To be clear: Cloudflare has no affiliate program, and I am not profiting from this endorsement in any way. Their product has some great features for technical/advanced SEO which can improve user experience very easily. There is no good reason not to use Cloudflare on most websites unless you already have a premium CDN.
Cloudflare is a free HTTP2 enabled Content Delivery Network(CDN) – a worldwide network of servers which deliver an optimised copy of your pages from the closest server to your visitors. Cloudflare allows a pile of features to be enabled with one click, many which would carry a hefty price tag and tricky configuration elsewhere. Cloudflare easily improves website security and load speed, along with a bunch of other useful bells and whistles.
Read on to learn how (and why) to configure the free package. It should only take five minute and very basic technical knowledge. You can see the difference before and after with Pingdom’s free speedtest.
- How to Setup Cloudflare
- What is HTTP2?
- A Free and Powerful Server Cache
- Conclusion(Apps Apps Apps)
How to Setup Cloudflare
There are three steps to enable cloudflare.
- Sign up – Confirm your email twice and password twice.
- (Automatically) copy your website’s DNS settings – takes one minute.
- Follow the instructions on how to add Cloudflare’s nameservers to your website. Methods vary but your host should have documentation updating nameservers if you don’t know how.
What is HTTP2?
HTTP2 is the first update to the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) in nearly 20 years. HTTP2 is cutting edge technology and has some great features which can improve page load speed. Last time HTTP was updated was in 1997, this was before Google and Amazon took off – and long before smartphones and YouTube.
Why use HTTP2?
HTTP wasn’t prepared for dynamic websites filled with the kind of multimedia we expect and encourage on the modern web. There have been ‘patches’ such as GZIP Compression and HTML5’s asynchronous loading which have improved page speed. Websites have standardly become responsive and mobile friendly. A simple analogy is that we have had many updates to the software of the internet but none to the operating system.
Sound complicated? Some Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress are at least partially HTTP2 ready, but without a server which is setup for HTTP2 compatibility you won’t be able to take advantage of these native features.
Does HTTP2 help SEO?
Cloudflare allows you to take advantage of HTTP2’s server delivery system, which gives much more control over what scripts load first on a page. When done correctly you can use these features to reduce bounce rate and quickly load the scripts that you want loaded, all very easily.
As time goes on HTTP will phase out for it’s more efficient brother. A large part of SEO is staying ahead of the trends. Google will likely soon take notice – if they haven’t already. As Cloudflare can be configured in five minutes you really have nothing to lose. The natural increase in page speed, and hopeful reduction in bounce rate should cause a positive effect on your SEO regardless of any direct impact of switching to HTTP2.
A Free and Powerful Server Cache
Cloudflare (like all Content Delivery Networks) utilises server caching which saves an optimised copy of your pages to be delivered rapidly to your visitors. Some content management systems like WordPress have plugins which can configure server caching but if you built your website from scratch caching can be more tricky.
The external Cache brings the only disadvantage I have found using Cloudflare. If you want to make some instant updates to your website you might have to visit the Cloudflare website and purge (reset) the cache, or activate Cloudflare’s development mode. If you don’t changes will take a few hours to update – when you have set the cache to expire.
On top of the Cache Cloudflare also offers very easy to use minification options. Minification reduces the size of your code and makes it more efficient, also enabling faster loading and a better page speed score from Google.
It is important to test all your scripts are still working if you employ minification, things can go wrong unexpectedly.
If you don’t want to take advantage of minifying your code for page speed there are still some very compelling reasons to have an external server cache. If your website’s main server goes down Cloudflare still have a backup which means your visitors/customers/followers will experience no downtime.
Downtime can be the death of a website’s search rankings and optimised (minified) code is thought to directly help with SEO.
Conclusion (Apps Apps Apps)
Cloudflare has a firewall which can be turned on or off which prevents malicious bots from visiting your site. This is one of the more useful apps that they have. They also offer analytics, DDOS protection and monetization options.
There are many apps and widgets that can be enabled with one click – you should really explore the options yourself. I have covered the main ones which are useful for most websites SEO and page speed but there are more niche tools which you may want to take advantage of.
Use Pingdom with Cloudflare turned on and off to see how much faster your site becomes.
This short guide is an extension of the Complete SEO strategy – beginner to advanced SEO. Read the original if you want to learn more about technical SEO.