how to use w3 total cache plugin in wordpress

We often get compliments from users on how fast our site loads. Everyone wants to know the secret behind a fast loading WordPress site. Aside from good web hosting and well-coded plugins, you have to make sure that you’re using proper caching and have a CDN (content delivery network). For our setup, we use a plugin called W3 Total Cache. Due to a high volume of request, we have decided to create a step by step guide on how to install and setup W3 Total Cache for beginners.

In this article, we will show you how to install W3 Total Cache and set it up properly to maximize the benefits. We will also show you how to combine W3 Total Cache wit ha CDN service to make your site load even faster.
Before you begin, we highly recommend that you check performance of your site by using Google Page Speed and Pingdom Tools. This will give you a before and after comparison.
Below is the screenshot of our Pingdom results:

Lets get started with our setup of W3 Total Cache

What is W3 Total Cache?

W3 Total Cache is the fastest and most complete WordPress performance optimization plugin. Trusted by many popular sites including: AT&T, Mashable, Smashing Magazine, WPBeginner, and millions others. W3 Total Cache improves the user experience of your site by improving your server performance, caching every aspect of your site, reducing the download times and providing transparent content delivery network (CDN) integration.

Installing W3 Total Cache in WordPress

Before you install W3 Total Cache, you need to make sure that you uninstall all other caching plugins (for example WP Super Cache). If you do not do this prior to installing, the plugin will have issues upon activation.
We have a very thorough guide explaining how to install a WordPress plugin which you can follow. Or you can follow the brief guide below:
Go to your WordPress admin panel and click on Plugins » Add New. Search for “W3 Total Cache” and you should see results like the image below:

Click on the Install Now button and then activate the plugin.

Settings and Configuration of W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache is a very powerful plugin, so it has tons of options. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. For those who know how to use these options, they are a gold mine. For most beginners, these options could be quite tricky and confusing. We will visit each of these options in detail, so you can properly set up W3 Total Cache. Lets start with general settings.

General Settings

You can go to the General Settings page by clicking on the Performance menu button in your WordPress admin panel. This is where you will set up the plugin by configuring basic settings. Make sure that you’re on the general settings page and not the promotional Dashboard page that this plugin has.

What is Page Cache?

The first option that you see on this page is Page Cache. It is responsible for creating static cache pages for each page that is loaded, so it is not being dynamically loaded upon each page load. By having this enabled, you will significantly decrease your load time. Refer to the image below to see how Page cache works:

As you can see normally when a user comes to your site, WordPress runs PHP scripts and MySQL queries to the database to find the requested page. Then PHP parses the data and generates a page. This process takes server resources. Having the page caching turned on, allows you to skip all that server load and show a cached copy of the page when a user requests it.
For shared hosting which most beginners use, the Disk:Enhanced method is highly recommended. You should check the Enable Page Cache box, and save all settings.

For most folks, this is all you need to do with page caching. Since this guide is for beginner level users we will skip the advanced settings of page caching because the default options are sufficient enough.
We will also skip through Minify, Database Cache, and Object Cache. The simple reason is because not all servers provide optimized results with these settings. Next option you will see is Browser Cache.

What is Browser Cache?

Every time a user visits a website, their web browser downloads all the images, CSS files, JavaScripts, and other static files in a temporary folder to enhance the user experience. This way when the same user goes to the next page, it will load much faster because all the static files are in their browser cache.
Browser Cache option in W3 Total Cache sets a time limit on the Browser Cache. Considering you don’t change your logo every day, having static files like that cached for 24 hours does not hurt you. Simply check the Enable under Browser Cache option and click Save all settings button. Once you have done that, then lets visit the Performance » Browser Cache page for more settings.
As you can see in the image above, we pretty much enabled everything except for the 404. When you save the settings, all settings below on that page will automatically take care of itself.
In our free WordPress setups, these are the default settings that we turn on.