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In terms of being rewarded with higher rankings on Google, what is a more important attribute for a website to have?

A fast time to first byte, or a fast overall load time?

I manage around 50 Wordpress websites, and I find:

  • W3 Total Cache has a 12% faster Time to First Byte than WP Rocket (0.2408 v 0.2698)
  • WP Rocket has a 0.7% faster overall load time.

I'd like to determine which of the two would be a better caching plugin to use for the Wordpress sites.

  • Which is heavier, a pound of rocks or a pound of feathers? – Rob May 22 '17 at 12:31
  • moz.com/blog/how-website-speed-actually-impacts-search-ranking, "With no correlation between search ranking and what is traditionally thought of a "page load time" we expanded our search to the Time to First Byte (TTFB). The TTFB result was surprising in a clear correlation was identified between decreasing search rank and increasing time to first byte." – Ivo van der Veeken May 22 '17 at 13:09
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    It's an old article so I'm not posting it as an answer, but this isn't a "Which is heavier, a pound of rocks or a pound of feathers?"-question. – Ivo van der Veeken May 22 '17 at 13:10
  • That article doesn't make much sense. Decreased rankings are good. You want to rank #1. (Which is why I like to talk about rankings in terms of "better" and "worse" rather than "increase" and "decrease".) – Stephen Ostermiller May 22 '17 at 13:20
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    Honestly, it is probably better to pay attention to both enough to make sure you are within range of reasonable. Focusing too heavily on one or the other might be short sighted. Shoot for a good balance. – closetnoc May 22 '17 at 15:28
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What actually matters to users is the time at which something appears on their screen that they can use. That generally means that the page has to finish loading, the CSS and JavaScript has to finish loading, the page has to get rendered, and the images above the fold have to load. For users, overall load time is going to have more of an impact than time to first byte.

Search engines pay attention to how users react to a page. If the page doesn't become usable within about 3 seconds, users start turning back. I've found that any methodology that can decrease the time to the "page load" event to under 3 seconds improves SEO. Further improving performance can increase user interaction, but does not lead to better rankings.

Google has said that they will penalize very slow sites outright, but those penalties only apply if the initial page (as fetched by Googlebot without CSS, JS, and images) takes more than 7 seconds.

It sounds to me like the two plugins you evaluated are not substantially different in terms of their performance benefits. Either of them are likely to be able to get the site fast enough for SEO.

I am skeptical that a caching plugin can decrease overall load time without decreasing time to first byte. Caching plugins work by storing HTML in memory for a page so that it doesn't have to be fetched from the database and assembled by the web application after the first time. The work that a caching plugin is saving all happens before the first byte is sent. After the first byte is sent, the network is usually the limiting factor.

  • I don't remember patent now about using page speed in ranking factor, but they use some factor like if Page is loaded within 0.1 to 0.5 seconds it should give x score, and if page load within 0.6 to 1.0s it should give y score and so on... – Goyllo Sep 11 '17 at 4:21
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Google changes their algorithms frequently, so I think it's impossible to "exactly" tune any site. SEO research says that users take 2-3 seconds for a site to load something useful and then they click away. So the answer to your question is really "whatever it takes to deliver useful content to the user quickly.

And Wordpress has their own overhead and peculiarities, depending on theme, if you are using your own server with Wordpress.org, a hosted site with Wordpress or a Wordpress.com site.

It may be useful to think of it as what is the intention of your site? If you are blogging or an online store or a photo gallery all require different optimization to respond at the best speed. When you analyze your site where are the bottlenecks: server, Internet connection, poorly optimized content? Tweak your site, configurations and SEO tactics to meet the purpose of your website. Serve your pages as efficiently as you can (and as quickly for those impatient users.)

SEO tactics vary, but you can do a lot to help your ranking and search "grade" by effective use of keywords (including in image titles/alt text), good meta descriptions and getting high quality backlinks. Getting more sites to link to your site is a solid way to increase your SEO rankings.

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