The best things in life are free! That old adage certainly applies to the free website speed and security enhancements offered by Cloudflare.com. I tested this service and consider it a real value for small business websites (especially WordPress) that can benefit from an extra layer of security and speed.
What is Cloudflare?
CloudFlare is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that sends your website traffic through a global system of high speed servers allowing visitors to access your website from the server closest to their location. This speeds up your website, and reduces the demands on your original web host. It does not replace your current web host. Rather, it maintains copies of your website on additional speed optimized servers around the world. The added benefit is that Cloudflare also offers additional security tools and benefits that offer a terrific value at no cost.
There are three tools provided by CloudFlare's free service that offers the greatest benefits. They are:
CDN service – This is Cloudflare's Content Delivery Network. Your website is copied to and displayed from CloudFlare’s speed-optimized web servers based all around the world. The website loads faster because it is served from the web server closest to the visitor. If you are using a low-cost web host such as GoDaddy, this is a great way to speed up your website (especially if you are using WordPress).
Caching – Serve up a cached (stored) copy of your site to increase your site’s speed.
SSL Certificate – Encrypt your website’s connection (Https) to prevent the theft of you and your visitors’ personal information.
My Experience With Cloudflare
First of all, I would recommend using the services of an experienced web developer to setup Cloudflare if you do not have a good basic knowledge of web hosting. The configuration can get a bit confusing if you are not familiar with the terms commonly used to describe service features. It is a straightforward and simple process of you are comfortable with editing .htaccess files and DNS configuration.
Website Speed Improvements
This is the single best benefit gained from using Cloudflare free service. I tested Cloudflare on a WordPress website that uses lots of images that are 900x600 pixels in size on average. Typically, the speed improvements have averaged between 30-60% overall, a meaningful improvement! Website speed is a Search Engine Optimization ranking factor in Google. The speed improvements were seen in mobile devices as well as desktop computers. This benefit alone makes Cloudflare's free service a great value.
Cloudflare's Free SSL Certificate
Cloudflare offers a free option of adding Https encryption to your web pages. Here I emphasize the need to be familiar with editing .htaccess files and WordPress settings to set this up properly. Once it is setup, it works flawlessly, encrypting all pages with the Https encryption protocol. This is a great value as well. Google would like to see all websites secured by Https (not just e-commerce websites), and this will improve your search engine ranking as well.
Additional Security Benefits of Cloudflare
Cloudflare’s application firewall (WAF) protects your website from common vulnerabilities like SQL injection attacks, cross-site scripting, and cross-site forgery requests. It also protects against Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks that can shut down an unprotected website.
Once you setup Cloudflare, it needs no further maintenance. If you are editing pages on your website, you may need to login to your Cloudflare admin page to purge the cache to see your updates right away. However, I consider this a minor inconvenience that is easily justified by the powerful benefits and protection gained from using Cloudflare. Here is a post that offers a basic guide to Cloudflare setup.
While Cloudflare offers a more comprehensive paid service, for many small-business websites that free service is meet their needs. Highly recommended!