How To Reduce Server Response Time (Time To First Byte) In WordPress To Under 200ms: Item In Google PageSpeed Insights

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Reduce Server Response Time

So you ran your website through Google PageSpeed Insights and need to keep server response times (ttfb) low in WordPress.

Let’s get this out of the way.

Servers are controlled by your hosting: Bluehost, HostGator, GoDaddy, and EIG brands are infamously slow and rated poorly in 40+ Facebook polls because of their overcrowded servers.

SiteGround and Cloudways are almost always top 2 (SiteGround for shared hosting and Cloudways for cloud hosting). I have used both and have 100% GTmetrix reports with near 100% in Google PageSpeed Insights as well as Pingdom. Even this post loads in roughly 2s and it has tons of images with a 5.26MB page size and 138 requests. Now that’s good hosting!

There are others ways to reduce server response times which I’ll cover in this tutorial: eliminating high CPU plugins, offloading resources to CDNs, configuring your cache plugin to optimal settings (I recommend WP Rocket), and fixing specific items in your GTmetrix report.

But, no optimization will replace a slow host/server. Do your research in Facebook Groups!

Reduce-Server-Response-Time-Facebook

 

1. Ditch EIG And Low Quality Hosts

If you have slow server response times, I bet you’re hosted with GoDaddy, HostGator or Bluehost (EIG brands), Namecheap, A2, or another low quality host. Have you done your research in the WordPress Hosting Facebook Group? SiteGround (shared hosting) and Cloudways (cloud hosting) were by far the 2 top-rated hosts in over 40+ Facebook polls.

List-Of-EIG-Brands

Look at these 41 people who migrated to SiteGround or Cloudways and posted their results.

Switching To SiteGround

Cloudways Response Times

July 2019 Hosting Recommendation

Hosting Recommendations Facebook

HostGator To SiteGround Migration

Untitled

VPS Cloud Hosting Poll

2018 Hosting Recommendations

 

2. Check Your CPU Usage

Check your hosting account to make sure you’re not maxing out CPU limits. Try to never exceed 80% of your limits so your server stays relaxed. On cloud hosting, you can add more CPU + RAM which will help, and on shared hosting you will have to upgrade your plan. But before you do, follow this guide as it should also help you reduce CPU consumed by your site.

Reduce-CPU-Usage-WordPress

That’s why it’s so important to choose a plan with enough server resources. Host companies give you guidelines based on your monthly visitors, but they don’t take into account how many plugins you have, whether they consume lots of resources, and whether you’re using a CDN.

SiteGround-Server-Resources-Comparison

 

3. Find And Eliminate High CPU Plugins

*Most slow WordPress plugins include social sharing, statistic (analytics), sliders, portfolios, page builders, calendars, chat, contact forms, related post, sitemap, Wordfence, WPML, WooCommerce, and any plugin that runs ongoing scans or processes. These can be identified using Query Monitor or Waterfall 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 (use Dr. Link Check)
  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. Essential Grid
  15. View Full List Of 65 Slow Plugins

Use GTmetrix To Find Your Slowest Plugins
If you see a plugin showing multiple times in GTmetrix, or it takes a long time to load in the Waterfall tab, you should either delete it or replace it with a more lightweight, faster plugin.

Slow WordPress Plugin

Recommended Lightweight Plugins

Other Plugin Tips

  • Be minimal
  • Deactivate + delete all plugins you don’t use
  • Avoid plugins that have duplicate functionality
  • Turn of specific plugin settings that consume CPU (eg. Query Monitor and Broken Link Checker constantly scan your site and consume CPU, delete them when you’re done)

 

4. Upgrade To PHP 7.3

Many WordPress sites still run PHP 5 even though PHP 7.3 is much faster. That’s because hosting companies won’t automatically upgrade your PHP version (due to potential compatibility issues) which you can use the PHP Compatibility Checker plugin to check for.

WordPress PHP Benchmarks

How To Check Which PHP Version You’re Running
Install the Display PHP Version plugin to check which version you’re on. If you’re using an outdated version, login to your hosting account and upgrade to the highest possible PHP version available, then check your site for errors. If you see any, chances are one of your plugins is not compatible. You can either revert to an earlier version or use a different plugin.

