I've been trying to increase page load speed on my blog for a couple of years now – and I've finally found a tool that helps me do it – Cloudflare. My blog page load speed has been fluctuating for a while, not helped by a host that throttled my site every time it got a little bit of extra traffic. I don't have a high-traffic blog, so I soon changed that host. I also experimented with better coded WordPress themes and caching plugins. All of them helped but none of them produced the rapid improvements I've seen with CloudFlare.
Boosting Page Load Speed with CloudFlare
CloudFlare is actually a security tool, aimed at protecting your site from online threats such as spammers, bots and exploit attackers. The page load speed boost is a welcome side effect, produced from the way CloudFlare works with your site. Here's how CloudFlare describes the service:
CloudFlare protects and accelerates any website online. Once your website is a part of the CloudFlare community, its web traffic is routed through our intelligent global network. We automatically optimize the delivery of your web pages so your visitors get the fastest page load times and best performance. We also block threats and limit abusive bots and crawlers from wasting your bandwidth and server resources. The result: CloudFlare-powered websites see a significant improvement in performance and a decrease in spam and other attacks.
Getting Started with CloudFlare and Page Load Speed
Once I'd signed up for a free account with CloudFlare it took less than 5 minutes to get it working. I added my URL, watched the introductory video and waited for the site to detect my DNS info. (If it doesn't, you can fill it in manually.) I then got some new name servers from CloudFlare and logged into GoDaddy to enter those, then I was done with the initial step. As with most DNS changes, you have to wait for them to propagate, but you will know that everything's working well when you start to see your analytics dashboard. I also downloaded a WordPress plugin to ease the integration between my blog and the CloudFlare network.
Setting Up CloudFlare
When you've completed those initial steps, you can go into the settings panel and adjust what you want. I started with the default settings, but then used the guide on this forum to make some tweaks and help improve page load speed. The setting cover security, caching, minifying images, setting a challenge for bots, masking email addresses, keeping your site online and more. This last feature is one of my favorites. Because CloudFlare caches your site, and essentially works as a content delivery network (CDN), your site is always online, no matter what happens. If there's a temporary problem, then CloudFlare serves up the cached version of your pages, so site visitors see no difference.
CloudFlare in Action – How My Page Load Speed Improved
It took a couple of days for the stats to start rolling in for my blog, but when they did, I was happy with the site speed performance and improvements. The one page dashboard includes information on page views, hits and bandwidth. It shows how much faster your pages load with CloudFlare (this info takes a few more days to populate the dashboard). In my case, CloudFlare shaved nearly a minute off my average page load time and saved 1.8GB of bandwidth. I don't just have CloudFlare's word for that, either. I monitor my site with an external app and saw an improvement in page load speed in that report within two days of signing up with CloudFlare.
The main page also includes the top 5 search engines that have crawled your site, the number of pages crawled and the last crawl date and information about the top 5 outbound links that readers have clicked.
There's also a link to the threat control panel, where you can see what kind of threat has targeted your site, how serious it is on a scale of 1-100, which country the threat came from and what action CloudFlare took (which is to challenge it). You can block or trust the particular threat and also add your own IP or country rules to your block or trust list.
And there's a bonus: I have also seen a marked decline in the amount of spam I have to process on my blog, which also saves me time. So far (I've been using it for about 10 days), I'm sold on the idea of CloudFlare and I'm considering recommending it to one of my clients whose site attracts a lot of spam.
Add-Ons to CloudFlare
Another interesting feature of CloudFlare is that you can integrate it with a number of apps, though in some cases you will have to sign up separately for accounts with the app providers. These include VigLink, Clicky, Apture, Monitis, UserVoice, Pingdom, SnapEngage, ExceptionHub, Zoompf, StopTheHacker, Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. I setup Google Analytics by pasting in my Analytics ID and left the rest alone. Every time I login there are a couple of new apps, so it's worth watching this page.
There are also Pro and Enterprise plans, but the basic features of the free plan will be enough for most bloggers. The main benefit of switching to one of the paid plans are real-time stats, resource analysis and optimization and some advanced security features.
CloudFlare: The Verdict
So, is CloudFlare right for everyone? If you already have a fast loading site, are using a CDN and are confident that your blog and web host are hacker proof, then you may not need it. For me, though, it's been great and I'm happy to be using CloudFlare for my writing blog. The page load speed increases alone are worth it, but the ability to block threats and the knowledge that my site will always be online are also priceless.
[box type=”important”]Here's a Trouble Shooting Guide from the CloudFlare blog to address some common problems.[/box]