What Makes up my Page Load Time?
When a request for a page is made, the Front-end and Server-side
components both take a certain amount of time to complete their
operations. Since their operations are essentially sequential, their
cumulative time can be considered the
total page load time.
The front and back-end factors to site speed: A fast time is composed of both of these sides working in an optimal setup.
Even after you've optimized your Front-end, speed gains can still be
achieved by optimizing the Server-side. This means
optimizing the way the page is generated by your server.
A good indicator of your Server-side performance is the time it takes to
generate the HTML page (page generation time). This
is labeled as "Waiting" time on the first element in the
waterfall graph (also known as the "time to first byte"). Generally, this
time should be kept under one second (or as low as
How Can I Make the Server-side Faster?
There are many causes to a slow server-side, but they can essentially be grouped into two categories:
- Inefficient code or SQL
- Bottlenecks/Slow Server
Since each site has a unique platform and setup, the solution to these
issues is dependent on each site. One site might need to have their
server-side code optimized, but another might just need a more powerful
server. Budget constraints may also come into play, as optimizing
server-side code for minor speed gains might be more affordable than
upgrading servers for massive speed gains.
It's best to truly understand your requirements before pursuing a
server-side option path.
The following optimizations are commonly used to improve server-side
speed (click buttons for more details):
Programming languages like PHP, Perl, Python, or ASP are usually
teamed up with databases like MySQL, PostgreSQL, or Microsoft SQL
Server to create software such as WordPress, Drupal, Magento and all
sorts of custom platforms.
This software is usually fairly optimized out of the box, but there are
often many customizations to the code or plugins that cause slow
performance as a result of inefficient code or un-optimized database
Code optimization involves analyzing the code and database queries and
finding the spots where the code is inefficient and where database
queries are slow. After finding these "hotspots," it's the job of a
developer to fix those problems. For code this often involves finding
a better algorithm or modifying the code to work around a bottleneck
(ie. hard disk space or I/O, bandwidth, etc). For databases, this may
involve adding indexes to speed up the query, rewriting the query or
modifying the structure of the database.
Most websites today are dynamic, meaning that they pull from a database
of information, insert the pulled data into templates, and then serve
them to you. This happens every time somebody requests a page from the
server, and the time it takes to perform this process is dependent on
the efficiency of the code and the power of said servers.
Without Page Caching
The server gets a request, queries the database for content, builds the page, and sends generated html back.
Since the server is handling thousands of requests for the same
page, and is essentially "building" the same page every time, why
not build the page once, and send that "pre-built" version to
anybody that requests it? This is referred to as page caching.
With Page Caching
If the server gets a request for page it has previously generated, it sends that version back immediately. That version is the "Cached" page.
Sending your users "cached" versions of pages is like giving them
photocopies of a flyer. It's much faster for you to give them
photocopies than redrawing and writing the content each time
somebody asks for one.
Page caching can be a very effective means of speeding up the generation of a page, but it also has its downsides:
- Pages that require authentication can't be cached (as they often contain user information on them).
- Changes to pages don't show up until the page cache has expired.
More Powerful Servers
Let's define two popular terms in the hosting world:
- Shared Hosting or Virtual Hosting: This means that including your website, the server hosts many websites. All these websites share its processing power and resources.
- Dedicated Hosting: You are the only user on the server. The server's processing power and resources are dedicated solely to your website(s).
The Issues With Shared Hosting
A Shared Server.
Shared hosting is the most affordable, and can be reliably used for
starter sites or development purposes.
However, when an enterprise level site matures to the point where
traffic is ramping up, a shared server cannot offer much in terms of
How Dedicated Hosting Compares
A Dedicated Server.
Larger sites may require multiple dedicated servers (clusters) that
play different roles (database querying, media serving, etc.) to
generate a faster page load. These servers are built for
performance, and so their specifications are quite powerful.
Dedicated servers are typically reserved for higher-traffic,
resource intensive websites (you won't need one for a small website
about your cat) and are higher in cost than shared servers. They
are a must, however, for enterprise-level websites and businesses
where their website is mission-critical.
In combination with a speedy front-end, optimizing your Server-side
performance can yield amazing results for your page load time.
Generally, the page generation time for complex dynamic sites can
be kept under 0.5 seconds.
Need help? We know optimization and we know it well. Finding the best
solution to speed up your website isn't always clear cut, but with 16
years of web experience, we can help you plan, develop, and implement a
faster site experience for you and your users.
Learn more about our Optimization service, or contact us with the form