Is a CDN really necessary for your website? 7 questions to consider

May 22, 2019

Ross Ross Gerring

3 computer monitors being fed data from a CDNWhen your website is in its infancy and traffic is slow, you can pick and choose your hosting provider without much thought. But as it starts to gain traction and attract more attention, you need to begin looking at other options. This is where a Content Delivery Network (CDN) comes in.

Although the Internet appears to be pretty much instantaneous, everything you see has to travel from somewhere. This includes the text you read, the photos you look at, and the videos you stream. When a visitor arrives at your site, the content they expect to see travels from your hosting provider to the visitor’s screen. This isn’t too much of a problem when your website isn’t busy, but it becomes an issue when traffic begins to pick up, particularly for users in a location that is geographically distant to that of the server. To overcome this issue, a CDN acts as a network of computers that can deliver content to a web user faster because it will transmit it from a more geographically-appropriate location.

Does a CDN sound good so far? There’s no denying these solutions have revolutionised website latency times for many users. However, before you invest in one you need to be certain that it’ll provide value for money. To determine whether you do need one, it’s worth asking yourself the following 7 questions:

1. Does your website take a while to load?

When your site starts taking longer to load, it becomes a bit of a customer deterrent. Visitors don’t like sitting around and waiting for web pages to load, so they click away and go elsewhere. You should test your site’s loading time periodically as a part of your performance measurement tasks anyway. Tools such as Pagespeed Insights are free, and they provide you with accurate speeds. If your site is taking longer than 2 seconds to load, you may want to consider a CDN. Otherwise, if it’s loading rapidly without one, there’s probably no need.

2. How much is going on behind the scenes?

Web Page loading time is affected by many factors, from the time it takes for the communication channel to be established (latency) to the speed at which the traffic flows back and forth (throughput, affected by the speed or ‘bandwidth’ of the connection). Other factors such as the size of the content on the page (image size, videos, amount of text) also have an impact on total network delivery speed. Add to this the type of device you are using, your ISP’s internet connection and the browser you are using.
The following outlines the behind the scenes technical communication protocols and process when a user visits a web page:

  • Firstly, the user visits a web page or enters a URL into their browser, or clicks on a hyperlink to visit a page.
  • The Browser then initiates a connection with the server hosting the content.
  • A web server running on that server then processes the request to determine what type of content should be returned (typically HTML, CSS, Javascript plus text, images and video content).
  • Your browser will then begin receiving data from the remote web server.
  • Your browser will then parse the content, process it and display it on your machine.
  • The user is then able to experience the display of the web page on the screen.

3. Are your SEO efforts stalling?

Google and other major search engines like to reward websites that prioritise their users’ needs. As it is not cost- and time-effective to ask users directly, they measure a site’s usefulness and efficiency using a number of factors. One of those factors is the site’s bounce rate. If your web page’s bounce rate is high, Google views this as a bad sign and doesn’t reward you with higher search engine rankings. If your SEO efforts are excellent in terms of user engagement with the content and if your website is seen as authoritative through backlink building, but your ranking isn’t budging, consider whether your bounce rate is an issue. A high bounce rate may be due to slow loading speeds (the user gets bored waiting and immediately leaves or ‘bounces’), and if that is the case, using a CDN could resolve the problem.

4. Do you anticipate traffic spikes?

Much like slow loading times, traffic spikes can soon turn into customer killers if your content delivery issues are not sorted out. Some sites experience traffic spikes because their popularity surges overnight. Although this can happen due to luck in some cases, many also involve a site suddenly becoming newsworthy. You may start pouring more money into your advertising campaigns and see an increase in traffic as a result. Some e-commerce websites also see spikes during seasonal sales. In addition to slowing down your loading times, traffic spikes may result in visitors heading to an error page. If you anticipate a traffic spike, or you want to protect your site against one, a CDN is well worth considering.

5. How much of your audience comes from a country where CDNs locate their servers?

In most cases the major CDN providers have geographically diverse server locations, which means that deciding to use a CDN ensures your visitors from around the world are close enough to a server to experience the benefits. There are a small number of websites however, where the bulk of the visitors stem from an area or region with no CDN servers. If this is the case, you’ll find that a CDN forces the pages to take longer to load, compared with how it would be if you used your original hosting service. As such, if you have an audience that’s mainly from remote areas, check to make sure a CDN will work to their advantage.

6. Are you concerned about security?

Most Internet users are security-savvy. Their desire for a secure website increases significantly when they need to enter personal details into a form. When their website use extends to handing over debit or credit card details, they need complete assurance that they’re safe to do so. One of the biggest threats to your website’s security and stability is DDoS attacks. Unfortunately, once an attack unfolds it’s quite difficult to recover from the damage.

Hacking or unauthorised access to details stored on a website is also a serious problem. Most people are unlikely to return to a website that has compromised their financial details. Whether your business is big or small, you may want to consider the way CDNs add extra protection against DDoS attacks and other hacking attempts. By using one instead of your regular hosting provider, you could prevent an attack that breaches your customers’ trust.

7. How much detail do you need for your analytics?

Most website owners need to make use of some form of usage traffic analysis or website analytics. If you want to drive traffic to your website, for any reason, you need to know which of your promotional tactics are working. This is not a problem, and you can assess your website traffic or make use of an analytics package without a CDN.

On the other hand, if you’re going to use your site’s data to develop expensive advertising campaigns or test new approaches, the specific analytics functionality that comes with a CDN could prove invaluable. CDN’s for example typically offer an ability to obtain detailed information on user location, page loading speeds, and usage. Using such in-depth reporting, you can fine-tune your approach to attracting more customers, and bring in more visitors.

In summary

If you’re tempted by the idea of a CDN but you’re still not sure whether you need one, we recommend reaching out to your digital marketing team for further advice. However, if you’re not having much luck with them, the team here at Itomic can help. We’ll advise you on whether a CDN is right for your website, as well as what the expected benefits are. Although these networks are not ideally suited for operation with a small number of older WordPress themes, most business owners will find their own sites to be compatible, and we’ve found the benefits generally outweigh the pitfalls.

To learn more about using a CDN for your site, get in touch.