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The Ultimate Guide to Figuring Out if You Need a CDN and Which Options to Go For

Posted on October 23, 2015 by Tesla in WordPress | 0 comments | 3968 Views

When was the last time you checked to see how fast your websites (or client websites) were loading?

Are you aware that Todd in Muncie, Indiana may see a significantly different load time than that of Ana in Mumbai?

Lots of work is going on behind the scenes for your websites to get delivered to the end users, yet even when finding a reputable hosting company, you may discover that the speed, security and SEO is not exactly what you’d like it to be.

This is where a content delivery network (CDN) comes into play.

The speed of your site depends on it. The amount of security you can expect depends on it. Your success as a business depends on it as the amount of people visiting your site increases.

However, what’s the point of a CDN, and how do you go about implementing one? Does every website require a CDN to run properly?

All of these questions are brought up on a consistent basis, considering CDNs work in a way that may require a little bit of technical knowledge. Even if you don’t implement a CDN for your site, it’s prudent to understand exactly what it is in order to explain it to clients if they ask, and to make a quick switch in case you start realizing that one of your sites could use a boost.

What’s a Content Delivery Network (CDN)?

For new developers and less technical business owners, the first question you need to answer is what the heck a CDN is and how does it work?

Let’s start with one of your websites, say, a designer shoe eCommerce store. It’s running on the WordPress content management system, and you’ve already setup a hosting account with a company such as Bluehost.

Your traffic is gradually increasing, so you’re getting excited about the possibilities of making more money. Every month your company is learning about new cities where customers are buying your shoes from.

Unfortunately, a few customers in Wisconsin tell you that your page loads speeds are unbearable. You run a speedtest to check it out, but everything seems okay on your end.

The problem is that the server delivering your site to those folks in Wisconsin may not be remotely close to them geographically.
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A content distribution system is a network of servers that is spread throughout the world, each of them working together to deliver your website based on the geographical location of the person browsing your site.

If Susie from Burlington, Wisconsin logs into your website and tries to load up a product page, the CDN would search for the nearest server to produce the content in a reasonable time. So, in this case, that server may be located in Milwaukee, giving her a much better user experience than if that server were to be sitting in London.

On the other hand, if you utilize a hosting account or network that only has servers in the UK, the chances of people in the US receiving similar speeds on your site is much less.

Overall, the closer a server is to the end user, the better experience they’re going to have when shopping on your website.

Geographical page load times are not the only area affected by a CDN, because traffic influxes can crash your site, even if most of your customers are located in the same area as your server network. Let’s say you launch a promotional campaign or you go on Shark Tank to pitch your idea to Mark Cuban and the gang.

Your site traffic is going to explode, and similar to how many companies have experienced when going on Shark Tank, your site may crash. A CDN assists in this situation, since it distributes that load across a vast network of servers all over the globe, decreasing the chances of a crash and making your customers, and the search engines, happy.

What Can You Gain from Implementing a CDN on Your Own WordPress Site?

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The benefits for going with a CDN are as follows:

Your Audience Starts to Expand to a More International Crowd

We live in a global business world, so in general, you can expect to at least aspire to selling to people from countries all over the world. Although most people from different countries can bring up your sites just fine, they may experience problems because of the location of your servers.
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A CDN generates a great experience for all customers, regardless of the country they live in, opening up possibilities for selling on a global scale.

Note: Unfortunately, some countries put up firewalls to prevent their citizens from accessing certain sites. Much of this is based on the location of the server in which the website is delivered from. When your site has a CDN, many of these firewalls can be avoided, opening up possibilities for business in countries that you would otherwise be blocked from.

Website Page Downloads Go into Hyperdrive

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We talked about this above considering it’s the primary reason webmasters go with a CDN. The whole point is to deliver your webpages quickly, without any interruptions during the process. Since the network is spread out geographically, a person in one country should see fast page load times similar to anyone else in the world.

Your Overall User Experience Becomes Unmatched

Since your site speed is blazing fast with a CDN, your customers, regardless of their location, are happier with the user experience. It doesn’t matter where the person is located, because they are going to go through the steps on your site with ease. Since word of mouth is still one of the best means of marketing, you can bet that they won’t have anything bad to say about your user experience.

The Search Engines Start Recognizing Your Site as a Quality Online Destination

With a better user experience and faster page loads, the search engines start to take notice. They see your website as a valuable part of the internet community, and you’re more likely to see your search engine rankings move up.

Google has consistently stated that website speed is a huge factor when determining where your sites should be placed in the rankings, so a CDN is a wonderful step in the right direction.

The CDN Company Provides Reports, Support and Information About Your Site

Who are you going to call if your site crashes? Most reputable CDN companies provide dedicated support teams that you can call up and speak to for getting your site back up and running.

