How I Used CDN to Improve Site Speed in 10 Minutes

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improve site speedIs your site loading kinda slow?

Although we have decent blog hosting (currently with LiquidWeb), some traffic peaks would cause the site to slow to a crawl.

I ran some site speed tests and, sure enough, it didn't do so well. Of course, it could have been worse. But that isn't a very good target to shoot for. 🙂

To be fair, this isn't completely the fault of the blog host. There are many factors affecting site speeds, including theme, images, traffic and back-end settings.

3 Tools to Speed Test Your Website

Here are the three tools I used to measure site load time:

  • Pingdom: Performance grade (71/100), Load time (2.19s)
  • GT Matrix: Page Speed Grade: B (85%), YSlow Grade: D (65%)
  • Google Pagespeed: Desktop (61/100), Mobile (49/100)

All that these metrics really measure is load time. This is how long it takes for your site to fully display to a new reader.

Remember, you can't properly gauge your site load time by simply loading it on your computer. Your browser will likely have cached a large portion of your site and this won't give an accurate picture of your site speed. You really need to use an application to measure site speed. These apps will measure your sites consistently – so you can accurately gauge improvements over time. The three above are all free.

Why does page speed matter? Not only does speed matter for readers, it also affects your search engine ranking. This shouldn't be surprising. Search engines look for the best quality content and experience for their users. A slow site is frustrating for everyone. So if your site is tortoise-slow, you'll have trouble getting it to rank for your target keywords.

The idea that site speed affect site rankings isn't new. Almost four years ago, Google Webmaster Central Blog wrote about using site speed in web search ranking.

How MaxCDN Cut My Site Load Time By 49%

My load time of 2.19 seconds was kind of slow. The goal is to have it at, or under, one second.

The fastest way to improve site speed is to use a content delivery network.

What is a content delivery network? Also known as a CDN, a content delivery network is a network of servers around the world that serves cached versions of your site. This creates a very fast loading site – and reduces the load on your web hosts servers.

I had been using CloudFlare for the past few years. It has a free option (and pay plans starting at $20/month). While there were some improvements, I had many errors with the service. They always blamed the host – and the host blamed them. Either way, my site was going down too often.

When I switched to MaxCDN, these errors stopped – even with the same host.

What's even more important is that my load time reduced by 49%.

Pingdom Speed Test Results: Before / After

  • Before CDN: Load time: 2.19 seconds
  • With MaxCDN: Load time: 1.11 seconds
pingdom-site-speed-before-cdn

Site speed ranking (Pingdom) before CDN

pingdom site speed after cdn

Site speed ranking (Pingdom) after MaxCDN

PageSpeed Insights Test Results: Before / After (Desktop)

  • Before CDN: Ranking 61/100
  • With MaxCDN: Ranking 76/100
google pagespeed desktop before

Desktop site speed ranking (PageSpeed Insights) before CDN

google pagespeed desktop after

Desktop site speed ranking (PageSpeed Insights) after MaxCDN

PageSpeed Insights Test Results: Before / After (Mobile)

  • Before CDN: Ranking 49/100
  • With MaxCDN: Ranking 56/100
google pagespeed mobile before

Mobile site speed ranking (PageSpeed Insights) before CDN

google pagespeed mobile after

Mobile site speed ranking (PageSpeed Insights) after MaxCDN

GTmetrix Speed Test Results: Before / After

  • Before CDN: Pagespeed: B (85%) and YSlow Grade: D (65%)
  • With MaxCDN: Pagespeed: A (91%) and YSlow Grade: C (73%)
gtmetrix improve site speed before

Site speed ranking (GTmetrix) before CDN

gtmetrix improve site speed after

Site speed ranking (GTmetrix) after MaxCDN

Results: CDN Site Speed Improvements

The most notable of all the results was the Pingdom load time being cut (almost) in half. This is the most important of the metrics and the purpose of the exercise. Load time reduced to 1.11 seconds from 2.19 seconds. Not bad for only one adjustment.

I have other adjustments planned (see below) but for now, I'm happy with this. When I have time for development, I'm going to tweak the performance even more.

improve blog speed

Should You Use a CDN?

Yes. Regardless of your blog host, a CDN can make your site run faster and be able to handle more traffic.

Should you use a free or pay CDN? My experience with a free CDN wasn't good. It failed frequently and the service was poor. The entry level pay plan with Cloudflare starts at $20/month for one site. The entry level with MaxCDN is $9 (for two sites) and they have great customer service.

Setup with Cloudflare was not easy. I had to search other blogs for help to setup the service. Even then, I had numerous problems.

When I setup with MaxCDN, I had it working in 10 minutes – including a chat with tech support.

If you aren't technically inclined, you can use MaxCDN. And it will speed up your site. And it costs just $9/month.

More Tips to Improve Site Speed

Is there more I can do? Of course. Here are a few things to get started.

Caching Plugins: There are a number of caching plugins that will improve site speed. They cache files, minify CSS, JavaScript, and HTML to create smaller files that load faster.

  • W3 Total Cache: This is the highest rated caching plugin in the WordPress repository. It is free, but takes some research to properly configure the settings. Works with many of the popular CDN providers, including Amazon Cloudfront, Edgecast and MaxCDN.
  • WP Super Cache: This is the most popular (most downloads) caching plugin in the WordPress repository. It is also free, but takes some skill to properly configure.

I have used both of these – and currently use neither. When I have the time, I'm going to learn how these work. But for now, I'm happy with just the CDN. Make sure not to use them both (of the plugins) at the same time. And remember that one wrong setting can crash your site. It isn't quite as easy as they make it sound.

Better Hosting: Hosting will make a difference in site speed. When you're getting started, a basic host like HostGator is a great option. But with time, this will not offer enough bandwidth for your traffic and you'll start to have trouble. We have had good success with LiquidWeb for our current traffic levels (about 60,000 monthly visitors). We have their semi-dedicated hosting at $40/month. 

Better Theme: Choosing a free theme can affect your site speed. Generally speaking, a developer doesn't invest much time into a theme that they are going to give away. If it is poorly coded, it will load slowly. It's always best to choose a premium WordPress theme for better site speed. We run all our sites on Thesis.

Edit Photos Properly: It can be a fine balance: keep images as lightweight as possible but still with high quality. We edit all our photos at 720 px wide (the width size of our content column in our themes.) There is no need to upload images at full resolution (4000 px wide) – readers can't see images that large anyway and it will cripple your site speed. It's best to choose an image size and consistently output to those dimensions.

Check out: 15 more tips to speed up your site (Moz.com).

Remember: Backup your site before making any changes. We use Blogvault to keep our site stable during development. Read our full review.

Your Turn

What tools / apps are you using to keep your site fast? What problems are you having?

Please share it below!

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Hi, I'm the Author!

Bryan Haines is a travel blogger, photographer and content marketer. He is co-founder of WiseGuides.ca (Nova Scotia travel blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for Canadian travel brands). Bryan is also an avid photographer. Check out ClickLikeThis, a GoPro tutorial blog he runs with his wife, Dena.

2 comments… add one
  • Ryan Biddulph Jan 21, 2015, 10:30 am

    Max CDN does indeed Rock Brian. I’ve no clue if I’m using it lol….as I did win a free copy for like a year through a contest and believe my developer activated it – after I fumbled thru it – and yep, my blog speed improved dramatically….but not sure if it’s live/active, or if me leaning down my blog improved performance. Time to do some HW 😉

    Thanks!

    Ryan

    • Bryan Haines Jan 26, 2015, 8:22 am

      I was surprised how much it sped up – just by using the service. Now, I want to tweak it some more – to improve site speed even more.

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