Everyone loves a fast website. There is nothing that frustrates me more than clicking through to a webpage only having to wait while the site sloooooooowly loads. So frustrating that I hit the back button within seconds.
How do those slow loading sites make you feel?
I am not surprised.
And Google feels the exact same way. In fact, while Google likes to keep how it ranks websites a closely guarded secret, one thing the company always stresses is just how important a quick-loading website it.
Do you want to give your website a speed boost?
By using a great CDN, you can cut the time it takes for your website to load to under a second. And that’s good for visitors and good for Google.
Today I am going to show you exactly what a CDN is as well as covering the best CDNs available. And because I’ll be looking at both free and premium services, there is something here for all budgets.
Hi, I’m Greg and my reasons for creating the best beginners guide you will read on CDN’s are actually quite selfish.
I found myself constantly explaining what a CDN is, it’s benefits and why you would want one over and over again. So I set out to find a resource that I could direct my clients to so that I wouldn’t have to keep repeating myself.
But after a long hard search, I couldn’t find an appropriate CDN guide. They either skimmed over the important bits or were filled with so much techno-jargon that they even left me feeling confused.
So I set out to create a guide on CDN’s that was simple enough to understand that even someone setting up their first website would be able to follow along while filling it with genuinely helpful information.
So I present to you, the best guide on CDN’s you will ever read.
But before we continue further, lets cover the basics…
A CDN, while technically complicated, is actually very simple to understand. And I have found that most people get confused when reading up on a CDN because they don’t understand the very basics of how a website is served to them when they browse online.
To keep things simple, the internet is essentially made up of hundreds of thousands of different servers (computers designed to hold content like websites and apps) around the world each linked to each other by cables. And these servers hold the many different websites that you visit each day. When you click on a website link, data is sent from these servers, down the cables and then to your computer, allowing you to view the website on your screen.
I know it’s funny to think about, but the whole world is linked by cables. If you were to take away all the land in the world and leave the cables, you would be left with something like this…
These are the cables that data travels down to reach your computer.
So you could think of the servers as buildings, the cables as roads and the data as trucks. The trucks drive from these buildings down the roads until they reach you, delivering the website to your computer or mobile.
Now if your computer is close to these buildings, it takes less time for the trucks to drive to you. But if you are further away, or in another state or country, it takes much longer. The further away from these buildings you live, the longer it takes for a website to load, because it takes longer for the trucks to deliver it to you.
I don’t have to tell you how annoying it is waiting for a webpage to load or a video to buffer. Even if for a few seconds. This delay is known as Latency
But what happens if we move these buildings closer to you? The distance the trucks must travel is shorter and your website loads faster. This is actually the idea behind a CDN.
What is a CDN and how does it work?
CDN stands for Content Delivery Network.
While you may not know what a CDN is, you actually interact with them on a daily basis. When reading articles on news sites, buying a shoes online, scrolling through the Facebook app or just chilling in front of Netflix – All these things that you view on your screen are referred to as content.
And a CDN is what delivered them to you. Hence the name Content Delivery Network.
Confused? Don’t be. It’s actually really simple.
So we have determined that all webcontent (web pages, images, videos etc.) is delivered to you from a server that is located somewhere in the world.
If you are still having trouble picturing it, it looks something like this.
When you load anything on the internet, the server delivers the content to your computer.
Now if you are located near the server, content is delivered quickly and you won’t have to wait long for it to load. In fact, the delay will be virtually unnoticeable. In the diagram above, it takes less than a second to load the website.
But what happens if you don’t live near the server?
Well, the delay between you clicking on a website or video and you being able to view it increases.
As you can see, someone on the other side of the world, viewing the exact same content as the person in the previous diagram has to wait even longer for the content to load.
And while 3 seconds might not seem like much, when waiting for a web page to load or a video to continuously buffer, it feels like an eternity. We have all experienced this at some point. Frustrating, isn’t it?
Well a CDN or content delivery network reduces the time it takes for you to view web content, no matter where you are located in the world. Making web content load fast for everyone.
To do this, a CDN needs a global network of servers. This way, instead of being served content from the original server, you content is delivered from whatever server is closest to your location.
