WP Rocket is the most popular premium caching plugin for WordPress, and W3 Total Cache is the most popular free caching plugin for WordPress. In this article, we pitch the two head to head to find out which one you should use for your WordPress site.
In a Nutshell: Comparison Table
If you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick comparison table:
Free Version Available?
What Is Caching?
We’ve written extensively about what caching is and how it works before, so we won’t delve into the details here. But effectively, it’s a way of “saving your site,” so the generated pages are available quicker than having to be built each time they are requested by your visitors.
If you’re interested in the mechanics of how caching works, take a read of our ultimate guide to WordPress caching plugins.
WP Rocket is a premium-only caching plugin, launched in 2013 it quickly established itself as the go-to solution for people who are serious about their website speed.
With a beautifully designed interface, comprehensive documentation, and fantastic support, it’s clear to see how WP Rocket became so popular.
After all, WP Rocket was created out of a need. See, there were already countless WordPress caching plugins on the market when WP Rocket launched, they weren’t the first.
Yet they were different, different how? They are customer-focused, focusing on great support and ease of use. Where many other caching plugins seemed to like to play a game called “who can build the most confusing plugin,” WP Rocket took a step back, simplified the process, and helped users of all abilities build stunningly fast websites.
Today WP Rocket powers over 900,000 websites into the stratosphere, boosting the speed of WordPress websites around the world with rocket fuel and making the end-users experience a breeze.
W3 Total Cache is one of the most popular free caching plugins for WordPress. Initially launched in 2010 it quickly established itself as one of the best caching plugins for WordPress, although drama was to prevail.
As a whole W3 Total Cache has always been a marmite plugin, you either love it or hate it. With a wide array of options, it can be confusing to those less technical users.
There’s been drama in recent years with at one point the project looking like it was abandoned by its one and only developer, with support requests going unanswered and paid for work not done.
All that’s in the past now, though. W3 Total Cache was acquired by BoldGrid, who has dedicated the time and resources needed to get the plugin back on track.
Today W3 Total Cache powers over a million websites, improving their website speed for free.
Who’s the Target Audience?
Targeted towards the entrepreneur, the website owner that wants to supercharge their website with minimal hassle. The person who wants everything to go perfectly and be assured that expert support is waiting should it not.
The developers who need an easy-to-use solution for clients that can be set up quickly and yet powerful enough to cache what is required and exclude what isn’t.
Overall while WP Rocket is targeted at these main groups, in our opinion, it’s suitable for all, from beginners to experts, entrepreneurs to large multinational companies, and everyone in between.
W3 Total Cache
In our opinion, W3 Total Cache is much more developer-oriented with a wide array of options and settings, it certainly isn’t as simple to use as something like WP Rocket.
It doesn’t mean you can’t use it as a small business owner, in fact, you’re more likely to! (After all, it is free), but it does take more time and patience to set up than something like WP Rocket.
So overall, while anyone can use it, we’d be inclined to recommend WP Rocket for less technically inclined users as it packs all the power and yet not as much complexity.
WP Rocket vs. W3 Total Cache: Feature Showdown
In this section, we take a look at the features that make an excellent caching plugin and compare the offerings in both WP Rocket and W3 Total Cache, declaring a winner in each section.
Remember this is our opinion only!
WP Rocket vs. W3 Total Cache: Caching Methods
As we’ve covered in our other caching articles that are a range of caching methods available, including:
- Browser Caching
- Page Caching
- Database Caching
WP Rocket Caching Methods
As you’d expect from one of the best caching plugins for WordPress, WP Rocket comes with two of the most essential caching options, page caching and browser caching.
One thing WP Rocket doesn’t include is Database caching, this is both a positive and a negative, we know an oxymoron right?
Well, let’s break it down. Implemented correctly database caching undoubtedly speeds up your website. However, it’s not something that is easy to set up correctly, and because of this, it often requires a developer specializing in databases to get it done.
So while it’s a negative, the option isn’t included; in all likelihood, it isn’t for the average person to implement, and as such, it can be a negative if it was included as it introduces a level of complexity to set it up.
