Content Delivery Networks are not often the first step in an SEO plan, but for certain websites they can become an invaluable part of their operations. Here we’re going to go through what Content Delivery Networks are, how they work, whether you need to use one, and which are the best options out there.

What is a Content Delivery Network?

Content Delivery Networks, often shortened to just CDN, are a network of servers that are spread out either across the world or across a country. They cache (that is, store) copies of static content such as images, CSS, and JavaScript files so that when a visitor goes to a webpage, the CDN can provide these copies from a server that is closer to the visitor’s geographic location. It’s worth noting that the HTML will still come from your web host (so you still need a hosting provider), but the static content will come from the Content Delivery Network.

Having your content served this way can be useful in reducing page load times. This makes for a better experience of the webpage for the visitor, which in turn results in them spending more time on your webpage and (hopefully) going through your intended conversions. The faster page speeds are also beneficial to SEO, so all in all  investing some time (and possibly money) in a Content Delivery Network can be very worthwhile.

So, how  exactly do they reduce page load times? Essentially, when visitors who are far away from wherever your page is being hosted try to load your web page, the files for that page have to travel further to reach them. For example this means (not including other variables), that a visitor from Texas loading a UK website would have a longer page load time than a visitor from London. Content Delivery Networks are thus a way to get around this, by sending copies of the page’s assets from a server closer to the visitor.

Another way in which Content Delivery Networks can help with page speeds is with websites with a lot of traffic. If you have a lot of traffic all directed to one server, this can overload it. So spreading your traffic across a Content Delivery Network’s different servers can help relieve that too.

Should I use a Content Delivery Network?

The short answer to this is: probably, yes. But the longer answer, as it often is, is that it depends.

Of course, as explained above, using a Content Delivery Network can do wonders for your page loading speeds – but each site, its requirements, traffic, and budget are different. So, a few things to consider before you go scouting for the perfect Content Delivery Network, are:

  • Have you optimised your page in all other ways, such as by getting rid of render blocking CSS and JavaScript, optimising images, and making your site mobile friendly? If you haven’t done these, this foundation work should probably be the priority (especially if you currently don’t have a lot of traffic).
  • Are you a local business, or receive the majority of your traffic from a single, small geographic region? If so, it is probably unnecessary for you to use a Content Delivery Network, so save yourself the setup time (and money)!

If you decide you are in the position to choose a Content Delivery Network, then a couple of other points are also worth considering:

  • Where is your website traffic coming from? By finding out where across the world you are getting traffic, this can help you decide which Content Delivery Network has the best placed servers for your specific audience. For example, if you have a lot of visitors from Japan, you want to make sure the Content Delivery Network you go for has a good selection of servers around there!
  • What sort of files do you run on your website? Do you stream videos, provide software downloads, or display lots of large images? If so, Content Delivery Networks are definitely going to be a big help – but on top of that, you may want to consider which Content Delivery Networks are tailored specifically to help your files of choice (we’ll go through some options for this below).
  • Do you use a popular content management system like WordPress? If so, then choosing a Content Delivery Network that works well with popular WordPress plugins can make your life a lot, lot easier, as they will eliminate the work you need to do to get your files onto the Content Delivery Network servers.

Which Content Delivery Network should I use?

There are lots of content delivery network choices out there, each with their own pros and cons. Here we’ve put together a list of some of the most popular options, along with details of their specific strengths and weaknesses. Keep your own website and its needs in mind when reading through them, and this should help you when it comes to deciding which one to choose!

Akamai:

This is one of the best known Content Delivery Networks out there, being used by companies like Apple, FedEx, BBC, Nintendo and many more. Having been around for over a decade, they have an extensive network of servers – more than 56,000 across the world. As such a big company, they are often ahead of the game not only in their number of servers, but also in implementing newer features, such as their EdgeControl panel, which is summarised nicely by Web Hosting Geeks.

One thing that needs to be noted is that Akami tends to be better suited to larger companies, so if you are just starting out with Content Delivery Networks, it may not be the best fit. This gap is being bridged slowly (they recently released a beta version for an Akami WordPress plugin which should make integrating Akami with WordPress accounts much easier), but it is still hard to pin down pricing compared to other alternatives.

MaxCDN:

This is another popular choice, and has servers across many regions including the US, UK, China, and Australia. MaxCDN is popular for various reasons such as its well designed, intuitive user control panel, detailed reporting and analytics, and 24/7 help desk. Another major plus is that it works well with WordPress plugins like W3 Total Cache, so setting it up with a WordPress site is relatively simple.

The cheapest option offered by MaxCDN is around £7 per month, but they also offer a free trial, so you can test it out before making your final decision.

CloudFlare:

For those who are looking for a free option, CloudFlare could be a good choice. They offer a free basic plan, as well as paid services that start from around £15 per month. With 111 data centres worldwide, they are supposed to load a webpage twice as fast on average. Additionally, they also have their own WordPress plugin which makes setup on WordPress sites easier.

Amazon Web Services: CloudFront and Amazon S3

The Amazon Web Services are made up of the Content Delivery Network Amazon uses for themselves, called CloudFront, and their cloud storage service, Amazon S3. The two work together as a tag team, where Amazon S3 stores your website in the cloud, and CloudFront Content Delivery Network then serves it to visitors.

The Amazon servers are very reliable, and both CloudFront and Amazon S3 have free basic plans which make them a nice option for smaller sites (the services operate on a ‘pay as you go’ system once the free allowance is exceeded). The only issue to note is that it can be difficult to get to grips with for beginners, so may not be the best option for people who are very new to Content Delivery Networks.

jsDelivr:

This is another free Content Delivery Network option that hosts a very flexible range of files such as CSS, fonts, JavaScript and jQuery plugins. As a free WordPress plugin that is also supported by CloudFlare and MaxCDN, there is very little harm in giving it a go – MaxCDN explain how it works more thoroughly (and sing its praises) on their blog.

CND77:

Last but not least, there is CND77. There are many great features to CND77, including a 24/7 support desk, data centres across 5 continents, and integration with popular WordPress plugins W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache. Another important thing to note is that they specialise in supporting streaming, so if you deliver a lot of gaming or video content on your website, they are a good option to look into.

As with many of the other Content Delivery Network systems listed, they have the option of a free trial, after which there are various pay as you go plans that are tailored to different visitor traffic levels.

 
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