The Internet is larger than it ever has been, and GROWING. We turn to the web when we want information, entertainment, to connect with each other and to get all kinds of things done. We expect that this technology is going to be fast and meet our needs, but in order for that to be the case, there are a lot of things that the average business owner might not think about that have to be handled on the tech side of things. Marketers understand that their competition online is often fierce and this is not going to become less so in the years to come.
In order to really compete online, there are a lot of things you will want to educate yourself about. Whether you are a solo entrepreneur, owner of a small business, involved in an organization that reaches out via the web or part of a company of any size that does marketing online. While those involved in business and marketing by no means have to be experts on the tech side of things, too, it does help to educate yourself on some basic concepts. CDN as it applies to website hosting, is one of those basic concepts and it is the subject we are going to cover today. We are going to teach you what a CDN is, what it does, the advantages that it offers to web sites, how it can further your business or marketing aims, how you can choose the right CDN for your needs and much more. By the end, you may not be an expert on CDN’s, but you will certainly be a lot better prepared to decide whether or not they should play a role in what your enterprise or organization is looking to accomplish.
The Definition of a CDN & Some History Behind It
A CDN is easy to define because it is an acronym that stands for Content Delivery Network. While you might think that this is what the Internet itself does, a CDN goes further and is designed to improve the efficiency of data transferred via the Internet. It is a network specifically established to help get content delivered to your users in the shortest possible span of time. In the very simplest terms, think of it this way: with a CDN there could be 2 servers, one in the western half of the United States and one in the eastern half of the US – when a user tries to pull up content from your site, they would be served by whichever server happened to be geographically closest to them in order to reduce the time it takes to deliver the content they wanted. In a sense, a CDN can be understood this way, but that is a very rudimentary explanation and there is much more complexity involved if you really want to understand the nature of a CDN.
To be more accurate, a CDN is a network of servers that are distributed across a geographic area (which could be within a certain country or in many different countries around the planet) with each server being housed in a different data center. This allows the CDN to make sure users get the content they wanted quickly which leads to a higher level of performance by the site to meet their needs. A CDN is capable of delivering all kinds of content, such as URLs, text, graphics, media files, scripts, documents, software and so forth. A CDN can also be used to smoothly facilitate the delivery of streaming media (live or pre-recorded), complex applications such as an e-commerce site or even social networks. In a way, CDN’s serve as a backbone for many of the content providers they serve, lending them an efficient structure through which they can make sure what they offer actually gets where it is going rapidly. Lag time can kill user interest quickly, so as you might imagine for large sites a CDN is practically required.
The CDN itself will derive its earnings from those who pay to use its network. Their clients could include any kind of site that typically gets a high volume of traffic or that simply wants to make sure its content is served as rapidly as possible to as many locations around the world as possible because it is expecting to develop a large global audience. Some CDN’s will then pay to have their servers in the data centers of telco’s (telephone companies), ISP’s (Internet Service Providers), and even other network operators. Some CDN’s go further, however, constructing as much as possible of their network on their own and having their own data centers. Each CDN will handle things differently depending upon the audience they are planning to serve.
It should be noted that the concept of the CDN is a fairly new one and further proof that the Internet as we know it is always evolving. A great deal of research has been conducted by those in the academic and commercial sectors to refine the concept of the CDN since it first began being explored. As content has grown more complex, larger and users have switched to broadband connections while they use faster computing technology, the need for the CDN became apparent. Caching had to be improved and server farms became popular as a push for improved Web server technology took hold. Dynamic and static content alike needed to be served up rapidly and by storing copies of it across many different locations, speed of delivery to the end-user could be increased. A more intelligent approach began to be taken to routing and then the focus could turn to more complex media such as Video on Demand, streaming audio and so forth. Next came a focus on CDN service specifically for mobile users who were relying on smartphones as they surfed the web. Dedicated servers are still used by some CDN’s, but now there are also hybrid P2P (Peer to Peer) approaches that focus on goals like reducing the consumption of energy these networks require, as well as leveraging cloud computing advantages. Today’s best CDN’s are impressive in their capabilities and certainly a far cry more powerful and efficient than those which came before them.