W3 Total Cache Caching Methods
W3 Total cache also offers a couple of different caching methods, although it doesn’t provide browser caching, which is one of the main ways to speed up your WordPress website.
Yet despite this in our recent tests where we compared 15 WordPress caching plugins, it performed the best out of them all and still made our site faster than any other caching plugin, including WP Rocket! 😱
So what caching methods does W3 Total Cache offer? It offers both page caching and database caching, ah yes, the fabled database caching method mentioned earlier.
While it does introduce a layer of complexity to the setup, you don’t have to use it, and because of this, it’s not a real negative and is neither a particular positive (as many won’t make use of it).
Winner? It’s a draw, while both are lacking some of the options, and it is a negative that W3 Total Cache doesn’t offer a browser caching option, the speed results offset this.
WP Rocket vs. W3 Total Cache: Database Optimization
Optimizing your WordPress database is crucial to keeping a fast-running site, a bloated database not only slows down the front-end of your website but also the admin side, often making it painfully slow to update your website.
While database optimization isn’t a feature synonymous with WordPress caching plugins, it’s a feature that some do offer.
WP Rocket includes a range of database optimization options including:
- Auto Drafts.
- Trashed Posts.
- Spam Comments.
- Trashed Comments.
- Expired Transients.
- All Transients.
- Optimize Tables.
- Schedule Automatic Cleanup.
These options allow you to quickly and easily clean up your database in just a click! Saving you time, and as you know here at Astra, we’re a big fan of tools that make your website fast and save you time. After all, that’s why we built Astra.
There are no database optimization options in W3 Total Cache, meaning that you’d need to use a separate plugin to optimize your WordPress database.
Winner: WP Rocket!
WP Rocket vs. W3 Total Cache: Minification and Concatenation
Minification is where any unnecessary space and code are removed from your plugin and theme files. It’s a bit technical, so let’s take a look at a quick example:
<?php /** * This is an example of a comment in PHP code. * Developers use this to document why they are doing something within the code * and what the code is. * */ echo 'Hello World'; ?>
Now there’s a lot of spacing here, right? Minification takes the above code and does this:
<?php echo 'Hello World'; ?>
In short, it removes any comments within the code and eliminates any spacing that isn’t actually required. See spacing is only used for readability, it isn’t needed to run the code.
Concatenation is combining multiple files of one type into one file, minimizing requests/the number of files needing to be loaded.
For example, your theme at a minimum will have a style.css file, but it may also have header.css, footer.css, and other CSS files.
Concatenation will combine those four CSS files into just a single CSS file, taking the number of requests from 4 to 1.
If you’d like to learn more about minification and concatenation, check out our ultimate guide to WordPress caching.
Out of the box WP Rocket includes both minification and concatenation for your WordPress site.
WP Rocket makes it easy to set these options with a few clicks. Keep in mind, though, as we’ve mentioned in our other WordPress caching articles that after enabling minification and combining files, you may run into conflicts with your site.
You should always test changes after performing them, take a backup before implementing any changes, and WP Rocket makes it simple to exclude files from being minified or combined.
W3 Total Cache also offers both minification and concatenation of files.
And just like WP Rocket, it’s easy to use and even includes extra functionality such as HTTP/2 push.
While moving render-blocking code to the body of the web page to improve the page speed score is reserved for the Pro version of W3 Total Cache, there’s still an extraordinary amount of functionality for a free plugin.
Winner? It’s a close call, both WP Rocket and W3 Total Cache both offer a similar feature set for minification and combining files, however as they are so closely matched and W3 Total Cache is free this round we’re giving to W3 Total Cache!
WP Rocket vs. W3 Total Cache: CDN Compatibility
A CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a series of servers that are located all around the world. Your assets are saved to these servers, and then the CDN serves your website’s assets from the server closest to your end-user.
By serving assets from a server closer to your end-user, you drastically reduce network latency.
