We Interviewed 5 Content Delivery Network (CDN) Experts, Here’s What We Found

LENGTH 12 min read
CONTENT TYPE Blog Post

We Interviewed 5 Content Delivery Network (CDN) Experts, Here’s What We Found

TL;DR: CDNs make your website faster — by setting up synchronised copies of your website all across the world. 🚀🌏

Imagine the server hosting your website is located in Perth, Australia — and you have website visitors worldwide. Let’s take a look at a user’s journey from another side of the globe. Say someone in New York is trying to access the website and makes a request to the server.

Their request needs to cover around 18,700 kilometres down to Perth and the same distance back to New York!

The time it takes to open the website and browse its pages is usually in milliseconds. However, today’s internet users are becoming more and more impatient when it comes to delays and slow websites. So the further your user is away from the server, the longer it takes to open webpages to browse, and ultimately, the website will be a slower user experience for them.

What’s the solution, then?

Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN), you can reduce the distance between the user and the hosting server, which will increase the speed of the website. By having CDNs in as many locations as possible, the content is retrieved and cached in many node servers, an open-source server environment that runs on various platforms (from Windows to Linux).

A single request down to Perth is then distributed worldwide. Users in other countries can easily retrieve the content directly from their closest node servers, drastically reducing the distance and time required to access the website hosted on the server. It also reduces the amount of traffic the Perth server receives. Thus, while the direct benefit is increased website speed, the indirect advantage is reduced server load.

In this blog post, we will further explain how a CDN is able to reduce the amount of time it takes to deliver content, and we’ll also recommend a list of free CDNs you can use to increase your own website’s performance.

What is a CDN?

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a system of distributed servers that accelerates internet content delivery. In other words, a CDN makes your website faster. To reduce the latency — a delay between the initiation and the occurrence of a request — CDNs store cached content on edge servers, making it easy for the users to browse content.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you are interacting with CDNs every day. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to watch videos, read the news, or shop online at the level of speed and experience required to do these things successfully. No matter the kind of content you consume, CDNs have been helping you deliver text, images, and videos to your browser without you even being aware of it.

So a CDN’s job is to virtually shorten the distance between the server and the user by caching the static content (images, videos, CSS, JavaScript files) based on the geographic location. This will then increase the website performance by reducing latency — but how does it actually work?

How Does a CDN Work?

To minimise the distance between the origin server and the user making a request, CDNs store cached content in various areas or points of presence (PoPs). Each PoP is equipped with several caching servers for content delivery.

For example, when someone in Los Angeles tries to access your website hosted in Sydney, it’s done through a local Los Angeles PoP. A much immediate and faster process than travelling across the oceans and back again!

Let’s say you want to implement a CDN, and how does that happen? It’s usually achieved through Domain Name System (DNS) changes. You will get a DNS record for your CDN, and you replace it with all the images and video links within your website.

Types of CDNs

Now there are two types of CDNs: push and pull. When you push to a server, you’re actually pushing all of that static content onto the content network servers. So, for instance, if you upload an image, it will get pushed to a CDN which will then cache the image as static content across the network.

A pull server works a bit differently. First, somebody has to request the link to what you’re looking for. So, for example, when accessing an image, say the very first user goes to that image, the CDN will go to your root server, pull that image out, download it to its server, and finally distribute it across its network. Thus, with a pull CDN, you’ll experience slower speeds at the beginning as it’s starting to cache the content first.

However, without a CDN, you are likely to experience a significantly worse website speed experience, and that’s why almost all websites today use CDNs to enhance their website performance.

Why Do You Need a CDN?

Imagine you opened an online clothing store catering to a local audience in Western Australia. Then, using a local hosting provider, you host the website and get ready to sell your awesome products. Pretty easy, right?

Not quite, especially when your brand grows and reaches a broader national and international audience. Say, after a year, people from the United States want to buy your designer apparel; without a CDN, your website will be too slow to provide them with a good browsing experience.

Exasperated, your global customers throw their hands in despair and opt for another online store. Your business suffers!

You might be thinking: It’s only a second-long delay — why does it even matter? Well, studies show that a second-long delay causes a 7% drop in conversions and an 11% drop in page views. So every second counts, especially for today’s internet users who demand fast-paced communication and easy accessibility.

CDNs act as a global network with caching capabilities for web optimisation, thereby shortening the latency or delay period. In addition, it virtually eliminates the physical distance between the website user and the hosting server.

That’s why using a CDN should be your top priority, and depending on your website load, you can choose a number of different CDNs. In addition, it is a good idea to select a SaaS-based CDN for scaling and automation if you see a possibility of rapid business growth in the near future.

Benefits of Using a CDN

All right, CDNs are indispensable, but what are their key benefits?

  • Performance

The performance of your website is greatly enhanced by using a CDN. Your website will load quicker — and the user experience will be a lot better than that of websites without CDNs.

Search engines, such as Google and Bing, prefer fast and efficient websites, so the SEO ranking of your web pages will also increase. With better site speed and performance, your website will appear quickly in search, generating more leads and funnelling more revenue.

  • Availability

By decreasing the time it takes to load your website, a CDN will ensure prompt content delivery. As a result, your website visitors are more likely to return to the website, bookmark pages, and interact with web components.

Powerful edge servers provide services to the users seamlessly, and unlike traditional web hosting, they are located across the world. A CDN is basically a global network of edge servers that distribute content from a multi-host environment. So your website content is available to its users all the time.

