What Is a CDN and Does Your Site Need One?

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is one of the most common ways to serve images and provide a uniform user experience, no matter where in the world your site visitors are located.

It’s important to understand how a CDN works, so that you can assess whether your website needs one.

What is a CDN: imagine a restaurant

A CDN is a globally distributed network of servers that store your website’s content within. With a CDN, your site content will be stored geographically closer to your visitors, so that it can be delivered to them faster.

To better understand how CDNs work, Imagine that your website is a restaurant that offers a delivery service.

A patron phoning in an order is similar to someone visiting your website. Next, your kitchen staff will fire up the stove and prepare the order. This might be the equivalent of your site’s host (WordPress.com) preparing to serve up videos, photos, and text to your site visitors. Finally, a delivery person will package and deliver the order. This is similar to how data travels from your website and across the internet before displaying on a visitor’s computer screen.

Decades ago, a typical website didn’t contain much data. A host would store a website’s data on servers in a single data center and then make that data available (albeit very slowly) to all users.

Now, back to the restaurant analogy. Imagine that your restaurant receives 1,000 orders at once, and each order needs to be delivered to customers within a 50-mile radius.

You might expect average delivery times to slow down significantly. Also, people living the furthest distance from your restaurant would have longer wait times relative to people living nearby. The same logic applies to your website.

How do CDNs help site owners and visitors?

Using a CDN is the equivalent of opening additional branches of your restaurant to serve more, local patrons. By storing your content on servers at data centers strategically located around the world, CDNs provide the following critical benefits:

  • Performance: your site will load quickly, whether a visitor lives in New York, Tokyo, or London.
  • Reliability: a local internet outage that impacts a single host won’t bring your entire site down. Instead, visitors will be served from a different server within the same network.

Does my website need a CDN?

Now that we’ve answered, “What is a CDN?” you might be wondering, “Does my website need one?”

According to marketing professional Neil Patel, 47 percent of consumers expect a web page to load within two seconds. So, if your site loads faster, you’re more likely to prevent visitors from leaving. Additionally, Moz suggests that this might also improve your search engine rankings.

If your website or business serves visitors from around the country or the world, a CDN may be essential to your user experiences and marketing efforts. Alternatively, If your business exclusively caters to a smaller, more local customer base, a CDN probably isn’t a necessity.

Get started with a CDN

If your site is hosted with WordPress.com, you’re all set! Your images (typically the largest file types on a site) are automatically cached and served by Jetpack‘s CDN for free.

Self-hosted WordPress site owners can also take advantage of Jetpack’s free image CDN, detailed here.

If you require more robust CDN features, there are multiple plugins to choose from. You’ll need a self-hosted WordPress site or a WordPress.com Business site to use these plugins.

CDN plugins

Once your site is connected to a CDN, your visitors will notice shorter load times no matter where they are located, and you won’t need to worry about a local internet outage or overloaded servers taking your entire business offline.

Let our experts build your custom WordPress.com website.

Whether you need a landing page or a full ecommerce site, an online learning academy or an interactive informational site for your business, we can build it for you.

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Aaron von Frank

Cofounder and CEO at GrowJourney.com, a USDA certified organic heirloom garden seed subscription service. Writer at TyrantFarms.com, Edible Upcountry Magazine, and other media outlets.

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