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Follow Up on CloudFlare and the Impact on My Blog Traffic Stats

It’s been just over a month since I started using CloudFlare to boost blog page load speed.  Cloud Flare Review

One of the questions that readers asked was about the impact on blog traffic. I wanted to give the web app a longer trial before I commented, so that’s what I’ll do today. But first, let me tell you about a few setup changes since my original review.

Changes To My CloudFlare Setup

1. I reduced the security level to low, because I didn’t have any major threats and I wanted to make sure that all my regular readers weren’t affected. The result is a win-win. Spam is still down, and no readers have complained. Spammers now have to work harder to leave comments on the blog and since I moderate all new comments, that leaves them out in the cold. (I’m also using the GASP plugin as a backup.)

2. I turned on the new auto-minify feature to make CSS and Javascript files smaller and faster.

3. I turned off Rocket Loader. This might seem like a strange decision, since the speed of CloudFlare is one of its main assets. However, I had problems with my newsletter signup form and Facebook widget not loading properly. When I turned Rocket Loader off, the problem disappeared. This is a beta feature, so I plan to re-enable it when the CloudFlare admins issue the next update. Despite this, I am still benefiting from improvements in page load time. According to CloudFlare, my site is running about 33%  faster.

Cloudflare and Site Performance screenshot

4. One of the things that CloudFlare does is take all your traffic via its servers. A side effect of that is that your web host may see unusual amounts of traffic coming from CloudFlare’s IP addresses. CloudFlare suggests that you whitelist these if possible. This was information I found out after the my host temporarily pulled my account for excess CPU load. (Don’t worry, it was fixed within 15 minutes.) The solution was to change an advanced setting in WP Super Cache to use mod-rewrite to serve cached files.

Analyzing Blog Metrics After Installing CloudFlare

So, what difference has CloudFlare made to the traffic to my blog? Here’s what the figures show.

1. Site traffic is down. According to Google Analytics, there have been about 1,100 fewer visitors in the period from 8 June onwards compared with the previous period. However, they have generated about 3,000 more page views than before. Clicky‘s figures show a 3% drop in visitors and a 6% drop in page views.

2. Bounce rate is way down. There’s a 20 point+ drop in bounce rate between the periods. Clicky shows a 10% reduction in bounce rate.

3. The people who are visiting my site are visiting an extra page per session. They are also spending longer on pages. This also matches the stats on Clicky, where there have been significant percentage increases in the numbers of people staying more than a minute on the site.

What I’ve Learned with CloudFlare

So, what have I learned? Since enabling CloudFlare, I’ve discovered that there’s an awful lot of bot traffic to my site. That’s no surprise, given the number of sites that routinely scrape my content. Keeping those security threats at bay has reduced visitor numbers. I don’t see that as a big loss, because since enabling CloudFlare engagement with my content is way up. The people who visit my site are sticking around, commenting, emailing me and subscribing to my newsletter. That’s very good indeed and that’s why I plan to stick with CloudFlare for the time being.

[box type=”important”]Here’s a Trouble Shooting Guide from the CloudFlare blog to address some common problems.[/box]

[ois skin=”Contact Page Optin”]

About 

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer and ghost writer. Connect with Sharon on her website or Google+.

90 Comments (click here to leave a comment)

  1. Dennis Edell

    I’m still not sure of all this cloud stuff myself…some info overload for sure.

    It does seem to be working nicely for you so far though, keep us updated please. :)

  2. Thanks for more insight on it…After reading last post I wanted to try it but after reading this one, I believe it’s a good time to give it a shot..
    Meanwhile if you can tell me, did you notice any traffic drop from search engine after making changes?

  3. Daniel Snyder

    Hey, I too am happy with CloudFlare and my follow up included lowering the security settings to low. I haven’t had any other issues, so I’m happy. The improvement in speed is great! Thanks for your insights.

  4. Wise decision to keep using CF Sharon. I have been on it for almost two months and I have basically felt the same thing as you, except the number of my visitors has skyrocketed to 120% + in two months. I think this is attributed to the fact that my site was very slow before CF and low patient visitors would just go away. I also disabled Rocket Loader due to issues I was having on serving BSA ads.

    The one thing I did not do (yet) is to whitelist CF IP range on my host. How important and necessary is that? Thanks for the follow-up. Just confirms my initial assessments about CF.