These extra servers are known as cache servers (pronounced cash servers) and essentially store a copy of the content that is found on the original server. You may also see these servers referred to as edge servers or edge locations.
When you go to view this content, the server closest to you will deliver it, reducing the time it takes to reach you. No more of those irritating web pages that take so darn long load. This way, everyone viewing the content has the exact same experience, no matter where they are located in the world.
Without getting bogged down in the technical stuff, this is essentially how a CDN operates. And as you can see, you want to get content in front of your audience faster, a CDN is often essential.
But there are other benefits to using a CDN. And I will outline them all in the next section.
What are the Benefits of a CDN?
Currently over half of all online users are served content by a CDN. That’s a whole lot, and there is good reason for it too.
Let’s take a closer look at all the benefits that make CDN’s so popular and why you should use one on your website.
1. Improve page speed loads
By far the biggest benefit of a CDN is it’s ability to make your website load faster.
A fast loading website is important. Not only does it help improve your ranking on Google ., but it will actually prevent visitors from leaving your website to go to a competitor.
Have you ever hit the back button because a website was too slow? You are not alone. 47% of consumers expect web page to load in 2 seconds or less. And even more concerning, 40% will leave a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.
So for every 100 visitors, 40 will leave if your webpage takes longer than 3 seconds to load. That could lead to a lot of lost sales.
Because of this, the speed boost offered by a CDN can make you a lot more money than it costs.
2. Handle high traffic loads
Everyone wants more visitors to their website. But too many of them can actually cause problems if you are not using a CDN.
Now you might think that too many visitors to your website is a nice problem to have. And to an extent, you are right. After all, more visitors means more money.
But more traffic, all at once, can significantly slow down your website, which causes everyone to experience slower load times.
Think of it like the checkout out your local grocery store. If only one is open, you and everyone else in the line take longer to be served. But when multiple checkouts are opened, you will experience a much quicker service.
Your website is the same. A sudden influx of traffic can bring your site to a halt. And it’s not just human traffic you have to worry about. There are malicious programs that can cause
A professional CDN will detect this and begin to serve content from multiple locations to the same visitors, resulting in faster load times. This process is referred to as load balancing.
3. Provide international coverage without the cost
The best part about the internet is that it allows you to do business internationally without ever leaving the country. And a CDN makes that process even more seamless.
Let’s say you purchased web hosting in America. The speed will likely be just fine for those located in the USA, but a customer in the UK may find the site too slow to navigate.
So rather than pay for both hosting in the US and UK, you can simply use a CDN to allow the UK customer to browse your site faster.
And because a CDN is generally cheaper than a good webhost, it saves you money too.
4. Reduce bandwidth consumption
In regards to webhosting, bandwidth refers to how much data is moved through a server for your website or app. Each time your website is viewed by a visitor, bandwidth is used by the server.
To put it simply – a 1 megabyte webpage could be viewed 1000 times on a hosting plan that had 1 gigabyte of bandwidth.
Many web hosts limit the amount of bandwidth each plan provides. And once you reach this limit, you will be charged for any data that goes over this amount.
But when you add a CDN to the mix, your host will not be serving content to every visitor. Some visitors, depending on location, will have content served through the CDN.
This reduces the overall bandwidth that is being used by your web host.
In many cases purchasing a CDN will be cheaper than jumping up to the next tier in your hosting plan.
5. Increased uptime
Have ever had your webhost perform maintenance on their servers? You may have been frustrated to learn that your website was offline until maintenance was finished.
It’s simple really – if your website is down, you aren’t making money. And that is just bad for business.
Because a CDN allows you to serve content from many different servers, it matters less if one goes down. A different server will simply fill in until it is repaired.
It’s easy to see why so many businesses use a CDN – the benefits can give you a competitive edge!
Best CDN Services
So now that you know what a CDN is, it’s time to find the ideal CDN for you.
And to help you choose, I have listed my favorite CDN service providers below. From premium CDNs to to Free CDNs, you will find them below.
Best Premium CDN
These CDNs are perfect for those of you who already have a website and hosting. You simply purchase the CDN and with a few minor adjustments, add it to your existing website. And just like that, your site receives an instant speed boost.
