Content Delivery Network (CDN): An Everything Guide for Site Owners

It’s highly likely that you’ve considered using a content delivery network (CDN) to increase your site’s performance. The main issue that many entrepreneurs encounter, though, is not fully understanding the benefits it provides.

Fortunately, it’s not as difficult to understand as you might anticipate.

Let’s explore everything you need to know about how it can help you run your business website.

So, What Exactly Is a Content Delivery Network?

As the name suggests, this type of technology aims to streamline content delivery. This is achieved through the use of multiple, widespread points of presence (PoP).

Without a CDN, your website will rely on a single centralized server to deliver content to your audience. In the event that a large number of users are attempting to access content concurrently, this could easily have a negative impact on your site’s overall speed.

And, we all know that slow loading speeds can have a handful of negative effects on your site’s ranking.

How Does It Work?

Many business owners assume that a content delivery network has a complicated framework. The truth is, however, that it’s a relatively simple concept.

A CDN primarily aims to minimize the amount of distance between any two points during content delivery. To elaborate, let’s take another look at the aforementioned example of using a single server.

When one server is used to deliver content to users, the ‘distance’ between the server and the users is significant. This factor is what leads to slower loading times and ultimately has a negative impact on user experience.

To help visualize this, you can think of conventional content delivery in the following format:

Content -> Internet -> Users

When a content delivery network is used, it serves as a liaison between the users and the content provider. Since the ‘distance’ between the users and the CDN is much shorter in this scenario, loading times are cut down drastically.

Additionally, this allows the site owner to use their resources far more efficiently (such as by taking the load off of the site’s infrastructure).

You can visualize this hierarchy in the following format:

Content -> Internet -> CND -> Users

But, there’s a bit more detail you should know about how a CDN delivers content to users.

Content delivery networks make use of multiple different data centers over a widespread area. This allows them to minimize loading speeds for local users.

A CDN also uses different servers based on the type of content that is delivering.

CDN Architecture

To get a better idea of how a content delivery network works, it’s crucial to understand its architecture.

To elaborate, there’s a handful of key components that comprise the bulk of a content delivery network’s functionality. Let’s take a brief look at them.

Storage Nodes

These are meant to store copies of original data before it is redistributed throughout the CDN.

Storage nodes can be deployed in such a way that makes tiered caching possible. This allows the CDN to minimize the number of data centers required to deliver content.

Origin Nodes

These serve as the main sources of the content.

In terms of functionality, origin nodes are responsible for enabling distribution across the network. They can also do the same for content across the site’s infrastructure.

Control Nodes

Control nodes are primarily responsible for managing the routing and monitoring components of a content delivery network. The number of control nodes required will depend on the overall size of the CDN architecture.

In some cases, this number could be in the thousands.

Delivery Nodes

As you might anticipate, delivery nodes are responsible for delivering content to the end-users.

In order to minimize the amount of time that it takes to do so, the delivery nodes used (which are servers in this case) are the ones that are in closest proximity to the user.

After content is initially requested by the user, the delivery node caches this information. This means that all future loading times for that type of content will be significantly shorter.

What Other Benefits Can It Provide to My Business?

Although there is a heavy emphasis on minimizing load times, a content delivery network comes with a handful of other benefits.

Independently, none of these are particularly groundbreaking. When combined, however, they offer benefits that simply can’t be overlooked.

Let’s explore a few of the most notable.

Protection From DDoS Attacks

For those unfamiliar with this term, DDoS stands for ‘distributed denial-of-service.’ Hackers who implement this type of attack aim to make a particular website or website resource unavailable to other users.

It should come as no surprise that this could be potentially catastrophic for small businesses. Even a short period of downtime could result in tens of thousands of dollars in lost productivity.

Since content delivery networks use such a large number of servers and have a multilayered architecture, they are highly resilient against DDoS attacks. Many entrepreneurs choose to take advantage of using a CDN for this attribute alone.

Reduced Overhead Costs

By using a content delivery network, you can forego the need to work with multiple providers for content delivery services.

This allows you to significantly reduce your website’s overhead costs and consolidate multiple expenses into a single payment. Additionally, content delivery networks are highly scalable.

This means that your ongoing overhead costs will only include resources that your site actually uses. As your agency grows and you begin to require additional levels of service, you can work with your provider to adjust your CDN accordingly.

Widespread Accessibility

As previously mentioned, CDNs make use of multiple servers across the largest possible geographic area. This factor alone allows them to provide high-quality service to a vast number of users.

For example, let’s assume that a user in North America is attempting to access content through a server that’s based in Europe. In most scenarios, the overall speed of this communication will be subpar.

A content delivery network in this situation will use a server that is located as close as possible to the user. So, even though the content is based in Europe, the user could access a North American server in order to drastically reduce loading times.

This is especially useful for businesses that have international audiences. Without the use of a CDN, you run the risk of potentially isolating certain segments of your target demographic.

Better Search Rankings

Interestingly, the average person now has the attention span of a goldfish.

This means that users are unlikely to wait more than a few seconds for a single page to load. Unfortunately, this could result in a high number of users leaving your company’s website.

If this were to occur, it would impact a metric known as your site’s bounce rate. A site with a high bounce rate will tell Google that the content is either irrelevant or low-quality.

As a result, Google would then lower the search ranking of your site and make it more difficult for users to find you online. Conversely, users who are able to quickly navigate through your site and find what they’re looking for are much more likely to engage with your brand.

This comes with the added benefit of boosting your search ranking, as well.

Minimized Network Congestion

Conventional content delivery carries the risk of bottlenecking. This term refers to a situation where a single factor hinders overall performance.

If a large number of users attempt to access content through a single server, the network will become congested. This results in a lower level of performance for everyone interacting with the content.

It should come as no surprise that this is a scenario that all businesses should strive to avoid. Fortunately, a CDN is specifically designed to handle this issue. When the number of users accessing content begins to grow, the CDN redirects these users to replicated content on other servers.

So, you’ll be able to minimize the negative impact that a high amount of traffic can have on the performance of your website.

Using a Content Delivery Network Could Be Game-Changing

It’s essential that you keep the above utility in mind. From here, you’ll have a strong understanding of the benefits a content delivery network can provide and be able to make the decision that’s best for you.

Want to learn more about what we have to offer? Feel free to reach out to us today and see how we can help.

Zach Wiesman

Zach has 12+ years of experience with WordPress, from creating and maintaining client sites, to providing support and developing documentation. A knack for problem-solving and providing solutions led Zach to pursue a job with Automattic providing customer support in 2015 working with WooCommerce support, and now Zach has recently joined our team here at Pressable. Outside of work, Zach enjoys spending time with his family, playing and watching sports, and working on projects around the house.

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