Content delivery network or content distribution network, shortened as CDN services / CDN providers, are actually a geographically distributed network of proxy servers which host static content (sometimes dynamic) and deliver a cached copy to the users, based on their geographical location.
The Need for a CDN
Why there’s a need to load the site faster? Simply because no one wants to wait! With a tiny attention span on the web (less than three seconds), you would want to grab visitors and slow loading websites are just a big turn off. Many conversions don’t actually happen because the website is taking too much of a time to load.
Despite your powerful webhosting, heavy investing on resources, and optimizing website, it is not necessary that all visitors are experiencing lightening fast loading speed.
But the speed is still dependent on the physical location of the users and the server they are accessing your website through. And none of the ways come close to the use of a CDN, if you wish to increase your loading speed. Thus, investing in a CDN is particularly important.
Is CDN a substitute for host?
CDN works completely different from your regular WordPress host. No, they are not interchangeable and you would still need a host. CDN works as an ancillary service and not as a replacement. You use CDN to boost your site loading speed, and hosting is needed, well, to “store” your website and its content on the internet in the first place.
Your host remains the foundation of your domain where all your non-static files are kept. The CDN, on the other hand, takes all the static files (the bulk) and replicates it worldwide. For most of the websites, it is easy to implement CDN services on the top of the website hosting.
Types of CDN
There are basically three main types of content delivery networks –
Content service protocols – The most versatile, professionally managed, and powerful of CDN. It is fully managed hosted networks which gives access to website files to the users.
Peer-to-peer CDN – It is a basic CDN which runs on a basic setup and small costs. Peer-to-peer (P2P) setups work between personal computers. It is not recommended for big and heavy websites.
Private CDN – If you don’t like either of them, you can create your own private service. It involves creating and managing your own global network of servers to serve static files.
How CDN Works?
Let us now understand how a CDN works. But before that, let’s understand the concept of latency in layman terms. Imagine there is a shoe factory in Oregon. You live in Pennsylvania and want to order shoes from that company.
Of course, the time taken to ship and deliver the shoes from Oregon to Pennsylvania would be too much. Now, imagine the same shoe company opens a factory outlet in New York which has the same shoes that you want to buy.
Naturally, the time taken now to ship and deliver would be significantly reduced. The same concept is applicable for data. If your website is hosted in North America and you have chosen a physical server that too is in North America, the users from Europe will have to wait longer for the website to load than the users from America will.
This waiting for the data to load over a network is called “latency”. Our aim to use a CDN is to reduce the latency and provide the same experience to all the users, regardless of their physical proximity to the physical location of the server.
We will understand the working of a CDN in three simple steps. For the newbies, implementing CDN can be overwhelming at first but these steps will help in getting the knack.
Step 1 – Choose a CDN provider from the list given below and subscribe to its services. Most CDNs charge on a monthly/annual basis or by data use. You can use the calculator function to determine cost that will be incurred by you.
Step 2 – Choosing a plugin such as WP Rocket or CDN Enabler to integrate CDN to your host. All your website assts will be automatically linked to your CDN by your plugin.
Step 3 – Now when a user is visiting your website, he will be shown the content which is being loaded from a POP close to his physical location.
How a CDN knows about the user’s location?
Well, CDN typically use two different types of technologies to fetch content for users according to their correct location. A CDN uses IP Anycast along with geo-location routing. Thus, it can detect the location of the user and then routes the request to the nearest POP. That being said, it is still important that you choose a strategic server location for your WordPress host.
Even though CDN will boost your website speed significantly by distributing media and content, a single request still has to be made to the hosting provider when your website is loaded. Unless you are using full page caching on a proxy server, your host will be still approached first for loading content.
Benefits of CDN
Let us now take a look at all the benefits you will reap on using a CDN –
Speed – Speed is the main reason why webmasters choose to use CDN. You will see a significant improvement in site loading, reducing the lags and latency. CDN reduces the physical distance between the user and the server, thereby reducing the load time by a great margin.
Security – Many CDNs go beyond just speed and offer extra layers of security. Additionally, your data and customer transactions will be protected and attacks such as DDos, DNS Amplification, and Layer 7 will be averted. This reduces manual intervention and guarantees safer experience.
SEO Advantages – Speed is a crucial ranking factor. Having a CDN serve your content makes everything fast, not just to the users but search engines too. Your images will be crawled at a faster rate and you will also notice better SERPs. This overall positions your website in a better place.
