A Content Delivery Network (CDN) will drastically reduce server lag by storing static resources on a network of faster loading and better-located servers to your own.
However, choosing a CDN can be tricky since there are many options available. Finding the right one depends entirely on your needs and the popularity of your site.
In this post, we’ll look at some of the more popular CDNs available for websites, big and small.
I’ve deliberately excluded some CDN companies, such as Akamai and CenturyLink, which are better suited to large-scale enterprise sites, so this isn’t the best post for them, but if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative… this is where to start.
But first, let’s address what CDNs are and how they can actually benefit your WordPress site.
*Feel free to skip this section if you’re already familiar with CDNs
What is a CDN?
In simple terms, a CDN helps close the distance and bulk between your website and your website’s visitors.
So, regardless of how many large media files, images, or pages you have on your website, a CDN allows your visitors to experience and interact with your website just as fast as if they were locally based.
For websites with a lot of traffic and/or with a large global audience, this is a huge deal.
Those few seconds you lose in load time (and in potentially converted business) are extremely valuable.
Rather than dump your video assets, or try to find more WordPress plugins to help with compressing image files – you can instead turn to a CDN to help improve your website’s performance (as well as security, stability, and more).
In the diagram below, we can see in detail the concept of how a CDN works.
For example, below you’ll see the global server network of a CDN service, in this case, Cloudflare.
If your site is hosted in the US, and your visitor is in Europe, the heavier images will be served out of the Europe data centers.
Vice-versa, if your server is based in Europe, and your traffic is coming from the US, one of the data centers in the US will be used to serve the heavier content.
Now, besides physical location, the size of resources is another determining factor in speed.
Your website’s speed can affect more than just the user experience and your on-site conversions, too.
It’s a well-known fact that search engines are looking to rank relevant and high-performing websites with better search rankings.
If visitors are abandoning ship within a few seconds of entering your website or if Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool deems your site lacking in performance, you could potentially be losing traffic due to negligence.
Also, keep in mind visitors will continue to demand more and more from your website, especially once you’ve established yourself as a trustworthy brand.
As their expectations grow and as your website puts more strain on the Internet (along with everyone else’s), investing in a CDN would be a smart move.
After all, According to Statista, worldwide online CDN traffic is projected to reach 252 exabytes per month in 2020 – up from 54 EB per month seen in 2017.
How Does a CDN Work?
There are three main components to a CDN:
1. Website files: Images, theme files, scripts, videos, and other static files need to be easily and quickly accessed when someone visits your website. It’s this distance between your site visitor and those files that usually cause your website to load slowly.
2. Pull URLs: When you work with a CDN, you need to have a location from which the global servers can make duplicates of your files. This file directory is known as a ‘Pull URL’.
3. Edge servers: Typically, your main hosting server resides in one or maybe two locations. So when someone visits your website, they are trying to access files from that server’s specific location.
A CDN, on the other hand, has a global network of edge servers.
So when someone visits your website that runs on a CDN, they can access your files from a server location that is closest to them, thereby increasing page load speeds since there is less distance for those files to cover.
What Are The Benefits Of CDNs?
While most people associate CDNs with the convenience of speed, there are many other perks associated with these services.
Using a CDN not only improves your load times but it also allows you to handle more visitors to your site at the same time.
If your site has ever experienced a sudden and unexpected traffic spike and gone down thanks to being featured on an authority news site in your niche, a CDN could have stopped this from happening.
On top of this, a one-second delay can result in a 7% decrease in conversions. Imagine all that money you’re missing out on.
Using a CDN and serving up static assets to your visitors from the servers located closest to them, will help you see a vast improvement in load times and bounce rates.
So, naturally, if you can reduce that load time for visitors, local or global, you can improve their perceived user experience from the get-go.
Search engines aren’t ranking certain sites over others just because they feel like it. Their main goal is to provide people conducting web searches with best-fit results.
Think about it this way: if Google were to start directing people to websites that didn’t match their search requirements, or that forced them to abandon the site because it took too long to open, those people would stop using Google, and Google would lose billions of dollars in revenue.
Regardless of how self-serving this may seem, search engines are in the business of getting people the right results. So, by making sure your website is optimized with the fastest load times around the world, you’ll also be helping to improve your SEO.
What would happen if your hosting company’s servers were to go dark?
For web hosts without failover—backup locations at which duplicate files are stored—that can mean big trouble for websites that go down as a result.
If you think slow load times are bad, a website that crashes is definitely not going to be perceived well.
