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Some time ago, I got a copy of WP Rocket from the guys that developed it in order to test it and write a review about it. I was curious what this paid WordPress cache plugin has to offer in comparison with other free plugins out there, some of them very popular and used by lots of developers.

What’s the main functionality of a WordPress cache plugin?

WP caching plugins, either free or commercial, have the purpose of making the webpages load faster by:

  • Caching pages into HTML ones (so they could be read without parsing the PHP code and make queries to the database)
  • Minifying and concatenating (not such a recommended practice in HTTP/2, but still used a lot in HTTP/1) .CSS and .JS files
  • Optimize CSS delivery by eliminating render-blocking CSS on your website for faster perceived load time (aka: Critical CSS).
  • GZIP compressing the HTML pages
  • Being compatible with Content Delivery Networks in order to serve assets (images and other files) from other servers (that are often closer to the location of the person loading the website, thus taking less time to download).
  • Minifying HTML (e.g. removing whitespace and comments to reduce the total size of the source code)

These are only a few of the features that are included in a caching plugin. As much as I enjoy working with WordPress, being a developer myself, we all know how notoriously slow it can be sometimes if not optimized properly. Thus, all these caching plugins were developed.

Is it worth paying for a cache plugin when there are other ones out there free of charge?

In the beginning, I thought that this looks like a waste of money and wondered why would someone pay for a cache plugin when there are lots of other ones that can be found for free out there and are very powerful. However, I was having the mindset of a developer that spends time downloading plugins, check their code quality, tweak what needs to be tweaked and then happily use them without thinking of the premium options out there.

The plugin went through lots of updates in the past years (in average, a few updates per month) and comes with a very simple and intuitive interface which makes it easier to configure and it’s less likely that you will mess up something on your website ;-). I’ve been using W3 Total Cache on my websites. It’s a good plugin, I would recommend it, but it takes you a while to understand it, especially if you’re not a developer. Plus, you don’t have fast support in case something goes wrong. You need to fix things yourself and since many people pay for convenience, an investment of $49 doesn’t seem much to save yourself time and other headaches.

Is WP Rocket’s default caching options the best for basic websites?

Although having the basic/default settings won’t give you the best performance, they will prevent you from messing up something on your website which is an advantage if you’re not a developer and don’t want to spend time tweaking it. Whatever caching plugin you’re using (free or paid), you have to go to the plugin’s settings and keep updating the options until you will get the optimal setup (e.g. minifying all JavaScript files into one could break something and you might have errors in the front-end. Thus, you can only minify the CSS files or minify the JavaScript ones into more than one file, which WP Rocket already does).

What would be the reasons for investing in this plugin?

Having excellent customer support & documentation
We all know how important this is. You get stuck with something and you need to handle it relatively quickly. That’s when you look into the documentation or ask for help. I found the service from WP Rocket to be very professional and they are quick in replying to support tickets that are answered Monday to Saturday during normal business hours.

Easy to use & configure
The Dashboard of this cache plugin can be accessed on “Settings” -> “WP Rocket” and it comes with a vertical navigation tab menu that allows you to quickly access the options you need. On the right side, you have useful links towards the documentation as well as a help icon that will expand whenever you need any assistance or click on some links that require an explanation about a certain feature.

Caches slow loading files that require a load of the WP environment
There are plugins/themes that still load their code (e.g. the CSS one) dynamically by calling a PHP file like this: /wp-content/plugins/plugin-slug-here/style.php?load_custom_css=[value_here] – This kind of approach is a bad practice and often requires the load of the WP environment to fetch it. Not only it delays the rendering of the page (if it’s render-blocking in the HEAD section of the website, and it most cases it is), but also it can lead to a lot of CPU usage for that website if it gets a lot of visitors every time a cached page is loaded that is requesting the code from style.php. WP Rocket is one of the few solutions out there that is taking care of this and creates a separate static file that is filled with the CSS content generated from the style.php dynamic file. The call will be made to a file such as /wp-content/cache/style-custom.css which will obviously not trigger any PHP code and database queries to fetch the styling rules.

Developer Friendly
WP Rocket follows the WordPress standards and is very well organized. Moreover, it has plenty of hooks that you can use which is great as you don’t have to touch the plugin directly in case you need to make changes (in general, it’s always best to make the changes you need without touching the WordPress plugins). The plugin uses extensively the apply_filters() function for many of its settings and output within the Dashboard. Through the add_filter() function (e.g. to be used in functions.php within your theme), you can alter the values of the settings in any way you wish.

Any disadvantages?

The only one I could think of is the actual price rise. The Single license is now $49 (from $39), while the price for the Unlimited license raised from $199 to $249. There are ways to get discounts such as signing up to their newsletter which will give you a 10% off if you feel the price is too high. One of the things they promised was a better service for the extra cost, so we’ll see in the next months how that will go. Right now, it’s too early to tell.

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