Reduce TTFB on Your WordPress Website

Authored By: James LePage
Published On: May 4, 2020

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What Is It?

This audit report reports Time to First Byte, the time that it takes for a user's browser to receive the first byte of page content:

Addressing this is one of the most impactful fixes you can implement, and will drastically speed your site loading time.

Why Does It Display?

This audit fails when the browser waits more than 600 ms for the server to respond to the main document request. Users dislike when pages take a long time to load. Slow server response times are one possible cause for long page loads.

When users navigate to a URL in their web browser, the browser makes a network request to fetch that content. Your server receives the request and returns the page content.

The server may need to do a lot of work in order to return a page with all of the content that users want. For example, if users are looking at their order history, the server needs to fetch each user's history from a database, and then insert that content into the page.

Optimizing the server to do work like this as quickly as possible is one way to reduce the time that users spend waiting for pages to load.

How Do You Fix It?

The first step to improving server response times is to identify the core conceptual tasks that your server must complete in order to return page content, and then measure how long each of these tasks takes. Once you've identified the longest tasks, search for ways to speed them up.

There are many possible causes of slow server responses, and therefore many possible ways to improve:

  • Optimize the server's application logic to prepare pages faster. If you use a server framework, the framework may have recommendations on how to do this.
  • Optimize how your server queries databases, or migrate to faster database systems.
  • Upgrade your server hardware to have more memory or CPU.

95% of the time, this audit fails because your WordPress site is using budget/shared hosting. 

Shared hosting has limited resources, which must be shared by multiple website installations. It may work well for a few customers and page views, but as you grow, you will very quickly run into the limitations that are imposed by sharing resources with other customers. By using a faster host, you can see a 20% decrease (or more) in TTFB globally, and a 32% decrease in TTFB across the United States and Canada (this is according to a study by Kinsta).

Our agency recommends Cloudways as a host for your WordPress site. It’s blazingly fast, has its own CDN solution, and allows you to host your site on multiple server providers, like AWS, DigitalOcean, Google Cloud… Even if you’re not technical, it only takes three clicks to have a functioning, managed WordPress installation.

Another option is WPEngine, which is similar to Cloudways. It costs a bit more, but you also get quicker support. What matters more with a web host is that it’s quick, not shared with anyone, and scalable. By using premium solutions like Cloudways and WPEngine, you’ll be able to instantly reduce your TTFB (and probably pass that audit simply by implementing a new host).

Using a local host is important too. Typically, premium providers like Cloudways allow you to choose from multiple locations. If the majority of your traffic comes from LA, then you’ll want to run your site from servers based in California instead of New York. 

Another thing to check is your PHP version. If you’re on a good host, you’ll probably be running the most recent version of PHP, but it never hurts to check. The most recent versions of PHP are always the fastest. For example, moving from PHP 7.2 to 7.3 can result in a 15% decrease in request processing time.

Other things you can look at are as follows:

  • Implement a caching system like WPRocket.
  • Use a premium DNS Provider
    • Here’s NameCheap’s free DNS speed:
  • Compared with Amazon’s Route53 DNS:
  • Amazon, the more premium product, is 300% faster. 
  • You can also implement database caching, Disk IO, Swap usage, RAM, PHP settings, MySQL settings, network settings, TLS overhead... But keep in mind, these will only cut off, at best, milliseconds. For the time you'd need to invest in implementing these strategies, the outcome isn't really worth it.

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James LePage is the founder of Isotropic Design, a digital agency that builds WordPress websites. I read, write and design constantly!

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