Will a CDN Like CloudFlare Help or Hurt Your SEO?

on under Search Engine Optimization.

serversSite load time is a ranking factor, so a CDN that speeds up load time should be good for your SEO, right?

…not necessarily.

Alright, first a little background.

A CDN, or Content Delivery Network, is a network of servers deployed in data centers across the world. Why? To deliver content to users more quickly by connecting them to a server that is close by and/or not under heavy load. Using a CDN can boost your site’s load time and protect you from DDoS attacks, and that’s all great.

Google employees have also publicly said that fast site load time can improve your rankings, so isn’t that the end of it?

Nope.

Here’s why a CDN isn’t always going to be beneficial for your SEO.

How a CDN Could Hurt Your SEO

Let’s start with this: page load time isn’t some amazing ranking signal that is going to propel you in front of everybody. It counts for SEO, yes, and it’s certainly good for the user experience, but it has only a very minor impact on rankings.

While site speed is a new signal, it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal in our implementation…

That comes from a post on the Google Webmaster Central blog posted by Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts. It doesn’t get much more clear cut then that. Compare that to Panda 4.0, which impacts 7.5 percent of queries. It’s starting to look like site speed isn’t actually that big of a deal, isn’t it?

Now for the actual damage a CDN can do.

Here’s what Jon Hyman, a co-founder of Appboy, had to say about CloudFlare, at least back in 2012:

Appboy is going to cancel our Pro CloudFlare account and leave the service. CloudFlare has a great feature set, but their uptime track record has been awful.

Ouch. That’s the thing about using a service that must constantly grow to keep up with expanding resources, not to mention gets used by many to block DDoS attacks. If the resources can’t keep up, you’re going to get downtime. And downtime isn’t just bad for the user experience, it’s bad for your SEO.

Here’s what Matt Cutts has said about site downtime:

“If your website is down for a relatively small amount of time, you know, a day or two, then just bringing it back up should mean that it pops right back into the search results, or it won’t disappear at all. But at the point where your website is down for several days, or a week, or a month, then yeah, we probably are going to drop it from the search results…”

So, why am I emphasizing “it pops right back into the search results?” Because that means that if Google attempts to crawl your site and it’s down, it might take your site out of the search results until the next time you get crawled, which isn’t always all that timely.

While a well optimized site should get crawled dozens or hundreds of times per day, individual pages often get crawled only once per day or less, even on a well optimized site. Unoptimized pages can go weeks without seeing Googlebot. If Google sees that a page is down, this could mean that the page will be dropped from the search results for days, weeks, or more.

So, Should You Use a CDN?

The answer is, if your site is having load time issues, and if the improvement in user experience alone is worth it, then yes, you should use a CDN.

But…

You should use a CDN that has a great track record and, just as importantly, a Service-Level Agreement with guaranteed uptime.

And if the only reason you want a CDN is because you think it’s going to improve your SEO, I’d say you shouldn’t bother. If load time isn’t hurting the user experience, it’s probably not hurting your SEO, so you’ll just be wasting your money.

Image credit: reynermedia

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  • damoncloudflare

    “”If your website is down for a
    relatively small amount of time, you know, a day or two, then just
    bringing it back up should mean that it pops right back into the search results,
    or it won’t disappear at all. But at the point where your website is
    down for several days, or a week, or a month, then yeah, we probably are
    going to drop it from the search results…””

    CloudFlare has not had any issues where our entire network is down for days, weeks or months. If a data center is having temporary issues, these are generally resolved in minutes or less and all of the other data centers are fully online and operational (rarely does it take much longer than 30 minutes). You’re also referencing something from 2012 & our network and capacity is far greater than what it was at that time.

    Most of the crawl activity that Google does appears to hit our USA data centers, where we do not have many issues, so this really shouldn’t be a factor.

    CloudFlare does provide a SLA to customers on a Business or Enterprise tier of service. If an issue occurs, we will issue service credits to the customers on that plan.

    • Carter Bowles

      Hey there nameless CloudFlare representative. I’m not claiming that CloudFlare has been or ever will be down for more than an hour.

      The issue is that if Google sees that your site or a page is down when it crawls it, then it may remove it from the index until the next time that page is crawled, which could be days, weeks, or months, depending on how well optimized the page is.

      Sorry to call out your company specifically. You’re not the only CDN without an SLA for every customer, or a history of downtime, but you are a well known one, and that at least is an accomplishment.

