Time to first byte is an important internet performance metric that most website owners don’t know much about, but what affects time to first byte?
There are many factors that can affect time to first byte. It’s important to understand what the time to first byte is. Time-to-first-byte (TTFB) refers to the amount of time between when a request enters your web server and when you start sending data back on the response. Not only does TTFB affect load times for your users, but also page rankings with search engines like Google or Bing.
First byte is just one of several different metrics that measure how fast your website responds in real-time to requests from users all over the world. Your web host may also give you additional metrics that they use to measure your website’s speed.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the first byte metric and what factors affect time to first byte. We’ll give you a few tips on how to improve first byte times on your site, whether you have a WordPress website or not.
First byte is a critical web performance metric because it shows how fast the first piece of data from your server starts loading back on users’ browsers. When first byte is slow, visitors immediately see “pink,” or partially-loaded pages while waiting for all of the components needed to render a page before anything appears.
The best way to think about first byte is that first byte represents content being sent over from your web server in response to a request from a user.
So, first byte is the part of your page that starts loading back on users’ browsers after they click on a link to go to your site. As we’ll discuss in this article, first byte can be affected by several different factors, such as your hosting provider, your site’s design, the piece of content (or first asset) on your page, and more.
How can you tell what first byte time is for your website? It’s very easy to find out what first byte time is for your site. There are several online tools that will give you TTFB metrics including GTmetrix, Pingdom Website Speed Test, Google Pagespeed Insights, or WebPageTest.
There are many factors that can affect first byte times. The biggest factors include:
1) The hosting provider you choose
2) Design & technical issues
3) Content being served to browsers by any CDN
4) How fast the computer or server where your content originates is
5) How optimized your asset is
6) How much RAM is in the server
Solving first byte times will involve some elbow grease, time, and money. However, there are also many things you can do to make first byte faster without purchasing additional resources. First, let’s discuss how hosting providers affect first byte times
Choosing a Hosting Provider That Affects Time to First Byte
Not all hosting providers are created equally when it comes to first byte speeds. Choosing a good web host that is optimized for first byte speeds has just as much of an impact on your first byte time as most other factors listed here – if not more so.
A good web host should have servers that are located relatively close to your visitors. We’ve all experienced first byte times of over one-second while on sites hosted in Asia, for example. Generally speaking, first byte times are never faster than 200 ms, and usually should be no higher than 500-700 ms.
First byte speeds also vary depending on the location of the server providing hosting for your website. If you’re based in North America or Europe then typically first byte times will be faster if your hosting provider has servers located in the same country as where your visitors are located. This is because data packets need less distance to travel when they’re being sent between user and server computers that are geographically closer together. Also, first byte time is not affected by geographical distance between hosting provider and user locations if first byte speed is under 200 ms.
Solving first byte times will involve some elbow grease, time, and money. However, there are also many things you can do to make first byte faster without purchasing additional resources.
Let’s discuss how design affects first byte times.
Design & Technical Issues That Affect Time to First Byte
There are a number of technical reasons first byte times might be slow, including slow or underperforming servers, poor content being served from the asset on your page, incompatible browser (i.e., IE6 in 2015), flaky CDN providers, underpowered servers that are not caching HTML, low RAM on a server that is or hosting your content low CPU speed on the server where your content originates, an inefficient design or layout filled with bulky graphics, large videos, etc.
Content: Strategies to Improve First Byte Times
There are many best practices and strategies you can use to improve first byte times. Some of the most effective first byte optimization techniques include: refraining from using third-party plugins, using lightweight graphics (i.e. WebP), compressing images, minimizing redirects, leveraging browser caching, using CDN providers effectively, and using HTML.
1) Refraining From Using Third-Party Plugins
First impressions are important firstly on first byte times! One of the fastest types of content is no content at all. The initial load of a website should not contain any third-party code – it should be just HTML and CSS. Loss-leading content increases first byte times, wastes bandwidth, and can cause visitors to leave quickly. Using plugins where code can be used instead will cause the website to load slower.