The future of the CDN, too, looks very bright. Users want the highest quality experience possible when they consume content and those providing that content want to make sure that’s exactly the experience they get. It makes sense for both content creators and CDN’s to try to push things to the next level so many experts believe that the CDN’s of the future will be ever more robust and able to deliver content we can barely imagine today.
How Do Businesses and Marketers Benefit From What a CDN Offers?
There are a lot of benefits that businesses experience when they decide to serve their website’s content via a CDN. One of the biggest is the cost savings. Your site is not going to use up nearly as much bandwidth serving content if it uses a CDN than it would if it did not. This is a key point because for sites that are serving up a lot of high-end content such as streaming video, the bandwidth bill can wrack up quickly. This is something a CDN can alleviate effectively.
Reliability is another key advantage that a site will gain when it is on a CDN. Instead of your infrastructure having to be up constantly, with a CDN the static content you serve is going to be available even if your own server goes down and this is a very powerful advantage. In addition, precious seconds of wait time are removed for your users which lowers the possibility that they will leave your site due to irritation over lag. Plus, since the CDN hosts multiple copies of your site across their network of servers, if your site’s content is ever lost, it will still be available through the CDN you are using. That’s like having a backup service automatically and a powerful advantage of a good CDN.
Surges in traffic, if some of your content ends up going viral, can down your server in a heart beat. This will cause your site to miss its crucial moment in the sun, so to speak, and could end up costing you untold profits. With a CDN, you are protected from those traffic surges because user requests for your content are well-distributed across the network. This is important if your site is ever hit by hackers with a DoS (Denial of Service) attack. Those are getting more and more common so those companies that do not safeguard themselves could see their site taken down faster than they ever expected.
Finally, when working with a global CDN you can make sure that your content is available to people around the world. It is easy for those in well-developed countries to think that web pages load as quickly as they do in their own country all over the world, but this is not the case. If you are genuinely intending to develop a global audience then a CDN with serious reach is what you need in order to make sure your content loads just as quickly in one part of the world as it does another.
What Are the Advantages of a CDN When It Comes to a Site’s Static Content?
Static content benefits immensely from a CDN because it is easy to store multiple copies of it. Whether it is files which must be downloaded by the user, the text or graphics of a site, or any other of a number of different types of static content. If you are using a CDN then you can serve it all up faster and you also have protection if servers start to go down – at least some of your visitors will still get this static content. That’s an important safeguard worth considering. In addition, studies have shown that the different in how users respond to a site that loads in 1 one second versus one that loads in 2 seconds is much bigger than you think. People subconsciously ‘penalize’ sites that load slow and are far more apt to leave, especially if they are a newcomer. This is why a CDN is important when it comes to the static content you serve to your users.
What Advantages Does a CDN Offer When Delivering a Site’s Dynamic Content?
Dynamic content such as live streaming video or audio, along with sites contain social media platforms that update in real-time, has to be served efficiently. Lag can really ruin the user experience and cause them to leave. Your CDN should be on your side and helping make sure that all of your dynamic content gets where it needs to go and gets there faster than if it just came from your own servers. Higher quality content definitely requires a CDN simply because of the bandwidth required and if you are not using a CDN then you could be wracking up excessive bills that you can avoid by turning to this solution. Scripts using Java or ASP, for example, can also be served up a lot faster to your user base when you are using a CDN. They can handle some of the server-side processing for you which greatly reduces the strain on your own servers. In short, if you have dynamic content and you want it served efficiently today (particularly if its high quality) then you flat-out need a CDN to handle this for you. It’s really the only way to make sure that more than a dozen users are going to be able to enjoy your content simultaneously without experiencing tremendous lag.
Does Size Matter When Choosing a CDN for Your Site or Sites?
