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Managing site performance is just one of the many responsibilities that come with being the owner of a self-hosted WordPress site. This means choosing and updating WordPress plugins carefully, monitoring page speed and uptime performance, and choosing a caching solution.
There are a number of different caching solutions to choose from. In this post, we’re going to be taking a look at one of the most popular caching plugins available for WordPress: WP Rocket. We’re going to cover its best features, installation process, ease of use and, most importantly, its performance.
This is Part 1 in our three-part series on WP Rocket. If you want to learn more about WP Rocket, make sure to also check out our other posts in this series:
Let’s get started.
What is WP Rocket?
WP Rocket is first and foremost a caching plugin for WordPress, but that’s an overly simplistic explanation of everything it’s capable of. With other caching plugins, you’d need to rely on several third-party solutions to do half of what this plugin is capable of. You may even need to rely on your host.
WP Rocket is different. It was first released in 2013 and was made by developer duo Jonathan Buttigieg and Jean-Baptiste Marchand-Arvier. Many performance solutions existed at the time, but the two felt these solutions were too complicated to set up and didn’t provide a positive user experience for general users.
Out came what has become one of the most widely used site performance solutions available for WordPress. As of 2019, it’s grown to a customer base of over 86,000 and is used on over 667,000 sites.
The plugin itself has grown to offer more and more features over the years. Let’s go over its best ones.
- Page Caching – This function alone decreases the amount of time it takes for your pages to load.
- Browser Caching – Stores static content in your visitor’s browser so they don’t need to be reloaded.
- Database Optimization – Clean the WordPress database on a schedule or at will.
- Google Fonts Optimization – Ensures Google Fonts do not impact site performance negatively.
- Removes Query Strings – Removes query strings from static content.
- Lazy Loading – Enables lazy loading for images, videos and anything that uses iframes.
- CDN Integration – Integrates with CDN services seamlessly but is mostly optimized for Cloudflare.
- Ecommerce Friendly – Integrates with WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, Jigoshop and iThemes Exchange.
- Multisite Compatibility – This plugin is entirely optimized for multisite networks.
- Multilingual Compatibility – Integrates with WPML, Polylang and qTranslate.
Now that you know what this plugin is all about, let’s switch gears and talk about how it feels to use it.
Installation & Configuration
Installing WP Rocket works the same as installing any other plugin. You either upload the ZIP folder through the WordPress admin area or install it manually via FTP.
In its default configuration, WP Rocket offers page caching, browser caching and GZIP compression, among other features. These features are automated and cannot be turned off nor are they present in the plugin’s settings.
A few additional settings are activated as well. They include combining Google Fonts’ files, disabling WordPress emojis and preloading.
I didn’t mention preloading in the features listed above, but it improves site performance by acting as your pages’ first “visitors” since pages load slowly the first time they’re visited. This means they’ll load much faster when web crawlers or real users visit them.
The WP Rocket dashboard is broken up into the following sections:
- Dashboard Home
- File Optimization
- Advanced Rules
- Image Optimization
Since this plugin contains an exhaustive list of settings, I’m only going to focus on the ones you’ll most likely need.
Let’s start with the Dashboard home screen. The most useful feature here is the Clear Cache option. If you make any changes to your website, use this button to clear your site’s cache immediately to ensure the changes take effect.
The dashboard also gives you links you can use to access your account, support and the plugin’s documentation with ease.
Next up is the Cache section. This section allows you to control other aspects of caching, such as caching SSL-enabled pages as well as how often your site is cached globally.
The next section is the File Optimization section, and it’s an important one.
The Media section allows you to enable lazy loading. This is another highly recommended feature that can improve your site’s performance.
Let’s skip ahead a bit. The Database section gives you a snapshot of your database, specifically the items you can optimize.
This section allows you to see content and other items on your site that don’t necessarily need to be there, such as post revisions and spam comments. You can optimize each of these individually or optimize them in one-fell swoop by deleting them. You can also set up a schedule to have the plugin optimize your database automatically.
Let’s get to the performance tests.
How Does WP Rocket Perform?
Here are the aforementioned performance tests. I performed these tests on a small live-production website built on a shared hosting server from SiteGround. CDN services are enabled with Cloudflare.
Here’s what I was working with prior to installing WP Rocket.
You can see my load time for this site, according to Pingdom’s Washington D.C. server, was 1.28 seconds on its own. The performance grade was 80.
Here were my results with GTmetrix:
I had a load time of 2.7 seconds. Finally, here was my PageSpeed desktop score before WP Rocket:
Here’s a quick recap of my results before installing and activating WP Rocket:
- Pingdom – 1.28 seconds
- GTmetrix – 2.7 seconds
- PageSpeed Score – 90 points
I was a little disappointed upon activating WP Rocket and running the initial tests they recommend conducting. My site was a little slower according to Pingdom, for starters:
The result was 1.34 seconds, which isn’t much of a difference, but the developer’s documentation makes it out to seem as though your site should run much quicker even while WP Rocket is unoptimized in its default configuration.
My GTmetrix results were only a little better at 2.2 seconds:
My PageSpeed score also improved by two points:
Here’s a recap of the changes:
- Pingdom – 1.34 seconds
- GTmetrix – 2.2 seconds
- PageSpeed Score– 92 points
Optimizing WP Rocket
The results were quite impressive. My page load time was nearly cut in half at 731 milliseconds, according to Pingdom:
My load time with GTmetrix also improved down to 1.6 seconds:
My PageSpeed score wasn’t affected nearly as much, only increasing by 1 point:
However, it should be noted your PageSpeed score isn’t a reliable indicator of site performance. It’s best when used to diagnose performance issues.
Here’s a recap of my final results:
- GTmetrix – 1.6 seconds
- PageSpeed Score – 93 points
Let’s wrap up this review.
I was quite impressed with everything WP Rocket has to offer, especially at such a reasonable price. It does the work of several plugins in one. I should note, however, that I seen no difference in how well this plugin performs in comparison to the configuration I originally had running on this site.
However, WP Rocket’s value doesn’t lie in its performance alone. Thanks to this one plugin, I was able to deactivate four plugins on my site. Plus, the main plugin I was relying on, WP Super Cache, doesn’t have a premium option, meaning it has no premium support. In fact, at the time this review was written, its support forum on WordPress.org only had 12 resolved issues out of 70 in the last two months. Many issues received no responses.
With WP Rocket, you have access to support via a ticket system for several performance aspects involving your website. With my prior configuration, I had four support teams I’d need to speak to if any issues occurred.
Support and updates come with your license, whose cost starts at $49 for one website. This license is available for one year, at which point you’ll need to renew support and updates at a discount of 30% off.
We didn’t mention everything this plugin has to offer in this review, but you can learn more about how to use it and how it performs against other solutions in our other two parts: