to speed up your website. Our Cloud Hosting services make use of advanced caching mechanisms like Varnish to ensure that the server caching is taken care off. Choosing which caching solution suits your website will require careful consideration on your part – which parts need to be cached and which data on your website will change with time.

Charlotte Wright

Charlotte WrightCharlotte Wright is a writer and an avid reader who loves to drink tea! Her other interests include astronomy and understanding human nature.

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