Display-PHP-Version

Upgrade to PHP 7+ in your hosting account, then check your site for errors:

PHP Update

 

5. Configure Optimal Cache Plugin Settings

Most people don’t configure their cache plugin to the optimal settings. I have written popular tutorials on configuring WP Rocket, WP Fastest Cache, W3 Total Cache, and WP Super Cache.

With most other cache plugins, you would need to install about 6 extra plugins to get these features, when WP Rocket has them all built-in, reducing the number of plugins on your site. If you’re like me, you only want to use 1 plugin, otherwise you will need to research which features your cache plugins comes with, then install these plugins if it doesn’t support them.

WP-Rocket-Features

2016 best cache plugin poll

2019 cache plugin poll

Swift vs WP Rocket

2016 cache plugin poll

Best cache plugins 2018 poll

wp rocket vs w3 totla cache

 

6. Add Cloudflare

Cloudflare’s free CDN offloads bandwidth consumption to their data centers (putting less stress on your server) while reducing the geographical distance between your server/visitor.

Here’s what WordPress says:

CDN-WordPress-Recommendation

Here’s the bandwidth you can save with Cloudflare:

Cloudflare-Bandwidth

Most hosts have an option to enable Cloudflare in their cPanel:

SiteGround-Cloudflare-Activation

You can also setup Cloudflare using most cache plugins (below is for WP Rocket), but WP Fastest Cache and W3 Total Cache also have options for Cloudflare + CDN integration…

WP-Rocket-Cloudflare-Add-On

More CDNs = More Data Centers = Less Bandwidth Consumption
StackPath also has their own 30+ data centers which offloads even more resources. Cloudflare is enough for most websites, but I would use StackPath for mid to high traffic sites, and you can use KeyCDN’s speed test to see how fast your site loads in different locations. To activate Stackpath or another CDN, use WP Rocket’s CDN tab, or the CDN Enabler plugin.

WP-Rocket-CDN-Settings

 

7. Block Unwanted Bots

Have you checked your Wordfence live traffic report lately?

I did, and I saw the same few bots were hitting my site constantly and putting stress on my server. Obviously Googlebot and other ones are good, there may also be spam bots hitting your site. Unless you check, you’ll never know. Here’s what I did, and what you should do too:

Step 1: Install Wordfence.

Step 2: View the live traffic report for a few minutes to see who is hitting your site in real-time.

Live-Traffic-Report-Wordfence

Step 3: Take note of sketchy-looking bots constantly hit your website. Google their hostnames to see if other people are reporting them as spam (Googlebot and Bingbot are obviously okay).

Step 4: Block all spam bots (you have a few options here). Wordfence has blocking settings as well as rate limiting rules. However, Wordfence consumes a lot of CPU itself. The alternatives are Blackhole For Bad Bots, Block Bad Queries, or Cloudflare Firewall Rules (this is what I use). You can create up to 5 free firewall rules which means you can block your top 5 spam bots. Just copy their hostname from Wordfence, then block it in Cloudflare. Be sure to use an asterisk* so any variations of that bot are also blocked: amazonaws.com linode.com are 2 common ones.

Cloudflare Firewall Rule To Block Bad Bots

 

8. Clean Your Database

If you deleted a plugin, theme, have lots of post revisions, spam comments, or expired transients, clean your database. You should do this every week or so to keep your site fast.

If using WP Rocket, run this in the database settings:

WP-Rocket-Database-Settings

If not using WP Rocket, use the free WP-Optimize plugin:

WP-Optimize Clean Database

 

9. Optimize Images

We’ll use GTmetrix for this. Run your site through GTmetrix and in your report you’ll see images can be optimized 3 ways. GTmetrix only shows unoptimized images for a single page so start by optimizing images that appear on multiple pages (logo, sidebar and footer images), then run your most important pages through GTmetrix and fix individual images on those too.

