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Core Web Vitals


Time to First Byte (TTFB) Explained

Time to First Byte (TTFB): How to Reduce it & Boost Page Speed?

Saket Mittal
Time to First Byte (TTFB)

Imagine browsing your favorite e-commerce website, eagerly waiting for your favorite product to load. You click the "Buy Now" button, but instead of the product page appearing instantly, you see a blank screen and a spinning wheel.

This frustrating wait is often due to a factor called Time to First Byte (TTFB). TTFB measures the time it takes for a server to send the first byte of data to a user's browser after a request (like a click) is made. This small delay can greatly impact user experience, conversion rates, and your website's success.

In this blog, we'll explore TTFB, its impact on SEO, and best practices for optimization to ensure a seamless and engaging experience for your users.

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What is Time to First Byte (TTFB)?

Time to First Byte (TTFB) is a critical metric for assessing the responsiveness of a web server.

TTFB quantifies the time elapsed between a client's HTTP request for a resource and the moment the browser receives the first byte of the server's response.

A diagram of network request phases and their associated timings.
A diagram of network request phases and their associated timings. Source

It consists of three primary phases:

1. The time taken to send the request to the server.

2. The time the server spends processing the request and preparing the response.

3. The time it takes for the first byte of that response to travel back to the client.

Each of these phases can be influenced by various factors, such as server configuration, network conditions, and the complexity of the server-side code. Optimizing for these can help diagnose & mitigate delays in the web page loading process, thereby improving the overall speed & perceived performance of the page.

How is Time to First Byte (TTFB) Calculated?

TTFB is the sum of several request phases that occur before the first byte of a response arrives at the user's browser. It includes:

1. Redirect time

2. Service worker startup time (if applicable)

3. DNS lookup

4. Connection and TLS negotiation

5. Time from the request being sent until the first byte of the response arrives

The calculation begins immediately after the browser sends an HTTP request for a resource.

TTFB is calculated differently depending on whether it's a navigation request (for an HTML document) or a resource request:

1. For navigation requests, TTFB precedes every other meaningful loading performance metric.

2. For resource requests, TTFB can be measured using the Resource Timing API in a PerformanceObserver.

Why is Time to First Byte (TTFB) Important?

TTFB shows how fast your server responds when someone tries to visit your site. Its importance extends beyond superficial speed assessments & dives into core aspects of web infrastructure & user experience.

Let us look at the importance of a lower TTFB:

1. User Experience and Perception

TTFB affects how users perceive a website's speed. A low TTFB makes a site feel quick and responsive, even if the full content hasn't loaded yet. A high TTFB can frustrate users and increase bounce rates, as users judge performance based on how quickly a site starts to load.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engines like Google consider TTFB when ranking websites. Faster sites get better rankings because they offer a better user experience. A high TTFB can hurt crawl efficiency, meaning fewer pages are indexed, reducing search visibility.

3. Server Health and Configuration

TTFB reflects server performance and setup. It is influenced by server power, database efficiency, network latency, and content delivery networks (CDNs). A high TTFB can indicate server-side issues, requiring a review of backend infrastructure & potential optimizations like caching.

Although TTFB isn’t a Core Web Vital, it affects important metrics like First Contentful Paint (FCP) and Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), which are crucial for a good user experience and SEO performance.

What is a Good Time to First Byte (TTFB) Score?

Time to First Byte (TTFB) Scores
Time to First Byte (TTFB) Scores

Google considers Time to First Byte (TTFB) a crucial metric for evaluating website performance.

Google recommends a TTFB of 0.8 seconds or less to provide a seamless user experience.

Let us see the exact threshold for TTFB scores according to Google:

TTFB Time (in milliseconds) Color Coding
0 - 800 Green (Good)
800 - 1800 Orange (Needs Improvement)
Over 1800 Red (Poor)

Time to First Byte (TTFB) comes before user-focused metrics like First Contentful Paint (FCP) and Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). Your server should respond to navigation requests swiftly enough so that the 75th percentile of users achieves an FCP within the "good" threshold.