      I’m really not trying to start a flame war here, but the fact is that there are other CDNs with a better track record of uptime and with SLAs for a larger percentage (or all) of their customers. Your SLA also only compensates people for the lost time, as opposed to compensating for 50-100% of the month as some other providers do.

      • damoncloudflare

        Hi,

        My name is in the userid (Damon).

        “I’m really not trying to start a flame war here”
        Understood:)

        “The issue is that if Google sees that your site or a page is down when
        it crawls it, then it may remove it from the index until the next time
        that page is crawled, which could be days, weeks, or months, depending
        on how well optimized the page is.”

        This is also true of other things, such as your server going down or having issues & isn’t related to CDNs only. You could also have issues if a site has been hacked and has malware on it, phishing links because of a hack, etc.

        “Your SLA also only compensates people for the lost time, as opposed to
        compensating for 50-100% of the month as some other providers do.”

        Many other providers in the same field only apply SLAs to Enterprise accounts. What would you like to see us do relative to expanding the SLA? We’re always open to suggestions here. We obviously couldn’t extend a SLA to free customers, but still open to suggestions here.

        Note: Tone is tough in text & I’m not being aggressive or defensive.

        • Carter Bowles

          Gotcha Damon, sorry about missing your name there.

          I 100% agree that CDNs are by no means the only thing that can bring your site down and cause crawling issues. I hope I haven’t implied that anywhere in the article.

          Tone is definitely tough in text, and reading over my previous response I think I might have come across a bit more snarky than was intended.

          My main issue with your SLA is the limited compensation. Unless I’m misunderstanding your formula, it looks like you only compensate customers for the period of the month where their site was down, as opposed to refunding 50% to 100% of their fees for the month. My concern isn’t that a CDN is going to make me pay for the parts of the month where there was downtime. My concern is that there is downtime at all. A full refund for the month acts as the kind of guarantee I think customers are looking for.

          Those are just my thoughts.

  • Jason Crawford

    This article was recently brought up in a discussion I was having about CDNs. I’d just like to share my experience with CloudFlare. I’ve been using shared hosting for years now. I also use a few applications to monitor downtime of some of my sites. A couple of years ago I could expect an average of 10 minutes/month of downtime. Some months were none, some more. In the last year or two I can’t recall a single downtime notification. That is also about the same timeframe I started using CloudFlare.

    This may be a simple coincidence and somewhere in that same time period my hosting company upgraded the servers. I can only say that I’m a free user of CloudFlare and I haven’t seen any downtime notifications since I’ve been using their services.

  • Carter: Any SEO concerns about starting & stopping service with a CDN, be it CloudFlare or MaxCDN or any other, with respect to pages being indexed? I recently implemented the WP-Rocket plugin for increasing website speed via minifying, compression, etc., and in the CDN settings area for the plugin its says, “CDN function replaces all URLs of your static files and media (CSS, JS, Images) with the url entered below [CDN host URL]. This way all your content will be copied to a dedicated hosting or a CDN system.” I think I understand this concept but the verbiage about replacing the URLs raised the SEO concern.

    Does the use of a CDN have a negative impact on SERPs because of the URL replacement?

  • Anony Mouse

    I can say with certainty since using Cloudflare’s free CDN that it WILL hurt your SEO. I noticed it across three websites and pulled them all. You’re far better off to invest the money in a good, fast web host that isn’t overloaded (ruling out Hostpapa, Godaddy and 1and1).

  • I have also experienced the same case as Jason Crawford. After implementing CloudFlare my website speed is much faster then earlier and the most important is ZERO downtime.

  • Matt Cutts says server location (based on IP) is a ranking factor for SEO. How would that come into play when using a service as Cloudflare? I know they serve content from local sources, but the main ip still seems to come from a central location? Hope anyone can shed some light on this.

    • Carter Bowles

      This should be less of an issue for any site that has use for a CDN, since CDN’s are intended for sites with a global audience. If you have a local audience, I would absolutely think twice before using a CDN.

      • Yes that was also my thought. But actually I have only experienced small gains (whose effect are impossible to track back to Cloudflare – it could be so many other things) in search ranking after enabling Cloudflare on various sites. Again not something I could document, but I definitely haven’t seen rankings go down.

        Logical reason would be the performance increases (which I personally find are very hard to observer on a site that is already quite optimized, but server-wise might be more elegant with CDN and so on).