What is a CDN? How to Cut Out Clutter On Your Site

what is a CDN

How to Save Space and Speed Up Your Site With a Content Delivery Network

We’re always trying to improve our website, and recently we made a huge infrastructure change — we deleted all our images. They’re now delivered to your screen through a content delivery network, or CDN. What is a CDN and should you use one? Stay tuned.

A CDN is a global network of servers that deliver content to your screen based on where you’re located. It stores copies of your files all over the planet in lots of data centers, increases image transfer speed and improves the experience visitors have on your site. Sounds like sci-fi stuff, right?

So why’d we use this space-age technology on our website? It might not have looked like it, but we had more than 600 unique images on our site, and that number was only growing. As our website grew, it started to take a few seconds to load because of all the things a browser had to download and display. Using a CDN was the perfect solution to host all of our images.

Now, you might be thinking, a few seconds isn’t that bad. But think about how impatient you get when you have to wait for an app to open, or a text to send. When it doesn’t happen instantly, we get frustrated. The same thing happens with websites.

Anything that takes longer than three seconds to load will send your visitors packing. A one second delay in page response can result in a seven percent reduction in conversions. But with a CDN, you don’t have to worry about your website slowing down, and you don’t have to sacrifice high-quality images.

How Does a CDN Work?

When your browser goes to retrieve a webpage for you, it has to get several resources from the server. In order to load, your browser will grab CSS files, text, JavaScript files, HTML files, videos, and images. For websites, images are usually the main cause of a page becoming sluggish. They’re almost always the largest file on the page, which is why getting rid of them helps to speed things up.

You’re not getting rid of them forever, though. You’re just moving them somewhere else. In this case, you’re moving them to a CDN. A CDN stores all your images on replicate servers. These are separate from the origin server that your website is located on. There are servers all over the world, so having your information stored in more than one place makes it easier to access. When you’re using a CDN, and someone visits your site, the visitor’s browser will deliver your images and other large files via a server that is closest in location to your visitor. Since they’re no longer sharing access from the same server as everyone else, it shows up almost instantly.

One easier way to picture this is to think of traffic. When there’s only one lane to drive on, things get backed up pretty quickly. But when there are multiple lanes, there’s more room to move around and you’re able to get to your destination faster.

Caching is another way that you can try to cut down on load time for your site, but it will only work after someone has already visited your site once. A web cache is technology used in web browsers and software applications to ‘temporarily store’ or ‘remember’ visited web page resources. So if a website utilizes caching, it will load faster the second time that you visit because it will display the temporarily stored data and only be required to download any updated content.

The difference between caching and a CDN is that a CDN provides quicker access to your website for all your users no matter how many times they’ve visited your site. Caching should always be used on your site, and a CDN is a next step you can take once your site starts growing and using more and more images.

With a CDN, your site gets faster. Some websites reported a 50 percent decrease in load time once they implemented a CDN. It doesn’t matter how big your files are, either. Sometimes websites will sacrifice using crisp high-quality images in order to keep their load times down. CDNs can handle any file size so you don’t have to settle for a website that doesn’t look as great as it could.

For our website, when we implemented our CDN, we saw a reduction in our website file size from 395MB to 70MB, a 560 percent decrease that makes our site ultra portable! On our pages, we also saw a reduction of about 1.4 seconds in page load time per page.

Who Needs a CDN?

A CDN might not be right for every website when you’re first starting out, but eventually, as your website grows and you begin to add more to it, it can be a big benefit. When your site starts to slow down, even just a second, your business suffers. It affects everyone, even the largest websites in the world. Amazon found that every 100 milliseconds of loading delay was costing them one percent in sales, and Google found that an extra 0.5 seconds in search page generation time dropped traffic by 20 percent.

If it can affect an e-commerce giant like Amazon, imagine what a single-second delay could do to your site.

If you want your site to load faster, and you’re working with a lot of image files on your site, a CDN could be right for you. Your users will have a better experience, and more people will stay on your site because they won’t get impatient.

How fast your site loads also matters to Google. Most importantly, load time is directly related to your search ranking. Google made site speed a ranking factor back in 2010, and the same holds true today. So a CDN might also be a smart move if you’re looking to optimize your site to the best of its ability.

A CDN makes it easier for your site to function at its best. By externally serving your images you can reduce stress on your web server, and your site becomes more portable, easier to update and manage, as well as cheaper to host!

If you’re interested in learning more about a CDN and how it can help your website, reach out to us! We can help you determine whether it’s the right choice and how much of a positive impact you’ll see.

Alyssa Nieset

Alyssa Nieset

Alyssa was a marketing coordinator at NgageContent for three years, keeping her pulse on insights and stories related to inbound marketing.

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