One of the toughest jobs an SEO professional can do is tell your business or customer that their website is slow and clunky – and worse, that the content they spent so much time and money on is the problem.
A content delivery network (CDN) can help here.
If you are investing in creating quality content, you should probably also rethink how to manage your digital assets and invest in a CDN.
This column tells you what to look for in a CDN, how much it can cost to use a CDN, and what general implementation problems to look out for.
What can a CDN do for your business?
The way in which images and videos are (or not) integrated into the website’s ecosystem may or may not affect performance.
Think of CDNs like an EZ Pass. CDNs essentially act as a multi-path traffic intersection where various ISPs and servers can connect and give each other access to website traffic from each source.
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They route assets and traffic back and forth as the assets are accessed by loading pages, rather than waiting for each asset to be loaded onto individual pages or rendered as a hard-coded item.
It does this in multiple locations around the world, rather than relying on a single server for all content services and delivery.
These hosts of servers keep cached files ready to be rendered when invoked to reduce load time and essentially reduce the path to delivery.
Similarly, a CDN is like jumping on the turnpike and scanning your EZ Pass instead of taking a trip down slower back roads to your destination. CDNs improve speed and efficiency by optimizing web traffic routes.
For more information on the basics, see Content Delivery Network (CDN): What It Is and How It Works.
How CDNs support organizational SEO goals
CDNs have become an industry standard (especially in corporate SEO) and only become more valuable as investments in content marketing increase.
Any SEO professional worth their money can tell you that speed is an incredibly important factor in improving website ranking as well as the overall page and user experience.
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It’s not exactly a secret that Google values the page experience a lot. As a company, it has gone to great lengths to incentivize efficient web rendering with minimal user disruption.
Almost every (already publicly discussed) Google algorithm update in recent years has included elements to improve the page experience, the speed and the delivery of content.
The longer it takes to render and deliver content, the more likely it is that a user will give up their efforts and move on. Any anger on a page that would not load is money or a head start lost.
Additionally, speed is closely related to the highly anticipated Core Web Vitals update.
In addition to the UX function, a CDN gives your website an additional level of security by ensuring secure encryption and transmission, distributed data, an up-to-date SSL and a balanced traffic load.
This protects your business from denial of service (DDoS) cyber attacks, where the nefarious goal is to cause a surge in traffic to overload and crash a server.
It is estimated that DDoS attacks will double to over 15 million per year by 2023. Now is the time to prepare for secure asset management.
What to look for in a CDN solution
Perhaps the most important consideration is whether the CDN is faster than your origin. If not, what is it about?
You should also ensure that small files and large payloads can serve up equally well.
Ideally, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate your potential CDN solutions. Here are some common metrics you might want to test and explore:
- DNS response time for the last mile and the end user. You don’t want to test internally to find out after implementation that a complex DNS setup causes long latency for end users.
- Peak hourly output. If your website is experiencing large fluctuations in traffic due to the days of the week or time of day, make sure to pressure test the CDN response when it matters most.
- Connection time. This is where you are specifically looking for great network connectivity, low latency, and zero packet loss.
- Waiting for less popular assets. CDNs are a shared environment, and you want to make sure you know whether fewer requested assets are being pulled from the origin server than from the edge (as with common assets).
- Cache hit / miss. You should see this as a ratio on your dashboard and you don’t want a lot of requests going back to the origin.
- Throughput. This should not be lower than the origin for assets of any size.
- API integrations. Future-proof your investment a little by making sure the CDN can be configured with your existing software as well as your wish list.
What to look for in a CDN provider, you want to make sure they have a large, diverse network. Akamai, for example, is the largest CDN provider with more than 300,000 servers in 130 countries.
You also want to know that the location of the servers will suit your audience’s needs – both today and as you potentially grow into new markets.
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For example, if you are looking to improve the way you deliver content in South America or Africa, make sure your CDN selection has enough servers in those areas. This narrows your options more than if you were targeting North America or Europe with large server networks.
How much does it cost to use a CDN?
As with all marketing solutions, there are large fluctuations in costs.
The greater the demand for content, the more expensive the solution. Because of this, CDNs may not make sense for super small websites. It’s easier to manually optimize each image or asset and save money.
For mid- to mid-tier sites, however, the rapid generation and distribution of content makes manual optimization and curation an inefficient way to manage and deliver content across web properties.
Although it can be more expensive in indeed Dollars than doing it yourself, A) actually gets the job done and B) doesn’t cost you any sales and leads due to slow server response time and a frustrating user experience.
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In general, midsize businesses can expect monthly costs in excess of $ 200, and large business solutions are almost always a custom proposition.
The advantage of these plans behind the price fog is that they often also offer guaranteed security features, improved analytics and user data, uptime guarantees, and expanded delivery / cache options to ensure a positive experience no matter how big the website is.
CDN rates may also vary by location due to the server network issues noted above.
Look out for common CDN implementation problems
If you’ve read and waited for the other shoe to fall, there are a few minor drawbacks to using a CDN, mostly related to getting it set up properly.
All of these solutions are fairly simple, but if you’re looking to do a content migration to a CDN, it pays to proceed with your eyes open.
A developer may be required for integration
Many websites integrate well with CDNs. However, if custom, configuring in a custom setup can be a headache and requires special attention from the developer.
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Budget required to use a CDN
There are additional costs on top of the existing hosting / website costs.
Network providers may block the CDN
Some (very few, but still noteworthy!) Network providers may be blocking the CDN. The most common culprit of Reddit threads seems to be the Microsoft Ajax CDN, which is related to jQuery. However, there are naming workarounds that usually resolve the issue.
If your CDN uses a third-party geo-mapping database, an end-user may be assigned the wrong IP address. QA this during the setup process and as often as annually to make sure the CDN is not sending requests down an illogical, long path.
The TL; DR of CDNs is that they help deliver content to your website quickly, which in turn improves the user experience and functionality of the website safely and with limited impact on your server.
Organizations that use a CDN to host and distribute content may see improved search rankings and can expect a safer website and an overall better user experience.
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