Wider global presence and reach – CDN distributes your content to a multiple servers. This means that even if the main website server fails at one point due to any reason, your website will still be up to handle the incoming traffic. The rest of the servers will entertain the traffic wisely.
Higher conversion – Users tend to abandon a website which loads slow. By having your website load faster, you will see better retention rate and thus, better rate of conversions. So if a user spends even a few seconds more on your website, he is more likely to see your call to action.
Lower bandwidth expenses – A CDN can cut your bandwidth requests by up to 70% because it removes the excess load of resources from the main server. This compensates with the extra cost you will bear with choosing a CDN, plus you get more benefits!
You need CDN, If
By now you have learnt what a CDN is, how it works, and the advantages of using it. Now, the question arises – how to determine if your website requires the services of a CDN? There is no concrete answer to this. If you are a small website owner and don’t have splurge or traffic or simply catering to a fixed geographic location, there may not be an immediate need.
But if you happen to own a large website which has a considerable amount of daily visitors or which serves global audience, you should consider investing in CDN services. Now, it is totally your call. However, we recommend going forth with CDN because there are other benefits which will surely help you gain momentum sooner or later.
Some of the situations where it becomes imperative and imminent to opt for CDN are –
- You are noticing a surge of visitors on your website and your current hosting plan isn’t sufficient to handle it.
- Your visitors are from across the globe and not just restricted to your state or country.
- The content, particularly media files, on your website is heavy and takes a lot of time otherwise to load fully.
- Your website attracts sudden spike of traffic or is busy on particular days of the week or year.
- If you have a resource website that fetches resources from a third party website, software, or service.
- You run a forum or community where users communicate with each other and often share rich content.
If your website falls into any of the aforementioned points, it is high time that you switch to CDN. If you don’t want to invest in CDN right now and still want to boost your site loading speed, there are a number of techniques that you can apply.
Of course, the workability of these techniques (image optimization, CSS minification, and caching plug-in) depends on the type and size of the content your website serves. Sometimes, they may be enough and sometimes, you have no other option other than going for a CDN.
What to check before choosing a CDN
CDN comes in two types – free and paid. If you have decided to go for CDN, you will be faced with a number of factors that you should consider before selecting a CDN service. These factors are –
- Pricing – It should fall in your budget. Choosing a free or paid service solely depends on this.
- Server availability – The location of the server with respect to your traffic source.
- Real time content purging – Content should be delivered in real time.
- Free SSL integration – For extra layers of security.
- Customer support – In case of troubleshooting and errors.
- HTTP/2 support – For support to HTTP/2 websites.
- User-friendliness – For ease of access, analytics, and smoothness of navigation.
- Integration – You should be able to integrate your website easily, either through a plugin or a caching tool.
Best CDN Services in 2020
Here is the list of best free and paid CDN services you can choose from. Most of these service providers have the option to upgrade from free to paid or switch to a higher plan. Setting up the CDN is easy but if you don’t want to spend your energy there, some CDNs offer free service integration too.
Free CDN Services & Providers 2020
Price – Free to use with limited features. Monthly plan begins at $20/month.
CloudFlare is one of the best free CDN services you can choose. The free plan gives you upload size up to 100 MB. Small website owners often go for CloudFlare because of its trust factor. Of course, the paid version comes with multiple features such as mobile optimization and firewall protection.
The best part of CloudFlare is its impeccable protection against DDoS attacks. The CTA button is wonderful and you can launch defence against such attacks by pressing it. Integration with WordPress remains one of the easiest ones we have experienced. You can use the CloudFlare plugin to enable it.
Price – Free to use with limited features. Monthly plan begins at €3.50/month.
Jetpack Image (formerly known as Photon) is an all-rounder of CDN world. The photon module will boost your image loading time by directly loading images from WordPress data centers. Jetpack is a great way to speed up your WordPress website by offloading the delivery of images hosted on Jetpack-connected sites through a plugin.
For photographers and visual artists, it is a big game changer. Jetpack Image has its own limitations though – majorly in the area of security. The free pack is sufficient for beginners but we recommend going for the monthly plan which comes with other benefits such as backups, security, and priority support.
Price – Free to use. Plans begin at $1 per thousand video views.
