I’m sure, you must have also used many online tools to check the performance of your WordPress sites and taken steps to speed them up.
But, you did not get the expected results. Right?
This might be because of a lesser-known fact: Optimizing a WordPress site involves working on the frontend as well as the backend including the hosting solution that powers your websites.
Today, I will discuss the role of a managed WordPress hosting provider in speeding up WordPress sites and how these hosting solutions help reduce server response time.
However, before I begin, I want you to understand the four-step process that results in the rendering of a web page on your screen.
- Request: This is the request initiated by the visitor (aka client)’s browser.
- Response: The request is processed and the necessary assets (web page files, resources, and such) are processed by the server and sent back to the visitor’s web browser.
- Build: The web browser uses these assets to start the rendering process for the requested web page.
- Render: Finally, the web page is displayed to the visitor.
Out of the four, the second step (Response) is entirely dependent on the hosting server. If the server is unable to carry out this step (for whatever reason), the next steps get delayed and thus the UX for the visitor suffers.
This is quite common in shared hosting where the user is promised sufficient resources that are then distributed among all the sites hosted on the server. Thus, the website performance suffers because of the lack of adequate resources, making it slow. This slow performance also affects the website’s SEO and user experience.
What is Server Response Time?
Server response time (aka Time To First Byte) is the time taken by a server to respond to the visitor’s request. TTFB refers to the time bracket during which the client sends the request and the client’s browser starts to render the requested web page.
There are three components involved in TTFB measures
Sending HTTP Request
An HTTP request is triggered when the user initially loads the webpage. The server receives this request and prepares an appropriate response. Factors such as network speed and the distance to the server can affect the time it takes for the server to receive the request.
Processing the Request
When the server receives the request from the browser, it initiates various processes such as running scripts, fetching data from database and running back-end tasks.
Processing the Response
Once all components of the response have been generated, the server sends it to the end user. This step is dependant on the performance of your website hosting server and the speed of the user’s internet connection.
While reviewing the results generated by an online performance analyzing tool like WebPageTest, you might have noticed TTFB. According to Google guidelines, a website shouldn’t have TTFB more than 200 ms.
If you run a speed test of a WordPress site, then you probably come across references of slow admin-ajax.php in your results. If yes, learn how to fix it!
How to Reduce Server Response Time?
Many factors can cause a slow server response time. But, here, I’ll highlight the most prominent factors that can be controlled by site owners.
1. Distance Between Server and Visitors
Let’s start with the fundamental issue – the distance the data has to travel both ways!
Before finalizing a hosting server, you should have a pretty good idea of who and where your target audience is. Based on this information, you can choose the data center nearest to your target audience. This ensures that the latency remains at the minimum because of the fewer distance data has to travel to and from the server As a result, the server response time improved dramatically.
If your audience is global, you can take advantage of WordPress CDN providers that keep a copy of the website assets on globally distributed nodes. When a user requests a page, it is served from the closest node rather than the original hosting server.
Your slow website can affect conversion rates!
Try Cloudways and maximize the performance of your WordPress.
With the continuous growth of your business, traffic surges can become very frequent (with little to no warning).
Let me illustrate this with an example: if you post a special offer on the website of your coffee shop, the number of visitors to the site can go up significantly. As a result, the server starts to receive more and more requests that demand an immediate response. As resource consumption hits the limit, the server response time starts to go up. Eventually, as all the resources get consumed, the site will go down and your brand would see a decline in sales and reputation.
I wouldn’t recommend you stop offering free coffee. What you can do is improve slow server response time by choosing a web host optimized for performance and capable of handling traffic surges.
3. Hosting Resources
When starting an online business, the first order of business should be a thorough server resources requirements gathering session. This should give you an idea of the volume of server resources you need to launch the business and the future projection of the resource requirements.
If you are unsure about the process, contact your hosting provider’s support first and explain your situation. They might be able to present a solution that works in your case. You may even get to try the service before actually investing in it.
Choose the hosting provider which constantly upgrade their infrastructure, use the latest hardware and updated software such as PHP 7.3 and HTTP/2 servers.
On a related note, it is not always the wisest decision to go with the largest server out there. Managing the resources efficiently and applying all the best development and server management best practices also help you in improving your server response time.
Cloudways offers a free trial (without a credit card) in which you can launch any server and test its capabilities against your requirements.
A database is a place where all the required information is stored. It must be optimized so that both the server can access, manage and update information without any delays. Unmaintained and/or huge databases need more time to fetch the right data and thus the overall server response time goes up.
To fix database related issues, try to remove unnecessary and obsolete data, and rewrite queries for smarter and faster execution.
