Why does SiteGround fail TTFB testing for WordPress sites?

blue opt

Save the Internet from WordPress speed abuse.

Updated: December 2017

5 minute read

We recently evaluated a London-based site’s home page for speed opportunities. Load times on Pingdom were: 2.05 seconds, 1.95s, 1.85s for three consecutive readings. And on WebPagetest.org: 2.86s, 2.6s, 3.27s. The site-owner Niel’s audience is predominantly on smartphones and tablets. Speed is important to them – and him.

We told Niel:

You are not sharing your server. Fast. But TTFB (time to first byte) is around 1.3s that is an “F” for fail. It’s your worst problem right now. Talk to your host and ask about TTFB specs.

We’ve written about TTFB specifications before in our article:

PagePipe: CloudFlare’s Bad TTFB >

The Time to First Byte (TTFB) is the time your browser spends waiting on the web server to send back the data.

Niel contacted SiteGround. He asked what was the deal with their bad TTFB. Here’s SiteGround’s response:

“The website is quite fast from my end. It loads for 1.35 seconds from my browser and for 2.25 from GTMetrix.

The TTFB time depends mostly of the type of website used. There is a difference. When you(r) website is a simple HTML site the browser just downloads the HTML code to the browser and the TTFB is very low. You will get an A there, however if you have a PHP application for website like WordPress or Joomla the TTFB is the time needed for the web server to compile the PHP code in index.php file to HTML code so this is why the websites built on top of PHP are slower.

For WordPress for instance when the index.php is compiled all plugins of WordPress are read by the web server as well so this why it is so slow.”

This is the best attempt we’ve seen from SiteGround explaining their lousy TTFB.

But we suspect the information isn’t really true. One potential reason they’re getting long TTFB delays is they use NGINX (EngineX) servers instead of Apache – just like CloudFlare.

We have seen erratic TTFB on SiteGround hosting. There are spikes when average load times are 12 to 26 seconds for pages that normally load in under 1 second. For one site we have under test, this slowdown happened 4 times in the last 30 days on SiteGround. And about the same frequency the month before. The slow times seem to occur every 5 to 6 days like a wave. Everything goes sour those days.

SiteGround can’t give any scientific explanation. Voodoo. They just reset the server cache. Then cherry-pick a WebPagetest.org test result that looks good – and report saying, “Look! We fixed it.”

Being consistently bad on magnetic drives is better than being occasionally great on SSD drives.

But we can do the exact same thing ourselves. The cache reset has nothing to do with it. It doesn’t fix anything.

SiteGround is saying they can’t perform well as long as you’re using WordPress. What?! They’re pointing the finger at WordPress. It could be true – but we doubt it. Here’s why: a large percentage of the Internet is using WordPress – 500 new WordPress sites are created every day! Surely SiteGround isn’t ignoring this? Do all their WordPress customers see this badness? If so they have a big, fat problem – not WordPress.

OFFSITE LINK: Falling Out Of Love With Siteground >

SiteGround isn’t being honest about their TTFB problems. Cognitive dissonance? If what they’re saying is true, wouldn’t the speeds be consistently bad instead of erratically bad?

You can find out your TTFB on: ByteCheck for free.

PagePipe is a WordPress site on crappy GoDaddy hosting and it loads in under 1 second. We get a predictable 500 millisecond TTFB from GoDaddy (with PHP version 5.4. TTFB is improved to 175 milliseconds since switching to PHP 7.1). As long as that “badness” never changes PagePipe loads in under 1 second. (Note: Yes. We host on magnetic GoDaddy drives. This is evidence of what is really possible using speed strategy).

Why doesn’t GoDaddy produce the same “PHP compilation delay” SiteGround is claiming? One difference is the shared GoDaddy server is Apache. PagePipe shares its server with 20 other domains. Niel and others on SiteGround share with no sharing! With Solid-state Disk Drives (SSD) even! Are SiteGround customers paying for fantasy speed?

SiteGround claims the WordPress plugins are causing TTFB delays. They have to be kidding! PagePipe has 53 active plugins – and it’s not slow. That excuse is a smokescreen. A deflection away from the real problem which SiteGround isn’t disclosing. They need to own the problem, be transparent and responsible.

We smell a rat.


“I have been using SiteGround shared mid plan and the TTFB times are horrendous at least half the day and every day. I’m lucky in a sense at this point that my blog is small, theme is fast and it’s quite optimized. Even so, I’m giving strong thought to move to a (semi ) dedicated server in a month or so and not renew with them, even while acknowledging their outstanding customer support.” —author: Howard Milstein


If you’re new here, start with our best primer speed articles.

If you’re ready to give your WordPress site wings, here are powerful tools to speed up your site.

Learn how the most popular plugins and ideas waste your time – and hurt web speed. Includes important tips for mobile speed without coding.

Godspeed—

Steve Teare
performance engineer

Mobile WordPress Speed – without coding!

What others think of us:


"I’m absolutely delighted and I wouldn’t have got anywhere near the 1-second load time without your guidance, so I’m eternally grateful." UltraWords.com  United Kingdom

by - Jonathan Westwood