    • Although they recommend it, DiTesco, I haven’t whitelisted those IPs either, mainly because my host only makes it easy to block IPs and not to whitelist them. :) So I’d say it’s not essential unless you’re getting grief from your hosting provider. I’ll be interested to monitor it over a longer period and see if I get the same results as you. I’m sure that having a faster site is helping people to stick around more.

  5. I am using CF for about 3 weeks now and my stats pretty much are in sync with yours. I have seen an increase in page views, time spent and a decrease in bounce rate. But my traffic also has increased unlike yours.

    Whitelisting CF ip is something I need to do yet. I am often getting the “access restricted” page asking me to enter a captcha to get to my page. I am sure some of my visitors would also have got it. Will whitelisting help? Or should I turn the security level low?

    Nice post Sharon.

  6. You have described the anatomy of CloudFlare in WordPress and I have first time read about this.I will sure use this to enjoy its services.

  7. What a coincidence that I should come across this topic now. I just installed one of those social bookmarking toolbars (that rest at the base of every page) on my site, and I was wondering whether my page-loading speeds have suffered as a result. This might be one of the apps I use to test those speeds…

  8. Nice read, I am glad I am not the only one who realised the imact of bot traffic, I was so disappointed when I realised that about 1/5 of my “visitors” were not visitors at all.

  9. I recently moved over to cloudflare about a month ago as well. At first I noticed nothing different. Google page speed and YSlow showed no changes in load time. But about two weeks later I did some more tweaks on cloudflare’s side and I notice a big difference. I am about remove a bunch of plugins and theme change so, I guess I will be making more tweaks to cloudflare again as well…

  10. I have wanted to give CloudFlare a try for sometime, I think now its the time. I’m glad to see that you have had success with it and hopefully I will too.

  11. Very interesting Sharon. Although your blog visitor numbers have reduced, the quality has improved. Seems that Cloudflare is worth keeping an eye on.

    John
    Leamington Spa, England

  12. The quality of traffic is much more important that the quantity. If you ask me, I suggest you cheer up and put more effort in marketing. You’ll achieve more success, congrats!

  13. Michael is right on the surface but we are all human and when you see the number of visitors fall from 100 to 20 or 1000 to 200 you cant help but feel a little down on that point.

  14. Good informative post,

    I usedm CF however I found it affected nmt google ad sense earnings drastically.To the point of ZERO earnings
    After disabling CF my ear nings came back!?
    Now thinking of giving CF another go.Any reports yo have onb this would be read with interest
    Gr eg

    • I suspect it’s to do with the Rocket Loader affecting the Javascript, Greg. If you change it to manual, then you can say which scripts the Rocket Loader can handle and which it can’t.

  15. I will surely try this on one of my site and if i got god results than i implement this on other sites also. hoping that this will works well for me also?

  16. Hey! Thanks for sharing a direct experience with this service. I trust so much more the results of users vs the information provided by the company. It seems my blog is too much in the initial stage now to get the most out of this, but will give it a try later on. Thanks!
    Susane

  17. Good to see yet another person enjoying CloudFlare. I’ve used it on a few prior blogs I had that were running WP, and it was just an amazing time.

        • What do you mean it blocks your connect? I need more details about the error you were getting (specific error messages, etc.). Are you trying to access an admin panel (cpanel, etc.)?

  18. Hello Sharon. As you know I’ve installed cloudflare last week and even though it chugged a little bit before starting to work, I now have more comments, double the traffic according to Google, bounce rate is down, time spent on blog increased and an all over happier contributor team and readers. And that has all been on your suggestion. Thanks!

  19. I had a very bad experience with CF the other day and don’t plan to set it up again.

    I set it up and after 3 hrs of working it was showing 55.000 page views. Weird right. I have never run into any explanations how to run CF nor did I get an e-mail explaining important stuff, so I missed the fact that I can not edit or access any of my files on CF until I do some additional settings.

    I could not change my CSS file, I could access my FTP, nothing. I tweeted about this with someone and CF sent me a tweet asking what the problem way. I told them and they said something along the lines we will try to make it more visible.

    However, after all that I just returned to my regular hosting.

    I obviously missed the important information but it wasn’t really put in front of my face and I kinda consider that a great tool, when everything you need is in your face and you can’t miss it. Not to mention that the stats were all weird.

    Anyway, I heard great stuff about it, but I won’t be playing with it anymore.

