Server Response Time - How Much Does it Really Matter?

In other blogs we’ve discussed uptime as one measure of a website’s performance. Other metrics often quoted are server response time and page load time. It’s easy to see how uptime or page load time can impact a visitor’s experience. Server response time though, is just one component of each of these higher level metrics, one possibly overlooked when optimizing a website.

Is this single component of the total web experience worthy of your attention?

The short answer is: yes!

If your website visitors have to wait too long they will leave. You won’t get the sale, or the lead. Your website, and possibly your company name may have a negative association the next time they go surfing the web. Most studies converge on a maximum total wait time of about two seconds. Much longer than that and your visitor is bored, frustrated or annoyed and they move on to the next website.

Looking at the data from this past holiday season the trends indicate that the websites with better server side performance generally had better overall user experiences - faster total page load time. While not true for every retailer, it is easy to see the correlation. If your server response time is slow it won’t matter how streamlined your webpage is when it comes to the end user’s experience.

And if you use Google Adwords, they use a measure of “load time” when determining which ads to offer. “Site speed” is also taken into account for Google rankings, though the official word is speed doesn’t influence rankings as much as relevance.

Using monitoring services that examine your website from multiple, preferably global, locations gives you the insight into seeing how your website is performing. Server response time is just one of the metrics you can analyze but one you need to pay attention to as it can change due to factors completely external to your system.

Take Seatgeek.com for example. Last August the East coast experienced an earthquake centered in Virgina. Seatgeek used Amazon cloud services - hosted in Virgina. When they checked their monitoring systems they found a huge spike in response time due to the earthquake’s impact on the servers. Fortunately the increased response time was short lived, but the point is hard to miss.

Every website needs to be monitoring frequently enough to catch events as they happen. And you need to be prepared to respond. Server response time is a critical component in determining the overall user experience of your website. In the end, it is the user experience that either makes your business, or loses you business.