There are 3 ways to optimize images in GTmetrix:

  • Serve scaled images – resize large images to be smaller
  • Specify image dimensions – specify a width/height in the image’s HTML or CSS
  • Optimize Images – losslessly compress images using Imagify

image-optimization

Serve Scaled Images – GTmetrix tells you which images are too large and the dimensions they need to be resized to. Find the image, crop or resize it, upload it to WordPress, then replace the old image with the new one. Follow your “image containers” and create a cheat sheet (below). You can manually check for large images by right clicking an image → copy image address then go to that URL where you should see if it’s too large. Never use the drag to resize feature in the visual editor since this only resizes the displayed image (not the actual image).

Sample cheat sheet:

  • Logo: 150(w) x 37(h)
  • Sliders: 1950(w) x 550(h)
  • Sidebar Widgets: 319(w)
  • Blog content body: 600(w)
  • Featured images: 200(w) x 200(h)
  • Carousel images: 225(h)

Specify Image Dimensions – refer to your GTmetrix report and expand these items to see which images need this. Locate each one in WordPress, then specify the dimensions (width/height) which GTmetrix will tell you. The visual editor takes cares of this automatically so you usually have to do this with images that are in widgets, page builders, and other places.

specify-image-dimensions

Optimize Images – losslessly compress images using Imagify or Kraken (both are free until you reach the monthly limit). While there are other completely free plugins that offer unlimited compressions, do NOT use these since they have bugs, won’t work, or will break your images.

Imagify Instructions

  1. Install the Imagify Plugin
  2. You will be prompted with instructions
  3. Sign up for Imagify and enter your API key
  4. Set your compression level (normal, aggressive, ultra)… I use aggressive
  5. Imagif’em all (bulk compresses all images on your site)
  6. Once your limit is up, buy a plan or wait next month to reset your limit

imagify

imagify-wordpress-image-optimization

When you’re done, run your pages through GTmetrix and make sure all 3 items are 100%.

 

10. Optimize External Scripts

If you’re using third party scripts, these cause extra requests and will show up in your GTmetrix report. Some scripts are difficult or even impossible to optimize (especially AdSense and social widgets which are best to avoid all together), but I listed some optimizations below.

Tips For Optimizing External Scripts

GTmetrix-Advertisements

 

11. Delete Unused Themes + Plugins

Go to Appearance → Themes and delete any themes you’re not using. You can keep one version (eg. Twenty Seventeen theme) in case something goes wrong with your active theme.

Delete Unused WordPress Themes

Delete WordPress Plugins

 

Cloudflare and some hosting companies let you enable hotlink protection which prevents people from copying/pasting your images on their website (which sucks up your bandwidth).

Cloudflare Hotlink Protection

 

13. Update WordPress Software

Keep WordPress core, themes, and plugins updated.

WordPress Updates

 

14. 40+ Facebook Polls On “The Best Hosting”

The polls speak for themselves:

Hosting Recommendations Facebook

VPS Cloud Hosting WooCommerce Poll

July 2019 Hosting Recommendation

Elementor Hosting Recommendations

2017-WordPress-Hosting-FB-Poll

Hosting Recommendation Poll

WordPress-Host-Poll-Aug-2018

Shared-Hosting-Poll-2017

2019-Hosting-Poll

Go-To-Hosting-Company

WordPress-Hosting-Poll-2017

Managed-Hosting-Poll

WooCommerce-Hosting-FB-Poll

2016-Web-Hosting-Poll

Best-WordPress-Hosting-Provider-Poll

Best-Web-Hosting-2019-Poll

SiteGround vs Bluehost Facebook Poll

WP Friendly Hosting Poll

VPS Cloud Hosting Poll

WordPress Hosting Suggestions

2018 Hosting Recommendations

Favorite Hosting For Elementor

2016-WordPress-Hosting-FB-Poll

WordPress Hosting Poll

WordPress Hosting Poll Sept 2018.png

Managed-WordPress-Hosting-Poll-2017

2019-Hosts-Poll-1

Hosting-Poll-For-Speed

WordPress-Hosting-Poll-June-1

SiteGround-Recommendation

2014-Managed-WordPress-Hosting-FB-Poll

Best-Web-Hosting-Provider-Poll

Hosting-Poll-Feb-2019

Hosting-Recommendations-Poll

SiteGround-vs-Bluehost-Twitter-Poll

Bluehost vs SiteGround

WordPress Web Host Poll

 

15. SiteGround: Fastest Shared Hosting

SiteGround is used by Yoast, myself, and recommended by WordPress. They are #1 in nearly every Facebook poll and give most people significant load time improvements especially if they were using mediocre hosts: GoDaddy, Bluehost, HostGator, InMotion, Dreamhost, EIG.