Yes, but only if you are either trying to reach a large global audience or if you know you will have a huge number of users trying to get your content at the same time. Larger and more developed CDN’s are going to be able to handle even floods of users with relative ease and they have servers located all over the planet. They are a good choice for truly large and popular enterprises. That being said, it is unlikely that the average small business owner or even relatively popular site would actually need to have a CDN with a massive global network simply to serve their core user base in just one or two main nations.
Should You Consider a CDN When Building an Authority Site?
This is going to depend upon the niche you serve, the location of your audience members and just how large your audience is. It will also depend upon how large your site is and how much data you are planning to send. Live streaming video, for example, certainly does require a lot of bandwidth and server usage so a CDN could be a good idea if you have a site that features this kind of content. You do want your site to load quickly, too, which is another thing that a CDN is going to be good at helping you do.
As you are planning an authority site, it is a good idea to keep in mind just how much value a CDN can provide and consider whether the cost of such a service makes sense for your business and the kind of content you are providing your audience with. Not all authority sites are going to be hosting large downloadable files or streaming live video and such. Each site has to work to serve the interests of the audience that it serves and who keep the profits flowing in. Business concerns come first and if the costs outweigh the benefits then a CDN is most likely not going to be needed. However, with that being said, an authority site needs to be taken seriously and once the need for a CDN actually arrives it is important that you set to work choosing one that works for you. Be aware that there are some very low-cost options out there for CDN’s that you may want to try out first. This could be a good way to ‘test drive’ these services and see the difference they can make for you and your site or sites. If you are running a WordPress site using a CDN service can greatly help your site speed, which in turn can help in your sites rankings, so that is something to keep in mind.
Do Your Homework Before Choosing a CDN That’s Right for Your Needs
Clearly, costs are going to be an issue when choosing a good CDN, but you also want to know all of the features that the company providing the CDN has to offer. You want to make sure you are comparison shopping so that you get the best possible bargain for your money. Different CDN’s specialize in different types of service and they are by no means all created equal. So do take your time when researching them and be sure, too, that you are not paying for a lot more service than you actually need since that is just a waste of money. What you want is the right solution, not just the cheapest, the easiest to use or the most powerful. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask experts who understand CDN’s and why enterprises like your own might want to use them. Read all you can and ask around in forums and on blogs until you feel truly confident about the decision you are making. That’s really the best way to make sure you are deciding on the right choice.
Is Using a CDN Mandatory for Every Kind of Site in Every Niche?
It would not be accurate to say that any and all sites on the web should be using a CDN today. For one thing, the size of your site and its audience is an important factor in determining whether or not a CDN is really going to offer you substantial benefits. Site owners need to be honest with themselves about how frequently users visit and whether there really are dozens of users from around the country, or even the world, trying to pull up their content at the same time. You can still have a perfectly profitable and viable website without being that popular. So, no, many sites are not really going to need all of the advantages that a CDN can offer them.
In fact, you may want to consider the advantages of a managed host instead, especially if you run a WordPress blog. This could be considerably easier and cheaper for you, so it is definitely worth considering this option. You do not have to have a CDN in order to have your users’ needs met, you just need a sensible solution for speeding up your site if it is slow and making sure that it loads as quickly as possible.
That said, there are some who will feel better having a CDN because they want the option to grow their audience and they also expect some of their content to go viral. If you feel more comfortable having a CDN and you can afford it, no one should tell you differently. In the end, we all have to make the decisions that make sense for our business and our customers. When a CDN seems like the right choice to you it might end up being a smart investment that pays off over time and helps your site grow to serve a larger audience in a seamless way.
We use WPEngine to host all of our WordPress sites now, and they are a managed WordPress. They handle everything for us for site performance so we no longer have to, which is a blessing.
However for those that do not wish to switch hosting. What we have used, and recommend is the W3 Total Cache plugin, for caching our WordPress sites – regardless of CDN. And then utilize the CloudFlare service, or MAXCDN, we have personally used Amazons CloudFront for CDN services, but if we were not using WPEngine today we would be using one of others for ease of configuration.