In case you missed it—chances are you didn’t!—Google finished rolling out the Page Experience algorithm update in March 2022, bringing the update to desktop after the earlier rollout on mobile. Page experience is a set of signals Google uses as ranking factors, which means user experience (UX) metrics are now part of the overall evaluation. 

While it may not be a direct signal, time to first byte (TTFB) is a key metric that influences largest contentful paint (LCP). How does this work? The quicker the initial response, the greater likelihood of an improved LCP score, not to mention the other benefits such as crawl efficiency and general UX.

This may all seem very technical, but here’s the thing: it’s actually rather easy to audit a site’s TTFB with the tools in this article. Not only that, but we provide additional tools and advice for how to fix some issues you may run into.

What is time to first byte (TTFB)?

Time to first byte (TTFB) is a measurement that captures how long it takes for a browser to receive the first byte of information from a web server when a user requests a URL along with the amount of time spent waiting for the server to deliver the response. 

TTFB is associated with site responsiveness, an important factor that can impact a site’s performance in SERPs.

Is TTFB important?

TTFB is important for several reasons, but let’s start with perhaps the most important reason: user experience. Instant gratification for web users is paramount, and the longer it takes for a site to respond, the higher the chances of users leaving the site. This can then lead to serious issues, like drops in search engine rankings and conversion rates.

Also, a site with low-latency will have smaller delay times than a site suffering from high-latency. Google recommends site experiences should have a TTFB of no more than 200 milliseconds. If a site has a high TTFB, it impacts Google’s ability to crawl sites efficiently, again impacting search performance.

How can you test TTFB?

There are plenty of free, easy-to-use tools out there to help you test TTFB on your site. We recommend the following:

  • Byte Check: Simply copy/paste the URL you want to test into Byte Check’s blank box to start.
  • WebPageTest: Similar to the above, copy/paste your URL into the field below “Start a Site Performance Test!” to begin. You can also create a free account to save test results for later.
  • Chrome Dev Tools: When using a Chrome browser, users can inspect TTFB of the page in real time using Chrome Dev Tools.
  • Screaming Frog:  If you have API access to your site and multiple URLs you want to crawl at once, Screaming Frog is a great way to test TTFB.
    • To do so, you need to download Screaming Frog and then go to the Configuration dropdown menu, click API Access, and then go to PageSpeed Insights. When the pop-up appears, make sure to enable Time to First Byte under Lighthouse Metrics. You can also check out the screenshots below to see exactly where to go.

How can you fix slow TTFB results?

So, you ran some URLs through the aforementioned tools and learned that your site has some latency issues—but how do you fix those problems?

Here are four ways you can solve your TTFB woes.

1. Configure content delivery network (CDN)

If your website is available in different parts of the country or globally, utilizing a content delivery network (CDN) can reduce the impact of physical distance between a visitor and the visitor’s closest server that serves site content. You should also consider CDN location from a visitor’s point of presence (POP) to avoid improper CDN POP routing.

2. Cache site content

Cached content serves as a copy of a site’s resources and does not require the server to re-download this content every time a page is requested. This saves resources from the server as well as reduces load times. There are a number of ways to implement caching, either manually through your site’s CMS or utilizing platforms that can set it up automatically on your site like Nitropack.

3. Use a premium DNS provider

There’s always the chance your current DNS provider isn’t cutting it. You can assess how long lookup times are with your current DNS provider before potentially moving to a different one. How? Use a service like DNSPerf. This comparison tool compares DNS performance across a number of different providers. They also have a feature that tests the latency of a site request in different locations. 

4. Get help from webmaster or developer

This process can get quite technical, so it’s totally up to you if you need some additional help. In that case, reach out to a webmaster or developer to test, configure, and fix any TTFB issues you’re running into with your website.

Summary

TTFB is one of the more overlooked elements of page responsiveness, but it’s also one of the easiest to test and check with the right tools. By working with your developers to focus on improving TTFB, you could see a big impact on other page experience factors.

Interested in learning more? Our experts are on hand if you’d like a more in-depth personal analysis or a bespoke strategy. Get in touch with the team here, we'd love to hear from you.

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