I was stunned when I recently discovered that Cloudflare offers not only a free CDN, but also free DDoS protection, SSL certifications and more for “personal and hobby projects that aren’t business-critical.”
I was a little nervous about stability and quality initially, but thankfully I haven’t experienced any issues with Nuaveu.com in the roughly 72 hours since implementing. Traffic is minimal right now so I’ll have to keep a close eye on things as we grow, but things are looking promising so far!
So why does this matter to SEOs and small businesses?
Cloudflare for Performance & SEO
As performance obsessed SEO that just started a small business – I couldn’t be more thrilled with Cloudflare’s free package. Nuaveu.com wasn’t a particularly heavy/slow site to begin with, but it was nice to see a small improvement after enabling a free CDN.
Some of the page load speed features that Cloudflare offers with their free CDN include:
- Brotli compression – speeds up load times by reducing file sizes
- Auto Minify – dynamically reduces file sizes of documents by removing unnecessary information like blank lines and comments
Enabling these features seems to have help improve Nuaveu’s homepage slightly. Based on some quick test with PageSpeed Insights, our mobile first contentful paint (FCP) dropped from around 3-3.1 seconds down to 2.8 for mobile. Our mobile performance score increased from the high 70s and lows 80s (the score changes slightly each test) to the mid-high 80s (screenshot below)
Even with a 1.2MB background video the homepage is able to achieve stellar performance, due in part to having a CDN. According to GTmetrix the Nuaveu homepage loads in 1.2 seconds (screenshot below; please note different tools report metrics differently and test results vary over time).
For the uninitiated these minor performance improvements might seem laughable – but milliseconds can mean the difference between a bounce and a sale. Minut changes to these metrics can mean the difference between millions of dollars for large enterprises.
But performance isn’t the only benefit of a free Cloudflare account…
Free SSL Certification
Having a secure site is crucially important to building trust with customers and is also a ranking factor for SEO. SSL certificates aren’t particularly expensive (usually around $75-100/year), but free is always nice. Cloudflare was the first company to offer free SSL/TLS encryption with the launch of Universal SSL back in 2014.
From my experience there is a surprising number of small businesses that don’t have a secure website (or have some sort of issue with their SSL certificate). The risk to customers and their brand isn’t worth the minimal investment (of potentially just time).
Want to quickly implement a redirect from a dashboard instead of manually? Cloudflare’s free CDN can do that too! Redirects are important for user experience and SEO, but sometimes there are challenges or limitations to implementing them. For projects where this is the case, edge redirects (URL rewrites done at the CDN-level) can be game changing. Also, implementing redirects on the edge reduces origin server bandwidth and improves performance.
Be careful when implementing redirects at different levels (i.e., origin vs CDN) because conflicts can bring down a website. For example, if you always force HTTPS on both your origin server and CDN it will cause redirect loops (we recommend forcing HTTPS via your CDN). If you’re not familiar with CDNs and redirects consulting an SEO expert is encouraged.
Security & Analytics
The additional security and analytics data are also a nice plus. I’ve seen plenty of paid tools, subscriptions and platforms throughout my career that offer far less value. Basic DDoS protection and bot filtering is a surprising capability to receive for free. The analytics are surprisingly detailed and insightful considering as well. Cloudflare provides requests, bandwidth and cache metrics down to the hour for the last 30 days with the free plan (screenshot below). Although not nearly insightful and actionable as something like GA4, it is a nice bonus.
The capabilities and functionality of a free Cloudflare account are impressive to say the least – and I didn’t even list all the features in this article. Small businesses that struggle with page load performance on their website should definitely take notice.
Having the option to add on affordable ala carte options like load balancing (starts at $5/month) is also a cool plus (instead of being forced into an expensive full-service package right away).
I’ve always subconsciously leaned towards Akamai as my preferred CDN purely because it’s “what I know”, but Cloudflare may have won a longtime fan and future customer here.
Please note that Cloudflare did NOT compensate Nuaveu or Ken Freel in any way to the write this article – but they’re welcome to if they want 😉