Cloudflare Automatic Platform Optimization (APO) for WordPress is a brand new optimization service that intelligently distributes your WordPress site’s HTML and third-party fonts across Cloudflare’s globally-replicating Workers KV database and edge network in 200 cities worldwide. Since the release of Cloudflare APO, I’ve noticed a number of misconceptions about the new service. In this post, I’ll highlight four misconceptions about Cloudflare APO to help you get a better understanding of how the WordPress performance optimization service works.
Cloudflare APO is a Replacement for Server-Level Page Caching
Cloudflare APO is not a replacement for page caching on the origin server. Nowadays, the majority of modern WordPress hosts have some kind of page caching configuration in place on the web server (Nginx, Litespeed, etc.). For example, Kinsta uses the FastCGI Nginx module for page caching. Since Cloudflare APO works on a layer above and external to the origin server, it’s still important to maximize origin server performance with local page caching.
For WordPress sites hosted on servers that aren’t configured for page caching, plugins like WP Rocket and W3 Total Cache are often used to replicate the server-level page caching functionality at the application level. If you’re using a plugin like WP Rocket or W3 Total Cache for page caching, make sure you keep it enabled even after enabling Cloudflare APO!
The reason for not disabling local page caching when using Cloudflare APO is simple. When APO is enabled, Cloudflare still has to make requests to your origin server in order to fill the Cloudflare Workers KV database or edge cache with your site’s HTML pages. Since page caching speeds up requests and reduces CPU and RAM load on the origin server, it’s important to keep page caching enabled.
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Cloudflare APO Will Speed Up Your Site Everywhere Around the World
The misconception that Cloudflare APO will up WordPress site everywhere around the globe is a misconception that I’ve seen a few times now. For example, I recently listened to a WordPress podcast that discussed Cloudflare APO, where the hosts were talking about APO didn’t speed up their site at all. After some back and forth, it was made clear that the individual who was tasked with performing speed tests only did so from a single testing location.
If you understand how Cloudflare APO works, it’s easy to see why it won’t necessarily speed up your site across the world. APO distributes your site’s HTML pages to various Cloudflare data centers around the world. In other words, if your WordPress site is hosted in the Dallas, Texas, Cloudflare will also cache your pages in various parts of Asia, Europe, and the Americas as well. Building on this scenario, if you perform a before and after speed test from Dallas, you probably won’t see much of a difference in page speed – especially if the origin server already has page caching enabled.
To put it simply, Cloudflare APO helps lower your average page load time across the world. Locations far away from your origin server will see the biggest performance increases, and locations closer to your origin server may not see any performance improvements at all. With this in mind, if you’re running a before and after test to benchmark Cloudflare APO on your WordPress site, be sure to test from multiple locations around the world to get the complete picture.
|Kinsta (s)||Kinsta w/KeyCDN (s)||Kinsta w/Cloudflare APO (s)|
When I was benchmarking APO for Kinsta, I found that enabling APO resulted in a 70-300% performance boost depending on the testing location. As expected, locations farther away from the origin server in Tokyo, Japan (Sydney, London, and Mumbai) saw the biggest decreases in page load time.
Cloudflare APO and Full Page Caching with Page Rules are the Same
A frequent Cloudflare APO misconception that I see on WordPress Facebook groups is that APO is equivalent full page caching with Cloudflare page rules. For those who don’t know, it’s possible to cache a WordPress site’s HTML with a “cache everything” page rule on Cloudflare. In fact, there are dedicated plugins like WP Cloudflare Super Page Cache that help you set up this page rule.
Contrary to the popular belief that WP Cloudflare Super Page Cache is the same as, or better than, Cloudflare APO, I actually believe that APO is definitively superior – at least from a page caching standpoint. Unlike Cloudflare APO, using a “cache everything” page rule doesn’t provide you with a global replication layer that automatically copies HTML to data centers around the world.
With a “cache everything” page rule configured, a request to your site from Tokyo will only result in a page being cached in Tokyo. With APO, a request to your site from Tokyo will trigger Cloudflare to store the HTML page in Workers KV, which automatically replicates across Cloudflare’s global network within 60 seconds. To put it simply, APO effectively decentralizes your site’s origin by mirroring your site across Cloudflare’s global edge network.
It’s Okay to Scale Down Your Origin Server with Cloudflare APO
Personally speaking, I see Cloudflare APO as more of an “icing on the cake” performance optimization tool. In other words, you shouldn’t expect it to allow you to scale down your WordPress hosting infrastructure significantly. APO’s pricing model supports this perspective as well. It’s a $5/month add-on for Cloudflare free plan users. For paid Cloudflare users, APO is included for free. APO is a low-cost add-on that helps you establish better baseline performance. For the majority of WordPress sites out there, Cloudflare APO is not a low-cost tool that helps cut your monthly hosting bill in half.
The reason I don’t think it’s a smart idea to scale down your origin server after enabling Cloudflare APO is because WordPress is still a dynamic software experience. Even with APO enabled, you still have to rely on origin server resources for logged-in functionality like writing posts, uploading images, performing backups with the Duplicator plugin, responding to comments, and more. Furthermore, Cloudflare APO only caches static content, and dynamic pages like WooCommerce shopping carts and checkout pages are bypassed from APO’s cache. Therefore, hosting on a high-quality WordPress host like Kinsta for an APO-enabled site is still very important.
To summarize, Cloudflare APO is not a replacement for server-level page caching, it will not speed up your site in every single location around the world, it’s superior to a “cache everything” page rule, and it’s best to not scale down your origin server after enabling Cloudflare APO. If you have any questions or concerns about setting up Cloudflare APO for your WordPress site, feel free to send me an email or reach out on Twitter!