If you are a blogger (or website owner), chances are that you’ve undertaken an optimization exercise.
To make your blog load faster and offer better user experience.
Using an optimization checklist might include defining your value proposition, refining your design, organizing the site navigation, adding social media buttons, including CTA (call to action) links, and so on. These are things most people can figure out with a bit of help from online articles.
One thing which often stumps bloggers and website owners is CDNs.
Most optimization exercises recommend that you use CDN as one of the action items eventually.
The reason for this is simple: you can optimize your website only to a certain point.
This is especially true when it comes to your blog’s loading speed. You can only do so much in terms of optimizing the setup of your server. Beyond a certain point, you need a CDN to boost your speed. There are both paid CDNs and others where you can start using a CDN for free but we’ll discuss this later.
If you’ve heard about CDNs and have been wondering what the fuss is all about, no worries. we’ve got your back. We’ve been there. Our struggles with loading speed brought us to using CDNs and now we use them all the time, for every website we setup.
Let’s explore the world of CDNs together, don’t worry, we won’t get too technical!
my association with CDNs
As a web designer and developer, over the years I have developed a fixation for making websites fast. The reality is this, a website which feels slow turns me off completely, it’s frustrating and annoying and I just want to close it.
In fact, most times, that’s what I’ll do.
I’ll bounce back from the page and try to find an alternative.
And this is exactly the behaviour of most users to your blog.
Sluggish blogs and websites turn people off and they’re unlikely to work and engage with you, buy from you or visit your site ever again. We’ll see some statistics later on which show what an impact slow and fast websites can have on your visitors.
So, making each website I work on fast, is a top-priority for me. Over the years, this need for speed has led me to write articles on making websites faster using different technologies on plenty of websites, such as the Joomla.org magazine, CSS-Tricks.com, WebDesignerDepot.com, BeeWits.com, CollectiveRay.com, WebDesignLedger.com and plenty of others.
In all of these articles, I have shared the latest tips and tricks to make websites load faster.
Truth be told, I hate slow websites so much, that I want to spread the word and knowledge as much as possible – so as many people can benefit from this as possible.
as a blogger, do you really need the CDN?
Now in terms of website optimization, you’ll typically perform the following few things anyway:
- Improve the infrastructure (web hosting resources, software version upgrades, and technology upgrades to the highest that your budget can afford)
- Reduce extra content from the site (remove extra content and make existing content leaner and more efficient)
- Implement various caching mechanisms such as file caching, PHP caching, database caching, browser caching so you can make the website more efficient. Of course, this typically entails a number of steps, which we won’t get into here.
Just to make it clear what results we’ve gotten with our website optimization exercises, these are some of the page timings for some of the websites we managed.
Note that these are fully-featured websites, up and running right now, not websites which were kept lean or empty to make sure they load fast.
- CollectiveRay: 1.19 seconds
- Beewits: 2.35 seconds
- DronesBuy: 2.01 seconds
- IntentMultimedia: 1.54 seconds
You can test these sites out right now on Pingdom to confirm these page timings. But most importantly, check your own blog and a few pages within to see how quickly does your blog load.
Have you hit a bottleneck?
How many seconds does it take to load?
The reality is this, there is only so much optimizations you can do, before you hit the problem of physical distance of your web server from the location of the end-user.
There are no web server optimizations you can do to resolve this problem.
This is where a CDN comes into play.
It actually “reduces” the distance between your web server and your end user (blog visitor).
what is a CDN?
CDN is an acronym for Content Distribution Network or Content Delivery Network.
To understand how a CDN operates, let’s imagine a scenario.
Suppose your webhost has a server located in Europe. Now, say a user in New Zealand visits your site and requests a page. If the page has to be sent from the Europe-based server, the user will have to wait a while to get this (up to a few seconds typically).
If a copy of the page was available on a server in Australia (which is significantly closer to New Zealand), the page will load much faster.
This is exactly what CDNs do.
Later on in this article, I will show you the results of using a CDN on one of our websites (an actual screenshot of page loading times) and what loading time is achieved through the use of this technology.
The graphic below shows exactly what is happening when using this technology and without it.
Remember, in this hyper-competitive world, loading speed matters a lot. 25% of people will abandon any site that doesn’t load within 4 seconds or less. Also 46% of visitors will not return to such a site.
The sites that we manage will experience none of these problems, because all of them load in less than 2.5 seconds.
You should aim to have your website load in 2 seconds or less. This is the goal we set for our own sites, and typically we will spend days of optimizing a site in every way possible until we hit this goal. Have a look at few stats below taken from LoadStorm.
Therefore improving loading speed is critical to retaining website visitors. And this is something which a CDN can help you with.
It is important to note, that CDNs may not offer much benefit to bloggers who have visitors coming only from a single location. For example, locally based websites who cater to a local audience only, may not see much benefit in page loading times, especially if there web server is already located close to their visitors.
Having said that, there are other benefits which will apply to ALL websites (more on that later on).
how much does the CDN cost?
paid CDNs first
CDNs are generally a premium service.
This means that you have to pay for them separately from your web hosting server fee.
For instance, StackPatch, formerly MaxCDN, one of the the largest players in the CDN industry has servers in over 90 countries dotted across the globe. MaxCDN offers a number of plans – with the cheapest costing $10 a month, and other plans below $100 costing $20 per month and then keeps going up (for enterprise level customers).