While you will have to pay a monthly fee to use a Premium CDN service, the cost is more than justified with a network with more servers, better security and detailed reporting tools.
Although MaxCDN was recently acquired by StackPath, they still operate as an individual CDN service.
Trusted by large companies like 9gag, The Next Web and StumbleUpon, MaxCDN has something to offer businesses of all sizes. But most impressive of all is it’s server presence.
MaxCDN offers edge servers in over 20 different countries with multiple locations in each. These countries include The United States, UK, Germany, China, Japan and Australia.
To make things even quicker, MaxCDN has negotiated deals with peering partners (like AT&T and Comcast) located in North America, Europe and Asia. These peering partners help your content load faster when viewed by mobile users.
You will also have access to detailed reports allowing to better understand your customer including what browsers and devices are being used, locations of visitors and exactly how fast your content is being delivered.
$9.00 a month will get you a bare bones plan which will be more than suitable for smaller businesses and websites. Pay up front on the annual plan and you will only pay for ten months instead of 12. Oh, and any unused bandwidth roils over to the next month!
Another Premium CDN Service, Where KeyCDN really shines is it’s dashboard. This is the user interface you see when you log in, and it looks great. Everything is logically set out and easy to navigate. It really helps you make the most of KeyCDN’s real time reporting feature.
Key CDN has a global CDN network that just keeps growing. Below you can found their PoP (point of presence), which is just another way of saying where their servers are located.
Where KeyCDN really stands out is it’s pricing. Rather than pay for “blocks” of bandwidth, KeyCDN let’s you pay per gigabyte. And by only paying for what you use, the savings are passed on to you. Prices start at $0.04/GB and get cheaper the more you use.
First time users are also eligible for a free trial period.
Incapusla not only offers a quick loading website, but also has an incredibly strong focus on web security – protecting your website from malicious attacks.
On average Incapsula increases a websites speed by 50% and decreases bandwidth consumption by 60%. It’s easy to see then why it is one of the most popular CDNs used by big businessesa round the world.
Incapsula’s support is nothing short of amazing. Prompt replies and speedy resolutions are the name of the game, and to many that alone will justify the extra cost.
Like the others, Incapsula offers a global Content Delivery Network with new servers constantly being added.
Incapusla provides CDN services to many giant internet companies including Wix, Zillow, Moz, and Siemens.
Plans start at $59/month, although a free CDN account with basic features can be set up for personal blogs.
Worried that Incapsula might be overkill for your website? A risk free trial plan is available for everyone who signs up. If you don’t like it, cancel before the plan starts and you won’t be charged a cent.
Best Webhosting that offers a CDN
Previously, the cost of CDN’s was so great that it was only offered as a separate service, one that only large scale business could afford.
This is why you will often see CDN’s as a separate service to hosting. But as technology has advanced and become cheaper, many hosts now offer their own CDN as an added extra. And the best part? Because the CDN is integrated into the hosting, setting it up is simple.
Perfect for those of you who are just about to set up a website, the following webhosts allow you to kill two birds with one stone. They offer both web hosting as well as an integrated CDN.
1. Bluehost + Cloudflare CDN
When I made my first website back in 2005, it was hosted by Bluehost. While I have since moved on to more expensive plans (I currently use Kinsta, but they do not come with a CDN), I still recommend Bluehost to anyone who is creating a website for the first time.
Blue host has partnered with Cloudflare to offer a dedicated CDN that is so simple to set up that anyone can do it. It seriously takes just two clicks.
And with plans starting as low as $3.95 for the first month, this hosting and CDN solution in one is an affordable solution for anyone looking to establish a business website online.
2. WPengine + MaxCDN for WordPress
Looking for the next step up?
WPengine has teamed up with MaxCDN, to offer a complete solution for those of you looking to set up a WordPress website. Unlike other hosts, WPengine only focuses on WordPress. This has allowed WPengine to create the perfect hosting environment to squeeze every last bit of power out of your WordPress Website.