While this is an overall technical concept, you can learn more about CDNs both in our WordPress speed up course and in our WordPress Caching guide, both of which give a more in-depth insight into how this works with real-world examples.
W3 Total Cache has a comprehensive set of features for CDN compatibility.
Not only does it work with CDNs, but it actively lets you set what is hosted at the CDN including:
- WordPress Core files.
- Theme files.
- Minified CSS and JS files.
- Custom Files — you can set a custom list of files to also upload to your CDN including images, and any other files you want.
The CDN functionality of W3 Total Cache is both fully featured and very easy to use. While at first you may be overwhelmed with the options available, it’s simple to set up and works perfectly.
WP Rocket, on the other hand, supports all CDN providers but is actually more complex to set up and lacking in features when compared directly to W3 Total Cache.
As you can see from the screenshot above, it’s a much simpler interface as such but doesn’t offer the excellent tuned control or the easy setup of W3 Total Cache’s CDN options.
You can set which CDN CNAME should be used for which file type and also exclude files from the CDN, but this is the extent of the options provided by WP Rocket, and as such, it doesn’t always give everything you need.
Winner? W3 Total Cache due to the feature set provided, and the ease of use.
WP Rocket vs. W3 Total Cache: Multilingual Compatibility
Both WP Rocket and W3 Total Cache support multilingual WordPress plugins.
For W3 Total Cache, you’ll need the premium plugin version, and of course, WP Rocket is premium only.
W3 Total Cache only supports the popular WPML plugin, whereas WP Rocket supports WPML, Qtranslate, and Polylang.
Overall there’s not much difference between the two plugins when it comes to this apart from which plugin you already use to translate.
Winner? WP Rocket, because it’s compatible with more services, and there isn’t anything unique about the W3 Total Cache Multilingual compatibility that makes up for the lack of services/integrations.
WP Rocket vs. W3 Total Cache: Ease of Use
WP Rocket is incredibly easy to use out of the box, caching is enabled, and you don’t even need to do anything else if you don’t want (although you won’t achieve the best speed that way).
Options are kept to a minimum, and yet the plugin is still powerful and includes multiple caching types, database optimization, multilingual support, and much more.
The settings for each option are kept straightforward overall, except for the CDN settings, as we’ve covered above. This allows almost anyone to set up the plugin in a matter of minutes.
Remember, though, just because a caching plugin is easy to set up, it doesn’t mean that it won’t come without problems, not in the form of bugs. Rather websites are unique, and there can be issues when you enable options like minification and the combination of files.
So while there may be trial and error in setting up a caching plugin, it doesn’t; make that caching plugin “bad” or mean it’s not working.
W3 Total Cache isn’t as easy to use as WP Rocket, the interface isn’t as straightforward, and there’s a myriad of options, settings, buttons and interface elements that may not be that clear to all.
However, just like WP Rocket, W3 Total Cache is an incredibly powerful caching plugin that offers multiple caching types, comprehensive CDN support, multilingual support, and more!
Due to the number of options for each setting for each option, it’ll take you longer to set up than WP Rocket, although we’re not talking hours, just if you like to go through each one and learn about what it does, then it’ll definitely take you longer.
Winner? WP Rocket, the clear and easy to use interface, straightforward settings, and powerful functionality make it a winner. While W3 Total Cache is a worthy adversary in this round, the outdated interface isn’t a match for that of WP Rocket.
WP Rocket vs. W3 Total Cache: Support and Documentation
It’s not secret WP Rocket pride themselves on their top-notch support, they offer great support from their in-house team and are intimately familiar with all nature of caching related issues and how to get the best out of the plugin for your site.
Combine the expert in house support expertise with passionate, knowledgeable staff, and you have the recipe for a great support experience.
Besides their expert support team, they also have an extensive Knowledge Base.
Their extensive range of documentation is also available directly from within the plugin, meaning you never have to leave your WordPress admin dashboard, pretty nifty, right?
W3 Total Cache, on the other hand, is distinctly lacking when it comes to any form of knowledge base and has a support system that leaves a lot to be desired.