Swarmify can be used to distribute or cache images and video files of your website. It is not meant for other webpage files. That’s one limitation which is quite big, if the website has a variety of static files. If you are currently using any other CDN, you can still proceed to use Swarmify but exclusively for your media files.
Price – Free to use.
Shift8 is a relatively new entrant in the arena of CDNs but it has quite well pulled it off. It promises features such as free CDN for all the static assets such as CSS, JS, images, and more. The CDN uses geographic and latency based DNS routing of requests to the closest server located to the end user. The setup is very easy too.
All you need to do is install the plugin, activate it, and register with your details. Shift8 is a basic CDN service and doesn’t offer much thereby making it a good choice for beginners with a tight budget. If you are looking for advanced features, maybe you would want to skip it. Further, it doesn’t offer protection against DDoS attacks.
Price – Free to use.
Price – Free to use.
It is a popular framework for Font Awesome and Bootswatch too which are also two tools which require the inclusion of a number of files into your project to enable the download and usage of these frameworks. You should opt for BootstrapCDN because of its simple application and versatility of code-injection.
Price – Free to use. Plans start at $59/month.
Incapsula offers application delivery from the cloud – Global CDN, Website Security, DDoS Protection, Load Balancing & Failover. You can activate the service easily and all it takes is 5 minutes to get it running. They have a free plan and a WordPress plugin to get correct IP Address information for comments on your website.
You will also get real time threat analysis of incoming traffic and blocking the latest web threats, including DDoS attacks. All the outgoing traffic is accelerated through their powerful content delivery network. Incapsula is a decent choice for intermediate users too.
Price – Free to use. Plans begin at $99 per month.
Datapath integrates with AWS and makes your website load faster. It is IaaS (infrastructure as a service) which means you get complete control on your network, route traffic as per latency, cost, and bandwidth. In the free plan, you will get one elastic IP, latency optimization, and traffic monitoring.
Further, a limit of 500 GB per month traffic is put on the free plan. You can choose to upgrade and increase the set of features available. For those who are using AWS and looking to optimize the website as well as save costs on bandwidth, Datapath is a good choice.
Price – Free to use. Plans begin at $9/month.
More than 35000 developers and 90000 websites rely on Netlifty. With it, you can host your static website and serve them through CDN. Netlify is not a typical CDN company, but if you are hosting a static site, then it would be worth considering it. In the free plan, you will get redirect rules, and continuous deployment.
Further, you will enjoy Let’s Encrypt certificate, HTTP/2, ultra-fast DNS, pre-rendering, Git integration, rollbacks, custom domain, cache invalidation, and protection against DDoS protection. The support system is equally good and you can contact the team in any case of interruption in services.
Premium CDN Providers 2020
You get what you pay for. We have already looked at the best free services although it is always better to pay a little and get more. Your requirement for a CDN may be fulfilled with a free service but for expansion of features, here are some best paid CDN services.
Price – Plan start at $9 per month for a 100 GB plan.
It is one of the most popular CDN services. There are a number of plans to choose from. You can integrate it with nearly all cache plugins; just enable CDN and give all the necessary information. The servers are located in different cities Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Israel, and Sao Paulo.
The features include unlimited bandwidth, instant support, and all the regular features of a CDN service. One of the best features that we liked about StackPath is that it offers the canonical feature which ensures integrity and performance output of your SEO exercise.
JetPack (Site Accelerator)
Price – Plans begin at $3.50/month.
JetPack offers a personal (free) as well as paid plan. You can trust JetPack completely because it is powered by Automattic, the same company which powers WordPress.com and WooCommerce. Apart from the regular features, the main part of this CDN is the Site Accelerator feature.
Price – Price begins at $1.99 for 100 GB (Google), $9.99 for 100 GB (Dropbox).
Alternatively, you can use any free cloud storage to host static files of your website. This way, you will save your server bandwidth and reduce loading time considerably. Further, it will cut down on costs too. Simple steps include uploading the downloadable files to the cloud storage and making it public.
You can share the downloadable link on your page and your users will be able to download the files directly. Some of the popular cloud storage options are Dropbox and Google Drive. They offer 2 GB and 15 GB respectively for free. Another option, Microsoft OneDrive offers 7 GB of storage.
Price – Plans begin at $16 per month.