CDNs are built with an inherent failover/recovery capability as all of your site’s static files are replicated in their global network of servers, ensuring that your site stays up and running at all times.
While CDN services cost money, the bandwidth you would normally have to pay for with your hosting provider can be shifted over to your CDN, resulting in lower hosting costs.
For companies that are already aware of the issue with slower page load times, this also means that you don’t have to purchase additional hosting space from multiple providers in order to reach a greater audience. You can accomplish all this through your CDN.
Many CDNs offer additional layers of security to help prevent DDoS attacks, keep data secure, and process customer transactions.
One of the major reasons why CDNs are seeing such huge adoption rates right now is because of the growing use of video in marketing, sales, social, and everywhere else on the web.
Video can take up a lot of bandwidth, so in order to keep your website loaded with all the high-res imagery, high-performance videos, and back-end scripts you want, working with a global network of servers will cut down on streaming issues and load failures, and enable you to deliver a quality UX to all visitors.
With any good hosting provider, your CDN should be able to provide you all the support you need.
Do you want analytics on your site’s performance and information on upcoming web trends that may affect the customer experience?
Want help in case a customer complains about an issue they’re experiencing on your site? A good CDN provider should offer all the dedicated, 24/7 support you need.
Alright, What’s The Catch?
There’s really only one drawback with using a CDN:
This may seem a bit confusing considering that “cost” was also mentioned above as a benefit; however, this is all subjective.
It’s important to remember that when making any big investments related to your website, first make sure that it’s the right fit for you and your business.
Speaking of considering cost and finding what’s right for you, you might be thinking…
“So… What is The Best CDN Service For WordPress?”
Lucky for you we have the answers.
Here are some of our favorite CDN services that will ensure a blazing fast WordPress site:
StackPath (formerly MaxCDN) provides advanced CDN features like intelligent caching, flexible customization, instant purge, realtime analytics, serverless scripting, GZIP compression, and more.
The CDN is simple to set up and manage, at the same time, it also offers advanced granular control for technical experts. As well as 24/7 support available via chat, ticket, and phone.
The service has 65+Tbps total throughput and servers in 45 locations all over the world. In addition, StackPath has 2,600+ peering partners to minimize hops between ISPs with every location offering full-deployment of its advanced infrastructure.
Free Trial? StackPath offers a credit for your first month to try their services and compare their CDN against your current setup. Or, if you haven’t used a CDN before, you can have a free month’s trial on the CDN only, or entry-level Edge Delivery Bundle.
Pricing: Prices start from $10 p/mth (CDN only) or $20 per month for their Edge Delivery bundles.
*Visit their website for up-to-date pricing information. The same goes for all the plugins mentioned on this list. We’ll do our best to keep prices up to date!
Cloudflare is another well-known CDN service. Unlike many CDNs, Cloudflare doesn’t charge for bandwidth usage on the basis that if your site suddenly gets popular or suffers an attack, you shouldn’t have to dread your bandwidth bill.
According to Cloudflare, on average, a website using its CDN will load twice as fast, use 60 percent less bandwidth, have 65 percent fewer requests, and is more secure.
Cloudflare operates out of 28 data centers around the world and uses a technology called Anycast to route your visitors to the nearest data center.
Pricing: Plans start at $20 per month for your first website and $5 per month for each subsequent website.
Free Trial? Yes. Cloudflare offers a basic free plan that includes fast site performance, board security protection and powerful stats about your visitors.
Rackspace Cloud Files offers online object storage for files and media and uses third-party CDN Akamai, to deliver your files globally.
The service uses more than 200 global edge locations around the world so your users get content fast and from servers within their region. Cloud Files maintains three copies of each file, ensuring files are delivered fast and reliably.
Rackspace’s partnership with Akamai is significant. The CDN is one of the world’s largest distributed computing platforms, responsive for serving between 15 and 30 percent of all web traffic. Some of the company’s customers have included Facebook and Twitter.
Pricing: Plans are pay-as-you-go and start at 10 cents for your first terabyte of storage and 12 cents for your first terabyte of CDN bandwidth.
Free Trial? Not available.
CacheFly promises to deliver your static files (images, video, audio, CSS, etc) at up to 10 times faster than other solutions. The company even guarantees 100% network availability, or your money back.
Microsoft, Adobe, and Bank of America are just some of CacheFly’s clients. While CacheFly has a solid reputation and has clients who have stuck around since they started in 2002, the only downside is it’s one of the most expensive CDN options.
