What does a CDN do?
A Content Delivery Network, or CDN, is a system by which your site’s data is distributed to many servers in several geographic locations around the globe. A copy of your site is stored in these servers so that your pages may be more quickly accessed from anywhere. When someone requests your website, that person will receive the copy stored closest physically to them.
What Are Some Benefits of a CDN?
One of the primary motivations behind implementing a content delivery network is the decrease in round trip time, or the time it takes for your site to be requested and delivered. Because your site is physically stored closer to the machine requesting it, your data will take less time during it’s journey. You may also notice that your site is using less resources, as the CDN is doing some of that heavy lifting for your host.
Many CDNs come with what is called an “always online” service. If your primary host is experiencing some connectivity or database issues that cause your site to go down, some CDNs will compensate by pushing one of the cached copies to the front. This acts as a fail-safe so that your site doesn’t suffer any downtime due to hosting issues or a DDoS attack.
Because your overall user experience is improving, you may notice an increase in visits and even conversions! Sites with a CDN will handle increased traffic more smoothly than a traditional server host could. Because people get very frustrated with slower sites, this may cause visitors to stay longer or even click through to pages they may not have before. This increase in site speed will also serve to boost your SEO ranking.
Do I need a CDN?
CDNs are pretty great tools, but they’re not right for every site. If your primary focus is speed, you should probably think about optimizing your site and it’s content before you try a CDN. There may be some larger issues at play that won’t be remedied by a CDN.
If your site is experiencing constant downtime and you want to take advantage of the “always online” feature, you also may want to take another look at why your site is behaving the way it is before you try out a CDN.
If your site is optimized but is still experiencing some slowdown issues, a CDN may be right for you. Ask your IT provider to run a “Trace Route” or “Tracert” on your site. This will track the journey of your request across several locations until it reaches it’s destination. If your test comes back full of asterisks, your site is not transmitting data successfully, or is being “dropped”. A CDN is a quick, easy way to skip those drops by having your site locally stored on several servers physically closer to the person making the request. The shorter the trek, the speedier the experience and lesser the likelihood of being dropped.
What are my options?
Many hosts offer a paid distribution network. If yours does not, there are some third party services like StackPath CDN (formerly MaxCDN) that will do the trick.
There are some free options should you be working on a limited budget. Our favorite here at Roundpeg (and a service that is wildly popular across the web) is CloudFlare. We like CloudFlare for a few different reasons: It’s easy to set up, offers an included shared SSL certificates, and has a free level.
How do I set up a CDN?
All you need to do is set up an account, transfer your DNS’s nameservers to point to the CDN, and you’re all set!
And so it goes…
I know what you’re thinking: “Simon, if I read CDN one more time, I’m going ballistic.” Well, I’ve anticipated this and am thrilled to present you more acronyms! Check out my blogs on SSLs, SEO, and SERPs!