Yoast-on-Twitter-We-just-switched-to-Siteground

I use their semi-dedicated GoGeek plan which comes with 4x more server resources than shared hosting. Click through my pages to see how fast they load, check out my GTmetrix report, or see people who migrated and posted new load times. They also do free migrations.

SiteGround is recommended by WordPress:

SiteGround-Recommended-WordPress-Host

And by Ivica who runs the WordPress Speed Up Facebook Group with 16,000+ members.

WordPress-Speed-Up Recommended Tools

Happy customers:

Godaddy To SiteGround Migration

EIG-To-SiteGround

SiteGround-Migration

SiteGround has 3 plans:

SiteGround WordPress Hosting

Higher plans include more server resources (#1 factor in the WordPress optimization guide). Here’s the full comparison chart, but GrowBig gives you about 2x more server resources than StartUp, and GoGeek is semi-dedicated hosting which gives you even more. GrowBig and up comes with a free migration, staging, advanced caching, and ability to host multiple websites. GoGeek comes with priority support. Their cloud hosting is quite the price jump at $80/month.

You can see this on their features page:

SiteGround-Server-Resources-Comparison

I like SiteGround because:

  1. My GTmetrixPingdom reports speak for themselves
  2. My pages load instantly (click through them if you want)
  3. Fast speed technology (PHP 7.3, NGINX, SG Optimizer, Cloudflare)
  4. Recommended by Yoast, WordPress, Ivica from WordPress Speed Up
  5. Free Let’s Encrypt SSL, easy to use cPanel, and features for eCommerce
  6. WordPress support is unbeatable even without GoGeek’s priority support
  7. GrowBig comes with staging, more storage, and more server resources (scroll down to “we allocate the resources you need” and hover over the server tab)
  8. GoGeek comes with even more server resources, storage, priority support
  9. Free migrations, migrator plugin, and a 30-day money back guarantee
  10. Plenty of praise on Reddit, Facebook conversations, Twitter, TrustPilot
  11. Tons of praise on Facebook: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7#8, #9, #10#11
  12. Many people already migrated and posted results on Twitter: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6#7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25, #26, #27, #28, #29, #30, #31, #32, #33, #34, #35, #36, #37

Affiliate Disclaimer – if you sign up for SiteGround with my affiliate link I will donate a good chunk at no expense to you. Each year I donate $3k to GoFundMe campaigns (2018 was to feed the hungry in Denver, 2017 was to Red Cross at Hurricane Harvey). Your support helps and I genuinely appreciate it. I try to make my reviews unbiased and backed by evidence in the form of Facebook polls, tweets, and real conversations. If you don’t want to use it, here’s a non-affiliate link to SiteGround. Either way I truly believe they are a stellar WordPress host and your site will run faster/smoother… do your research on Facebook groups + Twitter and you’ll find most people say the same.

Get hosting from SiteGround

 

16. Cloudways: Cloud Hosting Is Even Faster

Cloudways is even faster than SiteGround:

SiteGround-vs-Cloudways-Cloud-Hosting

Their support isn’t as good as SiteGround, they don’t support email hosting, and they are more expensive starting at $10/month (I recommend their DigitalOcean or Vultr plan). But for pure performance, you can’t go wrong with them. There are usually #1 or #2 in Facebook polls and my Cloudways review includes tweak in your CW dashboard that make your site even faster.

Cloudways-Review

They have 5 cloud hosting providers to choose from:

Cloudways-Managed-Cloud-Hosting

Never tried managed cloud hosting? It makes a huge difference.