Therefore, a TTFB score of less than 800 milliseconds indicates good website performance, which means the server responds quickly to user requests. Anything beyond that indicates a slower server response time, negatively impacting user experience and SEO rankings.

Impact of TTFB on Performance Score & SEO

1. Crawl Budget Efficiency: High TTFB can cause search engine crawlers to spend more time fetching each page. It reduces the number of pages they can crawl & index, thus negatively impacting overall site visibility in search results.

2. User Perceived Load Time: A lower TTFB leads to faster delivery of the first byte of information to the user. It significantly improves the website's perceived speed, directly enhancing the user experience & reducing bounce rates.

3. Core Web Vitals and Ranking: Google considers Core Web Vitals metrics, like LCP and FCP, for website rankings. One crucial factor that directly impacts these metrics is Time to First Byte. By optimizing TTFB, websites can significantly improve their LCP and FCP scores, enhancing their overall search engine visibility.

4. Server Responsiveness: Faster TTFB indicates better server performance & responsiveness, which can more effectively handle higher traffic volumes. It is critical during high-demand periods to ensure consistent performance & maintain SEO standings.

5. Conversion Rates: E-commerce sites with low TTFB experience quicker page loads, which correlate with higher conversion rates. Users are more likely to complete transactions on sites that respond promptly, directly impacting revenue & business success.

Tools to Measure Time to First Byte (TTFB)

Understanding and optimizing TTFB is essential for improving the user experience on your website. It can be measured using two methods: Lab Measurement and Field Measurement.

Measuring TTFB Using Lab Data

This method involves testing website performance in a controlled environment without real-user interaction. It provides a consistent & repeatable measure of TTFB by eliminating variables such as network conditions & device differences. These tests are typically run using tools that simulate user interactions & network conditions. These tools include:

1. Network Panel in Chrome's DevTools

The Network Panel in Chrome's DevTools is a comprehensive tool for developers to inspect & analyze network activity, including TTFB. It provides detailed insights into the timing of various network requests made by a webpage. Follow the steps to measure TTFB using the network panel in Chrome DevTools:

1. Right-click on the webpage and select "Inspect" or press Ctrl+Shift+I (Windows/Linux) or Cmd+Opt+I (Mac).

2. Click on the "Network" tab to open the network activity panel.

3. Reload the page to capture network activity. You can do this by pressing F5 or clicking the refresh button in your browser.

4. Find the main document request (usually the first request) in the list.

5. Click on the request to open detailed information. Under the "Timing" tab, look for the TTFB value.

2. WebPageTest

WebPageTest is an advanced tool that provides comprehensive insights into website performance, including TTFB. It allows you to run tests from multiple locations worldwide, using different browsers and connection speeds, to simulate real user experiences.

1. Go to the WebPageTest.

2. Input the URL of the website you want to test in the search bar.

3. Select the location, browser, and connection speed for your test. These options help simulate different user environments.

4. Click the "Start Test" button to begin the analysis.

5. Once the test is complete, navigate to the "Performance Results" section. The TTFB is displayed along with other performance metrics. Detailed waterfall charts & timings are also provided for in-depth analysis.

Measuring TTFB Using Field Data

This method gathers data from real users interacting with the website. Field measurements offer insights into how the website performs in real-world scenarios, considering the variety of devices, network speeds, and locations of actual users.

This data is invaluable for understanding the true user experience & identifying performance bottlenecks that might not be apparent in lab tests. Let us look at the tools that can help measure website performance in real-world scenarios:

1. Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX)

The Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX) collects real user performance metrics from millions of websites. Leveraging anonymized data from Chrome users, CrUX offers detailed information on key performance indicators like Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), Interaction to Next Paint (INP) & Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).

This data enables developers to diagnose & optimize their sites for faster load times & smoother interactions, ultimately improving overall user satisfaction.

1. Access CrUX Data: CrUX data can be accessed through various tools, including Google Data Studio, BigQuery, and PageSpeed Insights.

