Common Benefits of using a CDN for your Website

December 10, 2013 by Nathan Oulman
Common Benefits of using a CDN for your Website
Plenty of web developers have heard about the term "Content Delivery Network". These are global networks with multiple server farms used to handle requests for static files. Think about all the CSS/JS files, all the images or videos hosted on your website's server. A CDN can offload those resources and scatter them throughout the globe for much quicker processing.    

In this brief guide I hope to explain the purpose of CDNs and why you might consider using one. For much simpler websites drawing low traffic numbers, there really isn't a crucial need for resource management. But as your website grows larger the impact on your hosting provider may become greater than a single account can handle.

How CDNs Work

Each static file you upload to an origin server is then replicated throughout a number of cache servers around the world. Once a user requests your website the CDN determines their location based on the total number of exit nodes. So a visitor from Japan accessing your web host in France or Germany will typically have a much longer loading time than somebody located elsewhere in Europe.

But with a CDN all your images and static files will be loaded quicker, and this frees up bandwidth in each HTTP request so your host can query pages or posts from the database. Having a quicker load time will impact performance, visitor's opinions of your website, and probably increase sales(or ad revenue).

This is especially useful for mobile users if your website isn't optimized for smaller screens. When somebody is on their smartphone without wi-fi it can take much more time to gather all the necessary resources for each page. A well-managed CDN will get pages moving faster and ideally keep your visitors browsing longer.

Some Common Benefits

Naturally the faster loading times will bring more benefits from each visitor as a side-effect. But you can also manage traffic easier without struggling during spurts of viral sharing. You may be surprised how quickly an article will spread through Facebook or Reddit. When you normally pull 1000 uniques a day, receiving a spurt of 30k visitors can put quite a strain on your web host.

CDNs are based on geographic location so you know the files are getting delivered as fast as possible. It means streaming audio/video media will be quick no matter where people are viewing from. YouTube has a distributed cloud setup much like this - and now any startup or company has the power to utilize these same features.

For larger companies CloudFront has a lot of control along with detailed features among many plans. The costs will often be greater because the charges increment by measuring bandwidth.

Anybody getting started with CDNs might prefer something like MaxCDN. Registration is very simple and you have techs on support who can help you get started. Plus their backend control panel is very easy to understand. The management & traffic analysis may be confusing at first, but MaxCDN makes this easy for anyone to understand. Check out the control panel details if you want to learn a bit more.

Typical Drawbacks

Looking at a CDN you can tell there is plenty to gain - especially if your website is heavily-trafficked and noticeably slow. But what about some of the disadvantages? Well much like your web host, these CDN servers will cost money each month.

If your company isn't earning enough right now then it's not a great choice. Some plans will run less than $10/month but it can still rack up over time. Be sure that your website or company is profitable enough to invest into greater hosting support.

Also along these lines are the web tools necessary for resource management. Once you grow accustomed to the network everything makes a lot more sense. But to dive into CDN hosting without much research will be stressful. A webmaster should try to understand deployment procedures, uploading new assets to the origin server, and how to read traffic analysis for estimating future weekly/monthly bandwidth rates.

Keep in mind that if your plan is on a limited bandwidth amount, going over this limit will cost a lot of extra money. Many hosting companies will keep track of your bandwidth from the cPanel administration area. You should take a look at data from recent months to gauge which plan would be the best choice.

WordPress Integration

Another benefit I want to bring up is the common implementation of CDNs on WordPress websites. In fact, many other CMS platforms utilize plugins for caching along with CDNs. One of the most popular choices for WordPress is called W3 Total Cache.

This is free to install on any number of websites and you don't even need to be using a CDN. It's built to work as a caching plugin for reducing database requests on each pageload. But you may also connect into CDNs which can automatically upload images remotely(along with other similar resources).

Don't be afraid to look online and see what other plugins you can find. WordPress has a tremendous userbase of developers, however there is great support for other similar platforms like Joomla! or Drupal.


So the final question remains - can you benefit from purchasing a CDN? This is unique for each website and it does require a bit of research. Get into your cPanel account and look for the monthly traffic statistics which also have your bandwidth numbers. From there you can look at various CDN providers to judge pricing costs against latency benefits for your website.

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