What is a Content Delivery Network (CDN)? Why is it Important?

As the online world grows and website capabilities become increasingly complex, websites that do not deliver, fall behind. Latency is one of the big killers of website success, leading to increased bounce rates and unhappy customers visiting your competitors’ website instead.

But that’s where a Content Delivery Network (CDN) comes in, helping global audiences view and use your site. We’ve put together this guide to CDNs, why they are important, and whether they are right for you.

Worried about your bounce rate? Check out these tips to lower your bounce rate.

What is a Content Delivery Network?

Although the name gives a good idea, that it is a network which delivers content, there is a much more to a CDN. Simply put, a CDN ensures users across the world can quickly load webpages. Using a network of servers worldwide, CDNs take the load off main website servers and speed up sites by distributing cached copies of webpages to users from nearby servers.

Common CDNs include Google Cloud CDN, Amazon CloudFront, CloudwaysCDN, and Stackpath.

How is a CDN Different to Website Hosting?

Hosting is a necessity for websites, as it stores website information and files, allowing the website to be visible to users. CDNs, on the other hand, are optional extras, not mission-critical to the function of the website.

When you choose hosting, you essentially choose a physical data centre in which to store your website. For example, you may be a company based in the UK using a host server in London. When someone tries to access your website, the loading speed can be affected by their proximity to your host server. Continuing the example, the load speed will be quicker for a user in England trying to access your website than in Spain.

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When data has to transfer over longer distances, the latency increases. However, a CDN is a network of servers (Points of Presence – POPs) distributed across the world which allows for reduced data transfer times due to closer proximity to the user.

You can have hosting without CDN, but you cannot have a CDN without a host server.

Who Uses CDNs?

Lots of businesses use CDNs to ensure their website is accessible and keep their global audiences engaged. CDNs aren’t just useful for speeding up websites and reducing server demand, but also accelerating business transactions and more complex website capabilities.

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How do Content Delivery Networks Work?

As briefly explained above, CDNs deliver site content for users from POPs close to them. Instead of waiting for the website to load from the host server in one country, the user has faster loading from a CDN server within their own country, for example.

In more detail, CDNs detect where user requests are coming from and reroute the request to the POP closest to the user. The CDN stores copies of the webpages to the network of servers, caching after one or two requests, to deliver to users.

Are CDNs Similar to Mirror Sites?

A mirror site is an exact replica of a website located on another hosting server, made to reduce demands on the original server but also increase availability of the site. For example, a business may have a US site hosted in the US and a UK one hosted in the UK, so UK users can use that site faster than the US one.

A CDN does not deliver exact replicas of a website to users, but instead caches content from the original site to deliver to users. Also, CDNs usually have multiple servers spread across the globe which are not primary storage servers for a website, simply storage for copies.

Why are Content Delivery Networks Important?

There are many benefits to using CDNs, such as:

  • Increased availability – one of the key drivers behind CDNs; website availability is greatly increased through the geographical spread of POPs.
  • Reduced latency – faster site loading times are always preferable, with research showing that slow loading site receive higher bounce rates, reduced duration on site, and lower conversion rates.
  • SEO advantages – websites that load fast are not only preferred by consumers, but also by search engines; the faster your website the higher it is likely to rank.
  • Reduced bandwidth – bandwidth costs can make up large costly chunks of hosting fees, however bandwidth requires are reduced with CDNs.
  • Scalability – CDNs are built with scalability in mind, allowing for scaling without compromising performance.
  • Security – CDNs can help mitigate attacks and protect users and websites from spammers.

Aside from the direct benefits a business may receive by utilising a CDN for their website, longer-term advantages may become apparent too. The world is constantly moving online and advancing website capabilities and functionalities beyond simple text pages. CDNs are a way to still provide all the modern capabilities and dynamic data without increasing load times.

Businesses that do not consider the future or global accessibility of their website may fall behind in years to come, or at the most basic level, deter foreign business collaboration.

So, this begs the question, do I need to use a CDN?

Depending on the scale and market of your business, maybe. There is obvious benefit from using CDNs in improving speeds and availability, however, if you are a domestic business with a UK-based host server, you probably don’t need a CDN.

No doubt CDNs are useful for businesses conducting international matters, but even then, POPs may end up being farther away than the primary server!

The best way to speed up your website and improve your hosting situation is to find a reliable and trusted hosting solution that benefits your website without costing the earth.

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If business takes off and your pool of international customers grow, CDNs are usually relatively straightforward and cost-effective to implement if necessary.

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