First, load time dramatically impacts user experience. Humans have evolved to expect instant gratification on the Web, which means we penalize and ignore sites that are slow. Slow load times frustrate customers, and that can damage your company, product or brand, given the ubiquity of the Web.
Then there are search engines, which are the navigational backbone of the Web and drive the vast majority of traffic. Google, which commands two-thirds of search traffic and whose doctrine is speed and user experience, factors website load time into its search rankings. That means if your site loads slowly, Google may penalize you by decreasing your visibility.
A good Web hosting provider with dedicated servers and clean coding are critical to website speed. But so is a content delivery network, especially if your site is subject to visitor spikes and geographically dispersed traffic, and contains large multimedia files (like video). The largest online publishers have already made CDNs part of their online infrastructures.
What is a content delivery network (CDN)?
According to Wikipedia, a content delivery network (CDN) is:
…a system of computers containing copies of data, placed at various points in a network so as to maximize bandwidth for access to the data from clients throughout the network. A client accesses a copy of the data near to the client, as opposed to all clients accessing the same central server, so as to avoid bottlenecks near that server.Â Content types include web objects, downloadable objects (media files, software, documents), applications, real time media streams, and other components of internet delivery (DNS, routes, and database queries). (Read more here.)
How do you install a content delivery network?
I’m not a Web developer. But if you run your site with the amazing WordPress content management system, like I do, then there are some easy solutions. The team at MaxCDN reached out a few months ago and asked me to test their system. With simple instructions and a small WordPress plugin, I set up MaxCDN on this blog in about 10 minutes. That’s the beauty of the web; non-technical marketing people like me are capable of setting up and optimizing websites. Of course, many corporate websites are far more complex, but they usually come with dedicated engineers to lead projects like this. CDN systems are not ubiquitous, so don’t assume that your tech people are seizing this opportunity (or risk).
My website is minimal by design. From a visual standpoint, I want readers to easily engage with the core content. From a functional and experiential standpoint, I try to omit extraneous code and plugins so the site runs fast. And now I have MaxCDN. There’s probably a lot more I could do to improve, but I’ve been able to maintain website load times between two and five seconds, which is pretty good versus the average. You can test the load time of this page with Pingdom by clicking here.
CDNs As Implied Infrastructure
I anticipate that Web hosting providers and other Web-services vendors will eventually include CDNs as a default service to ensure high performance. Until then, I’ll be sticking with a dedicated CDN provider.
Disclosure: Bcause of my satisfaction with MaxCDN, I’ve accepted a sponsorship. They are accelerating my site in return for a little promotion (in the footer of this site). Â If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I rarely accept sponsorships, so I have to really like the service.
(Photo credit: ~Jetta Girl~)