What is Time To First Byte (TTFB) and how to improve it?

By Hipex | 28 augustus 2020 |
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From a hosting perspective, Time To First Byte is one of the most important metrics to keep an eye on. But why is TTFB such an important metric, and how can we improve it?

What is Time To First Byte (TTFB)

Time To First Byte (TTFB)is a metric that measures the time it takes from the user making an HTTP request to the first byte being received from the web server. Here is applicable: the lower the response time, the better it is. A low TTFB is something you would like to see.

Time To First Byte consists of 3 elements:

  1. The time needed to send the browser request to the server;
  2. The time the server needs to process the request;
  3. The time it takes to send the first byte back from the server to the browser.

What is the importance of a good TTFB?

A good Time To First Byte is essential. That’s not only what we think, but Google recognizes it as well and commits to this via Page Speed Insights. In this tweet, Google provides an excellent way of quantifying the quality of your hosting.

The lower your TTFB, the better. Your website will be faster visible for your visitors.

However, not everyone agrees. Cloudflare stated the following in 2012: “the TTFB is not a relevant metric for end-users. Moreover, Its research showed that a high TTFB has a clear negative correlation with the downloading time of a page”.

Instead of looking if the TTFB is high or low, you’d better discover long term trends and focus on the overall page speed of your site.

This recent article brings more nuances. Quoted in this article is that a good TTFB does not always mean you have a fast website, but most of the time, a bad TTFB introduces a slow website.

We agree with this. A low TTFB is important, but certainly not everything. A lot of elements have an impact on the TTFB, but you don’t have control over all of them.

A fast/low TTFB is a good indicator of a fast-loading page, however, it doesn’t say much about other pages on the website.

What is a good TTFB?

Striving for an optimal TTFB for your website is something we recommend you to do. Although it is partly dependent on external factors, for example internet connection (limited impact), you can do a lot by yourself.

But what time should you aim for? A TTFB above 0.600 milliseconds causes failed audits in Google Lighthouse. Google uses 0.300 - 0.500 milliseconds as the standard for a sufficient TTFB, below 0.200 ms will be rewarded as a good score.

But do you have to settle for it?

According to us? No. A faster TTFB is easy to attain, if you know what you have to do to optimize your TTFB.

We think a good TTFB should never be above 0.150 milliseconds.

Does TTFB have an impact on SEO?

Does Google use TTFB as a ranking factor for search results? The answer is no. John Mueller (Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google) tweeted about this the other day.

Of course, the speed of your site is one of the ranking factors. TTFB can be a part of it, but TTFB won’t be used as a ranking factor in itself.

TTFB can’t be a direct ranking factor for Google because the TTFB is dependent on latency (delay of the connection).

So, the location, internet connection of the user and other external factors affect the TTFB.

Measuring the TTFB

Measuring the Time to first byte is not that simple. Although there are many websites where you can measure yours, like Pingdom and GTMetrix, the measured TTFB does not have a direct meaning.

We often notice that people measure their TTFB on the homepage. The major part of all Magento webshop homepages are provided with Full Page Cache solutions, which gives an unrealistic score of the TTFB.

If you want to have a more realistic view of your current TTFB, we recommend measuring the TTFB of your shopping cart page, with some added products in it. This page is not cached and practically unique. Via this way, you will get a clear sight of your TTFB.

How do you improve your Time To First Byte?

What can you do to optimize your TTFB? You can find some practical tips below:

Make sure having a good, fast DNS

DNS lookup times have an impact on your TTFB. We recommend to subscribe to a premium DNS-provider like Open Provider, and not keep running on a free one.

You can test your DNS speed here

Make use of caching

Might be unnecessary to mention, but caching has a big impact on the TTFB. There is a significant difference regarding TTFB between pages with and without caching.

Making use of caching can improve the TTFB by almost 95% (!)

Make use of fast hosting

As we already mentioned at the beginning of this article, your hosting is an important part of the Time To First Byte. That’s exactly why fast hosting is important.

Hipex hosting is optimized to keep your TTFB as low as possible. Due to a perfect set infrastructure, clients of Hipex benefit from a relatively fast TTFB.

Conclusion

We can state the metric Time To First Byte says something about the quality of hosting. However, a big caveat is that TTFB is strongly dependent on external factors such as internet connection.

With Time To First Byte, you have to pay attention to location, internet connection, caching and more. If you don’t do this, you will not have a realistic view of the overall TTFB of your website or webshop.

Although TTFB is not a Google ranking factor and has no impact on your SEO, it has an impact on the usability of your website.

If you have a relatively high TTFB, you will do a great job optimizing it. Keep in mind that a low TTFB does not directly lead to a fast website. However, a high TTFB can be an indicator of a slow website.