How much do CDNs really help?

I’ve had CloudFlare running on my site for a little over a week, and there have already been two occasions where I got the orange box at the top that says “Your hosting is down but CloudFlare is showing a saved version so your site still works.” Repeated attempts to reload the page resulted in a “502 bad gateway” error.

I was suspicious of this because I’ve been on this hosting for a year and a half, and I’ve never seen it go down, so on both occasions I changed my DNS name servers back to the ones provided by most host (instead of CloudFlare’s). Sure enough, my page came back. The first time it happened I was willing to give CloudFlare another chance, but it just happened again and I’ve had it.

So here’s my question: How much do you really think I’m going to lose by not using a CDN? My site isn’t making money yet so I really don’t want to pay for a CDN at this point, and obviously CloudFlare isn’t working out. Honestly I didn’t notice a difference in load speeds when I was using CloudFlare.

Alternatively, does anyone have any idea how I could fix these CloudFlare errors? I didn’t find anything on CF’s help site that I haven’t already done.


Also, I don’t know how to confirm this, but I THINK I got a bit of a boost in search engine traffic shortly after turning on my CDN on March 25. Could a CDN explain better treatment by Google? I know they favor sites that load faster, so I guess it’s possible.

If CDNs help search results, this decision gets even harder…

Hi Chris,

A bad gateway error is actually pretty rare. Did you have any of the beta features turned on? I have seen these contribute to 502 gateway errors on certain files (images, etc.). If not, you would most certainly want to report those errors to CloudFlare right away.

Did you also have IPs whitelisted with host, etc.? This will help prevent issues as well.

CDNs and speed: Yes, CDNS will help you with the loading of your pages to your visitors, which is a factor in Google’s ranking algorithm

Hi Damon,

I’ve asked my host (HostGator) about whitelisting IPs a couple times, and they said they did it, though they’ve been kind of “cagey” about it. I have no idea how to independently verify whether they actually did it.

Also, I think I may have caused the 502 errors by making changes without going into development mode (it’s HARD to remember to do this; I’m used to being able to just make changes to my site). The problem is, once I start seeing them I don’t know how to make them go away without shutting off CloudFlare altogether. Is there some way to quickly fix this if I accidentally make changes outside of development mode without shutting off CloudFlare?

There are a couple of factors that weigh into “is it worth it” to have a CDN. Do you happen to have a link to some test results? The main things to consider are where your user base is and how much static content you serve.

If your users are all geographically “close” to the server then it doesn’t really help (assuming nothing else is broken - but with hostgator I believe they have a problem gzipping which a CDN can help work around).

If you are serving a ton of static content and your users are global then it can make a HUGE difference (try running tests from Australia or New Zealand to get an idea of the impact).

Oh, and as far as search engine traffic goes, Google has indicated that speed is a factor but a pretty small one for rankings. The bigger boost I would expect would come if your site was responding faster and their crawler could crawl more of your site in whatever time budget they have allocated per pass. You can probably verify by going into webmaster tools and looking at the crawl stats.

Hi Kelly,

The CloudFlare ips should now be whitelisted across all of HostGator (I worked with their team last week to get this done). Please do let me know if you see any issues on that one.

A gateway error, if that’s what you’re getting, is generally a problem on our end. We have had a few issues in our San Jose datacenter that may be a contributing factor (if you’re doing work around the time we had the issues). Going to dev mode should generally not trigger the 502…where are you located?


I agree with this one. While I don’t consider myself an expert on SEO per se, my understanding is that domain values probably take precedent over speed alone (links, age of site, etc.).

Chris, think of improving the speed for the benefit of your actual visitors, don’t worry about search engine rankings at this point. The speed in itself is only one of over 200 factors in Google’s rankings, it is a very small factor, and it apparently only affects a small number of sites.

However, from your own web browsing experience you can tell what impact site speed has on your own web browsing actions. I’m more likely to revisit a faster loading site than a slow one. So I’d say work on the speed to benefit your visitors (don’t worry about search engines).

First off, a quick comment for future visitors of this thread: CloudFlare isn’t a traditional CDN, and doesn’t quite do / doesn’t only do what a CDN does – CloudFlare is more like a layer of proxy servers added on top of shared hosting AFAIK.

[quote=“ckelly06, post:1, topic:525”]
How much do you really think I’m going to lose by not using a CDN? My site isn’t making money yet so I really don’t want to pay for a CDN at this point, and obviously CloudFlare isn’t working out.[/quote]

How much a real CDN will gain you will depend entirely on the complexity of your pages. At one extreme, if your page is 1 HTML file, 1 CSS file, and 1 image for the logo, all less than say 50 kb, then your page will load pretty fast from anywhere even without a CDN.

If on the other hand your page has 50 static CSS + JS + SWF + IMG files in it, and weighs in above 500 kb, then a CDN will make a large difference, especially for those users who are “far” away from your server in terms of latency.

Use to test the impact of having a CDN, by testing with and without CDN. Just remember to:
[]Make 3-4 test runs (to warm up the caches on the CDN)
]To test a best-case scenario (user who is close to your server, i.e. same city)
[*]and to test a worst-case scenario, i.e. a end user who is on the opposite side of the planet relative to where your server is.
Then consider where your users are, and then you have the data to decide if a CDN is worth it for you or not. :slight_smile:

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