What is Cloudflare and why does your website need it?

Your website is your business' lifeblood. Cloudflare can keep it pumping. We show you how to set Cloudflare up to give you a fast, reliable website.
Mar 29, 2020 • 6 minute read
Technical Co-pilot
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Cloudflare keeps your website running quickly and reliably

If your website is at the core of your business, you want it to be as fast, reliable and secure as possible. After all, if your site goes down, it can effectively put your business out of action. And if it's slow to load, it can mean visitors get frustrated and head off to one of your competitors.

To ensure your site is loading quickly and running smoothly, you should look into a service like Cloudflare.

What is Cloudflare?

Cloudflare is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that acts as an intermediary between a server and the client. Confused? OK.

A server is a device or program that stores and manages information. In the case of a website, a server contains all the information about your website: the HTML, CSS and JavaScript, all the information visitors have entered into your site, all the images, videos and other media on your website. Everything that makes your website function.

A client, meanwhile, is the device accessing that information. So, for your website, that would be all the devices and browsers accessing your site.

A CDN or Content Delivery Network is an arrangement of disseminated servers which loads that information based on a client's geographic location.

Basically, all the users at any location in the world access a single server, but sometimes this can cause delay for users far from the server. So, CDNs solve this issue by distributing and setting up several servers around the world. So it will help users to access your website quickly in spite of living farther away from your site’s central hosting server.

It can be best explained by this example: Let’s imagine you're sitting in your room in the United States and you want to access an Australian website. Using a CDN, your browser would access a CDN server in the US instead of making a request to a server in Australia.

Why use Cloudflare?

Let's use another example: Suppose you live in Oklahoma and you order a Pickle Rick plush from Amazon. After all, that joke will never get old, right? Amazon has warehouses all over the world, and, for the sake of this example, let's assume all of those warehouses have the same Pickle Rick in stock. Would you rather it be shipped to you from the Tulsa warehouse or one in Berlin, Germany?

Likewise, if you want your site to load quickly, a CDN can help by serving it to visitors from the server closest to them. Those Pickle Rick memes will get to them lightning fast.

Cloudflare is one of the best CDNs out there. What's incredible about Cloudflare is that it has one of the greatest server arrangements on the planet. Regardless of where your site visitors are, Cloudflare will help you serve your site at blazing speed. This is a huge benefit for your SEO, considering site speed is a major ranking signal.

Is Cloudflare safe?

So, if Cloudflare is spreading your site's info all over the world, is it actually secure? Yes. Cloudflare is safe because it just copies caches of your website to their servers and spreads them across the world. Furthermore, it offers an option to hide your original IP address. To do that, you have to contact your hosting provider.

Cloudflare pricing

Cloudflare offers four levels of pricing.

Free

The free Cloudflare plan puts your site on the Cloudflare CDN, and also offers DDoS attack mitigation. What in the world does that mean? A DDoS attack is a distributed denial of service attack. That's when hackers flood a site's servers with simultaneous requests, crashing the site. Cloudflare protects you against this by distributing requests across its global network.

The free plan is a good option if you're running your site as a hobby or if you're just starting out, but if you want to step up your security you should consider one of Cloudflare's paid plans.

Pro

Cloudflare's Pro plan includes the free features, as well as setting up a firewall for your site for added security. It also optimizes the experience for mobile, and includes automatic lossless image optimization. What is that, you ask? Well, large image files can slow your site down considerably. Cloudflare's Pro plan will optimize those images using lossless compression, meaning the file sizes will shrink, but the image quality won't be degraded. This plan runs $20 USD per month. It's a good choice for small businesses or startups still in their early stages.

Business

The Cloudflare Business plan includes all the free and Pro features, and throws in 24/7 chat support. It also includes a 100% uptime SLA. For reference, an SLA is a service level agreement. Uptime is, appropriately, the percentage of the time your site is up and accessible. In other words, Cloudflare is offering to keep your site from going down. The Business plan will run you $200 USD per month. Choose this plan if your site is your business' absolute lifeblood and a few minutes of downtime means a significant revenue loss.

Enterprise

The Enterprise plan is suited to large businesses, and offers all the features of the free, pro and business plans, along with individual engineer support, 24/7 phone support and role-based account access. Cloudflare also offers its Enterprise customers a 25x reimbursement for any downtime. If your business needs this plan, you'll need to contact Cloudflare for pricing.

How to set-up Cloudflare for your website

If you want to use Cloudflare to speed up your site, the process is pretty straightforward.

STEP 1: Create your Cloudflare account:

Just head to Cloudflare's site and sign up using your email address.

STEP 2: Add your site's domain

Now you have to add a website to your new account by clicking on "Add Site." Enter the root domain of your website. For example if your website is www.inovativeideas.com then you have to enter innovativeideas.com. Next you'll select a plan from the options we discussed above.

STEP 3: DNS scan of your website

Cloudflare will immediately do a DNS scan of your site. DNS stands for Domain Name System. This is the system that translates IP addresses into the URLs we all so know and love.

So, Cloudflare will scan through all the URLs associated with your site and will show the IP addresses they point to. At this point, it'll provide you the option to activate Cloudflare for specific subdomains.

And if it happens to miss a subdomain, you can enter it manually. To enable Cloudflare for any of your specific subdomains shown in the DNS details, just click the cloud icon in front of that specific subdomain to make it orange. You can also remove that subdomain from this list by just clicking the cross icon in front of it.

If you're a beginner, then don't worry about this step. Just trust Cloudflare and make sure that the icon in front of your main domain is orange.

At the end of this step, make note of the nameservers that Cloudflare gives you. There should be two of them. Copy them down, because you'll need them in the next step.

STEP 4: Replacing your domain nameserver with Cloudflare’s nameserver

For this step, you'll need to log into your domain name registrar. This is the site that hosts your domain name, typically a site like GoDaddy or Bluehost. If you don't know yours, you can head to WHOIS.com and type in your website's address, and your domain registrar will show up under the title "Registrars." It'll also display your current nameservers.

Next, log into your domain name registrar and replace the current nameservers with the ones given to you by Cloudflare. It can take about 72 hours for this change to go through.

How to tell if Cloudflare is working

After following all these steps, you might be wondering if you've gotten your Cloudflare up and running. There's an easy trick that'll tell you:

  • Turn off your Cloudflare from your Cloudflare portal.
  • After turning it off, note your IP address.
  • Go back to the portal and turn Cloudflare back on.
  • Again, note your IP address.
  • Are the two IP addresses different? Congratulations! Your Cloudflare is working.

Final words

Cloudflare offers a simple to-execute approach to both secure and accelerate your website.

Following the steps above, you can get it set up in no time. After you've gotten some experience using Cloudflare, you can look into some of the more advanced settings such as setting up page rules and SSL settings. But, for now, take heart in the fact that you've made your website much more secure, and a whole lot faster.

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