Managing the performance of your website is one of the most important parts of owning one. It affects SEO and user engagement, two things your site needs to excel at if you want it to succeed. Unfortunately, achieving great performance can be difficult to accomplish. In this post, we are going to teach how to install and configure one of the most powerful performance plugins available for WordPress – WP Rocket.
This tutorial is Part 2 in our three-part series on WP Rocket. Learn more about WP Rocket in our others posts:
What is WP Rocket?
If you host your site with a shared host, you’re likely required to implement caching on your own. Caching plugins are the simplest way to do this. WP Rocket just happens to be one of the most powerful caching plugins available for WordPress.
It should be noted that most managed WordPress hosts, including Kinsta, WP Engine and Flywheel, handle caching for you. Most don’t even allow you to activate caching plugins on your site as they’ll interfere with the caching solutions they’ve already implemented for you.
WP Rocket offers page caching, browser caching and a long list of other features that will help you optimize your site for speed. Again, if you want to learn more about what this plugin has to offer as well as how it performs, be sure to read our WP Rocket Review and the comparison post, that will follow soon.
How to Speed Up Your WordPress Site with WP Rocket
You’ll need to purchase a license for WP Rocket before you can download it since it’s a premium plugin. It’s available for as low as $49 for a single site license, as of March 2019. Support and updates can be renewed at a 30% discount after your first year.
Once you purchase WP Rocket, download a copy of it from your account page. You can install it by either uploading the ZIP folder from the Add New plugin page in the WordPress admin or by uploading the unzipped version to your site manually via FTP.
Either way, you can go ahead and activate it as soon as it finishes installing. You should see the WP Rocket dashboard in the WordPress admin once you do:
You can access this dashboard by navigating to Settings → WP Rocket.
Conducting Initial Tests
The developers recommend conducting speed tests as soon as you activate the plugin to gauge how much faster it’s made your site. It has a built-in ON/OFF feature specifically for this purpose.
Start by testing your site without WP Rocket by using tools like Pingdom, GTmetrix and Google PageSpeed Insights. You can do this without deactivating WP Rocket by adding a “/?nocache” query parameter to the end of your URL.
To conduct tests without WP Rocket, grab your homepage URL or the URL of one of your most popular pages or posts, and add the query parameter to the end like so:
- Homepage with WP Rocket: example.com
- Homepage without WP Rocket: example.com/?nocache
- Blog Post with WP Rocket: example.com/your-blog-post
- Blog Post without WP Rocket: example.com/your-blog-post/?nocache
Input this URL into Pingdom, GTmetrix and PageSpeed. For Pingdom, choose a test location that’s closest to your server’s data center. Consult your host if you’re not sure. Once the tests are finished, make note of your load time in Pingdom, your performance scores and load time in GTmetrix, and your mobile and desktop performance scores in PageSpeed.
Once you have your numbers, remove the query parameter from your URL, and run the tests again to see how much faster your site runs with WP Rocket.
Configuring WP Rocket
There are a few different settings and actions I want to touch base on before we get into optimizing WP Rocket. Here’s a quick round-up of a few of the actions you can take from the dashboard:
- View My Account – Opens your WP Rocket account in a new tab.
- Clear Cache – Clears the cache of your entire website to ensure new changes take effect. You can also access this setting by hovering over the WP Rocket option in the top menu of the WordPress admin. Individual posts and pages can be cached as well.
- Preload Cache – Generates a cached version of your homepage and the pages it links to. You won’t need to use this at first since preloading is activated by default.
Let’s go over the Cache section of the dashboard.
Mobile caching should be checked by default and should remain checked if your site is responsive. The same static file is generated for desktop and mobile users by default. If you display a different version of your website to mobile users, check the Separate Cache Files for Mobile Devices option. If you have certain plugins installed, such as Easy Social Share Buttons for WordPress, this setting will be checked by default and grayed out.
Check the User Cache option if you run a site where users must log in, such as a membership site, a forum or a site where content is locked to logged-out users.
Check the SSL Cache option if an SSL certificate is installed on your site and you have pages that use https.
Let’s skip ahead to the CDN section.
If you use a content delivery network or CDN on your site, check this option, and add your CNAME here. You can also specify URLs that should be excluded from this option. If you use Cloudflare, go to the Add-Ons section instead, and enable the free Cloudflare add-on.
Optimizing WP Rocket
Typically, optimizing these files would mean relying on a few different plugins. WP Rocket has these features built in, and they actually have a significant impact on site speed.
Head to the File Optimization section to get started.
Check the Minify option in each subsection. This reduces HTML, CSS and JS file sizes by removing nonessential content.
Check Remove Query Strings from Static Resources to optimize query strings often generated by plugins.
Lastly, when you minified CSS and JS files, an option to combine them became available in each of these subsections. Leave this setting alone if your site uses HTTP/2. Consider using it if your site uses HTTP/1 and you’d like to optimize it further. If you’re not sure which HTTP protocol your site uses, use the HTTP/2 Checker Tool at Geek Flare.
Click Save Changes, and refresh the page to ensure the plugin preloads your pages and critical CSS files are generated. Refresh your site afterwards to ensure nothing is broken. Consult the Troubleshooting section of WP Rocket’s documentation if you run into trouble.
If all is well, run the performance tests again to see how much faster your site runs with these settings enabled.
With WP Rocket, you can optimize media by enabling lazy loading for images and videos.
Lazy loading prevents media from being loaded until the user scrolls to them. This can improve site performance, especially for sites that produce longform content.
To enable this feature, check Enable for Images and Enable for iFrames and Videos. Enable the YouTube option if you use a lot of YouTube videos on your site.
The Disable Emoji option should be checked by default. I recommend leaving it checked. It doesn’t remove emojis. It simply improves site performance by enabling your user’s browser emojis instead of pulling them from your WordPress installation.
Check the WordPress Embeds option to prevent other sites from embedding your content, a process that eats at your own site’s bandwidth.
Click Save Changes, and run your performance tests again.
Optimize the WordPress Database
Most sites optimize the WordPress database manually or with a plugin. Fortunately, this feature is built directly into WP Rocket. It improves site performance by allowing you to remove files you no longer need but are stored in the WordPress database.
I recommend checking every option except Auto Drafts to prevent any posts or pages you’re currently working on from being deleted. Click Optimize to optimize the database immediately.
I recommend enabling the scheduling feature and setting the frequency to at least one week.
As you see, WP Rocket is one of the easiest caching plugins to set up. It’s also one of the most expansive in terms of the features it offers and how much it’s able to optimize your site.
If you followed this tutorial but are still on the fence about WP Rocket, check out our other posts in this series: