Let’s face it, Google is obsessed with speed. But don’t take my word for it, look here and here, too. So what can you do about it?

CloudFlare LogoLast week we came across an article noting a security product that “accidentally” makes web sites load 60% faster. We almost passed it by, until we saw that it arose from Project Honey Pot – which we had seen previously. In brief, Project Honey Pot is a project that studies how spammers and hackers operate, and applies that knowledge to defend against them. It turns out that in the process of studying security it was necessary to figure out how to really speed up page load times, so the security monitoring wouldn’t slow down web sites they were monitoring. The result was CloudFlare.

Five Minutes to Faster Page Loading

CloudFlare is proud of their quick signup process. They show a video on the home page, and note that your signup will take less time than watching the video. The only thing you’ll need is a way to notify your web hosting company of a change of two entries (your Domain Name Servers or DNS). Most commercial web hosts have a web-based control panel you can use to make these changes, and CloudFlare has a help page to guide you for many popular web hosting companies. If you use a content management system or blog system (like Drupal or WordPress) there may also be a CloudFlare plugin to help with configuration.

Once you’ve created your CloudFlare account and notified your web host of DNS changes, it takes about 24 hours for the actual changes to take effect, then you’re off to higher speeds – and while you’re at it, much higher security, as well. There is a free plan, a Pro plan and an Enterprise plan, each with different speed and security features.

Give Me the Bottom Line!

We noticed faster load times in far less than the 24 hours stated. In fact, it is almost scary watching a page load. If you’re used to seeing elements appear one or two at a time, prepare to be surprised. When loading a page there was a brief hesitation (maybe 0.5 seconds, at most), then the entire page just appeared! There was no delay of “Waiting for example.com” or “Transferring data from example.com” – just a brief perception of a status-bar notification and the page was loaded.

CloudFlare provides a nice Dashboard with analytics showing the number of page views (be prepared for the number to be higher than shown in your analytics software, as CloudFlare is not measuring using JavaScript, so they are giving accurate numbers of even users without JavaScript enabled), and a breakdown of how many came from visitors, crawlers, and threats.

That’s right, they identify threats. Because of their security emphasis, CloudFlare has a database of known threats and can identify them on the fly, and prevent them from gaining access to your site. Their “Threats” tab on the Dashboard shows details of threats and their sources. Often they block a user who has been known to post spam on other sites. You can grant access to a user you feel is wrongly blocked.

Speed is the Bottom Line

In the week or so that we’ve been using CloudFlare, we’ve observed that the actual speed numbers seem to vary a little – both the numbers given as “Without CloudFlare” and “With CloudFlare”. That seems to correspond to Google’s SiteSpeed measurements, so we presume that the daily changes represent anything from internet traffic delays to hosting server delays – as they vary, page load speed will also vary.

One thing that hasn’t varied is that the page load speed with CloudFlare is much, much faster than without it. the site for our Freeport Maine Bed & Breakfast has averaged 70-80% faster with CloudFlare.

Oh, and we observed one more, unadvertised benefit: our traffic shown by Google Analytics began to increase noticeably once the page speed improved (though it wasn’t bad before!). We’ve seen better than a 50% increase in traffic to the site, with no change in bounce rate, since installing CloudFlare.

Let’s see, 70-80% faster page load speed, with greater security. Free. What would you do?

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