Everything you should know about TTFB - Time to First Byte. What is it, how it effects load times and how to fix it.
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TTFB according to us at Convesio - should be one of your top priorities to fix while you are optimizing your WordPress website for speed.

The term TTFB can be a little intimidating, especially if you aren’t familiar with computer networking. In this post, we’ll help you understand this concept. Don’t worry – it’s pretty simple once you understand how it works.

TTFB stands for Time to First Byte and it is a measurement of your server’s initial responsiveness. This useful metric simply measures how long it takes for a server to send the first byte of data from your server to a visitor’s browser.

First, we’ll take a deep dive into the concept of TTFB and talk about what it measures. Then, we will then show you how to test your own TTFB score – and how to easily improve it, too.

Ready to learn about TTFB?

What is TTFB?

Let’s break down what TTFB actually means, word by word. Technical acronyms can sometimes be confusing, but if we look at each concept individually, it becomes much more manageable.

  • Time toThis means the amount of time until something happens. So, it means that we are measuring an amount of time and not another metric. Not file size, movement, interactivity, accessibility, or anything else.
    It is also important to note that we are measuring the time it takes to go from your website’s server to the user’s browser. In an oversimplified way, this is how the internet basically works: you type in a website’s URL in your browser and then that website’s server sends data to you.
  • First – This means that the first item is the one that determines the measurement. You can think of it like a car race. If we want to see who the winner is, we want to know when the first car goes across the finish line – and not the fifth, or tenth, or twentieth car. Likewise, TTFB measures the first byte, not the thirtieth one.
  • Byte – Finally, a byte is a small unit of storage. One byte is made up of 8 bits, and bits are the most basic “building block” of information on a computer system. We won’t spend too much time covering the technical details, but the important thing to understand is that a byte is just a piece of data.You’re probably more familiar with kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes. These are all just different amounts of bits. For example, a gigabyte is 1 billion bytes.

So, putting this all together, we can see that TTFB measures the time it takes for the first byte to from your server to the user’s browser. This process begins when they visit your website. In the image below (made by Google at web.dev), you can see the technical details of how this works.

TTFB by Googe Web Dev

Since we want our websites to be fast, this means that a lower TTFB score is a better one. To compare TTFB to a real-world metric: TTFB is more similar to the driver’s license point system (less points is better) and the opposite of a credit score (higher credit scores are better.) The closer you get to 0 TTFB, the better. After all, nobody likes slow websites!

Speed is Not the Same as TTFB

However, we do have to stop here and make one important point. While it seems like TTFB would be the same as a website’s speed, they are actually not the same thing.

TTFB fundamentally measures the responsiveness of your server. This is not the same metric as how fast your website loads, which is a different thing. That said, usually a lower TTFB will make your website load faster on the client's browser.

Does TTFB Actually Matter?

In the networking world, there is some debate as to how much TTFB actually matters. Some people say that it’s overrated and a waste of time. Other experts say it does matter.

In general, our philosophy is that if it’s fairly easy to optimize something, you should do so. There are no real costs other than spending an hour or two of your time.

How to Measure TTFB

There are many different tools for evaluating TTFB and each one will likely give you different results. As such, we recommend measuring your site with at least two or three of these tools. If you have the time, it doesn’t hurt to try them all!

The key result we are looking for here is milliseconds. A millisecond is 1/1000 of a second and is represented with the symbol ms. 15 ms means 15 milliseconds, or 15/1000 of a second. That’s pretty fast!

So, as we mentioned above, we are looking for the amount of milliseconds it takes for the first byte to go from your server to the user’s browser. So, TTFB could be rewritten as MTFB, or Milliseconds to First Byte.

We recommend writing down the score next to each tool, like this:

  • Google Chrome DevTools - 30ms
  • Geekflare - 31ms
  • WebPageTest.org - 30ms

…and so on.

Let’s look at some different tools for measuring TTFB!

Google Chrome DevTools

One quick and easy way to test your TTFB is right inside Google Chrome. Chrome is one of the most popular browsers, so it’s likely that you are reading this post in Chrome.

