How To Improve Server Response Times On Bluehost: A Common Issue Caused By Their Overcrowded Servers And Low CPU Limits

Bluehost is infamous for slow server response times.

You can measure this in Google PageSpeed Insights or Bitcatcha. Google recommends your server response time should be under 200ms. Any higher than 1-2s and you’ve got a problem.

You can fix slow server response times on Bluehost by configuring a solid cache plugin, avoiding high CPU plugins, using a CDN, cleaning your database, optimizing images, deleting unused plugins, using the Blackhole For Bad Bots plugin to stop spam bots, Heartbeat Control plugin, and making sure your hosting plan has enough server resources to handle your traffic/plugins.

Is Bluehost the problem?

Probably… they’re owned by EIG who is known for cutting costs by overcrowding servers. They’re known for being cheap (not fast) and are rated poorly in Facebook polls. Try joining the WordPress Hosting Facebook Group and see what real, unbiased people are recommending for hosting. There are much better options than Bluehost. I use Cloudways and have an awesome GTmetrix report especially for a 2.56MB size and 89 requests. You won’t get that with Bluehost.

 

1. Test Your Server Response Times

You can check your server response times in GTmetrix:

2021 OMM GTmetrix

Or in Lighthouse:

Reduce Server Response Time

Slow server response times can also lead to 503 errors:

Service Temporarily Unavailable

Unfortunately, this is pretty common with Bluehost:

Bluehost slow server response time

Slow Bluehost Server Response Time

Bluehost Server Response Time

Bluehost Crap Server Response Time

Bluehost Server Response Times

Bluehost-Managed-WordPress-Hosting

 

2. Avoid Hitting Bluehost’s CPU Limits

All Bluehost Shared Hosting Plans
Inodes200,000
Database Tables5000
Database Size10GB
Database Usage5GB In Single Database

 

3. Upgrade To PHP 8.0

Upgrading to a higher PHP version (in your cPanel) is one of the easiest ways to make your website faster while also reducing server response times. Bluehost now supports PHP 7.4.

Bluehost-PHP-Config

Bluehost Update PHP Version

 

4. Avoid High CPU Plugins

Too many plugins (or just 1 single high CPU plugin) can make or break your server response time (and load time). P3 used to be great at finding slow plugins, but now Query Monitor is best. Install the plugin and go to “Queries By Component” to view slowest loading plugins.

Query Monitor Slow Plugins

You can also use the GTmetrix Waterfall tab:

Slow WordPress Plugin Waterfall

*Common culprits include related post, statistic, sitemap, chat, calendar, page builders, and plugins that run ongoing scans/processes or show high CPU in GTmetrix.

  1. AddThis
  2. AdSense Click Fraud Monitoring
  3. All-In-One Event Calendar
  4. Backup Buddy
  5. Beaver Builder
  6. Better WordPress Google XML Sitemaps
  7. Broken Link Checker
  8. Constant Contact for WordPress
  9. Contact Form 7
  10. Contextual Related Posts
  11. Digi Auto Links
  12. Disqus Comment System
  13. Divi Builder
  14. Elementor
  15. View Full List Of 73 Slow Plugins

 

5. Configure A Cache Plugin

If you’re going the free route, I recommend either Swift Performance or WP Fastest Cache, and I have tutorials for both Swift and WPFC. But if you can drop the $49, WP Rocket is much better, is what I use, and was rated the #1 cache plugin in multiple Facebook polls. But why?

WP Rocket comes with many features most cache plugins don’t. That means if you were to use most other cache plugins, you would need to install about 6 extra plugins. If you’re like me, you only want to use 1 plugin. This is why WP Rocket yields better scores + load times in GTmetrix/Pingdom (it has more features, while reducing the number of plugins on your site).

  • Database cleanup (built-in to WP Rocket, or use WP-Optimize)
  • Heartbeat control (built-in to WP Rocket, or use Heartbeat Control)
  • Lazy load images/videos (built-in to WP Rocket, or use WP YouTube Lyte)
  • Host Google Analytics locally (built-in to WP Rocket, or use CAOS For Analytics)
  • Optimize Google Fonts (built-in to WP Rocket, or use CAOS For Fonts, or SHGF)
  • Integration with Cloudflare + other CDNs (built-in to WP Rocket, or use CDN Enabler)

WP Rocket is #1 in most Facebook polls (click thumbnails to enlarge):

Most people do not configure their cache plugin correctly or take full advantage of it’s features. I highly recommend looking through my tutorials to make sure your setup is ideal.

 

6. Remove Junk From Your Database

Your database can accumulate junk files like deleted comments, spam comments, post revisions, expired transients, and other things that are causing your database to be bloated.

It’s best to clean your database about once every 1-2 weeks. You can use the WP-Optimize plugin to clean it, as well as schedule ongoing database cleanups. Just make sure you take a backup of your database before doing this, especially if this is your very first time cleaning it.