Pricing: Plans range from “Small Business” to “High Volume Plans” starting from $295. The Small Business plan also gives you a decent 8 TB bandwidth transfer at the lowest level – all the way up to 64 TB with the “Pro 64” plan.
Free Trial? No, however, you can get two months of your plan free if you prepay.
WPPronto makes it onto this list because it started out as a CDN (the company launched in 2009 at WPCDN) and has since pivoted to focus on web hosting.
The company offers a CDN service using Cloudflare. It also focuses on security, offering multiple layers of protection (including DDoS attached production), SSL for everyone, and support Clef two-factor authentication.
Pricing: Plans range from “Nano” which gives you one WordPress site and 50 GB web bandwidth, all the way up to “Large” where you get up to 10 WordPress sites and 300 GB web bandwidth.
Free Trial? Not available, but they do offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, as well as guaranteed 99.9 percent uptime.
IBM Cloud CDN offers cloud infrastructure as a service from data centers and network points around the world. Its customers range from startups to global enterprises.
The company also works in partnership with Akamai CDN to provide content delivery nodes around the world, as well as edge servers in 133 different countries.
Pricing: Plans are pay-as-you-go, with a price of 0.085 USD per gigabyte of CDN bandwidth use (for the first 10 TB) available with the “Static Bandwidth” option. This is for North America only. You can find a full breakdown of the pricing options on their website.
Free Trial? Not available. But if you sign up for an IBM Cloud account you receive a 200 USD credit toward apps and services.
Amazon CloudFront is a CDN that gives any developer access to the same highly scalable, reliable, secure, and fast infrastructure that Amazon uses to run its own global network of websites.
CloudFront can also be integrated with other AWS services such as Amazon S3 (for storage) and AWS Elemental Media Services.
While Amazon AWS has a reputation for reliability, it’s important to keep in mind that CloudFront is aimed at developers and not inexperienced users.
Pricing: Amazon CloudFront pricing starts at 8.5 cents per month for the first 10 terabytes, with separate pricing for regions outside the US.
Free Trial? The AWS Free Usage Tier includes 50GB of data transfer out each month for up to 12 months. Along with 2,000,000 HTTP or HTTPS requests each month for one year.
CDN77 sets itself apart from other CDNs with specialized software, video and gaming delivery for uninterrupted streaming.
Their claim to fame is the fact that “space agencies” use their platform, as Hubble images are delivered around the Earth using CDN77.
As far as CDN platforms go, CDN77 is relatively new to the game (when compared to others). However, it has quickly built up 34 data centers around the globe, and now serves more than 12,000 clients in Europe, US, South America, and Asia.
Pricing: Pay-as-you-go plans are priced at $0.049 / GB for North America and Europe, the company also offer monthly plans starting from $199 for 6 TB.
Free Trial? 14-day trial.
KeyCDN has extensive coverage with 34 data centers in 25 countries spread across six continents.
You get five zones included for free, and each additional is just $1/month, you can add as many zones that are needed at any time. There’s also free CDN storage for pull, and push zone storage starts at just $0.47/GB a month.
KeyCDN has over 40,000 customers, so they must be doing something right. It’s also always a good sign when a business can showcase their customer’s testimonials with real information–name, business, and photo.
Pricing: The more you use, the cheaper it gets. With pricing starting at $0.04/GB up to your first 10TB which works out at just $40 per TB. Pricing is based on a rolling tiered structure where you pay a set price per tier, then go to the next level.
Free Trial? Free 14 day trial, no credit card required.
Site Accelerator (Photon) isn’t a CDN, but it makes this list because it provides a WordPress-only image caching service through the Jetpack plugin. This means less load on your hosting server and faster images for your visitors.
There are a few limitations with this service. There are no cache invalidations, so currently, the images are cached “forever” and if you want to refresh an image you will need to change the name of the image. Also, Site Accelerator only caches GIF, PNG and JPG files.
Free Trial? Free.
The service is supported by Cloudflare and StackPath, using Real User Metrics (RUM) to accurately load-balance traffic between multiple CDN providers.
jsDelivr is also the only public CDN with a valid ICP license issued by the Chinese government.
Free Trial? Free.
How To Choose Which CDN Is Right For You
Knowing your website’s specific needs is key to choosing a CDN. Before signing up for a CDN, it’s important to have a clear outline of what you’re looking for.
Here are some important factors you should consider:
What are your bandwidth needs? Are you going to use 10GB per month or 10TB per month?
To find your bandwidth usage, log into your web host to access your bandwidth stats.