To check TTFB in Chrome, you’ll need to use DevTools. DevTools is just a suite of tools that is built right into Chrome. To open it, simply right click on your webpage and click Inspect.

A panel will open up on the side of your browser window. Here, you will see many different tabs and options. We want the Network tab. Click this one.

Chrome Network Options

It can often take a few seconds for this network data to load, so don’t worry if you don’t see anything.

Once the data loads, look for the Time column. Hover over the first item and a panel will appear. The number we want is next to Explanation. So, in our image below, we have a TTFB of 134.04 ms, which is excellent.

Chrome Dev Tools TTFB

While DevTools is a convenient way to check TTFB, it’s unfortunately not the most accurate one. This is because your own personal Internet speed will affect the score. However, it is still useful data as it is a real-world example and can be done very quickly.

Nonetheless, we always recommend using one of the other tools below, too.

GTMetrix

GTMetrix has a useful tool for evaluating your TTFB. Simply type in your domain and wait a moment for the results. It can take about a minute, so be patient.

Once the score loads, the TTFB will be displayed on the left hand side, under Speed Visualization. It’s the first item listed.

Our score is 107 ms, which is great!

GTMetrix TTFB Results

Pingdom

Pingdom allows you to choose the geographical location of your test, which is super helpful if your users mostly come from a particular region. For example, you can run the test from London if most of your users are in Europe.

Just type in your domain and wait a few moments. In Pingdom, there is no “TTFB” result, so you have to look for something else. Pingdom calls it Wait Time. To find it, scroll down to File Requests and hover over the first item. You’ll see Wait indicated with a yellow square. This is your TTFB score:

Since we tested the site from San Francisco, our speed is super fast: only 22.7 ms!

Pingdom TTFB Results

WebPageTest

WebPageTest.org has a helpful tool to see your performance scores. You can choose from simple or advanced configurations. This allows you to test the site from different geographical locations, mobile or desktop, browser and other options.

It will take a minute or two for the test to be completed. (It takes longer than other tests.) Once the results come in, you’ll see TTFB under Observed Metrics. It’s marked as First Byte and gives the score in seconds, not milliseconds.

WebPageTest org TTFB Results

To convert s to ms, simply multiply the value by 1,000, or move the decimal point to the right three places: So, .188 seconds becomes 188 milliseconds. That’s a good score, although there may be some tiny room for improvement.

You can also just type it into Google and get a direct conversion:

Google Conversion seconds to milliseconds

Geekflare

Finally, Geekflare has a nice and simple tool for testing your TTFB. It gives you results from three different locations at once: the United States (from northern Virginia), Europe (from London), and Singapore. This is helpful for getting a quick look at how well your site performs around the world.

The score is again in seconds, so you’ll want to convert it to milliseconds by moving the decimal point three places to the right. Our best score is 0.066 seconds, which becomes 66 milliseconds.

Geekflare TTFB Results

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ahsan Parwez
Ahsan has more than a decade worth of experience in all areas of digital marketing. Combined with his knowledge of WordPress and Web hosting, he has helped companies scale in the WordPress ecosystem. As a Growth Marketing Manager at Convesio, his goal is to help educate prospects about what’s the best way to scale and optimize their WordPress websites.
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What is a Good TTFB?

So now that you’ve run some tests, you should hopefully have a general idea of what your TTFB is. These numbers will be slightly different, but that is nothing to worry about.

The important question is: what is a good TTFB score? As with most things in life, it depends. Here are some good rules of thumb:

  • Anything under 150 ms is excellent.
  • A score between 150 ms and 500 ms is solid, but has room for improvement.
  • If you’re over 500 ms or 600 ms, you have a problem and should fix it.

If your score is under 100ms, you probably don’t need to do anything – especially if you’re already using a hosting service like Convesio. Otherwise, you’ll want to implement some changes and get that score down.

What Causes a Slow TTFB?