WP-Optimize Clean Database

 

7. Disable Heartbeat

The WordPress heartbeat API shows real-time plugin notifications and that other users are editing a post. While this sounds nice, it also consumes server resources by creating a request every 15-30 seconds. Use the Heartbeat Control plugin and limit it, or disable it completely.

Heartbeat Control

If using WP Rocket, you don’t need this plugin, as this is built-in:

WP-Rocket-Heartbeat-Control

 

8. Activate Cloudflare

A CDN (content delivery network) offloads resources to multiple data centers around the world. This put less stress on your server, but it also reduces the geographical distance between your server and visitor, and is a recommendation in the WordPress optimization guide. I recommend using Cloudflare which is a free CDN with 200+ data centers and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be using it. Cloudflare is only available on Bluehost’s share plan, while customers with VPS or a dedicated server will need to contact Bluehost and request it.

In your Bluehost cPanel, go to Domains > Cloudflare > Activate.

Bluehost Cloudflare

Bluehost Cloudflare Activation

If you want to go the extra step, you can configure a few settings in your Cloudflare dashboard.

Cloudflare-Speed-Tab

 

9. Block Bad Bots

You will never know if spam bots are hitting your site and consuming resources, unless you check. I found 2 spammy bots (compute.amazonaws.com and linode.com) were constantly hitting my site about every 3 seconds – I was spending server resources on literally nothing. Obviously Googlebot is OK, but you want to prevent spam bots from consuming resources.

Step 1: Install Wordfence.

Step 2: View your live traffic report (under Wordfence’s Tools settings). Look carefully for a solid minute to see which bots are hitting your site. If they look spammy, Google their hostname and see if other people are reporting them as spam. Make a list of all the spam bots.

Live-Traffic-Report-Wordfence

Step 3: Go to Wordfence’s Blocking settings and add the spam bots here. Use asterisks to make sure you’re blocking all variations of that bot, otherwise this may not be effective.

Wordfence-Blocking-Rule

Step 4: Go to your Blocking log and enjoy watching those spam bots get blocked.

Wordfence-Firewall-Blocking

If you don’t want to use Wordfence, the Blackhole For Bad Bots plugin does this automatically.

 

10. Optimize Images

There are 5 ways to optimize images in GTmetrix and PSI, but a total of 15 ways as explained in my image optimization tutorial.

GTmetrix Image Optimizations

Properly size images – resize large images to be smaller. For example, my blog width is 680px so I take screenshots and crop/resize images for those exact dimensions. Learn the different areas of your site (logo, sidebar, blog, features images, etc), then follow the correct dimensions.

Defer offscreen images – lazy load images which was built-in to WordPress 5.5 and above.

Efficiently encode images – losslessly compress images using a plugin like ShortPixel. You get 100 free credits each month (this is the my favorite image compression plugin and I have tried many including Imagify, Smush, EWW, and others). Install it, grab your API key from the ShortPixel website, then configure the settings. Set the image compression level to lossless. Go to your Media tab and optimize a couple images to make sure you’re happy with the quality. If you are, bulk compress all images on your site. I recommend taking a backup beforehand.

Serve images in next-gen formats – use a WebP plugin like ShortPixel of WebP Converter For Media to convert your JPEG/PNGs to WebP. It’s usually done using the tag conversion method.

 

11. Use Lightweight Plugins

If you’re running high CPU plugins that cause slow server response times, you either need to delete them, or find alternative plugins that don’t consume as many resources. Here are some lightweight plugins I suggest, though in many cases, you need to do your own research/testing. View your Query Monitor report after installing EACH plugin to see how it impacts load times.

Social Sharing – WP Rocket’s test showed Social Media Feather, MonarchSimple Share Buttons Adder, and MashShare had the least amount of requests and fastest load times.

BackupUpdraftPlus.

SlidersSoliloquy, LayerSlider, or Meteor Sliders.

CommentsDisqus Conditional Load.

PortfolioEnvira Gallery, FooGallery, or The Grid.

Analytics – Google Analytics and Search Console should be plenty. Just make sure you’re hosting Google Analytics locally (using WP Rocket, CAOS, or Perfmatters).

Page BuildersWordPress Page Builder by MotoPress, but no page builder runs faster than the native WordPress Editor. Combine this with the Duplicator plugin and you shouldn’t need a page builder (including page builders built-in to WordPress themes). Unless your team absolutely refuses to learn a little HTML (the easiest coding language), avoid page builders.

StudioPress Plugins – lightweight plugins for the Genesis Framework.

 

12. Avoid External Resources

External resources can come from Google Maps, Analytics, Gravatars, social sharing plugins, comment plugins, and other sources. These pull requests from external resources and will increase server response times and destroy your GTmetrix + Pingdom reports. Obviously it’s best to avoid external resources all together, but I also left some common solutions below.