Sucuri claims to improve page speed and reduces server load by 70% on average. It is certainly one of the best CDN services out there with flexible pricing. As far as locations are concerned, Sucuri has 9 SuperPOPs in the USA, Europe, and Asia and 2 CDN POPs in Australia and Brazil.
You will get multiple caching options with it. Integration with the website is easy and takes hardly 5 minutes. The support infrastructure is also good. CDN runs on globally distributed Anycast network which improves server selection and delivers content faster to the user.
Price – Chargeable at $0.04/GB.
KeyCDN is another trusted CDN service which offers optimization along with regular CDN. All popular platforms such as Drupal, vBulleting, and Xenforo are supported too. You can integrate it with WordPress using WP-Rocket, Super cache, W3 Total Cache plugin, and Zencache.
Account is activated instantly and doesn’t take much time to setup. You will get 5 zones for free and each additional zone would cost you $1. As far as security is concerned, KeyCDN offers free SSL certificate using LetsEncrypt. KeyCDN charges you for the services you avail, and not in a complete package.
Price – Data traffic costs $0.10 per GB in NA/EU and $0.14 in other regions.
MetaCDN has detailed dashboard for advanced analytics. You will be able to fetch a lot of information and performance reporting. It offers a global network of more than 110 POPs. Multiple CDNs are combined to form one large global network. The list of current suppliers are EdgeCast, Amazon CloudFront, and Fastly.
If one provider is down, the other provider will continue serving. MetaCDN offers many SSL certificates too. The API is comprehensive and control panel is easy to use. All in all, MetaCDN is a hit among those who like to keep track of things and make strategic changes often.
Price – Plans begin at 6TB for $230 a month.
CDN77.com is another premium CDN which offers content delivery solutions at an affordable price. The services are reliable and secure. You will get your hands on latest technology such as HTTP/2, free Instant SSL or Brotli compression. Right now, 4 WP plugins are supported and the number is expected to go up.
As of now, CDN77 has more than 30 POPs and data centers on 5 continents. You can use your own custom SSL certificate too with your website. For security, CDN77 offers DDoS protection. More features are – backup and server redundancy, 24×7 support.
Price –Europe & North America at $0.01/GB, Asia & Oceania at $0.03/GB, South America at $0.045/GB, and South Africa at $0.06/GB.
BunnyCDN is quite popular as a WordPress CDN service provider. It offers tier 1 global network to deliver content. All servers of BunnyCDN are powered by SSD which guarantees fast loading of static files. You can control of how and who you deliver your data with the simple control panel.
Talking of security, with one-click SSL, redundant network, your content stays online and protected. More features include HTTP/2 and Brotli Ready and image optimization including Webp image support. Real traffic monitoring will help you know the statistics and performance reports.
Price – Pay as you go model, starting $0.085 to the US and Europe and going up to $0.25 in South America.
Amazon Cloudfront is the most popular CDN. It uses a global network of 190 POPs which include 179 Edge Locations and 11 Regional Edge Caches. Currently, it serves users across with 72 cities across 33 countries. Solid documentation and APIs make CloudFront a developer-friendly CDN.
Features of Amazon Cloudfront include dynamic content delivery, large and small file delivery, live video, video on demand, and DNS support. You will get protection against DDoS attacks too. This CDN allows support for HTTP/2 and purging too. Support is structured through online community forums.
Price – Plan begins at $0.10/GB per month. Different plans at different types of users.
Rackspace allows you to upload significantly large files such as HD movies, videos, and site backups in multiple segments. Your users will be able to download these files in a single file. We were particularly impressed with the uptime i.e. 99.9 percent. Each file is stored in three different storages with dual power supply for systems.
Rackspace other features include origin protection, custom SSL, access controls to protect content, multiple interface options, whole site delivery and acceleration, and multiple origins flexibility. The support system is impressive and boasts of a versatile team with extensive knowledge.
CDN (Content delivery network) is a wonderful utility. Using a CDN will boost your website loading speed and make it a pleasant experience for your visitors. Of course, there are nearly half a dozen more benefits associated with using a CDN.
If you are not sure about which CDN to proceed, you can check the factors which should be considered before selecting one for your content delivery. Free or paid, whatever service you choose, your website’s scale and room to expansion are also decisive factors.
Considering how website’s loading speed can affect user experience, investing in a good CDN always pays off, in one way or another. Better retention means better conversions and a CDN will surely improve that for you.