A Guide to CDNS (Content Delivery Networks) for Ecommerce
Site speed is crucial to the success of your ecommerce website. Indeed, statistics show that over 50% of your site visitors will leave if a page doesn’t load within 3 seconds.
Of course, there are a few different ways you can improve site speed, like compressing your images and reducing your redirects. But if you’re producing content at scale (you should be) and looking to make more conversions, a CDN can save the day.
A CDN (Content Delivery Network) is key to improving your website’s performance. It allows your site visitors from all over the world to access your content faster, learn about your brand and overall enjoy a more positive onsite experience.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at exactly what a CDN is, how it works for ecommerce—and how you can implement one.
What is a CDN?
CDN stands for “Content Delivery Network.” It’s a global network of servers that allow you to get your content to your customers much faster.
For example, if a customer located in India tries to access your website at the same time as a customer located in the UK, a CDN closest to each responds to that specific request. This ensures that both site visitors get to experience a fast (and smooth) loading website.
Just by storing content closer to your customers, you get to boost page load time and minimize latency.
Essentially, a CDN removes the strain from a traditional server. And because there’s more than one server, there’s no need for a single workhorse server to be saddled with every single request your website receives.
How Does a CDN for Ecommerce Work?
The core point of a CDN is that it improves efficiency across your website. To do this, it stores cached versions of your website’s pages in numerous locations around the world.
These locations are referred to as PoPs (Points of Presence) and each one holds multiple caching services. They ensure cached content is delivered to your site visitors wherever they are in the world.
For ecommerce, then, a CDN is a lot like an expanded hosting service that puts your content, like product pages and blog posts, in various places around the world all at the same time. This then allows everyone to experience a better onsite experience, which includes faster loading pages.
What are the Benefits of Using a CDN for Ecommerce Stores?
We’ve so far learned that a CDN is a global network of servers that allows your customers far and wide to access your content faster. Let’s further explore some of the key benefits of using one for your online store.
Latency in the case of a website is the lag between the moment your site requests data from a system and the time when the system begins to respond.
If there’s a fair distance between a customer who’s making the request and the actual server that’s tasked with delivering it, latency can be quite high (bad).
A CDN improves the situation because it stores web content caches nearer by.
Because a CDN is able to offer your site visitors a better onsite experience, you get to improve the overall customer engagement. This means keeping your visitors on the page longer, introducing them to your products, assisting them whenever necessary (such as with chatbots).
This, in turn, leads to a better bounce rate, an improvement in your Google ranking— and more conversions.
Can Save Money
Perhaps a more often overlooked benefit of a CDN is the fact that it saves ecommerce stores money.
Because a CDN is able to store copies of content closer to your customers wherever they are, it’s able to minimize bandwidth consumption. Moreover, because of less data transfers from your main server, you also get to further reduce costs.
Improved Handling of Traffic Spikes
Spikes in traffic can be a bit of a pain for online stores when they’re so unexpected. This is because they put a sudden pressure on your server. If the pressure is too much, it can effectively increase your website’s downtime. This means you’ll lose out on sales and your customers will be upset with a bad shopping experience.
Because CDNs are distributed throughout the world, they can take a load off. Using load balancing, they’re able to evenly distribute demand across multiple servers so that no one single server is burdened with a spike in traffic.
While CDNs themselves are very much not a protection against DDoS attacks among other things. And while they’re not a firewall, they utilize automation tools and analytics that help your website uncover DDoS attacks, firewalls problems and more.
This means your team can flag an issue as soon as it arises. Then you can fix it before it becomes a problem for your website and your customers.
Disadvantages of a CDN
So far, we’ve taken a look at the numerous benefits of having a CDN. But what are the disadvantages that might persuade you not to get a Content Delivery Network?
Can Be Expensive
Earlier, we saw how a CDN can reduce costs by reducing bandwidth consumption. That’s true.
But while you can get a CDN for free, you might need to pay extra for one that provides the services you need.
How much you pay depends on your needs (and we’ll explore this a little later in the article). But bigger websites typically need to pay more—and CDNs can be a tad expensive.
Lack of Customer Support
Whenever we invest in a service, we expect good customer support that we can rely on whenever we have an issue.
With a CDN, communication with the provider can be a bit of a hassle because they rely on a number of third-party infrastructures. As such, there may be a number of hoops you need to jump through before you get the answer you need.
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block of a CDN is the fact that you absolutely must match up the location of your server with the right audience.
