Get Networking: Using a CDN to Speed Up Your Site

Ever heard of a Content Delivery Network (CDN)? If you haven’t don’t fret, you’re not alone. Most people operating WordPress sites today have no idea what a CDN is or what exactly it does, but they’d no doubt find it pretty helpful.

Connected cloud of 19 inch server towers. 3D rendered illustration.

Basically, a CDN service is a group of servers that deliver cached, static content from your website (as well as millions of others) based on the geographical location of the person attempting to use your site. To expand, a hosting company typically serves your site from a single location, and anyone and everyone who wants to visit your site gets routed through the same server. Unfortunately, depending on the amount of traffic to your site and the quality of your hosting company, this can really slow down the responsiveness of your pages, and in certain circumstances can even cause a server to crash if there are too many requests for access at one time.

So a CDN caches your server’s “static” resources, i.e. those that don’t change that often but still need to be loaded for your site to work and, when a user requests your website, routes those resources through a special CDN server, thereby reducing the load and pressure on your hosting server and making it much faster and more efficient. And it does this by accessing servers in various geographical locations around the world, which ensures that each user request is handled by the server nearest the user’s actual physical location.

That said, as with all things WordPress related, there are lots of CDN services to choose from, each at different price points and each offering different levels of speed, efficiency and security. Not sure which to pick? Here’s a rundown of some of the top competitors, but do your research thoroughly before shelling out some hard-earned bucks or opting for a free service which might not be all that great.

  • As the best known product of its kind on the market, MaxCDN owns servers equipped with super-fast solid state drives and data centers spread all over the planet. It’s easy to install and set up, meshes perfectly with caching plugins and has a nice, beginner-friendly control panel. And for only about $9 per month it also helps you manage SSL certificates to ensure your site is safe and sound for you and your users.
  • If you’re looking for something free for your small website, Cloudflare is worth checking out. It’s also easy to set up and had a decently large network of globally distributed servers. Some out-of-the-box malware and brute force attack protections are limited, but it does have a nice feature called “I am under attack mode,” which displays a security page and analyzes traffic heading to your site for risks. As noted the Cloudflare CDN is free, but they also have a paid version starting at $20/month.
  • A solid choice for an up-and-coming CDN, StackPath protects against common Denial of Service attacks with advanced blocking features and load balancing. It also comes equipped with a firewall to further reduce server loads on your site and really amp up page load times. The powerful interface comes with developer tools for more advanced website designers and owners, which is nice considering plans start at only $20 a month.
  • Lastly, Incapsula has strategically placed its servers all over the globe and owns a huge data center in South America. Like other CDNs it’s easy to start using and plays well with almost all WordPress caching plugins. They have a free plan but it’s fairly limited in terms of security, and their paid plans are a little costly at $59 month. However, at that price you get around-the-clock tech support, a website application firewall and management of SSL certificates.

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