A content delivery network, or CDN, is a network of servers placed around the world that cache website content, including images, scripts, and stylesheets, to deliver it to website visitors based on the visitor’s location and not necessarily the location of the website’s server.
A CDN is helpful if you use WordPress and plugins or themes cause it to load slowly. Similarly, websites that display a lot of media (videos or photos) may also load slowly, especially during peak traffic hours, without one of these WordPress CDN plugins.
In the worst-case scenario, the server may crash, making your website completely unavailable.
Obviously, you won’t get visitors or sales if your site is down, but you run the same risk if your website loads at a snail’s pace. Even a single second’s lag decreases page views and conversions, costing you thousands or even millions of dollars each year.
What is a CDN?
CDNs help websites load more quickly, which can retain visitors and increase search engine performance, and there are plenty to choose from if you use WordPress.
Before we get to best WordPress CDN plugins and services, you’ll notice that most CDNs don’t have heir own plugin but that you’ll need to use a plugin as an intermediary after you’ve signed up for the CDN. This means that setup varies from service to service.
These intermediary plugins are usually cache plugins. Three of the most popular are WP Fastest Cache, W3 Total Cache, and WP Super Cache. You can also try EWWW Image Optimizer, which connects to most CDNs but will only cache images and not other file types.
Each of these plugins installs directly from your WordPress dashboard with just a few clicks and instruct them to use a CDN after you’ve signed up for a CDN and have the service’s DNS information.
Now, onto the CDN services themselves!
WordPress (Formerly Photon) CDN
Yes, WordPress has its own CDN, and it’s free. It’s not as flexible as some options, but it’s incredibly easy to use. All you have to do is install and enable the Jetpack Site Accelerator plugin to your WordPress install. There are two options, one to speed up image times and the other to speed up static file load times. Selecting both will give your site the maximum speed boost.
If you already use WP Fastest Cache plugin on your site, you’ll see that WordPress CDN is one of the default options under the Photon label.
KeyCDN has quickly become a crowd favorite. It offers dozens of data centers, each relying on servers with low-latency SSDs for fast response time. In addition to CDN services, KeyCDN offers free SSL, encryption, wo-factor identification, and bot blocking.
More importantly, KeyCDN does have a dedicated plugin, CDN Enabler, which makes installing and using the CDN incredibly easy even if you’re a novice WordPress user. With CDN Enabler, you only have to enter the CDN’s URL, denote which content to include (and exclude) when caching, and select whether you want caching enabled over SSL connections (Stackpath offers a free certificate with its CDN).
Plus, the pay-as-you-go plan costs as little as $40 annually.
It’s no surprise that this well-known CDN would make the list, but CloudFlare is more than just a CDN. The company offers firewall, SSL, and speed testing, among other services.
If your website is smaller, you might benefit from their free services. However, there are limitations. Upgrading to CloudFlare’s premium CDN services (plans start at $20 per month) offers more protection against DDOS attacks and allows you to see cache analytics.
Whether you use the free or paid version, CloudFlare is easy to set up. You don’t need a plugin because you can typically activate Cloudflare from your host’s control panel (often cPanel).
You can monitor your website performance from the Cloudflare dashboard. Plus, there’s an ‘I am under attack Mode’ feature that analyzes traffic to divert an attack while still allowing real users to visit your website. The developer mode also turns off caching so you can see any changes made to your site.
You might already be aware of Sucuri’s WordPress firewall, but the company also offers a CDN for a single website for $9.99 monthly. As a CDN, Sucuri is versatile. You can choose from multiple caching methods based on your needs and improve website speed, thanks in part to GZIP compression.
Once you install and activate the Sucuri firewall plugin for WordPress, the CDN will be activated as well. Sucuri advertises a boost in speed up to 70% right out of the box without any customization and advertises an average 83% decrease in load time for its customers.
One of the CDNs that offers a dedicated WordPress plugin is Shift8. It’s a CDN that’s compatible with WordPress, Drupal, and Laravel. Shift8 is free for two URLs with a 1 TB limit each month, but you can upgrade for $5 per month to get support for 10 sites and increase the bandwidth limit to 5 TB.
After signing up with Shift8, you’ll need to add your site within its dashboard and copy th API key and CDN prefix. Then, install and activate the Shift8 plugin to WordPress. Enter the API key and CDN prefix, save, and Shift8 will be good to go.
Rackspace CDN also has a pay-per-use model, which may make it more affordable than other premium services if your site doesn’t see a lot of traffic. The price depends on whether you’re already a user of Rackspace Cloud. Existing customers will pay $0.12 per GB for the first 10 gigabytes with the cost per GB dropping at that. Non-Cloud customers can pay between $0.02 per GB and $0.27 per GB depending on the traffic location.
It takes a few steps to set up this CDN, however and doesn’t offer DDOS protection. For this reason, some people might prefer a different option on this list.
First, you must install the W3 Total Cache plug-in for WordPress to connect to Cloud Files. Then, you have to upload your files to the Cloud Files container via the Cloud Control Panel. To ensure that the CDN is activated, make sure the container is set to publish to the CDN.
Not to be confused with CloudFlare, CloudFront is Amazon’s CDN that boasts more than 100 servers located in 24 countries across the world including the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia, India, and the U.K. to name just a few. They’ve also recently moved into South Africa.
Serious business owners may appreciate the suite of services they receive for free, including CloudFront, when signing up for Amazon’s AWS, which is required to use the company’s CDN. Doing so gives you 12 free months of tier access.
After signing up, you’ll log into CloudFront and create a Web distribution and enter the origin domain name (your current DNS record) and domain name before changing the DNS information with your current host. You’ll be able to set up the free SSL certificate offered by Amazon.
While the ability to customize timeouts, ports, caching and custom headers is impressive, it may be overwhelming to users who only need a simple CDN solution for WordPress. That’s why a third party created the open-source Amazon AWS CDN plugin to facilitate setup.
Two popular CDN services, MaxCDN and Stackpath, joined together under the Stackpath name a while back. Their combined services provide cached content from an impressive number of international data centers using fast SSD servers while also providing DDOS protection. Prices start at $20 monthly for up to 100 TB of data.
The people from Stackpath recommend that you use KeyCDN’s CDN Enabler plugin for WordPress, but it should also work well with the cache plugins discussed toward the beginning of this article. In fact, Stackpath is one of the default CDNs in WP Fastest Cache.
Other WordPress CDN Options
If none of the options above is quite the right fit, you can always consider WordPress hosting with built-in CDN options. WPEngine and Kinsta both include CDN services with hosting plans. Because the service comes with the hosting, you don’t need a separate WordPress plugin to enable it; instead, you do so from your hosting control panel.
Although the number of CDN options for WordPress may seem overwhelming, it means that everyone from blogger influencers to mega-corporations will find a solution that fits their needs. Because many companies offer CDNs in addition to other services, including SSL certificates, firewalls, and even hosting, you may only need a single company to fill multiple needs.