MaxCDN doesn’t offer a free starter plan, which of course is a problem if you don’t have a budget for it.
MaxCDN is what we use on some of our websites (CollectiveRay being a prime example) which power our businesses where we can afford paying a significant amount for our infrastructure.
And below you can see the amount of bandwidth which we use in a typical month. Note that all of this bandwidth would be consumed on your hosting service if you don’t use a CDN, improving the load on it significantly (making it much slower to respond).
And you can see the beauty of page-loading speed with a CDN at under 2 seconds:
I have been using MaxCDN for the past 5 years and we have only one single complaint against it. There are a few edge or caching servers in the Asia area for our plan, which means that our visitors from that part of the world, won’t get the full benefits of using a CDN.
We opted to stay on this plan, for two main reasons though:
- Upgrading to a larger plan is not cost-effective for us.
- We have relatively little visitors from this side of the world, so the cost vs value we would get by enabling this does not make much sense.
free CDN options
Now, if you’re not looking for a premium or paid option, there are a number of CDNs which offer a free starter plan – here are a few examples that I listed on my website CollectiveRay. You can use this plan while you ramp up the income of your blog, when you can then switch to a paid plan.
CloudFlare is among the most popular, because it’s very simple to enable this on your website, while the Jetpack CDN is also very popular and great for picture or video-heavy blogs.
The latter is available as part of the Jetpack plugin which is one of the most popular plugins ever, and enabling it is just a matter of installing the plugin and switching on the image CDN feature – called Photon.
To activate the Jetpack image CDN:
- Install the Jetpack plugin.
- In your blog’s dashboard, go to Jetpack → Settings.
- In the Speed up your site section, toggle on “Serve images from our servers”.
- You’re done! Your images will now be served dynamically.
Honestly speaking, I don’t use the Jetpack plugin often, because I try to keep the number of plugins installed on my sites to a barest minimum, to keep them as lean (and fast) as possible.
That’s why, when I don’t go for MaxCDN, I go for Cloudflare mostly.
To activate the CloudFlare CDN (if supported by your hosting).
On SiteGround (which I use for many sites), this is a simple matter of clicking a button on the website where you want CloudFlare to be enabled. Below is a screenshot of all our client websites, with the free plan enabled.
There is an alternative way of enabling this by changing the nameservers of your domain, you can get exact instructions by signing up on the Cloudflare website.
As you can see, most of the websites we deploy have either Jetpack or CloudFlare enabled on them, because this makes a significant impact on the loading time of the website. And you can see from the instructions above that enabling a CDN is typically very easy to do.
Of course, it’s very important that other optimizations have also been enabled, because enabling a CDN on a site whose web hosting has not been fully optimized is like putting the engine of a powerful car on a bicycle, it’s not really going to work.
If you’ve performed a full optimization exercise and are at a point where you have fixed ALL optimizations issues on your website, then it’s time to enable a Content Delivery Service. But do note, that enabling a CDN on a website which has not been optimized for speed will not make a significant difference.
This is because the CDN does not replace the need for your web hosting server. It does remove some of the load from it, but it always has to go back to your server to fetch dynamically generated content (such as the content of your WordPress articles). So if your web server is slow, a CDN will not help as much as you think it would.
If you’re getting started, it is a smart move to begin with the free option. This way, you can check out the benefits without incurring a financial cost.
The question is, besides speed what other benefits are enabled by using a CDN? The next part will discuss this.
other benefits of CDNs
For starters, speed plays an important role in improving the user experience (UX) of your site.
Speed can actually boost your site’s earnings.
According to Amazon’s stats, for every one second boost in loading speed, conversion rates increase by 2%. On the flip side, a one second delay in loading can lead to a 7% loss in conversions.
On CollectiveRay, we recently changed the theme of the website, for one which was faster and more efficient.
By simply changing the theme, we reduced our bounce rate by a full 5% and when you have thousands of visits per day, this is a significant increase.
Thanks to the decreased bounce rate, and faster load times, CollectiveRay also saw a massive 30% increase in organic rankings after a few weeks of implementing this change!
That being said, other benefits of CDNs include:
- Improves your website’s SEO because loading speed is one of the key metrics Google uses.
- Prevents website crashes during times of high web traffic. This is because the traffic is distributed across many cache servers and the biggest load is handled by the CDN.
- Increases site’s security since most CDNs have anti-DDOS protections and other security mechanisms in place.
- Some CDNs provide website traffic analytics tools.
The part about CDNs is that getting your website onto them is quite easy. This is especially the case if you’re using a platform like WordPress, Joomla or Magento. There are tools which you can use to easily integrate your website with the CDN.
CDNs can provide a great boost to your website’s loading speed. This is why top websites use them as common practice. If your blog gets readers from different locations around the world, it will benefit greatly from using a CDN.
It will maximize the loading speed of your blog and thereby increase your UX and conversions. This will definitely put you on the fast-track to achieving your blogging goals.
And the great thing about them is that you don’t even have to pay for them, if you’re just starting out.
Start with free, get awareness, gain experience and switch to paid plan when the right time comes.
Tell us where do you stand when it comes to CDN implementation on your blog?