If your site gets little traffic, it might not be worth signing up for a premium CDN. A free service, such as Jetpack’s Site Accelerator (Formerly ‘Photon’) or Cloudflare’s free service will suffice.
Alternatively, you may want to consider upgrading your hosting.
When you are delivering about 500GB per month of traffic it makes sense to offload those hits to a CDN.
If you provide videos, podcasts, music, large images, and software downloads, a CDN will ensure that your visitors can access your media quickly.
Where are your users located? How many servers do you expect a CDN to have, and where?
If the majority of your site’s visitors are based in the US, it makes sense to go with a CDN with servers spread across that region.
However, if you have a spread of visitors from across the US, Europe, and Asia, it would be better for your content to be available on servers in those regions.
It’s also important to note whether a CDN offers a push or pull service. A push CDN works very much like a secondary server. The user uploads content directly to the CDN (automatically or manually) and links to it.
With a pull CDN, the site owner leaves the content on their server and rewrites their URLs to point to the CDN.
When asked for a specific file, the CDN will go first to the original server, pull the file and serve it. The CDN then caches that file until it expires.
Do you require streaming downloads, such as video, audio or software downloads? Do you run a gaming website?
Some CDNs, like CDN77, offer specialty services that support streaming.
Also, check whether a CDN offers quality analytics and real-time monitoring features.
What kind of support do you expect from a CDN?
It’s easy to check what kind of support is on hand, whether it be live chat or email support. Some CDNs offer technical assistance over the phone.
It’s also worth noting whether a CDN is available 24/7 and having a look through their service level agreement (SLA).
Most CDNs offer a 100 percent SLA, but you don’t want to have to chase down credits if your CDN doesn’t meet its SLA.
How much are you willing to spend? Will you be compensated for network outages?
There are huge differences in cost from one CDN to the next, and plans differ from pay-as-you-go to monthly accounts with set features.
The price you pay will depend on the CDN plan that best meets your needs and how much traffic lands on your site.
Many CDNs offer free trial periods so if you’re interested in trying out a CDN you’ve got nothing to lose.
What About The Best CDN for Multisite?
The jury’s still out on this.
While many services support WordPress, the lines blur when it comes to Multisite.
Services like StackPath (formerly MaxCDN), Cloudflare, and Rackspace can be integrated with WordPress using W3 Total Cache, but the caching plugin still doesn’t fully support Multisite (you can use it on subsites and the main site, but not an entire network).
If you’ve used a CDN successfully with your Multisite network, I’d be interested to read about your experience in the comments below.
Did You Know We Have Our Own Built-In CDN?
The WPMU DEV CDN is specifically configured to deliver images and web objects (CSS, JS, scripts and other supported files) blazingly fast.
Here’s a quick rundown of each plugin if you’re new around here:
Hummingbird will scan your site and recommend actions for you to take to make it faster. Minify your files, cache your content and enable Gzip compression at a touch of a button.
Plus, with the bonus of uptime monitoring, you’ll know right away if your site ever goes down.
Smush is the fastest, easiest, and best-performing image compression plugin for WordPress.
It compresses your images while maintaining their quality to dramatically improve your website’s page speed. With WP Smush, you can bulk optimize your images up to 32MB without timing out.
WPMU DEV’s CDN also leverages the StackPath servers and network to deliver enterprise-grade speed and performance, giving every one of your users a high-quality experience.
Just be aware if you are using Cloudflare, or another 3rd-party CDN, deactivate overlapping features before running the WPMU DEV CDN in Smush Pro or Hummingbird Pro.
Trying to serve content from multiple CDNs will cause your appearance to break.
Go Forth With A CDN Suited To Your Specific Needs
Where once websites were delivered from a single server, CDNs have revolutionized how online content is delivered, ensuring sites load quicker and downloads are faster and more reliable.
If you run a small to medium-sized site (around 40,000 to 50,000 page views), StackPath, Cloudflare, and Rackspace are all solid options for your needs.
Services such as Amazon CloudFront are better suited to enterprise-level sites and are overkill for sites with minimal traffic.
For small sites, Site Accelerator and jsDelivr, along with Cloudflare, are great options since each of these services are free.
Sites offering streaming media, such as video, audio, and gaming, should check out CDN77 and it’s tailored service for this kind of media.
And finally, we’d be doing ourselves (and you) a disservice if we didn’t also throw our own CDN into the mix.
A WPMU DEV membership gives you direct access to our built-in CDN, as well as our full suite of premium WP plugins, 24/7 support, our new dedicated hosting, and more.
You can also start off with a free 30-day trial if you’d like to see what all the fuss is about first.
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