Setting up the CDN is simple – simply log in to your user account, select your wordpress install and clink on the CDN link. Now you can sit back while WPengine sets up the CDN for you. The whole process takes less than 10 minutes.
With over 60,000 customers, including big names like PBS International, Readers Digest, AMD and National geographic – WPengine offers hosting and CDN solutions for businesses of all sizes.
Plans start from $29/month and you can try it risk free for up to 60 days. However, it is worth mentioning that the CDN costs extra on the most basic plan.
3. Media Temple + TrueSpeed CDN
For those of you looking to go all out on your hosting provider, MediaTemple is where it’s at. Recommended for advanced users, Media temple offers VPS, managed and dedicated hosting to cover any level of hosting you could need.
But most importantly, Media Temple offer an integrated CDN to boot. And a it’s a pretty darn good one at that. Media Temple have partnered with SiteLock to offer a world class CDN that, on average, makes sites load 50% quicker.
Now it is worth mentioning that the CDN feature on Media Temple hosting plan is a paid extra, but it integrates directly with the hosting and can be set up with almost no effort at all.
Plans vary wildly in price according to the hosting you desire. Prices start just $20/month for shared hosting.
Free CDN Services
There is nothing cheaper than free. And those of you on a budget will be pleased to know that there are free CDNs out there that you can take advantage of.
Now you may be wondering that if free CDN services exist then why would anyone pay extra for a Premium service?
Well the answer is actually very simple. Free CDNs offer a bare bones service and lack the advanced features found on paid CDN plans. And for most people, these features are more than worth the monthly fee.
Most Premium CDN providers that offer a free plan do so just to try to get you to jump up to the next paid plan. And the few free CDN services that don’t
But if you are just creating a personal blog, or other small project then these free CDN services can give your site a minor speed boost.
Cloudflare is a well known CDN provider and you may be wondering why I didn’t include it in my best paid CDN list.
Incapsula performed much better and also has a free optionthat can be found here. But if you are looking for a free CDN service then Cloudflare definitely gives you what you pay for.
The main advantage of Cloudflare compared to other paid plans is that they take a flat-rate approach to pricing. Suddenly find yourself with a surge in visitors to your website? Cloudflare won’t charge extra.
For you developers out there, jsDelivr is a free open-source CDN.
Thanks to partnering with both Cloudflare and MaxCDN, who have been nice enough to give jsDelivr access to their infrastructure, you essentially have the power of two CDNs completely free of charge. Yep, you get 110 CDN server locations all over the world, for free.
Not a developer? Those of you with WordPress websites can take advantage of the JsDelivr’s free CDN by using this CDN plugin.
3. Jetpack Photon
If you are familiar with wordpress then the Jetpack plugin will likely be all to familiar. Jetpack has a wide variety of powerful functions but since we are talking about CDN’s we will be focusing on one in particular. Jetpacks photon module.
Photon is essentially a “mini CDN” that only serves all the images from your site using Automattic’s (the company behind WordPress) servers. Images are typically the slowest to load part of any website. So by allowing Automattic to serve the images from whatever server is closest to your visitor, you can add some serious speed to you website.
Photon is not a “true” CDN and is very limited in terms of the stats and data it displays on usage. But if you run a website that is heavy on the images, Jetpack’s Photon module is a more than viable budget friendly service to give your site a speed boost.
I’ll be the first to admit, a CDN isn’t sexy. 99% of your visitors won’t even realize your site is using a CDN. Heck, your visitors probably won’t even notice that your website I loading blazingly fast.
And that’s the funny thing , isn’t it? The only time a visitor will stop to think about the speed of your website is when it loads slowly.
Yep, being a CDN is a thankless job.
And it’s because of this that many businesses simply choose to skip setting up a CDN altogether.
But if your website is sluggish then both your customers and Google will punish you for it. Customers will go elsewhere and Google won’t give your website the attention it deserves. As you can imagine, that’s just not good for your business.
And really, there is no excuse not to buy a CDN. Between the budget paid plans above and the free plans for the frugal, there is nothing stopping you from setting up a CDN.
Which CDN are you using? Why did you choose that one? Is there anything else you want to see in my guide? Let me know in the comments below.