  • Security

Using a CDN also means increased security, as they detect malicious links that interfere with your website’s operation and block them quickly. It will also protect your website from automated bots and spam attacks.

CDN offers an SSL encryption feature that protects your data during transfer. Additionally, you can also opt for a secure token to users so that they can access your content only for a limited time. That means CDN will also prevent Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks.

  • Cost

By maintaining a cached version of your website’s static content, CDNs can significantly reduce costs associated with bandwidth usage. Without a CDN, you’ll be charged with a fixed bandwidth cost each time a request is made to the root server. So using a CDN is a cost-effective solution to web optimisation.

Besides saving costs, CDNs are also quite affordable. In fact, many of them come with free versions, and even the paid ones only charge a few dollars per month, normally $0.15 per GB of data. (A word of caution: the free versions may result in longer weekly site crawls and delayed effect in activation and analytics updates. While a free plan offers basic protection, the premium version will obviously give better and more secure results due to its additional features and customer support.)

5 Free CDNs to Use in 2021

#1 – Cloudflare CDN

Cloudflare is a free CDN service that you can use with your WordPress site. It automatically caches your website and speeds up its load time, along with providing you with DDoS mitigation services.

Cloudflare’s services reside between your website users and your root server, thereby acting as a reverse proxy. Most of its core features are for free, and the installation and application process is straightforward too! The free features of Cloudflare include DNS hosting, CDN, SSL/TLS, firewall, domain registration, and analytics.

Cloudflare is suitable for long-time business owners who emphasise mitigating security attacks. For more information on how to install and implement Cloudflare into your system, visit their info section. Also, check out their long-term paid plans

#2 – W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache (W3TC) is a WordPress caching plugin that provides you with the tools you need to optimise your site. The plugin is designed to improve website performance with the help of features such as page cache, database cache, browser cache, and object cache.

Installation is effortless as W3TC can be found in the WordPress directory and added with simple ‘Download’ and ‘Add New’ buttons. Furthermore, by leveraging CDN integration with best practices, W3TC improves the SEO and overall user experience.

We believe that W3TC is the best fit for new website owners who want an all-in-one solution as well as the older ones who need extensive customisation.

#3 – LiteSpeed Cache

LiteSpeed Cache is yet another WordPress plugin for dynamic content acceleration, not just efficient handling of static content. Using an efficient, highly customisable implementation, LiteSpeed significantly reduces the page load time and server load.

It features an exclusive server-level cache and a collection of optimisation features. Downloading and installing can be quickly done from the WordPress directory, just like W3TC.

WEBO Digital believes this CDN works really well for established website owners who run online stores, as LiteSpeed is compatible with WooCommerce’s plugin.

#4 – Amazon CloudFront

To deliver content faster and decrease the end-user latency, you can also use the Amazon CloudFront application. It fetches your content from a beginning point, such as Amazon S3 bucket, Amazon EC2 instance, Amazon Elastic load balancer, or even your host server. Afterwards, it delivers the content to your website.

You will first upload your static content (images, videos, HTML pages, .css files, and .js files.) to an Amazon S3 bucket. After that, using the Amazon CloudFront console, you’ll deliver the content to your audience around the world. To make it easy for CloudFront to know which origin to get your content from, you must configure web distribution settings.

For a complete tutorial on how to set up Amazon CloudFront, go to their hands-on tutorial page. We want to stress the fact that Amazon’s CloudFront services are primarily for large and enterprise-level businesses that have some experience with AWS technologies.

#5 – Jetpack Site Accelerator

Jetpack Site Accelerator, formerly known as Photon, helps you optimise the web images and serve them with static files like CSS and JavaScript. Once you install the application to your system, you can activate the Site Accelerator from its dashboard by simply clicking on “Enable site accelerator.”

Jetpack’s Image CDN (formerly Photon) is a specific image accelerator that hosts your images from their servers, reducing the load on your host server and rendering the images load faster. Besides image processing, Jetpack also filters the URLs of static content loaded with every WordPress page.

Since it’s easy to use and comes with many features, we think Jetpack would be the best choice for new business owners who want to expand their growth by using CDNs and WordPress web hosting services.

Some Considerations

Despite the vast benefits, there are a few things you should consider before choosing a CDN.

Needless to say, CDNs add an extra layer of security between the user and the website. If your website is prone to spam or DDoS attacks, a CDN is going to give you enough security. The downside is that your website users might occasionally get blocked out and also may have to enter a captcha to view the content, especially when the security system fails to differentiate between real users and automated bots.

Suppose your current hosting server is performing poorly and going offline often, then you need to look at using a CDN as soon as possible, particularly if moving to a better server host isn’t an immediate option.

Besides that, another minor objection is that a CDN adds some complexity to the deployment process. So before deploying a CDN service, make sure to research all pros and cons thoroughly.

Final Words

By now, we hope you have a clear understanding of CDNs, their advantages, and how they work. You also have a few free ones you can review and select to use right away to boost your website performance.

For better leads generation and conversion rates, site speed plays an important role. The time it takes to load your website may positively or negatively affect your site’s SEO ranking, not to mention enhancing or degrading your user experience. By using a CDN, you can rest assured that your static content is delivered on time — even when someone is browsing your site from the other side of the world.

If you want more information on CDNs — or the awesome web development services we provide at WEBO Digital — feel free to reach out to us for a further chat. We’d love to hear from you!

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