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Do You Need A CDN for Your E-commerce Website?

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Is it Worth Investing in a CDN (Content Delivery Network) for Your E-commerce Site in 2021?

As of 2019, website speed is an important ranking factor in the Google algorithm. 

As a result, website owners the world over are looking at ways of improving their website’s performance, without sacrificing user experience, functionality or aesthetics. 

A CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a great tool for some websites to boost their website’s performance by increasing the speed at which your site’s content is delivered. 

What is a CDN and How Do They Work? 

What is a CDN?

A CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a service where a company has a network of servers distributed across the globe that rehosts web content, allowing users to always access the website’s content from a geographically nearby server. 

To illustrate, this is what content delivery looks like without a CDN: 

Image showing how data is delivered from a regular web server

The web content is delivered from the same point, no matter where you are accessing it from. Your browser may store cached elements from the web page to make repeat visits faster. 

Image showing how data is delivered from a CDN server

The web content is delivered from the closest geographic server to where you are. This works by caching your site on these nearby servers instead of calling for it to be transferred from the original server each time. 

Why Do People Use CDNs?

One of the biggest factors determining web latency today is the geographical distance between the server a website is being hosted on and the end-user trying to download the content. 

Even using top of the line undersea fibre optic cables transferring data from Europe to Africa, for instance, still takes at least a fraction of a second because of the physical distance the data has to travel. 

How Does a CDN Work? 

A CDN works around this by having servers in all the major geographical regions of the globe.

Image showing the difference between CDN hosting and regular hosting

It then delivers your website’s content from these physically nearby servers, rather than from wherever your server is hosted. 

For instance, let’s say you have a website hosted in South Africa and somebody tries to access it from Germany. 

Without a CDN, the request is routed all the way to your South African server, across all the undersea cables, introducing a few milliseconds (ms) of latency. 

Because each piece of the website has a few ms of latency, these compound into a noticeable lag that the user experiences when trying to load the site. 

With a CDN, the request is intercepted and routed to a server in or nearby Germany, and the content is delivered much faster because it only has to travel a fraction of the distance. 

Image demonstrating the reduced delay of transferring data within a country vs between continents

The Pros of CDNs

Improve Performance Without Sacrificing Quality or Functionality 

It’s easy to have a website that performs amazingly if it looks like this: A basic HTML website with no added features

Image credit:

But, if you do, nobody’s going to take your business seriously. And on top of that, you’re almost certainly going to want to have some advanced functionality on your site, all of which adds complexity (and therefore potentially impacts load time)
You’re always going to want to add on features to improve the way your website looks, runs and feels. 

And, as an unfortunate side effect, this is almost always going to slow downloading times because you need to load more assets to display the site properly. 

Having a CDN is one of the simplest solutions to get around this. 

It’s an easy way to improve your site’s performance without sacrificing functionality. 

This has a few caveats, though, as we’ll explore later. 

CDNs Keep Your Site Up During Traffic Surges

Secondly, if you experience large surges of traffic a CDN is also very advantageous. 

Instead of overwhelming one server with a million requests, the CDN distributes the requests across many different servers which reduces the strain on each one. 

This can prevent your site from going offline during crucial times, like holidays or special promotions where you see a marked increase in business. 

CDNs Can Be Profitable

Having a CDN reduces does reduce how much you pay in hosting costs by reducing the amount of traffic reaching your hosting server. 

This on its own, however, is very seldom going to be enough to justify the cost of investing in one.

Instead, the major cost-benefit of having a CDN is that increased website speed has a marked correlation with increased conversion rates. 

This can make investing in a CDN profitable if the increased number of conversions brings in more money than your CDN subscription costs. 

The Cons of CDNs

CDNs Cost Money

The biggest con of buying a CDN service is, in our opinion, the cost. 

There are many free plans available, but for any real business application, you should consider it a paid service. 

It’s another monthly cost to consider that scales up with the amount of traffic your website gets, on top of the hosting costs you’re already paying. 

For it to be worth it, you need to make more money from the investment in the CDN than it costs in monthly fees.

How do you measure this, though? 

The simplest metric we recommend is going by conversion rates. Having a faster site will almost always increase your conversion rates.

So, measure your conversion rate in overseas countries before and after implementing the CDN and 

CDNs Don’t Help Local-Only Businesses

While having international traffic can be useful for SEO purposes if you have a purely local business any traffic from outside of the country is going to be very poor quality. 

As such having a CDN doesn’t really make sense, because ideally all of your website’s visitors are already going to be geographically close to your web servers.

I.e. you’re almost always going to want to have local hosting for your website in this case. 


We hope this helped you decide if a CDN is right for your e-commerce website. 

In general, you want to consider investing in a CDN if you’re a multinational company or are looking to build a multinational audience, and you want to boost your website’s performance. 

They are a great tool for reducing loading times and boosting performance, but bear in mind they aren’t for everyone. 

If you’re not going after an international crowd, they provide very little value. And you need to monitor if the increase in conversion rates covers the cost of having a CDN.


If you enjoyed this article or found it helpful, check out more e-commerce marketing content on the inSyte blog or listen to the inSyte Podcast.

This article was brought to you by Syte.

We’re a specialist e-commerce digital marketing agency dedicated to driving up your bottom line.

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