It helps to understand what causes a slow TTFB in the first place. There are many different reasons, but here are some of the most common ones:

  • Your web hosting server is slow
  • Your users are in a geographic location far from your server
  • DNS is taking too long to resolve
  • You have too many database queries
  • You have too many unused plugins and themes
  • Your PHP version is outdated

Solutions for Reducing TTFB

Did you run the tests and see room for improvement? If so, there are many things you can do. Let’s cover the most effective ones.

Use a Fast Host (Convesio)

The best – and easiest – way to reduce your TTFB times is to use a good host. A good host will manage your server effectively, allowing you to focus on your content.

Here at Convesio, for example, we have built a robust server infrastructure that is designed specifically for scalable sites. This makes it easy to keep your TTFB times down, even as your site grows and gets more traffic. We use the fastest Google Cloud Servers, optimized with use of CDNs and we use containerized environments to deploy WordPress with dedicated resources, ensuring fastest response times.

Pick a Good Server Location

One important aspect of choosing a host is the server location. If most of your visitors come from the East Coast of the United States, then you should make sure that you pick a nearby server location. Hosting your site in Tokyo when your users are in London is a bad idea and will negatively affect your TTFB score.

Most higher-quality hosts will handle this for you, or allow you to easily choose between different regions. For instance, Convesio has server clusters in North America, Europe, and Australia.

Caching Plugin (Not Necessary with Convesio)

Another easy way to improve TTFB is to use a caching plugin. These plugins create cached versions of your site, which both decrease load times and improve your TTFB. Some popular caching plugins are W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache.

If you’re a Convesio customer, you actually don't need to use a caching plugin – we handle all of that for you! Though, for specific use cases we do help our customers caching plugins of their choice on their websites.

CDN

CDN stands for Content Delivery Network. A CDN works like this: it stores cached versions of your site in different places around the globe. These places are called PoPs, or Points-of-Presence. When someone visits your site, they are sent the cached content from the nearest PoP. This can have a major effect on reducing your TTFB score.

At Convesio we use Cloudflare Enterprise’s CDN on all our client sites, Cloudflare has the most servers distributed all over the world, that means your website’s performance will be consistent across the globe.

Use a Premium DNS Provider

DNS stands for Domain Name System. It is the technology that manages domain names and IP addresses. Using a Premium DNS provider is not always necessary, but if you have the budget, it’s definitely something to consider.

Remove Unused Plugins and Themes – And Keep Used Ones Updated

One of the best ways to keep your WordPress website running smoothly is to always remove any plugins, themes, or other installed items that you do not use.

Likewise, you should always keep the plugins and themes that you do use updated. Developers are always making their code more efficient, so newer updates tend to make your site running faster, too.

Reduce Database Queries and Optimize Your Database

If your database is not optimized, you may experience some slowdown. Typically this data is from old plugins, outdated installations of WordPress, and similar types of things.

To optimize your database, you have a few options. You can do it manually via CPanel (by going into PHPMyAdmin) or by using a plugin like WPOptimize.

Here at Convesio, we don’t use CPanel and have our own high-performance database solution. As such, we will handle database issues for you.

Cloudflare Argo

Cloudflare is a very well-known company that helps you protect your website from malicious attacks and network slowdowns. One of their products is called Argo Smart Routing. It helps reroute your traffic so that your site loads as quickly as possible. As you can imagine, this improves your TTFB.

Cloudflare Argo

However, it is important to note that Cloudflare itself may increase your TTFB with its firewalls and other security services. So you should make an informed decision on the tradeoffs between speed and security.

Keep the PHP Version updated

Finally, one of the easiest things you can do is to keep PHP always updated to the latest version. This should be done automatically by your host, but if for some reason it is not, just get in touch with them. The exact process varies depending on which host you’re using (e.g. SiteGround is different from NameCheap.)

Conclusion

You’re now an expert in TTFB. Nice job! While this term does look a bit scary to the non-technically-inclined, it’s actually quite simple to understand.

In this post, we taught you all about TTFB. First, we explained the ins-and-outs of Time to First Byte and how to measure it. Then, we showed you some things you can do to improve it.

It’s always a good idea to make your website faster, so we recommend trying some of the methods above to improve your TTFB score.

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