5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time. person in hoodie running in morning light on trail

5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time

If you own a WordPress website, you might be concerned about page speed. Running a speed test can help you identify how quickly your page loads but doesn’t do much for improving performance. A sluggish page with slow load times could mean lost site visitors and fewer conversions for your WordPress site

Reducing your initial server response time translates into an optimized website. Decreasing your site’s Time To First Byte (TTFB) can shave down the seconds it takes for your page to load in visitors’ browsers. This means your content will be delivered faster, improving overall site performance.  

This post will introduce server response time and explain how it affects page performance. Then, we’ll discuss why your page response time could be slow and five ways to reduce it. Let’s dive right in!

An Introduction to Server Response Time

Server response time refers to how long it takes for a device to receive a response from a server after an HTTP request. This is typically measured by Time To First Byte (TTFB).

TTFB is the timespan between the moment you first navigate to a web page and when its content displays on your screen. In other words, this measurement tracks how quickly a web server responds after a request is made from a user’s browser:

image illustrating how Page Load Time works and is calculated. 5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time
Author: Seobility – License: CC BY-SA 4.0

These components determine your site’s TTFB: 

  1. The HTTP request is sent to the server, with speed depending on the user’s network and connection.
  2. The server then processes the request and creates a response by corresponding with the network system or running scripts. 
  3. The server then sends the first byte of the response to the user. This is the TTFB.

The faster your website’s TTFB is, the quicker your content will display in your visitor’s browser. The speed of this process will depend on numerous factors. 

For example, if you have a dynamic website with many animations, you’ll likely have a longer TTFB. Smaller and simpler sites such as blogs generally have shorter TTFBs because there is less content to load.  

Why Server Response Time is Important For Your WordPress Site

Page loading speed is one of the most important factors for User Experience (UX). In particular, it can affect your site’s bounce rate. This term refers to the percentage of visitors that leave your website after visiting one page. 

The bounce rate for pages loading within two seconds is around 9 percent. After just three seconds, however, this statistic jumps to 38 percent.  

Website performance is directly tied to bounce rates. If your server response time is slow, your visitors will be left waiting for your website content. This delay can lead to frustration and impatience, making users abandon your site.

Server response time can also affect your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts. Google considers site speed an essential element when ranking content on its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). If your website takes too long to load, you risk a drop in rankings. 

Additionally, other benefits come from decreasing TTFB. Faster site speeds can improve how visitors experience your site, leading to higher engagement, retention rates, and conversions.

Factors That Can Slow Server Response Time

Many different factors can affect server response time. Some are out of your control, while others are related to how you configure your site.

Here are some of the most common reasons for slow server response time:

  • Cheap and ineffective web hosting
  • Page bloat
  • Slow database queries and routing
  • Limited network bandwidth
  • Pages and data not being cached

The good news is that most of these elements are within your control. Later, we’ll go over some steps you can take to lower TTFB. But first, let’s discuss what qualifies as an exceptional speed for your website. 

Google recommends that your site’s TTFB be under 200 ms, which is a good rule of thumb. There are numerous ways to test your speed, which will help you understand whether your site is performing well. 

For example, Pingdom is a free online tool you can leverage to test site speed and performance. Simply enter your URL into the text field and click on the Start Test button:

Homepage of Pingdom Website Speed Test. 5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time

You’ll then receive a detailed website performance report, including an overall performance grade, load time, requests, and page size:

Image of WP Engine's Pingdom grade including performance, page size, load time, and requests. 5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time

Another popular option is PageSpeed Insights. This tool returns detailed results related to Google Core Web Vitals, TTFB, and speed index:

PageSpeed Insights Core Web Vitals assessment. 5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time

Your results may vary depending on which tool you use. In most cases, however, the performance report will provide an accurate benchmark for where your site stands.

5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time

Now that you know the factors that cause slow server response time, let’s look at some ways to improve your site speed.

We’ve rounded up five ways to reduce initial server response time for your WordPress website. Let’s dive right in!

1. Reduce Page Bloat

Heavy and poorly-coded themes, plugins, and content can harm your loading times. These are the elements that, when added up, increase your site’s server response time. Simply put, your server must work harder to display all this content. 

