In this article, I will dig a little into the “Reduce server response time” message, that Google sometimes gives when checking the website’s performance.
Google alarms about the response time, if it becomes more than 0,2 seconds — or 200 milliseconds. This can either be due to your website code that is too complex or your server that is not powerful enough. It can of course also be a combination of both.
Definition: Response time
In Google’s words, it is: “Server response time measures how long it takes to load the necessary HTML to begin rendering the page from your server, subtracting out the network latency between Google and your server.”
In other words, this describes how long it takes for your server to deliver the front-end code that needs to show the website. Most (nearly all) websites in the world, are built with backend-codes (Like C# and PHP) and databases that deliver front-end code (mainly HTML, CSS, and JS).
Therefore response time should not be compared with load time, which includes the end-user has loaded the full experience in their browser. Google PageSpeed Insights isn’t reporting load time as this depends on the internet speed from the end-user.
Solution #1: Improve Response Time at Server Level
The server has quite a huge impact on the response time. To simplify it a bit, it depends on how much power (both machine power and internet speed) the server has to offer.
The server’s power should match the amount of traffic you have on your website. If you increase a lot in traffic you often also increase in response time — which means it is time to upgrade to a more powerful server solution.
There are some different options for doing this, that I will go through here below.
1) Simple One-click Upgrades
If the website runs on one of those hosting services with different packages, it is often an easy and cheap fix to simply upgrade. If you reach their highest level and still feel challenged on getting a proper response time, you should either switch to a more advanced hosting solution or look at optimising it at website level.
2) Scaled Hosting Solutions
I am not a server expert, so maybe these solutions have a more fancy name — but let me quickly explain.
Your website might have a different amount of traffic based on season, the day of the week, the hour of the day or something else. Instead of investing in “one server”, that can handle the maximum pressure, you can invest in a scaled server that will provide more power in periods with lots of traffic.
Let’s say you run a system for managing salary for employees. Then you would know the pressure on the server would be much bigger in the end/beginning of each month. You also know that it is used by business so it wouldn’t be used that much on late evenings and nights.
This could make rules like:
- 4 active servers from Monday to Friday from 7.00 to 18.00
- 1 active server from Monday to Friday from 18.01 to 6.59
- 1 active server on Saturdays and Sundays
- 8 active servers on the first and last week-day of each month
Some providers also offer auto-scaling where it just scales the moment the traffic-load starts to make the server slower.
Solution #2: Improve Response Time at Website Level
The website is also a huge factor in the response time. Just to be clear: This doesn’t mean offering a less fancy website — just rebuilding the website in the very best (and most lean) way.
It’s very individual how to approach this based on the website, so I will try to go through some of the often seen barriers in getting a proper response time.
1) Many Database Connections
Most websites connect to a database to retrieve content, blog posts, employees, news or something like that. On many websites, the database connections are the ones taking up a lot of the response time.
Possible solution: Make sure to use database connections only, when they are needed — and make sure to only load the information used in the particular view.
2) HTML Code
If you try to load too much HTML, it can cause a longer response time. This often happens in cases, where an overview of all blog posts/news is rendered on one page.
Possible solution: An often seen solution is to apply pagination, so it only renders 10/20/30 items on a page. You can also do like Facebook and load more items automatically on a surgent scroll level, so visitors do not even realise the “limited loaded items”.
3) CSS Code
If your website loads tons of stylesheet-code, it could ruin the response time on your website. CSS is necessary to style the website, but it has to be written correctly, as the same styling can be possible with less code — if you know the workarounds.
Here below I show two pieces of stylesheet-code, that applies the exact same styling, but takes up a different amount of characters.
Example one (298 characters):
background-position: center center;
Example two (141 characters):
padding: 20px 10px;
border: 2px solid #FFFFFF;
background: #000000 url(‘/images/website-background.jpg’) no-repeat center center;
4) Amount of documents loaded
Possible solution: Some documents can be gathered into one instead of multiple. For other documents, the content can be included directly into the HTML code (instead of in its own file). Another approach to those documents is to think about if they all are needed on all pages, or maybe just on a few selected pages.
What about the rest?
I am aware that this article doesn’t cover everything you can do regarding optimising response time. The options are nearly endless, and they depend on which system (or which code language) you are using.
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