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Website Cache – How it Works & Why to Clear it

by Viktor Solovey

This post was written in partnership with BlogVault, a WordPress Backup Plugin Trusted by 400,000+ sites.

A great-looking but slow website is like a slow car. Nobody likes to sit in it, let alone, drive it. Likewise, online users do not want to visit or engage with a slow-loading website. In fact, studies show that if a website takes more than two seconds to load, they are more likely to abandon it and go elsewhere.

This is where website caching comes in. It can reduce your website loading time, and as a result, improve your site’s user experience and boost your conversions.

In this article, we demystify all things caching for you and tell you:

  • How website caching increases the loading speed
  • What the different types of caching are, and,
  • Why you should clear your cache

Let’s get started.

What is Website Caching?

To help understand this better, let’s break it down. A WordPress website contains various elements – the content, stylesheets, images, videos, and more. When a user visits your website, these elements are transmitted from your website server to their browser and then rendered by the browser. Each time the user visits the same page, this process is repeated. This is where caching comes in.

If caching is applied, during the first visit, these website content pieces are transmitted and then stored in the user’s device. So, the next time they open the same page, the browser checks if the content has been modified. If not, it loads the same content from the cache – instead of retrieving the static content from your website server. This makes the website load much faster.

How is Website Caching Useful?

Website caching is an efficient way of rendering webpage content instead of retrieving the content from the website server. Cached data is typically stored on a local computer or server, which is much faster to access than the remote website server.

Apart from efficiency, caching is also useful in improving the overall speed and performance of the website. By reducing their page loading time by a few seconds, websites can improve engagement, page views, and even conversions.

In fact, even Google’s search algorithm gives faster websites for higher SEO ranking, provided all other ranking factors are the same.

Next, let’s look at how website caching works in more detail.

How does Website Caching Work?

To understand the mechanism of website caching, let’s look at the steps involved when a user visits your website:

  1. Your visitor enters your website URL address on the browser
  2. Next, the browser requests for the required page content by sending an HTTP request to your web server
  3. Your web server receives the HTTP request and then processes it
  4. Your web server fetches the required content in HTML format and transmits them to the visitor’s device
  5. Finally, the visitor’s browser receives the transmitted data and processes them to display the web page

These five steps are repeated every time the visitor comes to the same website page. This process is time-consuming, and also consumes your web server resources as it has to process every HTTP request made to it.

Now, let’s see what happens when you have enabled caching on your website:

  1. Your visitor enters your website URL address on the browser
  2. The browser requests for the required page content by sending an HTTP request to your web server
  3. Your web server receives the HTTP requests and then checks if the same web page content has been requested recently by any other visitor. If yes, then it retrieves the cached content in the form of a static HTML file and sends it to every visitor – requesting for the same page
  4. The cached content is processed and displayed on every visitor’s browser

This process is repeated as long as there are no changes or modifications made on the requested web page. Thus, caching is more time-saving and efficient and puts a lesser load on your web server resources.

Worrying about what happens if the website page has been changed/modified? In that case, the old cached content is discarded and replaced with the latest content from the webpage.

Types of WordPress Cache

Now that we’ve covered the basics of caching, let’s understand how you can implement this on your WP sites in the following two ways:

  1. Server-side caching
  2. Client-side or browser caching

Server-side caching: This is the mechanism described in the steps above. In server-side caching, the cached content resides in a network layer between your web server and the user’s browser. This is the preferred form of caching for WordPress developers.

It also works efficiently for most types of content, including media files, stylesheets, web scripts, and HTML content. It is also preferred for large websites with large databases. In some forms of server-side caching, it could also store your static HTML files in your web server hard disk.

Client-side or Browser Caching: This caching mechanism happens closer to the user’s device or browser. It is a faster mode of caching – where the cached HTML content is stored in the user’s local disk or RAM.

On the flip side, browser cache can store only limited types of content like images, HTML content, and CSS files – all the rest needs to be stored on the server. Another known problem that WordPress users face is not being able to view refreshed page content – after modifying the website design or applying the latest updates.

This happens when the browser is unable to clear the browser cache and continues to show the outdated or cached content.
So, to avoid this scenario, let’s learn how you can clear your browser cache.

Why Should You Clear Your WordPress Cache?

Website caching is an optimal way to improve web page loading speed and provide visitors with a great browsing experience. Having said that, if your website content does not change or has new additions, online users are not likely to visit and engage on your website.

In short, you need to add more exciting content to your website – or keep improving its functionality.

Sometimes, website caching can become a hindrance to viewing fresh content or changes in the form of:

  • Website design changes include changes in the form of revamped branding, new product details, or a new WordPress theme.
  • New content, in the form of new blogs or articles, marketing videos, white papers, and industry case studies that can be of interest to new visitors.
  • Plugin/ theme updates include the installation of new plugins and themes or an updated version of an existing plugin or theme.
  • Database changes that include any database file changes or modifications in the database records (for example, customer data).
  • Website images, in the form of old and uncompressed images being shown on the live site – in place of new and optimized images that have been compressed by any WordPress plugin for image optimization.

If you are unable to see any or all of these changes on your website, it’s a good time to consider clearing your WordPress cache. The cache cleaning mechanism purges the existing cache content so that the new content can now be cached.

You can clear your cache manually or by caching plugins like WP Super Cache or WP Rocket. Easy to install on any WordPress site, these caching plugins are user-friendly and can improve your website loading speed through effective caching. They can also be used to clear your cache regularly.

Clearing your cache can cause some of your webpages to load slowly – hence it must be performed only if necessary. Additionally, remember to take a backup of your website and database before clearing your cache. For this, you could choose a backup plugin like BlogVault that automates the entire backup process for you.

Conclusion

Website caching is probably the easiest way to improve your page loading speed and reduce those vital few seconds in loading time that can spike up your website traffic and fetch you more revenue.

Besides faster loading, users also want to see new and updated content on any site. Failed caching can hinder this process by showing old or outdated content to users. For WP sites, we recommend that you use trusted caching plugins to implement secure caching and to clear the existing cached content.

Do you recommend website caching? How did it impact your site’s loading speed? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know your experiences in the comments below.

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