If you’re a regular reader of the Audacity blog, you might remember that a couple of weeks ago, we looked at hosting and the sort of impact it has on your website.  

If you haven’t read that article yet, head over to part one and read through it as it has some very important topics that are critical for you to understand, including why your hosting environment is the most important factor in your website’s performance, and other key considerations for making your website function optimally.  

Keep your website updated  

When WordPress 5.5 was released, it introduced automatic updates for plugins and themes. This was an excellent step forward to help maintain websites without intervention from site administrators. When plugins and themes update, it isn’t always to fix bugs. Sometimes, updates are released that bring game-changing performance upgrades just like Elegant Themes did with Divi 4.10 in August of last year. 

However, automatic updates aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes updates will break parts of your website. That is why you should always give your website a look over at least every two weeks. Many hosts will even do this for you, usually included in an “Advanced Support” package. That said, make sure they are doing the work. They should provide you with before and after reports. 

Now, plugins and themes aside, one of the most important updates you need to make is your PHP version. Make sure your server’s PHP is updated to the latest version for your website. PHP 7.4 will only receive security updates until November 28th of this year. If you are running a version older than that, such as 5.6, you MUST update your website as you are vulnerable to attacks. 

If your website can run PHP 8.1, you need to update it. PHP 8.0 brought some big changes to PHP, which brought a few issues to sites with older plugins or themes. However, it introduced many new features along with a sizable speed upgrade. Just know that updating may take down your website. At that point, you have to make a choice: do you live with the potential risk of attacks, or do you build a new site? (If it’s the latter, we’re certainly available to help!)  

What’s a Web Cache?  

A web cache is a sort of snapshot of your website. When you load a WordPress website page, it first needs to contact the database and retrieve the information about the page you requested. Then, it needs to process it to be compatible with your browser, and finally, the page is displayed. These steps eat up processing time. This isn’t that big of a deal for one user, but the problem scales exponentially as more users visit your site. 

The cache is a premade version of the page you are requesting. If nothing has changed on the page, why bother the database for a new version? You can send the same version to each visitor and save an enormous amount of processing time. 

A web cache alone won’t solve all your problems, but it will give you an advantage over a competitor who isn’t running any caching software. 

Okay, I need a cache. But what software do I use?  

Like hosting, there are endless solutions for this. We will cover a few of our favorites at a basic level and then expand on them in a future blog.  

  • WP Rocket 
    • WP Rocket is our favorite paid caching software. Compatible with a wide variety of themes such as Divi, WP Rocket is incredibly fast and reliable. It makes it easy to set up and fix when things go wrong. They also have great support for complex issues. 
  • WP Total Cache 
    • This is our favorite free caching plugin. It strikes a perfect balance of compatibility: while it’s a bit more daunting to set up than WP Rocket, it’s less likely to have compatibility issues since so much of the focus is in that area. 
  • LiteSpeed WebCache 
    • This is our favorite caching plugin overall. The only downside is this plugin only works best when installed on a LiteSpeed Web Server. If you aren’t running that, you are severely limited in functionality. However, if you are, you can turn even the slowest themes into blazing fast sites. 
    • LiteSpeed WebCache has an insane amount of detail and features. It also includes QUIC.cloud CDN, which we’ll briefly cover in the next section. 
    • Additionally, LiteSpeed WebCache includes a superior image compressor and placeholder system. 
    • We will be covering LiteSpeed WebCache and its advantages in a future post. 

What is a CDN?  

A CDN is what’s known as a ‘Content Delivery Network’. To summarize, it takes a cached version of your website and copies it to caching servers worldwide. If your website is static, meaning no live updates or changing content, users can just browse your site on the server closest to their location. This drastically reduces the load on your web server and can even make more budget-oriented hosting providers reasonable. 

As always, there are many options available. Here are our three favorites. 

  • StackPath CDN 
    • StackPath CDN is a paid CDN that can handle some of the largest enterprise clients. It is a little more difficult to set up than most, but once you have it in place, it drastically reduces the load on your server. 
  • Cloudflare 
    • Over 15% of the internet’s traffic runs through Cloudflare. You probably already know their name due to the staggering number of enterprise clients that use them, such as Shopify, Discord, WP Engine, Wikipedia, and much much more. 
    • They have “always free” plans which offer their powerful CDN, along with their highly secure network, and their fantastic domain hosting. They are an excellent choice from budget to enterprise. 
  • QUIC.cloud 
    • Finally, our personal favorite, QUIC.cloud. Quic.cloud runs on LiteSpeed WebCache and makes it incredibly easy to get your site’s CDN setup and running. While they do have paid plans, most hosts provide it for free. That said, QUIC.cloud will run on any web server. You are not locked to LiteSpeed WebServer. However, you will still need to install the LiteSpeed WebCache plugin to utilize it. 
    • QUIC.Cloud offers incredibly detailed control of how your traffic is processed. You can lock out certain countries and IPs before they even get to your site, scan users for malicious intent or even have them complete a captcha before proceeding. 
    • Finally, QUIC.cloud offers dynamic caching. Dynamic caching allows you to modify a normal static cache while the user is browsing. So instead of having to load the whole page from scratch when a page updates, only the content that updated gets pulled in, leaving everything that was unchanged in its original state. This makes it a very powerful CDN for sites that commonly serve dynamic content, such as blogs and news sites. 
    • We will take a deep dive into QUIC.cloud CDN and how to set it up with LiteSpeed WebCache in a future post. 

To summarize, here are our big takeaways:  

  • Hosting is the keystone for your website’s performance.  
  • Server software does impact the performance of your website. You should look for software like LiteSpeed WebCache if you want a simple way to speed things up. 
  • And finally, we touched on caching, CDN’s, and image optimization. 

Next, we’ll jump into a detailed tutorial. We’ll cover LiteSpeed WebCache, QUIC.cloud CDN, and automated image optimization in full detail. Plus, we’ll cover the most important settings to test and eventually how to troubleshoot any issues with caching. 

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