  20. “run into any explanations how to run CF nor did I get an e-mail explaining important stuff,”

    We send a welcome email to ALL new customers with links to very important information (links to an article covering the ftp issue). That being said, we’re trying to make this more visible for folks directly on the site. We do have a help section (https://www.cloudflare.com/help.html) that can answer a lot of questions as well (typing in ftp would have returned results relevant to FTP issues).

    You shouldn’t have any issues with the CSS files. If you’re making changes to CSS, however, you do need to go to Development Mode first.

    The stats’ issue is outlined here: http://blog.cloudflare.com/understanding-analytics-when-is-a-page-view-n

    Our stats will look higher than Google Analytics because our requests go through DNS & don’t require JS.

    While I’m sorry that you had a bad experience, contacting us (or even Tweeting to us) could have clarified a lot of these issues for you. There’s always a learning curve using a new service & we’re always looking at ways of communicating with our users better.

  21. Jym

    Nice to have an update on how it’s working out for you Sharon.

    I started using CF about halfway through reading your previous article about it, and have only positive experiences to report back.

    Still a bit mystified (despite the CloudFlare explanation) as to how CF’s analytics can report so much more traffic than my stats on Clicky and Google, but it’s not a problem. Thumbs up from me :)

    • I wish it would be easier to explain re: analytics.

      -Google & many other similar services supplying analytics use JavaScript to record the visit, which isn’t a perfect solution for counting visitors (if a visitor had javascript turned off, for example, it wouldn’t show as a visit).
      -Since we’re actually seeing the request to the site at the DNS level going to your site, it is actually much easier for us to say that’s a “real visitor”.

      • Jym

        You explained it very well Damon.

        I’m just surprised that ‘Mighty Google’ uses such an imperfect solution.

        Thanks for making it more clear!

  22. Actually there are many programs like CloudFlare, but most of the people do not really know how effective they are. Feedbacks from the users of such programs are really useful for other in order to get an idea about the usefulness of the program. Thanks lot for sharing your experience and it was absolutely valuable

  23. I’ve been thinking about changing my account from medium to low. I haven’t done it yet, but I am wondering if medium is a good setting or if it happens to block or prevent real legitimate traffic. The auto-minify I was thinking about, but I have a mod that compresses css and js files already and not sure if it might conflict. I think the rocket loader was off by default when I signed up and I am reluctant to enable it. Cloudflare does tell me it has saved a decent amount of traffic bandwidth, but I am just hoping that the medium setting isn’t blocking and saving too much. I may try a low setting for a week and see what happens.

  24. I also recently started using cloudflare and my sites load speed is definitely faster now, which lead to reduce bounce rate and more Amazon sales :-)

  25. Hi Ray,

    “I’ve been thinking about changing my account from medium to low. I haven’t done it yet, but I am wondering if medium is a good setting or if it happens to block or prevent real legitimate traffic.”

    I think it is probably best to explain why we challenge traffic first, which can be found here: http://www.cloudflare.com/wiki/DataSources

    Reminder: You can override CloudFlare’s behavior by whitelisting IP addresses.

    “The auto-minify I was thinking about, but I have a mod that compresses css and js files already and not sure if it might conflict.”
    As the feature is still in beta, there is some risk of conflict (pretty rare). Try activating it, then turn it off if problems occur…you can then report the bug to us here: https://www.cloudflare.com/wco-bug-report.html

  26. Came to know about the CloudFlare just now, thanks to the post…. Gonna try it on my blog as well. Hope that it will give me some positive results too :)

  27. Sharon, your two CloudFlare posts will help me with my latest round of tweaking.
    I love the idea of fewer spammers. Even with GASP, it’s a chore to plow through those intrepid human comments.

    Cheers,

    Mitch

  28. Danny

    So far it is working out quite well.
    Really cool that you describe the setting changes you’ve made. Very usefull.
    It would be great if you post about this once every month or 2 months, and maybe hold it next to your normal monthly growth for more exact numbers.

  29. Another possible reason for the extreme drop in bounce rate (and increase in page views) is that the pro version prefetches other pages on the site when a visitor first lands, causing additional page loads for each visitor.

    So, even if the visitor only sees one page, they might load up several others in preparation.

  30. hi Sharon, many thanks for the great share on Cloudflare. I just try to activate this feature in my site, my site is Main domain in the host, and I activate another one too (an addon domain). After few days, I could see stats for the second site (addon domain) but I can’t see any stats for my main domain. Is there any special instructions to activate it to my main site/domain?

    thanks

  31. What a coincidence that I should come across this topic now. I just installed one of those social bookmarking toolbars (that rest at the base of every page) on my site, and I was wondering whether my page-loading speeds have suffered as a result.

