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You may have noticed that RankXL loads faster than it used to…
A lot faster.
I didn’t change hosting plans. RankXL still runs on Bluehost’s shared hosting plan.
(EDIT: RankXL now runs on WPX Hosting.)
But I did do something I now regret not doing a lot sooner: use CloudFlare, combined with the WordPress plugin, W3 Total Cache.
I’ll get into them both in a second.
What is CloudFlare?
I’ve seen the name, CloudFlare a bunch of times before in the past, but never really took the time to research what it actually is.
According to their website, CloudFlare “supercharges” your website.
At first, I assumed it was just another hosting company.
But after digging around, I learned that it isn’t a hosting company at all.
Then what is it?
The short answer, according to their website:
I won’t get into the technical aspects, because I don’t even fully understand everything myself.
Essentially, it’s not a CDN, but acts like one.
Instead of files being served directly from your web host, it goes through one of CloudFlare’s globally distributed data centres instead.
It protects your site from attacks and serves up your webpages at lightning speed.
And the best part is… it’s free.
You’re not changing your hosting company by using CloudFlare.
CloudFlare works on top of your existing hosting plan.
As you’ll see later in the tutorial, you don’t need to configure anything in your hosting settings, and only need to change your nameservers.
Let’s take a look at the results of using it.
What happened when I moved to CloudFlare?
To test my page load speed, I used Pingdom.
Take note of the “Load time.”
Here are the results before using CloudFlare:
I was actually pretty shocked to see that.
That’s not good at all.
And here are the results after installing the W3 Total Cache WordPress plugin (without CloudFlare)
But not good enough.
Here are the results after using CloudFlare combined with the W3 Total Cache WordPress plugin
Without spending any money, and less than 10 minutes of set up… that’s awesome!
I shaved nearly 8 seconds off my page load time.
How to set it all up
Now that you’ve seen the results, I’ll show you how to set everything up.
CloudFlare makes it really easy to set up.
You don’t need to install any software or hardware.
You only need to change your nameservers.
And it only takes about 5 minutes to do.
STEP 1: Go to your hosting C-Panel
You can sign up directly from CloudFlare’s website, but I chose to do it from my hosting account C-Panel.
I’m using Bluehost for this example, but most hosting plans will have the same options.
Under the “Upgrades” tab, you should see an icon labelled, CloudFlare.
Click it and you’ll see this page:
Enter in your email and click, the “next” button.
Your email will be your username.
On the next page, your account is set up. All you have to do is log in.
On the next page, click the button highlighted in red to log in.
You don’t need to set up a password.
Instead, click on “Forgot your password?” and you’ll be emailed instructions to create one.
STEP 2: Adding your website to CloudFlare
Once you set your password and log in, you can now add your site.
It’s pretty straightforward from here.
Click on “Add site” and enter in your domain.
CloudFlare will scan your site.
When it’s done, click on continue.
On the next page after that, just click continue.
You don’t need to change anything. Don’t touch any of the defaults if you’re not familiar with what they are.
If you have a subdomain for your site, then see this guide on how to set it up.
And that’s that.
CloudFlare will then give you 2 DNS nameservers, and all you need to do is go to your registrar where you bought your domain, and change your current nameservers with the new ones that CloudFlare gave you.
It will take a few minutes before your new nameservers take effect.
There will be no downtime, and your website will remain online so you don’t need to worry about that.
And that’s it!
You’ve just set up your site with CloudFlare.
Now it’s time to go even further by using W3 Total Cache.
Step 3: Install and set up W3 Total Cache.
If you’re not using W3 Total Cache on your websites already, you’re missing out on a ton of speed.
It’s the most robust caching/speed plugin available for WordPress, and it’s free to use.
First, install the plugin.
Because the software is so sophisticated, there are a lot of things you can configure in the settings.
It isn’t too difficult to get running, though.
Just follow these steps outlined by WP Beginner.
Step 4: Connect CloudFlare
Now that that’s set up, we want to connect the plugin with our CloudFlare account so that they run synchronously.
In your W3 Total Cache settings, click on “Extensions.”
Then activate CloudFlare, and go into “Settings” to configure.
Click on Enable, enter in your email (the same one you used to register to CloudFlare) and enter in your domain.
Finding your API Key
Simply click on the link that says “find it here” and it will take you directly to your CloudFlare settings page where you can find your API key.
Copy and paste it into the field and then save changes.
You’re all done.
Are there any problems running CloudFlare and W3 Total Cache together?
Not at all. They work very well alongside each other.
The only thing you have to remember is not to turn on the “minify” options for both CloudFlare and W3 Total Cache.
Only one of them should be turned on.
They’re both turned off by default so you shouldn’t need to worry about this, though.
I have mine turned off for both.
If you’re looking to maximize your site speed, then I highly recommend going through the steps in this tutorial.
RankXL isn’t big enough yet where I feel I need to invest in more expensive hosting options.
But even while running on shared hosting from Bluehost, my site speed now rivals the speed of bigger blogs running on much more expensive hosting plans.
(EDIT: I moved RankXL to WPX Hosting. Check out the results here.)
And I didn’t have to spend a penny to make it happen. That’s why this is especially crucial for new blogs.
You should see a huge improvement in your site load speed, especially if you’re using cheaper hosting solutions to begin with.
Test your website speed at Pingdom and you’ll notice a big improvement.