Time to First Byte Comparison of WordPress Hosting Companies

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Studies have shown that the search rankings are affected by how quickly the web pages load. The logic behind this is plain and simple: A website that does not perform well offers poor user experience, and websites with poor user experience do not deserve to be on the top. This means, if your website is not performing well, it not only annoys the customers and sends them away, it also affects your search rankings making it difficult for the customers to find you.

For those who just wants the results of our study, here are the results. Scroll down for the actual test.

Hosting Company

Time to First Byte

SiteGround 0.17s
A2 Hosting 0.14s
Web Hosting Hub 0.23s
Inmotion 0.23s
Bluehost 0.24s
Hostgator 0.83s

We decided to explore this further and tested the site performance of various web hosting companies using Time to First Byte (TTFB) as a parameter (we will discuss this in detail shortly). Before we share the results with you, we must understand why the results are important, what exactly TTFB is and how it can affect your search rankings.

Site performance: Time To First Byte and its Effect on Google Page rankings

Google uses a variety of factors to determine the page rankings. We are aware of most of these factors such as the text, URL, headers, titles and other general on-page SEO techniques related to the content, and some other factors that measure the authenticity of the page including the number and quality of inbound links. However, in 2010, Google took the industry by surprise when it announced that it would now take website performance (page load time) into consideration when determining the page rankings.

The problem is that page load time is a general term, and there are a multitude of factors that come into play. Among the most important is Time To First Byte (TTFB). It is the length of time it takes the browser to receive first byte of response from a website when a website URL is requested. It represents a combination of network and server side speed issues. Delays can occur anywhere between the time the web browser makes a request and the browser receives a response. These delays add up and TTFB is measurement used to determine the severity of collective delays.

Time To First Byte includes three key factors

  • Network latency of sending the request to the server
  • Time the web server takes to process the request and generate a response
  • Time the server takes to send the first byte of response to the browser

Moz and Zoompf Research

The most important piece of research that highlighted the relation between Time To First Byte and search rankings was conducted by Moz and Zoompf in 2013. They examined the effect of web performance on Google’s search rankings using 2000 different search queries and testing the performance of the 100,000 sites returned in the search results.

The research findings revealed a clear correlation between Time to First Byte and search engine rank. While the faster time to first byte clearly correlated to a higher Google rank, it could not be said whether a lower TTFB could cause an increase in rankings.

However, the results were significant enough to warrant website owners to start working on their site performance as well as alongside other SEO measures. The Moz and Zoompf research revealed that the websites with a faster TTFB ranked better compared to websites that had a lower TTFB. This was found to be true not only for general searches with small keywords but also for long tail searches.

What Causes Slow Time To First Byte?

As discussed earlier, according to Moz and Zoomph research, TTFB is affected by three key components including:

  1. The time it takes for the request to travel across the network to the web server
  2. The time it takes for the server to process the request and generate a response
  3. The time it takes for the response to travel back through the network to the browser

A delay in any three of the components would increase TTFB. So, to improve TTFB you need to decrease the time in each of these. In general, there could be four main reasons that could cause a delay in these components including:

  1. Dynamic content creation
  2. Network issues
  3. Web server configuration
  4. Amount of traffic

By optimizing these factors, you can decrease your TTFB and hence, the site performance. Although you may not have much control over the traffic and network issues, but you can certainly optimize your latency and server performance. Moz offers some good tips on improving TTFB, we will discuss some of them and a few others.

How to improve TTFB

Improve Latency – There are a variety of factors that affect latency. Here are few things you can do to improve latency

Dynamic content

Creating dynamic content is a common reason behind long TTFB. When the web server has to provide dynamic content, it has to perform several steps before it can return the requested page, which can cause a delay. On the other hand, when a browser requests a static file, the server just immediately responds with the file. As WordPress pages are dynamic, every time browser makes a request, the pages are built by getting PHP files and interacting with a database. This makes TTFB unreasonably slow. If your latency is WordPress related, you can fix it by providing cached versions of the pages. You can achieve this either by installing a caching plugin or using a WordPress hosting that provides caching.

Using server-side caching is a good way to generate dynamic pages quickly, but if your content does not change frequently, you can utilize local cache. This will greatly improve the page load time.

Move static content into a Content Delivery Network

You can use Content Delivery Network (CDN) to reduce the virtual distance between your content and visitors. You can move your static content into a CDN, and they will automatically replicate the content to multiple locations across the world, bringing it geographically closer to the users. CDN can help reduce the TTFB considerably, however, you must ensure that the CDN you employ should be able to cache the static HTML of your home page and not just images, CSS and JavaScript.