You can also consider using tips to optimize the WordPress database for improved performance including tweaking the database structure and the database optimization related WordPress plugins.
5. Dynamic vs. Static
Dynamic content is generated at runtime on the request generated by a visitor and is generally different for every user. For instance, if I order a coffee and you order a hamburger, the process on our end would remain the same because of the similar UI of the website. However, the server response would be different because of the different nature of the two orders. The server would fetch two different sets of data from the database and prepare two separate responses. Now scale the example for a popular restaurant and you can have a pretty good idea of the load on the server.
The static content is hardcoded in the HTML, JS, CSS, and images of the website. These assets do not change for different user input and the server delivers the same content to every visitor. This is the fastest way to deliver the content as it does not consume much server resources and the server response time goes up.
Experts suggest offloading static content to a WordPress CDN to reduce load time and the consumption of server resources.
6. Server Software
The stack of the server has a serious impact on the server response time. In general, the stack comprises of a combination of servers and cache that come together to provide the processing power to the server. Popular stack components include Apache, NGINX, MySQL/MariaDB.
Don’t forget to keep your WordPress and PHP versions updated. Older versions often require more server resources and are inefficient in response handling. WordPress Core Team recommends using PHP7 because of optimized processing.
WordPress on PHP 7: Performance Benchmarks & Upgrade Guide
7. Choose WordPress Hosting Wisely
Since you now have a deeper understanding of how servers process clients’ requests, you can make an informed decision about the type of hosting solution for your WordPress website. The best fit is a dedicated environment where you can control and optimize the server components according to your performance requirements.
If you are not tech-savvy, choose a highly-optimized managed WordPress hosting provider who takes care of server management issues.
8. How Cloudways Helps In Improving Server Response Time?
Cloudways is a managed cloud hosting platform that has its optimized server stack and is ideal for WordPress sites. A basic WordPress site hosted on Cloudways and Breeze installed can be loaded in just a few ms.
Isn’t it impressive?
Load WordPress Sites in as fast as 37ms! Thanks to the Best Hosting for WordPress
Distance Between Server and Visitors
Cloudways has partnered with top-notch cloud infrastructure providers and as a result, offers 55+ data centers globally. No matter where your audience is, just choose the nearest data center and launch the server without worrying about the website speed.
Remember, the closer the server, the faster the website loads up for the audience. For a global audience, utilize CloudwaysCDN.
To deal with traffic spikes, server resources on Cloudways can be scaled-up in just a single click.
This feature is useful for both the new and established online businesses. Established businesses can operate without worrying about losing their traffic due to server crashes and new businesses which are not sure about their future needs can easily scale their resources when needed.
The cloud experts at Cloudways are available 24/7 to help you out. Feel free to discuss and let the Cloudways Support know your requirements/queries so they could guide you accordingly.
Currently, the official WordPress supports MySQL and MariaDB only. Considering this, we at Cloudways left the choice to WordPress users by adding both into the platform. Converting MySQL to MariaDB is just a click away.
Dynamic vs. Static
As described above, this decision varies from user to user. At Cloudways, the servers come with pre-installed PHP7 (as you read this, the latest version is PHP 7.3) that give a significant boost in processing dynamic content. But, you have to make sure that all your application code base is compatible with PHP7. For this, create a WordPress staging environment of your live site, and test everything out. Once you are satisfied, push the changes to the live version. For static content, our ThunderStack formula works the best!
Cloudways servers are the combination of Apache, NGINX, Varnish, Memcached, PHP-FPM, Redis, and the support for PHP 7.x. All this combines together and boosts the performance of a WordPress site.
TTFB on Cloudways Servers
For the sake of testing, I launched a 1GB Linode server (at the Fremont data center) with all the default settings. Next, I installed Breeze to enabled minification and grouping.
I then run the test through Web Page Test. Here are the results.
You can see, the Time To First Byte (TTFB) is under 200 ms that fits guidelines by Google.
When the same site is tested on Pingdom. Here is what I got!
Improving the overall performance and reduce server response time for a WordPress site is a matter of following all the best practices. When you are satisfied by the TTFB value of your hosting provider, you can start implementing the tips to speed up a WordPress site.
Want to test TTFB of your existing WordPress site on Cloudways? Start with a free trial and migrate your WordPress site with just a few clicks. And don’t forget to share results in the comment section below.
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Mustaasam is the WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways - A Managed WordPress Hosting Platform, where he actively works and loves sharing his knowledge with the WordPress Community. When he is not working, you can find him playing squash with his friends, or defending in Football, and listening to music. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org