Here’s a brief overview on how to test your server response time, and a few steps you can take to improve it.
What is Server Response Time?
This term is pretty much self-explanatory and refers to the amount of time it takes for a web server to respond to a request from a browser, also known as the ‘time to first byte’ (TTFB). No matter how hard you work on your website to make it SEO appropriate and super fast to load, if your server response time is slow your pages will display slowly too. After Google announced that site speed affects ranking (the faster your speed, the higher your ranking), improving your speed metrics has become all the more important.
According to Google, your server response time should be under 200ms. In real world terms that means that the server should respond to a request for the browser in under 200 milliseconds, and that is pretty darn quick. However, as they also note, there are numerous factors potentially affecting this, so achieving this is not always so straightforward. Problems in response time can be caused by an under powered server, a busy network or shared tenancy hosting.
How to test your server response time
There are lots of tools that can help you test your server response time, but perhaps the most straight-forward to use is Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. With this you simply input your URL, and it gives you your page performance score out of 100 (with a score of 85 or above giving you a ‘green light’). This is broken down into sub-sections including server response time, where it also provides helpful suggestions on how to improve your score.
Alternatively, there are websites dedicated to checking server response time specifically. One example is GTmetrix, where you can find the specific server response time in ms under the ‘waterfall’ tab of your analysis, along with other useful insights.
Sites like these should give you an idea of how your page is currently performing in terms of server response time, and tips on how to improve your website speed.
Choosing the best web server software
Of the many factors that contribute to your overall server response time, one to consider is your choice of web server software. The most commonly used is Apache, which means it is also the most heavily documented on and easy to configure so that you can adjust it to suit your needs.
But there are also other softwares which are worth looking into which use less resources. One example is the free software Nginx, which is growing increasingly popular. Another possible alternative is Litespeed, which is not as fast as Nginx, but is faster than Apache. It is also compatible with Apache as they both use the same htaccess files, so if you are using Apache currently it is well worth considering moving over to Litespeed, as it can be done easily and would likely improve your server response time.
Server response time and WordPress
Another thing to consider, if you have the budget, is getting WordPress-specific hosting. This costs more than other options such as shared hosting, but if you have the money to spend, it can be helpful as these hosts optimise specifically for the problems related to WordPress sites. A typical WordPress specific host costs around £15-£20 per month, with some of the most popular ones being WP Engine and SiteGround – WP Beginner has a helpful article which breaks down the pros and cons of each of these providers, and also gives useful information to help you decide whether WordPress-specific hosting is worth it for you.