Cloudflare: This new WordPress accelerator makes sites much faster for visitors

Cloudflare says its new service caches a WordPress site's static and dynamic content for much better performance.

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DDoS protection and website accelerator Cloudflare has teamed up with WordPress to launch its new Automatic Platform Optimization (APO) service to speed up a site's experience for end users. 

The new service, which costs $5 a month for WordPress customers on Cloudflare's Free plan, extends Cloudflare's content delivery network (CDN) beyond the delivery of static content to include slower-to-fetch dynamic content. 

A key metric Cloudflare uses is Time to First Byte (TTFB), which is the first of several hurdles to using its CDN or edge network. If the TTFB is slow, it slows down each remaining step to using the CDN, like compressing images and caching static content.

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Cloudflare says APO testing shows a 72% improvement in TTFB for WordPress sites, a 13% improvement on the Speed Index, and a 23% improvement to First Contentful Paint, or how fast users perceive a page to load. 

The speed improvements are achieved by caching both static and dynamic content and delivering all a website's content from Cloudflare's CDN. Static content includes HTML files and images, while dynamic content changes based on factors like the time a user visits, their location, or the device used. 

Dynamic content is usually served from origin servers rather than a cache, and also relies on server-side scripts to generate HTML files in response to events, such as a click on a button or a user login.

"What's new with APO is not only the caching of dynamic content like HTML but also automatically updating the cache when content changes," Cloudflare CTO John Graham-Cumming told ZDNet. 

"This means site visitors don't see stale content and Cloudflare reduces how often fetches to the origin occur. Along with all of a site's content served from Cloudflare's edge, with APO, Cloudflare will cache third-party scripts to ensure those are delivered quickly for visitors." 

According to Cloudflare, WordPress sites are prone to incurring performance penalties because of plugins or other sources that might be hard to pinpoint and resolve. APO moves all this content closer to the end-user via Cloudflare's CDN. 

"With the Automatic Platform Optimization service, we put your website into our network that is within 10 milliseconds of 99% of the internet-connected population in the developed world, all without having to change your existing hosting provider," the company explains in a blogpost.  

"This means that for most requests your customers won't even need to go to your origin, reducing many costly round trips and server processing time."

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The optimizations run on Cloudflare's edge network so they don't impact how a page renders and require no extra JavaScript running on the user's side. 

The reason for the major improvement to TTFB is because the first hop between a user's browser request would normally go to the WordPress and third-party domain origin server. With APO, this first step happens between the browser and Cloudflare's edge network, as does every other step that would normally go between the user and origin server. The APO service also hosts third-party fonts. 

Cloudflare says the APO service will be available to other platforms besides WordPress in the future. The company is keen to hear what platform providers would like to see it bring next to APO. 

While the service costs $5 a month with Cloudflare's Free plan, there's no additional cost for those on the company's Professional, Business, and Enterprise plans.