  32. lots of good info here :) i have been using cloudflare for about two weeks now, about as old as my site is haha, and compared to my other site i notice faster speeds in loading. i have security set to medium and it blocks quite a bit of bots and spammers. I have the rocket beta thing working and no issue with the facebook app. I’m very satisfied with the cloudflare :) awesome article sharon!

  33. Ive just signed up! Im too much of a wimp to try it out on my main domain, so Ive switched it on for a little site to see how it goes…I just cant help feeling something so good could be free?

  34. I have used CloudFlare in the past, and it has saved my blog a few times. When my host goes down, CloudFlare used a cached copy to serve to my visitors, so my blog could still be displayed to my visitors.

    I recently had issues with CloudFlare and my host, where I had difficulty with the dashboard in my blog. I have temporarily disabled CloudFlare until I can find the issue. The other reason I disabled CloudFlare was to monitor the uptime of my host. With CloudFlare enabled, there was little downtime, so I couldn’t get an accurate reading.

    I am planning to switch hosts (I know one that supports CloudFlare), so I’m hoping to use that service again.

  35. Nice post. I already read about this info 3 months ago and its a great addition into my knowledge. thanks a ton for sharing it with us.
    its very valuable and important for all of us to do.

  36. I personally like cloudflare but I have also seen it creating problems with the website like blocking the real users and sometimes blocking the images and file downloads from the website. I will try the tips suggested by you to see if this helps.

    • “I personally like cloudflare but I have also seen it creating problems with the website like blocking the real users”
      The IP address the challenged users came from have recently shown bad activity online (see: http://www.cloudflare.com/wiki/DataSources).

      You can, however, do several things about this:
      1. Lower your security level settings to a lower level (settings->CloudFlare settings->Security Level->Basic Security->Change to desired level)
      2. Whitelist the IPs in your Threat Control panel to override the behavior.
      3. Whitelist IP ranges or countries in Threat Control.

      and sometimes blocking the images and file downloads from the website.”
      Not catching the full context here & would probably need more details to assist. If you’re making changes to the static content on your site, such as images, you do need to go to Development Mode first so the changes appear. A beta feature called Rocket Loader may also impact things that work off of JavaScript or jQuery, so you could turn this off if your images were working on something like a slider.

  37. been using cloudflare in one of my sites to test the service out. I have almost the same results as you especially on the visits/pageviews. I’ll try to lower the threat control as I’m totally disappointed with the drop in traffic. yes, pageviews are higher but visit is only 30-40% of what I get from the normal setup. my ‘normal’ setup has an .htaccess blocking a range of known IPs of spammers. I disabled the .htaccess directive when I started using cloudlflare so I was kinda expecting the traffic to nudge up a bit.

    I’ll give it another spin for another week with the low security setting. I might even go for the “Essentially off” if the results are still the same.

  38. “I’ll try to lower the threat control as I’m totally disappointed with the drop in traffic. ”

    We shouldn’t be doing anything that would impact the traffic like that. Are you basing this off of Google Analytics or something? Would need more details sent to our support team to check it out.

    Also: Do you have mod_cloudflare (or equivalent) installed? Some stat programs, like Awstats, can be thrown off if you don’t have a mod to restore original visitor IP back to your logs.

  39. Hi Sharon. Thank you for sharing your story here. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article. I have not really tried cloudfare apart from twice to be precise. I am hoping to use it again to increase traffic.

  40. Recently I have enable cloudflare on my blog.Today I checked my blog it was saying one more step to access your website.

    Seems like I need to whitelist my Ipaddress in Cloudflare threat control.I did it but still that page coming.Could please confirm me what i need to do?

  41. Perfect explanation for the little traffic drop, i was wondering if Google doesn’t like CloudFlare but then you have given me a better and an under-stable explanation for it. Thanks

Trackbacks

  1. Follow Up on CloudFlare and the Impact on My Blog Traffic Stats…

    What effect does CDN Cloudflare have on blog traffic statistics? How effective is it at cutting spam and reducing bots. Find out in this follow-up to a detailed review of CloudFlare here on BasicBlogTips.com….

  2. Follow Up on CloudFlare and the Impact on My Blog Traffic Stats…

    What effect does CDN Cloudflare have on blog traffic statistics? How effective is it at cutting spam and reducing bots. Find out in this follow-up to a detailed review of CloudFlare here on BasicBlogTips.com….