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In addition, the CDN companies provide strong dashboards with information about your server network, along with details for forecasting your business and understanding where people are having problems accessing your site in a reasonable time.
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Cut Down on the Amount of Money You Spend

It’s unfortunate, but many fast growing companies opt to go with foreign servers when trying to expand to a global market. You even have the chance to use a local network that can support large amounts of traffic, but many of these cost lots of money. A CDN keeps your costs low, and it means that you don’t have to serve up your site through multiple service providers.

How Do I Know if My Website Requires the Help of a CDN?

This is the question that every developer and business owner wants answered, and it’s actually rather simple to figure out. Take a look at the four points below to understand whether a CDN is right for your website. Keep in mind that a CDN is necessary if your company fits in with only one of the points.

You should seriously consider a CDN if:

  • Your site is growing at an exponential rate – A regular server is going to have a tough time handling a spike in traffic, unless you prepare for it with a CDN.
  • Large files and static content are dragging your site down – Items like large images, scripts, CSS and other elements can prevent your site from loading quickly. This is particularly the case for online magazines and sites that use tons of media.
  • Your audience is starting to expand to a worldwide crowd – If you notice that many site visitors are coming from the other side of the world, or even just in a different country, it may be time to look into a CDN.
  • The CDN you plan on implementing is reputable – This simply ties into the fact that it’s wise to complete your research before going with a company that is going to handle the security and distribution of your content. If they screw it up, it could cost you big bucks, so take a look at the reputable CDN companies we outline below, and feel free to conduct your own research as well.

Are There Any Instances When I Should Stay Away from a CDN?

You may wonder what the point of a CDN is if you run a small local business with a simple website. That’s a good question, since it’s one of the primary reasons you would stray away from a CDN. One of the main points of implementing a CDN is to grow your international network, and if most of your traffic comes from customers in your area, you probably don’t need a CDN. However, this all changes if your server is located elsewhere or if your traffic is exploding.

The only other reason you’d refrain from implementing a CDN is if you’re absolutely pressed for cash and your site doesn’t have many visitors. In this case, you can get away with a regular shared server or hosting account and hope to make some money that will pay for any traffic increases in the future.

The Top Content Delivery Networks to Consider

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As webmasters begin realizing the power of CDNs, various companies are springing up to heed the calls for more effective website networks. With that comes several options for you to choose from when browsing around for CDNs. The first group we’re going to recommend is what we would consider free, but keep in mind that not all of them give you the features you would find in a premium solution.

For example, with the Photon CDN, you’re unable to delete or remove images once uploaded to the CDN, meaning that even an accidental upload is on the network forever.

Free CDNs

  • Cloudflare provides a free plan, along with several paid options to choose from. It’s one of the more popular CDNs on the market, with features such as content distribution, optimization, analytics and web apps.
  • jsDelivr offers a free opensource CDN with offerings such as multi-CDN load balancing, network maps, maximum performance and uptime, automated updates and unlimited traffic.
  • Jetpack with Photon is a free WordPress plugin, which means that you must install the popular Jetpack plugin and activate Photon inside that plugin. It mainly focuses on accelerating your images to quickly load and host your images to users.
  • CoralCDN is a free CDN based on peer-to-peer technologies, meaning that you can drastically improve the speed of your site if you have large traffic loads. The catch is that you must pay for a $50 per month cable modem.
  • CDN.net considers itself the Uber of content delivery, offering 1GB for $0.01 (close to free.) Gain features such as rich media support, an intuitive control panel, shared SSL and instant activation.

Premium (Paid) CDNs

  • MaxCDN starts at $0.06 per GB, and it provides a stunning control panel, a vast global network, real time reports, rules, an API and origin shielding.
  • Fastly starts at $0.12 per GB, and it offers acceleration for static content, purging, a variety of different security certificates, streaming media support and assistance for eCommerce.
  • Amazon Cloudfront is a nice choice if you’re already using Amazon Web Services, since it integrates perfectly. The pricing starts for free, but you can expect to pay around $0.085 per GB after that.
  • CacheFly begins at $0.10 per GB, and you receive a network map, a strong
  • KeyCDN has a simple and reliable CDN that starts at $0.04 per GB, and it has support for push and pull zones, security tokens, shared SSL, custom SSL, a management dashboard and video advertising support.

Are You Considering a CDN for Your Website?

Hopefully you now understand how a CDN works and what benefits it can bring to your websites. If you’re considering implementing a CDN, use this as a guide to locate the right companies, and test each one to figure out the most cost efficient solution.

Leave us a comment in the section below if you currently have a CDN on your site. Would you recommend that service to anyone else? If you don’t use a CDN, what are some of the questions you still have?