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Why should you use a CDN?

Summary

CDNs provide many benefits, but one of their primary purposes is to accelerate the delivery of content to site visitors. A CDN allows for a page to load more quickly in a visitor’s browser, because much (perhaps even all) of that page’s content can be served by the CDN and delivered from a closer PoP

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Summary

CDNs provide many benefits, but one of their primary purposes is to accelerate the delivery of content to site visitors. A CDN allows for a page to load more quickly in a visitor’s browser, because much (perhaps even all) of that page’s content can be served by the CDN and delivered from a closer PoP

Why should you use a CDN?

A CDN, or Content Delivery Network, is a network of PoPs (Points of Presence) distributed over a geographic area. For a full explanation, see What is CDN?)

CDNs provide many benefits, but one of their primary purposes is to accelerate the delivery of content to site visitors. A CDN allows for a page to load more quickly in a visitor’s browser, because much (perhaps even all) of that page’s content can be served by the CDN and delivered from a closer PoP. For example, a website is hosted in the U.S., but is visited by someone in Japan. The visitor can receive files from a local PoP (i.e, one in Japan), rather than from the site’s host, which is thousands of miles away in the United States. (This is discussed further here: How does a CDN work?)

This decreases latency for a web site: the delay that the visitor experiences between the time a page is requested, and the time that all of its content has arrived and loaded into the visitor’s browser. 

Note that latency is not caused exclusively by physical distance. Another possible cause is heavy workload on the site’s host. A CDN can help here too, because it allows some of the workload (the serving of static content) to be offloaded elsewhere. 

Furthermore, reducing workload on the site’s host means that everything which cannot be offloaded—dynamically produced content, or anything else that requires compute time—can be processed and delivered more quickly to the visitor. Therefore, processing times are shorter, and delivery is much more rapid (because multiple servers will be providing content simultaneously to the visitor, and some of them are closer to the visitor). All combined, this can drastically shorten the overall time required for complete delivery. 

The benefits to the visitor (reduced latency, a more responsive site, and a better experience overall) are obvious. For the site owner, there are additional benefits as well. 

First, sites with excessive latency have high bounce rates. (Visitors arrive to the site, but “bounce” off and leave the site quickly.) Further, web users today are becoming less patient with delays, and they are reducing their perception of what latency is considered “excessive.” Researchers have found that an extra load-time delay of 250 milliseconds—just a quarter of a second—is often enough to convince a visitor to leave a site and go to a competitor’s site instead.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Highly responsive sites not only retain visitors longer, they also tend to have better conversion rates. Using a CDN will tend to increase the amount of revenue that a site produces.

Search engines are fully aware of the items discussed above. Moreover, they are motivated to provide the best experience for their own users, by including the best-perceived sites in their search results. Therefore, site responsiveness is an important SEO factor, and it positively influences the ranking of a site in the search engines. In other words, using a good CDN can increase the number of times that search engine users see a site’s listing, and therefore, will increase the amount of traffic that the site receives. 

In addition to these benefits, there are often others as well. 

  • The top CDNs have a large number of load-balanced PoPs, distributed all over the world. These provide not only minimal latency, but also high reliability and redundancy.
  • Sites that are fully static can be completely served by a CDN, and don’t even need a traditional web server. This can reduce expenses for the site owner.
  • Even when a traditional web server is still necessary, using a CDN can save money. The top CDNs are very large, and their providers benefit from economies of scale. On a per-byte-served basis, CDNs are often cheaper than traditional hosts. Thus, the more content that is served by the CDN, the lower the overall expense.
  • Many web security providers integrate seamlessly with the top CDNs, thus providing a combination of increased performance and robust security. For example, Reblaze integrates fully with AWS and GCP, including their respective CDNs (CloudFront and Google Cloud CDN), among many others.

All considered, the benefits of a CDN are numerous and compelling. Site owners can benefit greatly by integrating a CDN into their web applications.

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