2. Set Up Data Studio Dashboard:

 1. Go to Google Data Studio and create a new report.

 2. Connect to the CrUX dataset available in BigQuery.

 3. Use the pre-built CrUX Data Studio template for an easier setup.

 4. Analyze TTFB: Within the dashboard, locate the "Loading" section to find TTFB metrics reflecting real-user experiences from different devices and network conditions.

2. web-vitals JavaScript Library

The web-vitals JavaScript library is a powerful tool designed to measure essential web performance metrics, including TTFB, directly from the user’s browser. This tool is particularly useful for collecting real-time performance data & understanding how your site performs under real-world conditions.

1. Add the web-vitals library to your project using npm (like: npm install web-vitals) or by including the script in your HTML.

Or include in HTML:

HTML Code to Add web-vitals Library to Your Project
HTML Code to Add web-vitals Library to Your Project

2. Initialize TTFB Measurement using the following code:

Code to Initialize TTFB Measurement
Code to Initialize TTFB Measurement

3. The callback function captures the TTFB value. You can then log this data, send it to an analytics endpoint, or store it for further analysis.

Best Practices to Optimize Time to First Byte (TTFB)

Choose High-Performance Hosting

High-performance hosting means selecting a web hosting service that offers fast and efficient performance for your website. It ensures that your site loads quickly, which is crucial for user experience and search engine rankings.

1. Use Dedicated or VPS Hosting: Choosing a dedicated or VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosting offers exclusive resources (like CPU and RAM) that are not shared with other websites. It means your website can perform better and load faster than shared hosting.

2. Ensure Sufficient Memory Allocation: Make sure your hosting plan provides enough RAM and CPU power to handle your website’s traffic and operations efficiently.

3. Regularly Update Server Software: Keep your backend stack (web server, database, etc.) up-to-date to benefit from performance improvements & security patches.

By choosing high-performance hosting, you can significantly reduce TTFB, making your site more responsive.

Implement a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a system of distributed servers that deliver web content to users based on their geographic location. The primary goal of a CDN is to reduce the time it takes for web pages to load.

1. Leverage Edge Servers: Use CDN edge servers to cache static content, ensuring quicker delivery to users.

2. Enable HTTP/2 or HTTP/3: These are modern protocols that improve the speed of data transmission and reduce latency. HTTP/2 allows multiple requests and responses simultaneously over a single connection, while HTTP/3 uses a newer transport protocol (QUIC) that reduces connection times and improves performance.

3. Configure Proper Cache-Control Headers: Ensure resources are cached effectively by setting appropriate Cache-Control headers.

Using a CDN reduces latency and speeds up content delivery, significantly lowering TTFB for users globally.

Optimize Server Configuration and Resources

Optimizing server configuration and resources means setting up your server in the best way possible to run efficiently and handle user requests quickly.

1. Optimize Database Queries: Use indexing and query optimization to reduce database query times.

2. Use Efficient Web Server Software: Choose high-performance web servers like Nginx or Litespeed and configure them for optimal performance.

3. Implement Compression: Enable Gzip or Brotli compression to reduce the size of responses, speeding up data transfer. Gzip and Brotli compress your web files before sending them to the browser, making the files smaller and quicker to download.

A well-optimized server processes requests faster, reduces server load, and lowers TTFB, leading to quicker page load times.

Minimize and Optimize Redirects

Redirects are a way for users and search engines to reach a web page with a different URL than the one they originally requested. Each redirect adds a little delay because the browser has to follow each "detour" before reaching the destination.

1. Eliminate Unnecessary Redirects: Ensure URLs are correctly configured to avoid unnecessary redirects (e.g., HTTP to HTTPS).

2. Use Direct Links: Provide direct links to final destinations instead of intermediate URLs that require additional redirects.

3. Implement HSTS: Use HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) to enforce HTTPS connections. This reduces the need for HTTP-to-HTTPS redirects by telling browsers to always use HTTPS.