Managed Hosting Poll

They also do free migrations:

Cloudways Free Migration

Feedback on Cloudways:

Cloudways-Facebook-Thread

Get hosting from Cloudways

(save 25% for 2 months with promo code OMM25)

 

17. Migration Results

Here are people who migrated to SiteGround or Cloudways and improved their server response time, load time, and Pingdom/GTmetrix reports. Using a more powerful server can make drastic improvements if you’re with a low quality host. Both will migrate you for free.

People who migrated to SiteGround:

Switching To SiteGround

SiteGround Load Time Migration

Bluehost to SiteGround GTmetrix

HostGator To SiteGround

SiteGround GoGeek Load Time

SiteGround GTmetrix

SiteGround Google PageSpeed Insights

100 Perfect Score On SiteGround

SiteGround Genesis

Speed Delivered By SiteGround

SiteGround GTmetrix Report

Reduced Load Times With SiteGround

New SiteGround Response Times

HostGator To SiteGround Migration

SiteGround Response Times On Joomla

Switched To SiteGround Hosting

SiteGround Rocket Imagify Combo

SiteGround Blogging Migration

Joomla GTmetrix On SiteGround

SiteGround PageSpeed Insights

SiteGround On Joomla

SiteGround Reduced Load Times

SiteGround Speedy Hosting

New Pingdom Results On SiteGround

New SiteGround Response Time

SiteGround Response Time Improvement

People who migrated to Cloudways:

Cloudways Response Times

WP Engine To Cloudways

DigitalOcean Pingdom Report

Godaddy to DigitalOcean Migration

Cloudways Server Response Times

Cloudways Load Time Improvement

Cloudways vs WP Engine

Untitled

Cloudways Pingdom Load Times

Cloudways Pingdom Report

Vultr Migration

Namecheap To Cloudways Migration

Cloudways WooCommerce Migration

Cloudways AWS Migration

WPEngine to Cloudways Migration

Do your research is all I’m sayin’:

Bluehost-Managed-WordPress-Hosting

HostGator Feedback

Godaddy Managed WordPress Hosting Feedback

 

18. Frequently Asked Questions

✅ Why causes a slow server response time?

Servers are controlled by your hosting. If you're using a low quality host or are putting too much stress on your server (eg. too many plugins), this can cause slow response times.

✅ Which hosting has slow servers?

GoDaddy, Bluehost, HostGator, and EIG brands are infamous for having slow servers. The top 2 rated hosts in Facebook polls are usually SiteGround (shared hosting) and Cloudways (cloud hosting). Migrating to a faster host is the easiest way to remedy a slow server.

✅ What is a good server response time?

Google recommends a server response time of <200ms. However, this is usually only possible if you are knowledgable about website optimization and are using fast hosting.

✅ What affects server response times?

Hosting, cache plugins, high CPU plugins, spam bots crawling your site, whether you're using a CDN, and optimizing images can all affect server response times.

✅ How do you measure server response times?

Google PageSpeed Insights is the best way to measure server response times.

Conclusion: join the WordPress Hosting Facebook Group to get real, unbiased opinions. Look at the Facebook polls that were taken and people who migrated to different hosts and posted their results. Finally, stay clear of low quality hosting affiliates who only want the commissions.

Does hosting matter?

Yeah, it does. It’s your hosting server we’re talking about.

Cheers,
Tom

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Siva

Hi Tom,

I checked onlinemediamasters in the page speed tools. The score is outstanding!
My client has hosted his site with digitalocean already. The site speed is low and one of the reasons is slow server response time.
This post is eye-opening in many ways.
Should I suggest my client to change his hosting provider? Cloudways charges twice the price of the digital ocean.
Will this change over show the results?
Thanks.

Nicole

Thank you! I’ve been wondering how to speed up my site and after going through each step here, it is unbelievably faster! I haven’t made the hosting switch from Bluehost to Siteground but I will be planning on it in the near future!

Thanks for the help!

thewordpress

thank this post was best post about speed opt.
it was full of details which i need

uprisesol

Great Work. First time read a great article about site speed special for HTTP/2.0

Tyler

Great read. Working through some hairy fun now.

Howard

This was excellent!
I use SiteGround middle plan and have consistently scored 100 on speed page and get metric.
Just few days ago, SiteGround is showing 96 -99 ( reduce server response)
Wondering if go geek would get it back up there again?
Howard