So just what are the problems when it comes to W3 Total Cache and support?
For a start, there isn’t a knowledge base, there’s no documentation to speak off, and this makes an already difficult to use plugin thanks to its confusing user interface even more challenging to use for the beginner user.
Now when it comes to support, this is where things aren’t good at all. Everyone needs to make money, and we’re no exception here at Astra, but support is needed by people of various financial means, and unfortunately, W3 Total Caches’ support is expensive.
In the plugin admin settings there’s a support tab menu item, clicking that shows you the support form like this:
You can ask a billing question, a sales question, submit a bug report and finally suggest a new feature for free, but everything else is a paid option.
The two most troubling of which are:
- Hosting Environment Troubleshooting.
- Investigate Compatibility Issue.
These options cost $300 and $350, respectively, while both can be time-consuming this is the type of support most plugin authors provide either for free or with their premium plugins often starting from $30+.
To charge $350 for a compatibility issues means if you have one and can’t solve it yourself, we’d recommend using something else.
Now don’t get us wrong, we think W3 Total Cache is a great caching plugin. Available for free and with a comprehensive feature set, however, the lack of support options, expensive support and minimal/no documentation means that it may not be for everyone.
Winner? WP Rocket. WP Rocket is light years ahead in the support and documentation game when compared to W3 Total Cache, there really is no competition here.
WP Rocket vs. W3 Total Cache: Pricing
WP Rocket is available from just $49, which is for 1 website. $99 for 3 websites and $249 for unlimited websites.
All purchases give you expert support and one of the best caching plugins available for WordPress.
All WP Rocket licenses can be renewed annually with a 30% discount off the first year price.
W3 Total Cache is $99/year and renews annually, this is a per website price, and there are no discounts for renewal.
Another downside of the W3 Total Cache pricing is their somewhat confusing support model, which we outlined above, combined with the fact that customers can’t cancel their own license! Instead, you have to email the W3 Total Cache team to cancel your license.
Winner? WP Rocket, we’re not fans of requiring a customer to email to cancel their license in W3 Total Cache. Combine this with the fact that WP Rocket offers a discount on renewals, and this is one of the easiest decisions all day.
WP Rocket vs. W3 Total Cache: Speed
When it comes down to it, the thing that everyone uses a caching plugin for is improving their website speed.
We did a fresh install of WordPress. Installed the blazingly fast Astra theme, and set up a demo website using Astra Starter sites.
We then installed the caching plugin, run multiple speed tests, and took the median value. After this, we wiped the website and re-installed everything in precisely the same way for testing the second plugin.
The test server itself is running PHP 7.3, and we’re using the latest version of WordPress and the respective plugins.
We set up a basic configuration with each plugin and spent no more than 15 minutes, setting each plugin up.
Before we installed the caching plugins, our demo website loaded in 3.1 seconds, had a page size of 916KB, and 69 requests.
Here are our speed results for WP Rocket:
And here are our speed results for W3 Total Cache:
As you can see, WP Rocket produces fewer requests and smaller page size, but W3 Total Cache makes our website significantly quicker than WP Rocket does.
Winner? W3 Total Cache the numbers speak for themselves.
WP Rocket vs. W3 Total Cache: Overall Winner
Both plugins are worthy of your website, but ultimately any contest can only have one winner.
And with more tinkering of the settings and other speed-up methods, we’re confident WP Rocket would provide similar results.
Given the high price and the downsides we’ve mentioned, our winner is… WP Rocket!
WP Rocket is one of the best caching plugins for WordPress there is, although it’s premium only, if you ask just one support ticket it’ll still be far cheaper than the “free” W3 Total Cache if you need support.
This isn’t to say W3 Total Cache isn’t a great plugin, it certainly is, but ultimately the extensive documentation and world-class support by the WP Rocket team won it for them.
Have you used these two caching plugins before? Perhaps you have a preferred caching plugin that isn’t mentioned? Let us know in the comments below.
And while we have you here, don’t forget to check out our WordPress speed-up course and the ultimate guide to WordPress caching.
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