By minimizing and optimizing redirects, you reduce round trips and achieve faster initial responses, lowering TTFB.

Stream Markup and Use Efficient Server-Side Rendering

Stream markup and server-side rendering (SSR) are techniques used to improve the speed at which a webpage displays content to a user.

Stream markup involves sending parts of a webpage to the browser as soon as they're ready, while SSR generates the HTML for a webpage on the server before sending it to the browser.

1. Implement Streaming SSR: Use server-side technologies that support streaming, such as Node.js or Deno, to send markup incrementally. For example, streaming SSR can start sending parts of the page to the user before the entire page is fully ready, which makes the page appear faster.

2. Use Static Site Generation (SSG): Pre-render pages during build time for quicker delivery, especially for non-dynamic content. For example, a blog site can generate static pages for each post during the build process, so when a user requests a page, it loads almost instantly.

3. Optimize Middleware and APIs: Ensure that server-side processes and API calls are optimized to reduce backend processing time.

Using these techniques leads to faster rendering of content, lower TTFB, and an enhanced user experience due to quicker page loads.

Optimize for TTFB and Enhance Page Loading Speed With Quattr

Optimizing Time to First Byte (TTFB) is crucial for enhancing user experience, search engine rankings, and overall website performance. Using faster hosting, a content delivery network, and minimizing redirects can significantly reduce TTFB, boosting your site's efficiency. These improvements create a seamless browsing experience and increase engagement & conversion rates.

Achieving optimal TTFB requires a strategic approach and the right tools. This is where Quattr excels.

Quattr identifies the most significant opportunities to enhance your website speed with a comprehensive and prioritized audit list. It offers insights into your competitors' website speeds, allowing for effective performance comparisons and necessary improvements. It guides you through implementing changes, ensuring that your website achieves and maintains peak performance.

By using Quattr, you can optimize your TTFB efficiently, saving resources while enhancing your website's speed and user experience.

Improve Website Loading Speed at Scale Using Quattr!

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Time to First Byte (TTFB) FAQs

Is Time to First Byte (TTFB) a Core Web Vital Metric?

No, TTFB isn't a Core Web Vital, but it's still very important. TTFB affects how quickly the first piece of content appears on a page. It impacts Core Web Vitals metrics, such as First Contentful Paint (FCP) and Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). To improve TTFB, you can speed up server responses, load resources efficiently, and reduce backend delays.

What is the difference between TTFB and overall page load time?

TTFB measures the server's time to send the first byte of data after a request. It's about how fast the server responds. Overall Page Load Time includes TTFB and other factors like rendering, running scripts, and loading images. It shows the total time it takes to load the full page.

How does server location affect TTFB?

Server location affects TTFB because of the time it takes for data to travel. If the server is far from the user, it takes longer for data to travel, which increases TTFB. Closer servers reduce travel time and improve TTFB, making the website faster. Using Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) can help by storing copies of your site’s data in multiple locations worldwide, bringing it closer to users.

Is TTFB the same for mobile and desktop users?

TTFB can be different for mobile and desktop users. Mobile users might have slower TTFB due to slower network connections and less powerful devices. It can make web pages load slower on mobile compared to desktop. Network conditions and device capabilities both play a role in these differences.

About The Author

Saket Mittal

Saket Mittal is a Marketing Analyst at Quattr and helps drive traffic to the website by improving user experience. He is a an expert Quattr platform user and takes charge in improving product experience and conversions. Saket writes about content marketing, website optimization, and expert tips on how to use Google Search Console for content SEO.

About Quattr

Quattr is an innovative and fast-growing venture-backed company based in Palo Alto, California USA. We are a Delaware corporation that has raised over $7M in venture capital. Quattr's AI-first platform evaluates like search engines to find opportunities across content, experience, and discoverability. A team of growth concierge analyze your data and recommends the top improvements to make for faster organic traffic growth. Growth-driven brands trust Quattr and are seeing sustained traffic growth.

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