Taking a bite out of your website’s ‘time to first byte’

April 19, 2014 Written by NetSphere Category: Tech Tools
Taking a bite out of your website’s ‘time to first byte’

Like holiday weight gain and the height of our rapidly growing children, so many things in life at some point or another must be measured. Website performance rates, however, are one item that doesn’t fall under the “at some point or another” category. The performance of a site should be constantly gauged and analyzed. 

As one would expect, there are several methods for measuring website performance. Additionally, there are several components of performance that can be measured individually. 

Time To First Byte or TTFB is one of these components. As its name indicates, TTFB is a measurement often associated with the responsiveness of a website. According to a definition on Wikipedia, TTFB is “the duration from the virtual user making an HTTP request to the first byte of the page being received by the browser.”

In layman’s terms, TTFB is the speed of a particular website. And whether a site is quick on its feet or slow like molasses, there are several contributing factors that play into TTFB. 

According to, there are three main factors that affect TTFB:

  • The time it takes for your request to propagate through the network to the web server
  • The time it takes for the web server to process the request and generate the response
  • The time it takes for the response to propagate back through the network to your browser.

Coincidently, there are also three free tests that can be used to determine a site’s TTFB. They include:

  1. This comprehensive tool tests a website’s overall performance, including time to first byte. Results are displayed in a waterfall view and are given a letter grade.  
  2. This test provides the specific number of seconds a site takes to get to its first byte, along with what they describe as “extended” information, including total time and speed download.
  3. Microsoft's Application Center Test: The ACT is used to simulate load for Web applications, allowing for tests on concurrency issues as well as how to better understand how applications behave under stress.

Once you’ve established your baseline TTFB, it’s time to optimize. And there are plenty of ways to do it:

From a front-end perspective, improvements can be realized by reducing the number of HTTP requests. By optimizing images, combining HTML and CSS files as well as JavaScript files, load times will increase. It’s also helpful to minify CSS, HTML and JavaScript for comments and white space characters. Using progressive versus baseline JPEGs will also help to improve perceived and actual load times.

Although front-end enhancements often result in the biggest performance improvements, networking tuning can also deliver big payoffs. Essentially, network tuning is all about caching web content at the network edge versus at the client or server location with the use of a content delivery network or CDN. This allows a website visitor to access a site quicker because it’s coming from the closest server possible.

Depending on the needs of a website, CDN providers come in all shapes and sizes. From free services to paid, the choices are vast. A few of the top providers include Akamai, CDNetworks and Amazon’s CloudFront. 

Finally, back-end performance enhancements can also improve a website’s TTFB. Much of those tasks reside in database maintenance where outdated data must be purged. By scheduling database maintenance on a regular basis, website owners can avoid sluggish databases bloated with months or years of old data, like expired guest users, stale orders and expired promotions.

For assistance optimizing a website's TTFB, schedule a call with the eCommerce experts at NetSphere Strategies:

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Abbe Miller is the marketing manager at NetSphere Strategies, located just outside Chicago. NetSphere Strategies is a boutique eCommerce company positioned to help businesses transform their online presence by providing a full complement of services that starts with our strategic consulting and creative design teams, then continues with building innovative solutions and providing ongoing post-project support.