Improving site speed with W3 Total Cache on a Shared Server

GTmetrix results after installing W3 Total cache

I am currently developing a WordPress website for a Equine Breakdown company. The site features an eCommerce shop powered by WooCommerce.  This enables customers to purchase breakdown cover online, and pay using payPal or by Direct Debit.

When launched the site will run on a Virtual Private Server, but in the meantime I am developing it in a test server environment on a Shared Server.

It is slow. Very slow. I have used two very useful on-line tools to analyse it for speed as a benchmark before I make any changes.:

Google PageSpeed Insights forms part of the Google Developers toolkit and “measures the performance of a page  for mobile devices and desktop devices.

The PageSpeed Score ranges from 0 to 100 points. A higher score is better and a score of 85 or above indicates that the page is performing well.”

At the outset this site scores 34% and 42% respectively.

GTmetrix is a free tool that analyses a page’s speed performance. Using Page Speed and YSlow, it generates scores and offers suggestions about methods of optimising the website to improve performance.

The site achieves a speed rating of 49% (Grade F) and a YSlow rating of 72% (grade C).

It is running a Child Theme based on the Quark starter theme created by Anthony Hortin. I haven’t undertaken a benchmark speed test of the theme itself.  However some web-based research indicates that the theme itself is relatively fast and as such is unlikely to be the cause of the speed issues. The demo theme at achieves PageSpeed Insight scores of 71% and 90% for mobile and desktop respectively and 89% (B) and 82% (B) for Page Speed and Yslow at GTmetrix. While these figures fail to take into account many factors such as server speed they do not flag up any major causes for concern.

There are 21 plugins installed on the site in total, 16 of which are active including Jetpack. This is likely to be the major cause of it’s speed issues.

First step in resolving the issue is to install and activate a 22nd plugin: W3 Total Cache.  I will be configuring the plugin according to the guidelines outlined in an excellent and comprehensive article on Tuts+ entitled Configuring W3 Total Cache. The second and third parts of the article outline the recommended settings for a shared server environment, and I have followed these.

A new set of speed tests now gives the following results:

PageSpeed Insights reports scores of 59 and 52 for mobile and desktop – an improvement of 25/100 and 10/100 points respectively.  More importantly the site is now returning solid Grade B results on the GTmetrix tests, with a Page Speed grade of 89% and a Yslow grade of 83%. These are now equal to, or better than, the base theme results obtained earlier.

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