State of the Web : Web Caching

Mar 21, 2014 | SEO, Websites

iMac with website pages

Modern web development is becoming increasingly about page speed. When search engines index your site, they are looking for good usability, great content, and fast loading times. If your website isn’t optimized for faster page speeds, you may start falling behind competitors. One of the best methods of speeding up your pages is caching.

Caching is a very general term. It refers to temporarily storing data (images, files, etc.) for quicker access and thus faster load times. This can be accomplished through a variety of means. For example, your browser often stores resources from websites that you visit. This allows your computer to load the page faster by loading content from your browser’s cache instead of requesting it from the server repeatedly. In most cases, this is great—but if something is broken on a webpage, the error may have been cached in your browser even though it’s been corrected on the server.

Good web development practice involves setting caching expiration dates. If a user visits your new website, his browser will cache data as instructed by your server. Expiration dates tell the browser to hold onto the cached resources for a specified amount of time. Once a resource reaches its expiration, your browser tosses it out like old milk and grabs the current copy the next time you visit the site. Search engines take browser caching very seriously, and not taking advantage of expirations can hurt your search results.

While browser caching is probably the better-known form of caching, servers are capable of caching as well. Server caching is usually reserved for highly trafficked, content-heavy websites. In such cases, a proxy server is often used. When a user visits a website, his browser normally pulls down the page, which requests images, files, etc. from the server. It in turn requests information from the database. This happens every time a user visits a page, minus what resources their browser may have stored. Similarly, a caching proxy makes all these requests, but then stores all the data as a static webpage, cutting back on file and database requests, and passes the condensed file on to the user.

There are other methods of server caching. However, the additional costs related to server caching more than offset the benefits for an average small-business website. While page speed is playing a larger part in web development, browser caching will more than likely meet your website’s needs.

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