Cloudflare, speed – and the canvas thing!

RockmusicRaider - Cloudflare - Mast with canvas sails

I sometimes like to think back to those awesome sailing ships. You know, these 1st Rates1) that majestically traversed the oceans at snail pace. State of the Art technology back in their day and death to many forests in Europe.

They all had one inherent vice, though. The whole navy was at the whim of the winds as its sole means of locomotion. And when the wind blew lustily, crews sometimes set way too much sail.

If that happens, the ship becomes over-pressed or over-canvassed.

In other words, the power of the wind presses the bow down into the water. This has – between other pretty unfortunate potential consequences – an effect on the speed. And the ship slows down.

And how do sailing ships connect with Cloudflare and SEO? Fair question, so bear with us, will ya?

Cloudflare and the dictatorial thing with customer service.

Cloudflare and our deck crew here already had our differences in the past. It was all about service and about how not to annoy the hell out of your clients.

CF forced hosters and webmasters to either take a new standard2) on board, or fall by the wayside and die. Which – essentially – disabled large swathes of sites outside of the high roads of the mighty net. You know, the site is down, off the internet, with best wishes from your preferred firewall provider. And this is not something any webmaster ever wants to hear. Not that Cloudflare cared any which way.

After all, whenever they – and I quote – “…push code, it automatically affects over 25 million Internet properties.”3) A proud statement. One that should warrant extra care with their clients, but was sorely ignored.

Yet, this is not about service, it’s about power.

It’s that exciting Google thing. Cloudflare try (or tried) to play god from their mighty throne beyond Silicone Valley4). Ah, the pleasure to drive the woes of the numerical world by the power of thy keyboard! Only, they are not Google, but – in essence – a firewall. An offshore firewall to boot.

Maybe they should just stay with their core business and be a tad humbler. Because disgruntled customers actually can get off that CF ship to find new and greener pastures. Whereas Google – that horrible Kraken – has you in its terrible grip with little chance for escape with its overwhelming, global reach. At least for now.

Free CDN? What free CDN?

Contrite RMR must admit, however, that we continued using CF’s service after that customer happiness disaster. Their free service is actually pretty powerful already with a number of tools that the company will use to hook you and – in the end – turn you into a paying customer. And they do that by offering you little perks that may cost ye already with other providers.

Cloudflare offers without any doubt one of the most sophisticated CDN networks that are out there. And you can have it free of charge, a genuine tool, not one that will forever ask you to subscribe. Even if they are – in essence – a proxy service, their reach is massive and goes way beyond most established CDNs.

And this is why we stayed with them. With the hope that speed would increase. Eventually. Maybe.

Only this comes with a price, everything comes with a price, and nothing is ever free. Your ‘free’ CDN service runs on the slow end of the spectrum, or you will need to pay up to speed up.

And – obviously – being strapped for cash, you’ll vote for those perks that dangle themselves in front of you. Unmetered DDoS5) protection (how sexy..), even if the word ‘unmetered’ should make you shudder with dread. HTTP/3 with Quic6), free DNSSEC7), hotlink protection, and so on and so forth.

All of that is of course designed to play Hotel California8) with your customers. As the song’s finishing line goes “…you can check out any time you like but you can never leave…”, Cloudflare will try to lock you in with a gazillion of details that should glue your sorry ass to their service forever.

And then you can hook on to services like Railgun or Argo that – as the lore goes – should speed up your service even more.

And those come at a price, too. Here’s the example for Argo:

Cloudflare - pricing for the Argo service.
Cloudflare Blog, August 2020 | Argo

So, you see, without you shelling out a few dead presidents, this speed thing ain’t going very far. In addition, the more powerful services like Railgun are only available as of the ‘Business’ subscription. In other words, as of 200 bucks per month, which will be beyond the financial means of many sites.

Speed is of the essence in our SEO universe. But here, we’ll only get to a certain level until we hit a wall. A paywall.

So, how does that impact speed?

Well, as speed performance was spotty at best, we added another CDN, powerful caching, stripped down the site, and all that jazz. Who would want to lose that unmetered DDoS protection, right?

Yet, nada and Google Analytics all on fire.

So, we investigated further, something was pressing down the ability to speed up. Because the moment we paused the Cloudflare proxy, things magically improved.

Including the disappearance of the endless procession of type 500 server errors of all couleurs that for 99% of cases were false alerts.

Not much of an issue, you may argue. But never forget, this all results in downtime of your site because Cloudflare won’t operate correctly. And downtime is poison for your SEO and makes for really terrible user experience.

To solve those issues it takes 15 minutes here and another 30 minutes there. So, yes, it does count. And a site that doesn’t work is like holy water for the devil.

But here’s the kicker.

Obviously, RockmusicRaider is not the only service with those same experiences. Many on the net found that Cloudflare slows them down. The responses of some CF mods were most impressive, though. Some openly admitted that the service did not necessarily speed up sites. But – instead – provided services to secure your site better. And some just blatantly accused the client, saying that – gosh – the website owner used too many plugins.

Ah, yes.

I tend to disagree. All those quirks, the extra hop CF takes to deliver, tools you don’t really need, all of that adds way too much canvas. And in the process, this sailing ship suddenly tries to displace the ocean instead of surfing on it at full speed.

And that is not good.

So, is there a life after Cloudflare?

Certainly. Long story short, if you feel that your site slows down on Cloudflare, test the speed for a while. RockmusicRaider now runs significantly faster without them. Just with the usual measures, an old-style CDN, minding the data in search console, and continued efforts to cut away all that fat.

The usual things we do for SEO. And it never stops. Only that the tools we use should actually assist in these efforts.

And not kill them. Right, Cloudflare?

*****

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