Web server configuration

Another very important factor that determines your TTFB is your choice of web server and the way it is configured. Firstly, it is important that you use the latest version of the web server especially if you are using PHP, because the same script runs better on a newer version than it does on an older version. You should also check the configuration of your Content Management System and disable all non-essential operations so that the site can quickly respond to a request.

For CMS using an interpreted language such as Ruby or PHP, you can use op-code caching to decrease the execution time. With this, the server would convert the interpreted language into a machine understandable code only once and not with every request. There are various software available to execute this task depending on the underlying technology.

There are many more backend issues that may be affecting your site performance, and you can take one step at a time for an incremental improvement in Time To First Byte. For example, one factor that could be affecting TTFB on an Apache server is the .htaccess file. Although it is a convenient way to make configurations to the server, but it can cause major performance issues. It is a web file that can be used to give instructions to the server and is used for creating mod rewrites, redirects etc., but often times, it is used where it should not be and this affects TTFB. This happens because HTTP looks in every directory for .htaccess files even when you don’t actually use them. The file is loaded every time a document is requested, and it causes TTFB delays.

Backend infrastructure

Another factor that can cause a delay in TTFB is the time the web server takes to process the request and generate a response. This processing time is determined by a number of factors that include the computer hardware, an operating system which runs your website, the application code that is running on that hardware, and database queries that the application makes to build the page and the amount of data returned. All these components and their configuration play a critical role in determining TTFB.

You may not have a control over all these issues, and it may not be practically possible to optimize all of them to improve TTFB, but there are certain things you can easily do. Firstly, make sure that you have the required infrastructure to run your website efficiently. Two things that can adversely affect your site performance are shared hosting and virtual hosting. From a cost point of view, shared hosting seems a great idea, but if your goal is to have a fast loading and high ranking site then shared hosting might not work very well for you.

When you share the server resources with other websites, it affects the performance of your site because the processing speed of the server depends on the performance and load of other sites you are sharing the resources with. Alternatively, on-demand hosting systems also increase the TTFB because the server goes onto pause mode when the site has not received any traffic for some time, and it has to run some processes to resume activity when a user visits the site after a pause. This can have an adverse effect on TTFB.

Why do you need to optimize Time To First Byte?

Optimizing Time To First Byte benefits both, site owners and users. With better TTFB, users get an improved browsing experience as they have to spend less time waiting for the site to generate a response. Website owners enjoy higher customer engagement and retention. Moreover, a better TTFB gives you a better chance to rank higher in Google.

Talking of websites of web hosting companies, a good user experience is critical to keeping them in business. Also, with so many web hosting companies in the market, being higher on the search results is more important than ever. Considering this, measuring TTFB and optimizing it can greatly benefit the web hosting companies. You can check out the results of the TTFB test we ran for web hosting companies below.

How to measure Time To First Byte?

Now that we know how important TTFB could be to your search rankings, it makes sense for you to actually measure your site’s TTFB and see if it is up to the mark. There are a few free tests available that you can use to determine a site’s TTFB. Webpagetest.org is one such comprehensive tool that measures the site’s overall performance including TTFB. ByteCheck.com is another test that provides the number of seconds a website takes to get to its first byte. You can measure the TTFB and then compare it with standards to see how it may be affecting your search rankings.

What is the average Time To First Byte?

It is hard to come up with an average number for TTFB, but the Moz and Zoompf research results certainly gives us some idea. The research has revealed that the websites with the best search engine rankings had Time To First Byte as low as 350ms and the higher ones has TTFB of up to 650ms. So, they recommended TTFB of 500ms or less, which includes a roundtrip latency of 100ms or less, and backend processing of 400ms or less.

Google recommends that the websites should have a server response time under 200ms. Google.com has a TTFB of less than 100ms. With these figures in mind, let us have a look at the TTFB results for the hosting companies that we tested and see how they have fared.
Here are the test results for popular WordPress hosting companies

We tested several popular WordPress hosting companies and their time to first-byte performance. The results are shown in the graph below. If you want to see the actually test just click on a data point within the chart to be re-directed to the results on Webpagetest.org.

The best performing hosting companies for TTFB are A2 Hosting and SiteGround with a small drop in speed for 3rd place for Inmotion.

If you want higher ranking in Google then if TTFB is indeed a ranking in Google, A2 Hosting and SiteGround are the best hosting companies you can pick from our analysis.

SiteGround Is Our Winner

After 5 different tests SiteGround was our top performing WordPress hosting company with our ‘will it scale’ test securing the win.