- Trying to improve your site’s loading speeds can be a complex and frustrating task, especially if your website-building experience is limited. Because every project is different, there is no step-by-step guide you can rely on, and although you can find lots of advice online, it often comes from people who are not willing to take the time and explain some of the concepts that may not be particularly familiar to you.
CDN is one such concept, and today, we’ll not only look into how it works, but we’ll also show you just how important it could be for the future of your project.
What is a CDN?
CDN stands for Content Delivery Network. Before we can understand how it works, we first need to explain how the server that powers your website functions normally.
When a user tries to visit your website, their browser sends a request to the hosting server. The job of the server is to return the requested content. How quickly the data appears in front of the user’s eyes depends on many different factors, including the size of the web page, the server load, and the availability of hardware resources.
One less obvious component that plays a key role in your website’s performance is the distance between the user and the hosting server.
Say, for example, that your server is situated in a data center in LA. Two different users try to access your website at the same time. One is in Colorado, and the other in New York. If we assume that the server responds to the requests simultaneously, the website will load faster for the person in Colorado simply because the data needs to cover less physical distance.
Even in this example, the difference in loading speed can be tangible. Imagine what it will be if you have users in Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia. No matter how powerful your server is and how quickly it processes users’ requests, the loading times for users situated a long way away from your hosting server will be less than ideal. This is where a content delivery network comes in.
If you put your website through a CDN, some of your site’s data will be cached and stored on a global network of servers. Copies of your images, CSS stylesheets, and other static elements will be placed on machines all over the world, and when a user visits your website, their browser will fetch them from the nearest location.
Your website’s dynamic functionality is still handled by the primary hosting server, but because a lot of the data has to travel only a short distance, the overall loading speeds are significantly improved.
Why is a CDN so important?
A CDN can improve your website in more ways than you might think. Let’s start with the most obvious aspect.
Internet users are not renowned for their patience, and you, too, have probably found yourself in a situation where you’ve abandoned a website simply because it’s taking too long to load.
Performance is an incredibly powerful user experience factor. No matter how good your product is and how well you advertise it, if your website doesn’t load quickly enough, people won’t be interested in it. In that respect, a CDN can be of enormous help.
A CDN can effectively mitigate the risk of a DDoS attack overwhelming your hosting server’s hardware resources and bringing your website down. Instead of a single physical machine handling the enormous number of requests received during a DDoS campaign, the load is shared between the hosting server and the CDN’s end nodes. As a result, the hackers will have a more difficult time overloading your hosting account.
What’s more, in addition to the worldwide network of end nodes, most CDN providers offer extra security features and custom firewall solutions specifically designed to repel a broad range of cyberattacks.
A CDN guarantees more consistent performance worldwide, so regular visitors know that they can expect excellent loading speeds wherever they are.
In addition to this, because the CDN is responsible for serving most of the static data, your hosting server processes fewer requests, the likelihood of it slowing down because of excessive load is minimal, and you can expect a more reliable performance from it.
A while ago, Google confirmed that uptime and loading speeds are among the factors it considers when determining a website’s search engine rankings.
Bots constantly crawl your website and send requests from all over the world. Because a CDN reduces the load on your primary hosting server, they are less likely to stumble upon any server errors, and they’ll undoubtedly register faster, more reliable loading speeds, regardless of their location. As a result, you can expect higher search engine rankings and consistent traffic levels.
Popular CDN providers
There are many CDN providers, and choosing the right one for your project isn’t necessarily the easiest thing in the world. Let’s take a look at three of the most popular names in this growing industry and see how they stack up against each other.
Cloudflare is one of the most popular CDN providers in the world. It has endpoints located in 250 cities worldwide, and it promises that 95% of the world’s internet-connected population can reach a Cloudflare network within 50 milliseconds.
Fastly is a content delivery network that serves over 15 million requests and sends more than 20Tb of data every second. In addition to CDN services, the company offers a range of other products, including image optimization and load balancing tools and a web application firewall.
KeyCDN has over 40 points of presence, with many more planned for the near future. It markets itself as one of the most flexible platforms of its kind, and it promises seamless integration with popular content management systems like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc.
How much does a CDN cost?
You may think that all these performance advantages must come at a cost. Indeed, most providers charge you for using their CDNs. Some have a range of plans with different features and bandwidth limits. Others have adopted a pay-as-you-go model that calculates your monthly bills based on the traffic the CDN has served or the requests it has processed.
However, Cloudflare can let you use its content delivery network completely free of charge. It’s not just a free trial, either. You can use it as much as you want without paying a penny.
It’s part of Cloudflare’s push to make the internet safer and more reliable, and it’s difficult to ignore the offering, especially in light of the significant speed advantages. After you see how well it works with your website, you can check out the premium solutions offered by Cloudflare and other providers. Pretty much all of them give you quite a few handy features, so setting aside a budget for a paid CDN service might not be such a bad idea.
How to set up a CDN on my website?
The exact steps you need to take to put your website through a content delivery network differ from CDN provider to CDN provider and from host to host. For example, some web hosting control panels offer easy integration with popular CDNs like Cloudflare. If that’s not the case on your account, the CDN provider of choice usually gives you easy-to-follow instructions, showing you what to do to enable their content delivery network on your website.
If you choose Cloudflare, for example, the steps are as follows:
- Create a Cloudflare account
You’ll need a Cloudflare account if you want to use its CDN. Cloudflare’s free plan should easily suit most website’s needs.
- Register your website
During the signup process, you’ll need to provide your website’s domain. Cloudflare will automatically check your website and will provide you with a pair of nameservers.
- Change your domain’s nameservers
Go to your domain registrar’s client area and set the nameservers provided by Cloudflare. After a propagation period of around 24 hours, your website will work through Cloudflare’s CDN for everyone, regardless of their geographical location.
It’s no wonder that so many people advise putting your website through a content delivery network. The faster loading speeds improve the user experience, boost your chances of building a loyal base of returning customers, and push your website further up the search engine results pages.
Given that there is a free option, ignoring the opportunity to boost your website’s performance with a CDN makes absolutely no sense.