Cache-Gravatar-Images

Prefetch DNS Requests – if you absolutely HAVE to use external resources, prefetching them helps browser anticipate them so they can load faster. Luke created an amazing list of common domains to prefetch. Copy all these (or just the ones you need) and add them to your site (most cache plugins have an option for this). Also include your CDN URL if you’re using StackPath, KeyCDN, BunnyCDN, or another CDN (except for Cloudflare which doesn’t use CDN URLs).

Prefetch-DNS-Requests-WP-Rocket

Prefetch-DNS-Requests

 

13. Host Google Fonts Locally

If you see Google Font errors in your GTmetrix report, it means you need to host fonts locally.

Google-Fonts-GTmetrix

Use can use the CAOS for Webfonts plugin:

CAOS-Fonts

Or Self-Hosted Google Fonts plugin is a good alternative, which automatically downloads all Google Fonts you’re using and adds them to your CSS, with having to configure any settings.

Self-Hosted-Google-Fonts-Plugin

 

14. Host Google Analytics Locally

If you see Google Analytics errors in your GTmetrix report, it means you need to host your Google Analytics tracking code locally. The CAOS Analytics plugin does this automatically.

Leverage-Brower-Caching-Google-Analytics

CAOS-Analytics

WP Rocket also has this feature.

WP Rocket Local Analytics

 

15. Switch To Faster Cloud Hosting

Most hosting recommendations are garbage and I suggest joining the WordPress Hosting and WP Speed Matters group to get unbiased feedback because let’s be honest, we’re all affiliates.

  • SiteGround has a slow TTFB, CPU limits, support went downhill, among other issues. Unethical considering their community manager (Hristo) is an admin for this Facebook Group, and the TOS (sec. #9) prevents affiliates from using ‘SiteGround’ in bad reviews.
  • Hostinger writes fake reviews, votes for themselves in polls, also unethical.
  • GoDaddy is like my ex-girlfriend: lots of promises, but absolutely no delivery.
  • WP Engine used to be good, but most people left them and speed/support are awful.
  • EIG brands (Bluehost + HostGator) cram too many websites on slow, shared servers.

Regardless if you use my aff links, please don’t support unethical companies.

I use Cloudways (Vultr HF) who has always given me a fast TTFB and great GTmetrix results even on huge posts. You can click through my posts (most of them are very long) and they will load instantly. LiteSpeed is also popular which you can get through NameHero or A2 Hosting. I like NameHero’s Turbo Cloud plan which includes more RAM, NVME storage, and is still cheap.

Both are completely different setups. On Cloudways, I use WP Rocket with BunnyCDN. On a LiteSpeed hosting plan, you would be using the LiteSpeed Cache plugin with QUIC.cloud CDN. They’re both great setups and should give you a fast TTFB / server response time in GTmetrix, especially if you use my WP Rocket or LiteSpeed Cache tutorial to configure the ideal settings.

You can read my Cloudways review or NameHero review. NameHero is easier (cPanel, A+ support, email hosting) while Cloudways is a little “techier” but gives you better control of your server and has way more data centers in the US, India, UK, etc. Cloudways is monthly pricing with a free migration while NameHero has a 30-day refund policy and also has a free migration.

I switched from SiteGround to Cloudways in 2019. My response times were 2x faster, I was paying 1/2 the price of what I was on SiteGround, and had no CPU issues or high renewal prices.

Cloudways Shoutout

When in doubt, check Facebook polls:

Moving from SiteGround
eCommerce Hosting Poll

People who moved to Cloudways and posted results:

Cloudways Numbers
Cloudways-BuddyBoss

Hosting recommendations - Facebook thread

Cloudways Coupon Code
OMM25 gives 25% off your first 2 months at Cloudways
 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I improve server response times?

Although you can lighten the load on your server with CDNs, upgrading PHP versions, and avoiding slow plugins, your server is ultimately controlled by your hosting. Unless your website is not optimized for speed whatsoever, you really shouldn't be getting server response time errors.

How do I lighten the load on my server?

Using a good cache plugin like WP Rocket, configuring it correctly (including adding a CDN), upgrading PHP versions, and avoiding resource hungry plugins and third party scripts (eg. AdSense) can help lighten the load on your server.

Will cache plugins improve server speed?

Yes, they should especially if you also use them to setup a CDN. Cache plugins should improve load times, GTmetrix scores, and server response times.

Do I really need to upgrade hosting?

First, optimize your site. Then if you still have slow server response times, upgrading plans or consider moving to a faster host like Cloudways.

Is it Bluehost's fault?

Many people have reported slow servers on Bluehost some people improve their load times by over 7 seconds when moving to another host. Cloudways (cloud hosting) is a popular choice and were rated highly in Facebook polls.

I hope this was helpful. If you have questions, drop me a comment.

Cheers,
Tom

About Tom Dupuis

Tom Dupuis 2017Tom Dupuis writes WordPress speed and SEO tutorials out of his apartment in Denver, Colorado. In his spare time, he plays Rocket League and watches murder documentaries. Read his bio to learn 50 random and disturbing things about him.

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