Our Obsessive Approach to Caching

Site updates appear in a flash with our cache process

When it comes to growing your site traffic and audience, we all tend to think of the same things: great content, beautiful design, fast load times, interactive experiences, etc. But one thing that often gets overlooked is the role of caching. A web cache is the temporary storage of web documents, like images, article pages, and multimedia assets, to reduce unnecessary repeat loading from a server. Any platform that doesn't focus on caching performance usually has poor uptime stats, which means that you're going to experience downtime issues.

RebelMouse obsesses over these things so that you don't have to, and that's why we're able to handle massive traffic spikes without any degradation in service. Just ask RebelMouse-powered PAPER Magazine, who recently had an article receive 20 million page views in one day (!) with no noticeable change in site performance.


The way we handle our cache process ensures that your editorial changes go live very quickly on your sites. It's just another step in our devotion to keeping our platform — and your sites — the very best in the world.

Here are three reasons why our cache approach works:

Content Delivery Network (CDN): A CDN is a group of servers spread out among many locations. We use cloud platform Fastly and caching engine Varnish to power our cache.

We have a five-minute cache time, and we're experimenting with increasing it to lifetime so that the cache never expires except when content has changed. Currently, we have an API integration with our CDN that clears the cache when a post is updated. We can also update our five-minute cache time to six-hours because we already have long TTLs for the sites we power. TTL, or Time to Live, is part of the authentication protocol that verifies a client's certificate with web servers. For caching assets, such as images or CSS, we use a one-year cache time.

Front-end Web Servers: We use Varnish servers installed on our front-end web servers that provide us with traffic-spike protection and improve our ability to serve responses to our CDN faster. For the most part, the configuration of our Varnish servers repeats what we have set up in Fastly.

Application: RebelMouse's application is tightly coupled with memcached, which is an open-source caching system designed for sites that have a lot of data. By having this paired with many of our own data structures that require heavy, CPU-bound processing, we can reduce both the cache population and prewarm time.

By keeping our caching rules so strong, we're able to maintain an incredibly stable and fast platform. It's one of the reasons we have so many amazing case studies. We're also able to avoid any penalties from social sites, like Facebook and Google, who will notice things like downtime and make your content less discoverable.

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Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): A website's LCP is the time it takes to load the main content on a page. Google wants LCP to happen within 2.5 seconds of when a page first starts loading.

First Input Delay (FID): This metric quantifies a user's experience when trying to interact with unresponsive pages. This usually occurs between First Meaningful Paint (FMP) and Time to Interactive (TTI) (more on what these two mean below). You want your FID score to be low to prove the usability of your site. According to Google, pages should haven an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.

Cumulative Layout Shift Score (CLS): CLS determines how often your users experience unexpected layout shifts or changes on a page. To ensure visual stability, you want your CLS score to be low. Google wants pages to maintain a CLS score of less than 0.1.

From Google.

Google says Core Web Vitals scores will be considered across every page, and will be a ranking factor in its Top Stories feature. While relevant quality content will always be the most important, the page experience ranking is now a make-or-break metric for your site's survival.

"A good page experience doesn't override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search." —From Google's page experience announcement, May 2020

Core Web Vitals will determine every site's performance score. You can see your site's Core Web Vitals specifically via Google Search Console, but your website's overall page performance is measured using Google's PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse tools.

At RebelMouse, we guarantee a performance score of 90 or higher via PageSpeed Insights. To do this, we've built out a platform infrastructure that exceeds industry standards on Google's key metrics, particularly its Core Web Vitals, outperforming most industry leaders.

You can read more about how we've mastered Google's KPIs here. But the truth is in the data. Below is table that provides a snapshot into how RebelMouse-powered sites score:

And here's what the scores look like for some of the biggest sites on the open web:

As you can see, there's a lot of data Google takes into account even outside of Core Web Vitals. Here's a quick summary of the other important metrics that Google trusts to measure page performance:

First Contentful Paint (FCP): This metric measures the time from click to the time when a user's browser renders the first bit of content from the Document Object Model (DOM), which is your site's HTML structure. According to Google, this is an important milestone for your readers because it provides signals that your page is loading.

First Meaningful Paint (FMP): This is the amount of time it takes the most important content, what Google calls "hero elements," to load on site. Hero elements are different for every site, but should be intuitive based on your content. This metric helps determine your site's usability.

Time to Interactive (TTI): This is the most important metric to keep an eye on. This is when the site is fully rendered and ready for user action. This is a critical point when slow load time can occur, usually because JavaScript or other complex content hasn't fully rendered. So, in short, think of TTI as how long it takes for your site to load in its entirety.

Total Blocking Time (TBT): TBT measures a page's load responsiveness to quantify how long a page is non-interactive prior to becoming interactive. You want your site to have a low TBT to maintain its usability.

Speed Index (SI): SI is the measurement of how quickly the contents of a page are populated. You want your speed index score to be as low as possible.

Creating quality content is only half the battle in 2020, and publishers are already burdened with the around-the-clock task of creating content that resonates. This is why quality content must be supported by modern technology that can keep up with the speed of the web. RebelMouse provides publishers with a CMS that supports the new content lifecycle with an editorial suite designed for reach on site, search, and social.

Click here to read more about our modern approach to web performance. If you want to make performance a priority, request a proposal today. We can easily transform your site into one of the fastest on the web, giving you increased user retention and better conversion rates than ever before.

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