Does Cloudflare live up to the hype?

I have given Cloudflare a try for the past week or so for FantasySP.com and want to pass along my thoughts.  I saw a few reviews that were quite astonishing and decided to find out if they are accurate.  I have been reading great things about it and couldn’t resist trying it out.

Will Cloudfront Increase Pages Per Visit?

Unfortunately no.  The only reason you’ll see an increase in pages per visit is if you change the setting to add your Google Analytics code to every page.  I decided to use this myself and look at the results:

Pages/Visit

Notice the bump in pages/visit?  Almost double.  That is when I added the Analytics code to every page and it completely skewed everything out of whack.   Meanwhile GetClicky and awstats both showed them to be at normal levels.  So clearly this Cloudflare setting should not be used and anyone who shows these type of drastic results are just lying to themselves.

I obviously don’t think Cloudflare adds this setting to artificially increase analytics stats.  Although, I can’t explain why this happens, since they claim its fine to add without removing the old code.

Will Cloudflare Decrease Bounce Rate?

Probably not.  If anything, it could have a slight increase in your bounce rate depending on how much bad bot/spam traffic you were getting.  Although, a bad bot might even help your bounce rate because they are often times so abusive and load many pages.  If Google Analytics shows a drastic decrease in bounce rate then it is due to the Cloudflare setting to add the script to every page.  Have a look at my bounce rate:

Bounce Rate

Sorry folks, Cloudflare is no miracle bounce rate solution. :(

Will Cloudflare Increase the Speed of the Site?

Yes, even using their free service!  Cloudflare has a whole list of features that show how they can decrease the time it takes for a page to load.  They will cache content, similar to a CDN and provide optimized routes to your site, and block abusive traffic.  If you pay for their service then you will see even better benefits (none of which I have tested).

So I guess the real question is, does Cloudflare make FantasySP faster?  Yes and no.  I have most of my static content already on Amazon’s Cloudfront.  My DNS before Cloudflare was Amazon’s Route 53.  So how much of a benefit am I really getting when some of Cloudflare’s services were already taken care of?  Here is a look at Googlebot’s time it takes to crawl FantasySP.com:

Googlebot Crawl Rate

According to Googlebot, the site isn’t faster, perhaps slightly slower if anything.  It could be that Amazon’s Route 53 provides equally as good routing for end users and I don’t see much of a difference.  Either way, there isn’t enough evidence to make a call on this.  What really matters is if there is a difference for the end user in a real browser.  For my site, javascript is what is holding back the end user experience.  Which brings up my next point, Rocket Loader.

Does Rocket Loader Improve Speeds?

To test Rocket Loader’s performance, I will be using NewRelic’s End User performance tracking.  I have been using this for well over a month and it should show any trends with end user speeds.

As you can see, there is a large decrease in pageload time and goes from 8 seconds to 6! Awesome right?  Well, unfortunately I noticed that Rocket Loader was screwing up some of the rendering of advertisements that were on the site.  Thus making my site’s javascript unusable.  Rocket Loader works fine with Google AdSense, but AdSense doesn’t generally hang as much because of their recent optimizations.

What I really wanted Rocket Loader to do, was to improve performance of the other ad networks that I use.  These are the ones causing all the slowndown.  Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  Clearly it was making a difference, but it is a bit buggy at this point.  My next step is to selectively use Rocket Loader on certain javascript components and see if it will make a difference in overall load time without breaking things.  Stay Tuned for that!

So Where Does This Leave Us?

After reading all of this, you might think I’d come to the conclusion that Cloudflare isn’t worth the trouble.  Exactly the opposite.  Cloudflare delivers on a lot of the promises of the service.  Just be sure you don’t make mistakes like enabling Google Analytics on every page.  That feature just doesn’t make any sense to me.  (I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.)

If you aren’t using a CDN or a customized DNS service, then switching to Cloudflare should have an impact on quicker load times.  Even if you do have a CDN and a customized DNS service, the fact that Cloudflare blocks bad threats and saves your server resources and prevents lots of spam.  It’s also nice to see trending data for search engine bots and outbound links.

I’d love to try out Cloudflare’s pay only services to see if they improve upon speeds, but they do not offer a trial for such a thing.  Perhaps down the line I will test these as well.  I also think Rocket Loader will continue to improve and will truly make a difference for some users out there.

What do you guys think?