Just when you have your website set up and everything is going swell, you catch a glimpse of a whole new thing that you may or may not need. Great, another thing to research.

So now you’re here after going through a bunch of dismal blogs and barely-trying infographics on CDNs which have somehow managed to give you a cloudy idea of what it’s all about.

Do you *really* need to use a CDN or is it just a fad? And how the heck does it all tie in with your hosting? Look, we like to use plain English around here and we promise you won’t need to click on any more search results after this.

Here’s what you’ll learn in this post:

  • What is a CDN and how it can make your website load 10x faster for your users.
  • The hottest benefits of using a CDN that can make or break your online business.
  • Three simple ways to tell if you need a CDN and when NOT to use one.
  • How to get started with a CDN in just a few minutes using either free or paid companies.

Sounds promising? Let’s crack on.

What is a CDN?

Here’s the thing: The closer a server is to the end user, the faster and better your website will be for them. Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) basically spread out servers across the world to quickly send your web content to the users closest to them.

Say your website is hosted on a server that’s sitting in the US. While your local visitors are enjoying super fast loading times, your European customers are struggling to shop on your unbearably slow website.

We don’t need to tell you how important website speed is for business. A few seconds delay can cost you a sale, which makes CDNs the saving grace for business owners with customers in far-flung places.

How do CDNs work?

In the simplest terms, the CDN servers copy your website content from the main hosting server, then they cache it and shoot it over to nearby website visitors.

If you’re more of a visual learner, take a look at these helpful images from Leaseweb.

Without a CDN

With a CDN

As you can see, no CDN means longer wait times and more bandwidth usage while your website content chugs halfway across the globe. On the other hand, CDNs close the gap between the server and a distant website visitor so they can get what they want from your website like a local. And who doesn’t like the convenience of being local?

What’s the difference between web hosting and CDN?

Let’s clear this up once and for all. A CDN isn’t the same as a web host, it’s more like an extra layer of hosting.

Think of your hosting provider as a manufacturer and the CDN servers as your retailers. The CDN’s main job is to distribute your content to your visitors in the most convenient way possible. Bottom line is: you still need a web host whether you use a CDN or not.

Pro tip: If you’re just getting started with your website, you might like our beginner’s guide to web hosting.

Benefits of using a CDN

Okay, so now you know what a CDN does and why it’s kind of important. Now let’s look at the cold, hard benefits that may nudge you over to the CDN side.

  • Increased website speed: When hoards of visitors clog one server, your website is doomed to be sluggish. CDNs relieve the pressure by redirecting those visitors based on where they’re located. This means reduced loading times and a better user experience for each and every one of them.
  • Better stability: Exploding traffic can overwhelm the server and cause your website to fail, resulting in lost customers (and money). The popular website WPBeginner used to have an embarrassingly high bounce rate due to traffic spikes which led to website failures. Once they adopted a CDN, their bounce rate dropped and their page views soared.
  • SEO: You knew this was bound to be in here somewhere. Yep, a CDN can help you rank higher thanks to the faster loading times and increased stability. Bet you like CDNs a little more now.

How to tell if you need a CDN

By now you’ve caught onto the notion that a CDN is great if your website caters to a global audience or if you’re getting a huge amount of traffic. If your current situation fits into either of those categories, then yes, you could definitely benefit from a CDN.

On the other hand, if you’re running a small, local business website then you probably don’t need a CDN (yet). The moment you start to scale and gain international attention, you can start thinking about using a handy network to relieve your web hosting server from the overflowing traffic.

Of course, another reason you might not want to use a CDN is simply that it’s an added expense (and a steep one at that.) If you’re a small business owner just starting out, then a CDN should be the least of your priorities.

Getting started: Top free and paid CDNs

Congratulations on getting this far. Since you’re here, we’ll save you a Google search and give you a vetted list of the top CDN companies to choose from.

Top free CDNs

  • Cloudflare: This is one of the most popular options on the CDN market. You can go with their free plan or pay for an upgraded one. The free version is pretty loaded with features (like spam protection) and Cloudfare is famously secure.
  • jsDeliver: This is an open-source CDN which makes it very developer-friendly and also free for everyone. One cool feature about this CDN is the unlimited bandwitch, so it’s definitely worth a look.
  • Photon (Jetpack) Here’s one for the WordPress website owners. Photon is a free WP plugin that leverages CDN to optimize the loading time of your images. It’s not an all-in-one solution but it sure is useful if your site is image-heavy.

Top paid CDNs

  • MaxCDN: Starting at a cool $0.06 per GB, this CDN is an affordable choice that includes all the bells and whistles (like real time reports).
  • Amazon Cloudfront: If you love Amazon then you’ll like their CDN service too. While this is a paid plan, you can still try Amazon Cloudfront for free for an entire year. Sweet.
  • Akamai: Before you ask, yes, there is a WordPress plugin for this. But even if you’re not on good ol’ WP, Akamai is a turn-key solution for sites that are brimming with media. It’s a tad pricier than some, but they take care of practically everything.

Still need a hand with your website?

Now that you know all about the wonders of CDNs, you may be pretty interested in actually getting in on it.

If you’re a small business owner with specific questions on anything from building your website and web hosting to SEO and CDNs, drop us a note and we’ll shuffle things around to help you out.