If, for example, you’ve incorrectly placed a CDN server for an Indian audience, the CDN’s effectiveness will be reduced to null.
Lack of Control
If you’re the type of online store owner who feels uncomfortable handing over your website files to someone else other than your web developers, a CDN might not be for you. Whenever you use a CDN, a third party will receive info about your systems and your website.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a CDN for Your Store
Even if you’ve decided that a CDN is the right thing for your website, there are still a few things you need to consider before you go ahead and invest in one.
Price (And Your Needs)
When weighing up the cost of a CDN, you’ll need to balance it against your needs. Some CDNs are free but others cost thousands of dollars.
Why such a big difference?
Lots of things need to be taken into account when it comes to price including the number of locations you’ll be needing servers for, your bandwidth needs, as well as your volume of traffic.
As mentioned a little earlier, larger websites with lots of traffic coming from a wide variety of customers will need to invest in more expensive CDNs. Smaller websites whose traffic comes from a handful of customers can get away with a cheaper CDN and in some cases, even a free one.
There are also companies that give you rates that fluctuate according to your volume. Ergo, the more you need a CDN, the more you’ll pay.
Network size is another key factor to consider when weighing up your CDN options. Ideally, you’ll want to go with a CDN that has a solid enough network so as to allow your servers to work without becoming clogged up with traffic.
The general rule of thumb is that more servers = a quicker, more reliable service.
That all said, network size is redundant if the available Points of Presence aren’t guaranteed to be available all the time.
Lastly, it’s highly likely that something will come up which requires you to contact customer support. That’s just the way CDNs operate – they’re tricky for beginners to get their heads around. It may even be the case that you have difficulty just setting up your CDN.
As we touched on earlier, customer support can be a bit of a pain. However, you should still look closely at what your options are. Is the customer support available 24/7 and is there a direct telephone number you can call? If your options are limited to just email, you might run into problems when trying to get an issue resolved.
Not all CDNs are made the same. While faster loading websites are the prime reason ecommerce stores use a CDN, some CDNs are faster than others.
There are different ways you can measure the speed of a CDN. You can take a look at its response time, which is how fast it takes for the server to respond each time a browser makes a request. You can take a look at latency, which is the amount of time it takes for a file to transfer from one server to another.
Throughput should be a consideration, too, which is how consistently stable the delivery of a piece of content is.
FAQs for CDNs:
In this final section, we’ll be covering the most popular questions that are asked about CDNs to help you get a better understanding of whether or not a Content Network Delivery is the right option for you.
Why Should I Use a CDN?
A CDN is one of the best ways to improve site loading speed, thus helping you to generate more traffic, improve the customer experience—and land more conversions.
The best thing is that it no longer matters where in the world your customers are located because a CDN leverages multiple servers so that it can get content delivered to all of your customers – wherever, whenever.
Who Should Use a CDN?
Anyone who runs a website that generates traffic from more than one source at the same time should look into the possibility of using a CDN.
However, CDNs are of particular help to bigger websites that generate traffic from various parts of the world.
Types of websites and businesses who would benefit from a CDN include ecommerce sites, media and publishing websites, and mobile apps. SaaS businesses would also benefit.
Can a CDN Protect My Website From Attacks?
While a CDN itself doesn’t offer complete protection against online attacks, it can add an extra layer of security to your website by absorbing DDoS attacks.
A CDN can also stop abusive crawls from overwhelming your server and reduce downtime.
Not just that, but by using a CDN you’ll be removing your hosting system from the firing line (the network will offer it more protection).
Which Parts of my Website Can I Put on the CDN?
You can put whichever part(s) of your website you wish onto your CDN. If you wish to add a page, you can do that. If you wish to cache your whole website, you can do that too.
Do CDNs Have a Traffic Limit?
Yes, which is why it’s important that you take a look at this before you invest in a CDN.
It’s also worth pointing out that if you exceed your traffic limit, your standard hosting system takes over the load of your entire visitors.
CDN for Ecommerce
We’ve seen the pros and cons of CDNs and highlighted what you need to look for if you’re on the hunt for one. And while CDNs do have a few slight drawbacks, such as high prices, most of the challenges can be overcome.
What’s more, CDNs have a high number of advantages, including less latency, less downtime and faster-loading websites.
If you feel as though a CDN could save your site and ensure you’re able to deliver a top-class website experience to your customers around the world, the next step is to decide what type of CDN will suit you and your needs best, and then work out a budget and a plan to implement one and take things forward.