With just a few small changes to your website you can easily improve your page speed, load time and (over the long term) referral traffic. Today I want to get rid of the jargon to talk to you about Content Delivery Networks (or CDN/ CDNs). We’ll cover what they are, why they are important and how to set it up for free on your site in less than 90 seconds.
And we’ll keep it simple…
How Your Server Works
The best way to think about a Content Delivery Network is to imagine your website as a shop. It’s a small shop with one door. With your normal hosting, all of the people who are visiting your website are trying to enter through this one door.
When it’s quiet your customers can get in without any problems. As it gets busier though people have to queue. When it gets really busy it’s chaos. Kind of like the start of January sales.
This is what happens to your servers when lots of people try to access you website at the same time. The more people that try and access the computer the slower the response time. Eventually the computer will crash. If you have ever owned an old computer you’ll know this feeling all too well…
If your server crashes it needs to be reset (kind of). That means your website goes offline for a bit and nobody can access your website. This is a problem for two very important reasons.
- A slow website tells Google you can’t handle the visitors it is sending you… Result: Search engines send the traffic to a competitor. More info on MOZ.
- A slow website is frustrating to use. As frustrating as trying to watch a video online that is endlessly buffering… Result: You loose customers and visitors. More info on Kissmetrics.
Now it’s easy to test the speed of your website. Google has created a pretty cool tool that tells you if your website is running slowly and what you can do to speed it up. The tool is called Google Pagespeed.
Content Delivery Networks
Lets get back to your shop. Now imagine that you added another door to your shop and made it twice as big. In fact, let’s add six doors to your shop and make it as large as Harrods or Macy’s.
It’s obvious when you think about it that your shop can handle a lot more customers. In fact, a busy day in your old shop looks a lot like a slow day in this new shiny superstore that you are running.
This is kind of what a Content Delivery Network does. Instead of your website being located on one computer in one place, a Content Delivery Network (or CDN) lets you store your website on lots of servers all over the world.
When a person tries to access your computer, in China say, they access a local server in China. If a person accesses the website in the US, they access the server in the US. The result is less people accessing any one server meaning faster
So what’s the result?
- When your site is hosted on a Content Delivery Network your website speeds up. Result: happier visitors, more page views and more sales.
- When your site is fast Google is more likely to rank the content higher in searches. Result: more visitors and more customers.
You can understand why most big web properties will use some form of Content Delivery Network.
Lets Get Rid of the Analogy and Get Technical
Every time a visitor accesses your website they have to load all of the data on the page (this includes photos, video, the website design, etc.). This data is tracked in Giga Bytes per month. Depending on your hosting plan there will be a limit on the data your website can use. Some hosting will state clear limits on GB per month. Other hosting servers will tell you a little white lie and say it’s unlimited, *cough* Hostgator *cough.*
With most hosting your website is stored on one big computer (a server) in one place (called a server farm). With a CDN your website is hosted on multiple servers all over the world. I’ll stop talking for a sec and show you what setting up your website can look like when you see the data.
You can see that by adding a free CDN to one of my websites I reduced the bandwidth (amount of data) considerably. Before I added a Content Delivery Network to my site the average data usage ranged between 2.4 GB -3.3 GB a day. After adding a CDN the data usage dropped to between 0.45 GB – 0.7 GB (the trend has continued in this range).
Note: CDN Server
There are two types of CDNs. These are known as push and pull servers. Unless you are running a really popular website I wouldn’t worry too much about the differences. If you want to get technical and learn more about them I’d recommend a Google search (I would add a link, but I actually couldn’t find good content on this topic that wasn’t promoting something).
CDNs host a cached version of your website on their servers. A cache is basically an electronic copy of your website, a bit like a photograph. When your website is hosted on a CDN server the cache of your website is normally updated every 24 hours. This ensures your customers are always accessing the most recent version of your website.
CDNs upload a copy of your website onto their servers. This means that the Content Delivery Network is always providing the most up to date version of your website to your visitors.
The Best CDNS
There are a lot of different companies that offer Content Delivery Services. Most company’s offer free CDN hosting, which is going to be more than enough for your average website.
There is no one best CDN online. The CDN you should choose will be the one that offers the most servers in the area where your visitors come from. I personally use CloudFlare, but you could also use Amazon Web Services or half a dozen other companies (here’s a list just in case you want it).
Setting Up a Free CDN
Is this going to be complicated? I don’t want to change hosting…
Luckily adding a Content Delivery Network to your website is neither complicated nor confusing. In fact it takes less than 90 seconds to setup and launch your website on a CDN Network. Just follow the steps in the video below to instantly improve your site.
Have you got a CDN setup on your website? What CDN would you recommend?