2) Using Lightweight Graphics
As mentioned earlier, graphics are one of the biggest factors when it comes to first byte speeds because large images take longer for browsers to download over slow connections. So, try using lightweight images like WebP or SVG instead of JPEG or PNG.
3) Compressing Images
Another way to reduce the time to first byte is by compressing your images correctly. Technologies such as ‘I Love IMG’ and ‘Yahoo! Smush.it’ can help you significantly reduce image size without making them look worse. You can read our guide on compressing your website images.
4) Minimizing Redirects
Redirects add to first byte times, so if possible try to limit the number of redirects in your navigation menu. Also, beware of greedy redirects – when a web page redirects to an asset that redirects again it will increase the time.
5) Leveraging Browser Caching
Browser caching is a feature that enables web browsers to store frequently used files locally and reuse those files instead of downloading new ones. For example, if you were browsing a website with browser caching enabled, Browser caching is a type of first byte optimization that reduces the number of requests made from a browser by using cached responses – so you can actually improve first byte times for visitors who have visited your site before.
Content Being Served to Browsers by a CDN
CDN providers can improve time to first byte by offloading content to servers closer to the users. However, if you were caching HTML and serving it from a CDN provider, your website would be slow and would not be able to go beyond the second request.
How Optimized Your Asset Is
Many first byte time issues can be attributed to how optimized your asset (such as images, video, and other media) is. This is because assets such as videos, images, and audio require additional data reading to render them on the page properly.
If you want first byte times to be fast, check that all of your images are compressed well. You can do this by opening the image in your favorite image editor, then click File > Save for Web. Select a file format that is not lossy, such as PNG or JPEG. You can also read our guide on compression and image optimization.
Finally, if first byte time is slow on every page of your website, check that you are using Google Hosted Libraries to serve jQuery and other external scripts. This is the first step in first decreasing first byte time for websites that use these types of resources.
Google Hosted Libraries are optimized through the Google CDN, so they should be faster than serving them directly from your server or another third-party host. They also ensure consistent first byte time on every page, even if you update jQuery and other scripts.
How Fast the Computer or Server Where Your Content Originates Is
The third major factor that can affect first byte time is how fast the computer or server where your content originates from. If this computer is old and underpowered, it will take longer to process each request – and first byte times can increase significantly.
First byte time should always be as fast as possible, ensure that your computer or server is powerful enough to serve content without any performance issues. You may need to upgrade it or use a CDN in this case. If you are hosting on a VPS, check the specs to ensure it is powerful enough.
How Much RAM Is in the Server Hosting
The amount of RAM in the server hosting content can also have a significant impact. If you are running your first website on an underpowered VPS with 1GB of RAM, it will not be able to handle all the requests – especially when your website is receiving consistent traffic. A better approach would be to first build the website on a small server first, ensuring it can run smoothly before moving to something more powerful.
The first byte delivery time of your website is dependent upon the infrastructure of the hosting provider and how powerful their servers are. More RAM will improve caching, which means your first byte time will be faster. This also requires that you use lesser-known caching techniques that take advantage of the resources available to you.
When first byte time improvement is your goal, first ensure that your content will run well on a server with limited resources first. You can then build up traffic and performance metrics before moving it to a more powerful hosting provider if necessary. Otherwise, you may be disappointed by how slowly first byte times can be at first.
If you want first byte time to be as low as possible, first check the specifications for your hosting server and ensure that it has enough RAM to handle caching and serve static assets. This is typically between 1GB and 32GB of RAM, but obviously the more the better. You should also use a CDN to serve assets so that first byte time is reduced even further.
The Benefits of Optimizing Time to First Byte
Optimizing the time to the first byte provides benefits to both the end-user and the website/ content provider.
- Website users will see an increase in performance and an improved website browsing experience. This is due to them having to spend less time waiting for the website to load.
- The owner of the website will see higher conversions and time on site due to the customers not leaving due to delays and long load times.
Conclusion on What Affects Time to First Byte
The speed at which a website load has a huge effect on the conversion and website retention rates. Users expect websites to load fast and 40% of users abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load, this means that having a low time to the first byte is key to getting people onto the site to ensure they have a chance to explore it and engage with it.