Fortunately, these issues are relatively quick and easy to fix. You can decrease page bloat by removing unnecessary elements from your site. 

Start by prioritizing WordPress plugins and deleting unnecessary ones. We also recommend updating these tools regularly because updates often include performance improvements and security patches. 

Another way to decrease your site load time is to choose a lightweight and SEO-friendly theme. As a rule of thumb, clean and simple themes are best for site performance. 

For instance, WordPress has lightweight default themes, such as Twenty Twenty-One:

a screenshot of Twenty-One, a WordPress lightweight theme. 5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time

Other best practices for reducing page bloat include compressing your images (try using TinyPNG), reducing widgets, and keeping WordPress core updated. Implementing these practices can keep your site speedy and improve server response time.  

2. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A CDN is a group of servers located globally. Visitors to your site will be served content from the server closest to them, increasing server response times. Furthermore, CDNs often optimize web content such as images, videos, and JavaScript:

Image illustrating how a CDN works. 5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time
Author: Seobility – License: CC BY-SA 4.0

You can use a third-party CDN for your site. However, many WordPress hosts include this service within their plans. 

Here at WP Engine, we use MaxCDN for our customers. This service offloads and serves static content, including images, CSS, and JavaScript. Plus, our CDN has more than 60 server locations worldwide to improve server response time. 

3. Optimize Your Database

Your database contains all your website’s information. It takes all the data from your site, including its content and settings, and organizes it into rows, columns, and tables.

Your server will retrieve information from your database when queried. However, if your database is bloated or poorly organized, it can increase the time taken to serve the data. 

Optimizing your database manually can be tricky for beginners. Therefore, we recommend using a plugin such as WP-Optimize:

screenshot of WP Optimize homepage. 5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time

WP-Optimize can clean your database by removing unnecessary data like spam comments, transient options, and pingbacks. Additionally, it can defragment and compress your MySQL tables to improve the efficiency of your database. 

4. Configure Caching

Caching involves saving copies of your site’s files within users’ browsers for a certain period. Then, when visitors return to your site, they’ll be served cached files instead of requesting and retrieving everything from scratch.

Setting up caching on your WordPress site is an easy way to reduce TTFB. A caching tool minimizes the weight on your server, ultimately allowing its data to be transmitted and displayed faster.

If you’re a WP Engine customer, your site has caching enabled by default. We handle it server-side, so you don’t need to install any plugins. 

Otherwise, you might consider using a caching plugin, such as W3 Total Cache:

screenshot of BoldGrid homepage, W3 Total Cache. 5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time

W3 Total Cache lets you cache pages, posts, CSS, JavaScript, feeds, and more. You can even cache more specific content such as database objects and search results pages. Overall, these caching methods can reduce load times and pressure on your server. 

5. Choose a Fast and Reliable Web Host

There are hundreds of hosting companies available for your WordPress site. However, they aren’t all equal when it comes to page speed. Some hosts offer minimal support or rely too heavily on shared server resources, which can cause slow load times.

To have the fastest WordPress site possible, consider choosing a hosting provider that prioritizes performance and high availability. By choosing WordPress hosting with WP Engine, our customers can see website speed improve by up to 40%, providing an optimal UX for your (and your clients’) sites.

screenshot of WP Engine homepage, #1 platform for WordPress. 5 Ways to Reduce Initial Server Response Time

We offer various performance-focused features, such as our EverCache technology, a free CDN, core updates, and global server locations. Overall, WordPress sites hosted on our platform offer faster load times that can increase your SEO rankings and drive more traffic to your page. 

Reduce Initial Server Response Time with WP Engine

Server response time is an essential component of website performance. Speeding up this response time can improve SEO, UX, and the overall speediness of your website.

To recap, here are five strategies you can use to reduce initial server response time:

  1. Reduce your site bloat by selecting lightweight themes and deleting any unnecessary plugins.
  2. Opt for a Content Delivery Network (CDN). 
  3. Optimize your website’s database. 
  4. Set up caching on your site or check to see if your host provides it. 
  5. Select a WordPress hosting provider that prioritizes speed and reliability for your website, such as WP Engine

If you’re looking for fast WordPress hosting, WP Engine uses an advanced caching solution, a CDN, and SSD-based technology. By doing so, we boost your website’s performance and reduce initial server response time!

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