Cloudflare Review

Does It Really Work?


I’ve been on a quest for the need for speed lately. I recently swapped to a new host Host Gator and that helped with the load speeds of the site increased (a bit). But it also gave me an opportunity to make the site even more lean and mean by going through the plugins I was using and removing the fluff. A big part of that though was deciding to add a CDN to help optimize and speed up the load times of the site. But like most bloggers on a budget I had to find something that not only worked but was in my price range – free! This is where CloudFlare comes into play. Read more to find out what a CDN is, and if CloudFlare is right for you!

Site Speed

Even if you have the greatest content in the world and a site that is designed right the one thing that will turn people away faster than anything else is a website that takes forever to load. Things like not optimizing your images, having too many WordPress plugins, and using too many java script all can affect your load times greatly. So when starting to optimize your own website that is where I would start. But after you have worked on fixing them what next?

CDN – Content Delivery Network

The next step to consider is to implement a CDN to take that final step to speeding up your website. A CDN will take all of your images, java script, and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and host them on to their network to quickly load them on your visitors browsers. Another benefit is that a CDN has a huge network of servers that are closer to your potential visitor ensuring that your site will load quickly wherever in the workd they are visiting. The downfall is that they can cost a lot to implement.

Cloud Flare

I happened to first seeCloudFlare from a fellow blogger’s site The Bad Blogger. I decided to do some research and found that they offered a FREE service! I thought there was some sort of catch or I would have to plaster their logo all over the place. But as it turns out not only was it simple to setup – there was not catch! It really is FREE. But not only do they offer their CDN services check out the other features they offer:

CDN

Well first they offer your basic CDN service. By caching things like your images, CSS, and javascript on their servers you are sure to have a site that will load quickly no matter where in the world visitors are checking out your site. Another cool feature of using a CDN? Say your host went down for whatever reason. You would still have a cached page instead of the dreaded 404 message people would usually get! I know it works… I inadvertently tested it while switching to a new host!

Optimization

CloudFlare offers for your pages to be further optimized before being loaded onto your visitors browser. I already mentioned some of them above! The other benefit of using a service like CloudFlare? It will save your bandwidth and the amounts of requests to your webhost!

Security

Add another layer of security from Spammers, SQL Injection attacks, and DDOS attacks from the script kiddies. By having to go through their CDN first it is just another layer of protection to keep your site and your visitors safe! It also offers services like obscuring email addresses and preventing hotlinking of your images.

Analytics

CloudFlare offers you some awesome stats to see how your site is performing. I take them with a grain of salt though. Although Google Analytics uses java script to track visitors, CloudFlare’s numbers will be greatly inflated showing you more of a “raw data” indicating almost 5-10x more traffic then you are actually receiving!

Applications

There are a slew of applications available that CloudFlare will implement on their end. Some are pretty frivolous to being really beneficial. You can add Google Analytics, PunchTab Rewards, and even experiment.ly!

Implementing Cloud Flare

So with a ton of forethought and planning (i.e. I’m full of crap) I decided to go for it. So how did I implement it? Seriously it was probably the easiest setup process I’ve ever gone through!

  • First I signed up for my CloudFlare account. After I received my confirmation email I then signed onto CloudFlare.
  • I then imported my DNS settings which CloudFlare exported and setup for me automatically. I do recommend doing some research to understand what you are looking at though.
  • After I had everything setup with CloudFlare I then went to my GoDaddy account and changed the DNS settings to point to CloudFlare instead of my webhost. This is the scary step as GoDaddy states this could take up to 24hrs for them to make the changes. For me it took 10 minutes for the changes to take place.
  • After all of that all I had to do was see if I could still see if the website was up and running and *poof* I had implemented CloudFlare onto my site.
  • When this is all completed you can go back into the CloudFlare dashboard and finish tweaking the settings by enabling applications or making any necessary changes to your DNS. (I had to manually add things like FTP and SSH that I had forgotten about.)

Do You Really See An Improvement?

Considering I had already tweaked this site? I can definitely say yes I do see an increase. Of course I would do your own testing first to see if I’m lying to you or not. I did a random test (as of this writing) to see how fast it loaded. Actual content of the site loaded fairly quickly with the added geegaws and doo hickeys loading a few seconds afterwards (i.e. ads, the sharebar, and my PunchTab toolbar at the bottom of the screen.) What this means is that the stuff you want to see – the images and text loaded really fast, and the rest of it kind of popped up a little bit afterwards. So I still have some work to do… *sigh*

Updates

I had a fellow blogger Bryan from www.thehobbyblogger.com ask about how the CDN refreshes the site if I make changes.

If you are going to implement small changes to your blog? They will take place ‘on the fly’. I have not had any issues performing basic site updates/maintenance. If you are doing extensive updates? You can either temporarily disable Cloud Flare through their control panel by clicking on the “Development” option. Or disable Cloud Flare altogether. I do recommend using the Development mode as that will only temporarily disable the service for a few hours.

Update #2

Lost Traffic?

People have told me horror stories about potential lost traffic or visitors getting blocked to their sites. I have done a short test with my own site and I can say I did not see any noticeable difference in traffic with the service off or on. I would suggest though that if you think you are losing traffic? You should conduct your own testing. This can be done by either:

A) Adjusting the Security settings from what you currently have it set at to a lower setting.

or

B) Disable Cloud Flare altogether and test to see if your traffic changes dramatically.

Also please note I do not have a huge traffic site. So your results may vary.

Is a CDN For You?

Well, that depends really. If you don’t get much traffic and if your site loads quick as it is? Then um, no? But if you want the added security and speed you get with a CDN then I say sure! I had a great test this past week with visitors averaging around 1500 – 2000 visitors (hey I hear you snickering!) and everything remained snappy even when I had 30 visitors hammering (OK, knocking softly) on the site!

For me the benefits outweigh any negatives using CloudFlare might bring.

And did I mention all of this is FREE already? For larger sites they do offer paid plans that offer additional functionality – but for most folks the free plan will definitely do the trick!

Other Resources/Additional Reading

I am suggesting that you read these two articles to help you make a decision as well. Why? Well I respect the sites and more importantly I want you to have a better overall opinion rather than some little blog you happened to run across while searching for information. Both will give you a more technical explanation and I found them interesting.

Conclusion

CloudFlare is a fantastic option for bloggers on a budget. From what I’ve researched on the web CloudFlare is considered “CDN-lite” by some folks. All I know is that it works! I might look into using a different CDN later on but for now CloudFlare is an awesome solution!

What are your thoughts on using a CDN? What service do you use if any? Leave a comment below with your experience with using a CDN or if you have any questions!

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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