The success of any website depends on how it performs. Even if your design is beautiful and the layout of your website is highly functional, poor performance will quickly cause visitors to leave your website in search for a similar site that doesn’t take a long time to load. One metric that can be used to identify problem areas with the speed of your website is TTFB, which stands for “time to first byte”. Google refers to this metric as “waiting”. What this metric measures is how responsive a web server is. When this measurement takes place, you will be able to identify how much time occurs between the creation of a server connection and the downloading of page content.

To better understand time to first byte, keep in mind that connections to web servers occur through a multi-step process, which means that delays for the connection can take place at any stage of this process. If your website is affected by slowdown, it’s important that you detect why this slowdown is occurring. TTFB allows you to identify possible weak points that are present within the connection process. Once you know when these delays occur in the process, you can make the necessary changes and alterations that will improve connection speeds.

Keep in mind that TTFB differs from measuring tools like Google PageSpeed. While Google PageSpeed is able to measure load speeds for a website, obtaining a good score with Google PageSpeed doesn’t mean that your site performance will rank well with Google. On the other hand, a low TTFB does correlate with search rankings, which is why using TTFB to measure the performance of your website can be highly effective at helping you improve site speeds and search rankings.

If you’re trying to identify the ideal TTFB time, any number that falls below 100ms is considered to be a great TTFB. However, the majority of websites fall in the 300-500ms range, which is still acceptable for most users. If you want your business to be ahead of the competition, it’s recommended that you use TTFB to improve connection speeds until they fall under 100ms. The three key actions that TTFB is impacted by include sending a request to a server, processing a request to generate a response, and delivering the response back to the primary user. This article offers a comprehensive guide on TTFB and what you can do to improve the performance on your website.

What Affects Time to First Byte Times?

Time to first byte times

As mentioned previously, there are three separate stages of a connection that affect the time to first byte, which include requesting an action to a server, generating and processing a response, and sending the generated response back to the initial client.

Requesting An Action

The first action involves making a request to a server. At this point, TTFB will measure the exact amount of time that it takes for the server to obtain the request, which can depend on the exact distance to a server, the total time it takes to conduct a DNS lookup, the overall speed of the client’s network, and potential interruptions with the connection. A DNS lookup is a kind of query that the server performs to obtain a DNS record. Keep in mind that you have no actual control with this aspect of TTFB. The strength of the connection between the client and the internet will dictate how long it takes for the server to obtain the request.

Processing a Response

The next stage of this process involves generating and processing a response to the request. Whenever a server obtains a request, a response must be made. Although a response is usually generated quickly, generating a response involves many smaller processes that include communicating with additional network systems, running web scripts, and making database calls. At this point, it’s possible for a website to reduce TTFB measurements, which can be done through optimizing your server-side code, enhancing hardware resources, and caching web pages.

Sending Back the Generated Response

The third and final stage of the process involves the response being sent back to the initial client. This step depends on the connection speed that your company has as well as the client’s connection speed. The second that the client receives even a small amount of data, the TTFB measurement will begin. Nearly 40 percent of a TTFB measurement occurs when a response is transmitted to the user.

What Slows Your Time to First Byte?

slow time to first byte

There are numerous things that can slow your time to first byte, which can worsen your site performance and cause visitors to leave in droves. The four primary causes of a slow time to first byte include:

  • High web traffic – If your website is receiving high amounts of traffic, the time to first byte may worsen significantly when users attempt to access your website. Servers are only able to handle a certain number of requests before they begin to slow down. If you’ve ever used a website in the past that has taken an inordinate amount of time to load, it’s likely that the slowdown was caused by high amounts of traffic attempting to access the website at the same time. This problem can be solved by increasing the number of servers that your website has access to.
  • Network issues – Network issues are common and can occur even if you’ve optimized the performance on your website. Some of the more common network issues that can slow the time to first byte include DNS problems, IP address exhaustion, and slow internet performance.
  • Dynamic content – There are many different forms of content that can adversely affect the time to first byte. These content types include the database speed, RAM usage, disk speed, disk usage, and database setup.
  • Configuration of the server – How the server is configured can also dictate the TTFB measurement that you obtain. For instance, shared servers can have worse TTFB times. Database settings and PHP/ASP settings may also be the cause of a slow TTFB.

While it’s difficult to resolve slowdown that’s caused by network issues or high site traffic, making improvements to the server configuration and dynamic content may result in a better TTFB.

Ways to Improve Your Time to First Byte

When you want to improve your time to first byte, there are a range of steps that you can take. If you want to reduce the time to first byte, some of the best practices that you should adhere to include:

  • Partner with a quick web host – If you partner with a web host that’s known for great speeds, your site shouldn’t be experiencing high TTFB measurements. This option is ideal for smaller businesses that don’t require an extensive and feature-rich website.
  • Consider using a CDN – Content delivery networks work by using global servers in order to provide static content at faster rates, which should automatically improve the TTFB for your website. Because of how a CDN work, network latency is effectively reduced as a result of users being able to obtain content from nearby servers. A content delivery network is ideal for larger businesses and eCommerce sites that have worldwide reach.
  • Purchase premium DNS services – When selecting a hosting service for your website, you might want to spend some extra money to purchase a premium DNS service. The majority of hosting providers offer this service as an add-on. This move should only be considered if your other efforts to improve the TTFB have failed or haven’t produced the results that you’re looking for.
  • Make sure that your themes and plugins are updated – Themes and plugins that haven’t been updated in a long time are commonly the cause of slowdown with a website. The best developers will update their plugins/themes for better performance, which will allow your TTFB to improve over an extended period of time.

Where to Check Your Time to Byte

If you want to check your time to first byte, there are several tools that you can use to perform these measurements. The most effective tools include:

Bytecheck

This is a straightforward tool that provides a simple TTFB report alongside data points and information that you can use to improve the TTFB for your website. This tool will also provide you with a TTFB rating, which could be anything from 0-5 stars.

KeyCDN

This is a kind of performance tester that looks at numerous components of site performance to determine what types of improvements can be made. While several different plans are available if you would like to purchase the tool, you can also sign up for a free trial. Along with the TTFB measurement, this tool will also provide you with TLS, connect, and DNS measurements.

WebPageTest

This is a comprehensive program that provides site owners with many options for testing site performance. For instance, it’s possible to run the TTFB test by device or by location. The test can also be performed on different browsers like Mozilla and Chrome. It’s possible that a specific browser is causing the slowdown with the TTFB measurements that you receive.

Site speed is integral to the ongoing success of your business, which is why it’s essential that you optimize your TTFB. Both the users and site owners benefit from a better TTFB. For the user, a lower TTFB means that they will have a better user experience, which means that they will be less likely to become frustrated when navigating your website. As for the site owner, businesses obtain better customer retention and engagement when a TTFB is lowered. A reduced TTFB means that visitors to your website are less likely to switch to another site because of slow loading.

As touched upon previously, your TTFB can also play a part in the search rankings that you receive. If your TTFB is high, Google may penalize your website, which could result in lower rankings and less visibility for your site. Along with search rankings, TTFB is important because nearly 40 percent of all site visitors will leave a website that takes longer than three seconds to fully load, which is why a top goal for your business should be to optimize TTFB results.

Bryan Miller of Bryt Designs Long Beach Web Design, Development, & SEO
Author
Bryan Miller

Bryan Miller is an entrepreneur and web enthusiast specializing in web design, development and digital marketing. He is a recent graduate of the MBA program at the University of California, Irvine. Feel free to send Bryan a message here.

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