Having a fast loading website should be one of the main goals you have for your WordPress site. A site that loads quickly stands a better chance of attracting visitors from the search engines, and then keeping those visitors onsite once they arrive.
With Google taking page load times into consideration when ranking sites in their search engine, and with slow loading sites increasing bounce rates and affecting conversions, now has never been a better time to consider the actions you can take to make your site load faster.
While we recently looked at caching WordPress sites, it’s now time to take a look at content delivery networks (CDN) and how they can improve the speed of your site.
What are Content Delivery Networks?
When you sign up to a CDN service, the content of your website is uploaded to the servers of that service. The servers that make up a CDN are typically spread out around the world.
When a visitor arrives at your website, the server in the CDN that is best suited to deliver the contents of your site is chosen. This decision is made on a range of factors including the proximity of the server to the visitor, and the current performance levels of the servers in the network.
If a visitor is accessing your site in Sydney, then the nearest server in the network will be chosen, if appropriate. This is in contrast to regular web hosting with a fixed location, where the farther away the user is from your web host’s data centre, the slower the site will load, in general terms.
Alternatively, if the nearest server is under a heavy load already, then the CDN may attempt to balance the load and utilise a server that is physically farther away but experience better performance.
All this goes on in the background with the user unaware of what is taking place, apart from hopefully an increase in the time it takes to load the pages.
For the site owner, once the initial setup procedure is completed, the CDN provider will take care of all the technical details such as which servers are used and how they are selected for delivering page content.
The type of content that is managed by the CDN can vary but generally includes images, audio and video as well as other bandwidth heavy page elements.
So with that very basic overview of how content delivery networks operate out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the options for WordPress users who want to speed up their page load times.
Content Delivery Networks for WordPress
While these CDNs aren’t all designed especially for use with WordPress, they are all compatible with the service. While we haven’t tested them personally, they are all well regarded in the industry and worthy of further exploration in your quest for a faster website.
Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3)
The online eCommerce giant has a storage service for the internet. You can get started with Amazon S3 for free which includes 5GB of storage. After that pricing is very competitive and is determined by region of the servers and per TB.
Unlike some other CDN services, S3 requires you to choose a region for the service, where your content will be served from. This means for the best results you should be aware of where your visitors are located and whether S3 has a location or region that is nearby.
Due to its low costs and ease of use, Amazon S3 is a great way to ease yourself into the world of content delivery networks and third party storage.
This is a free WordPress-only CDN that requires the use of the popular Jetpack plugin. Photon copies all of your image files to the WordPress.com cloud, from where they are served to the visitors of your site. This reduces the amount of load that is placed on the hosting service you use, as well as helping to speed up the time in which images on your site are loaded.
As this is a free service, designed especially for WordPress users, it seems like a good place to start for anyone wishing to improve the performance of their site.
MaxCDN is a popular name in WordPress circles thanks to its use by a number of services and sites using WP including popular managed hosting service WP Engine.
The MaxCDN service provides access to over 90 countries through their global network for a great amount of worldwide coverage.
MaxCDN claims it takes just five minutes to setup your site for use on their network which is pretty fast. This is thanks in part to its ease of use and its support from popular caching plugins W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache.
This is another CDN with both free and premium pricing plans that claims to supercharge your website in five minutes. For WordPress users there is a CloudFlare plugin which makes setting up this service a breeze.
While there is a free service, the three premium plans are charged on a per website basis rather than by how much server space and bandwidth you use. The service also comes with analytics which covers traffic to your site. Email support is available for all plans including the free option.
Rackspace are another good choice for WordPress users looking to employ a CDN to make their site load faster. Their website contains a useful guide for setting up a CDN with WordPress and the service itself is compatible with two free plugins: CDN Tools and W3 Total Cache.
Of their listed services, the Rackspace Cloud Files will be of the most interest for those looking for a CDN solution. While there is no free plan, prices are based on a pay-as-you-grow model making it an affordable way to get started with a premium CDN service.
They also have a dedicated WordPress web hosting service which includes hosting for an unlimited amount of WordPress sites and is ideal for web designers who host their client sites, although the unlimited capacity does make it quite pricey.
While this list of content delivery networks is by no means exhaustive, it does contain some well-regarded free and premium options that can enable you to begin optimising how the content of your site is made available to your visitors.
With the setup procedure for most of these services being relatively quick and painless, there is no reason not to give them a try.