CDN as an SEO Tool: Increasing Load Speed to Maximize Performance
SEO is about much more than content — these tips will help you improve your ranking through better load speed and performance optimization.
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User expectations for websites have moved beyond just speed and availability. Each unique user’s experience starts before they even hit your page. They want a full and rich experience and search engine algorithms are a big factor in supporting their journey.
The complexity of search engines has increased well beyond simply looking for keywords to an intelligent system that finds and ranks the sites the user wants, even if individuals don’t know it themselves. Algorithm upgrades that can penalize excessive use of keywords, reward external citations and promote multimedia content have improved the accessibility of the right web content, for the right user immensely. The latest of these search algorithm improvements take more into consideration than just page content. Factors that depend on site infrastructure—such as website speed, especially when it comes to mobile sites—are now major elements.
User experience directly correlates to generating revenue for most businesses today and search engines have an enormous amount of power over every business with a website. Trying to keep up with algorithm changes can be challenging for most web teams. Here, I’ll provide some practical tips for tying your infrastructure into your SEO strategy.
What Makes for a Faster Website?
Knowing that page speed is a factor in SEO is a good way to start the conversation for improving websites for search rankings, but there are several other potential factors that influence for page speed. Jitter, latency, and bandwidth are all places to look for improvements. That said, web teams must prioritize the factors that the search algorithm is looking for.
Fortunately, Stuart Cheshire, distinguished engineer, scientist and technologist (DEST) at Apple, conducted a study titled “It’s the latency, stupid” that defined which factors matter the most for a “faster” website. His conclusion is that increasing bandwidth has diminishing returns, so web teams should focus on improving latency.
So why is latency such a big speed killer? Simply put, the speed of data transfer over the internet is constrained by the distance between the user and the server. The best possible speed is the speed of light. However, network components add some processing time and navigating the internet when distances are large means the speed is reduced.
How Content Delivery Networks Can Help
Fortunately, latency is one of the primary issues content delivery networks (CDNs) were designed to solve. Many of the CDNs deploy a network of servers closer to the end user than the original source of the data. By reaching a user at the edge, this reduces the number of routers used to direct the content to its destination. This results in better routing than the internet’s default and ultimately improves latency.
Below are some of the web infrastructure factors that directly impact SEO results and the role CDNs can play in improving them.
Server Response Time
This metric is generally translated as time to first byte (TTFB) or the time it takes for the page to first start to load. A CDN can help improve latency for TTFB and reduce overall latency, thus improving other metrics like page load, start render, or speed index. There are a few ways CDNs can improve this metric.
One method CDNs use to reduce server response time is called caching. This technique stores a copy of static web content closer to the end user rather than going to origin every time. CDNs with several nodes can cache multiple copies around the world to improve load times in different regions.
CDNs can also stream responses for faster delivery. There are two types of streaming. The first is full response, which sends the entire response at once, including images, documents, and static HTML code. The other is chunking, which sends information as it becomes available and is most useful for dynamic pages such as flight reservation sites.
Advanced CDNs can help improve mobile user experiences by optimizing for different scenarios. The first step is to identify the device accessing the website, which allows the CDN to optimize the content delivery the device requirements. Devices on faster networks with faster processing will receive higher quality content, while slower connections will receive lower quality content that loads faster.
CDNs can assist with domain authority issues by acting as a proxy that redirects users to the right page. For example, when a customer is searching for books, redirecting to a book website would have more authority than a grocery website as a book website is more relevant to books. Domains that accurately describe their content are ranked higher, but maintaining and managing the back-end server needs for those domains can be challenging. With a CDN, domains can be spun up and brought down while the origin data center details remain unchanged. It is possible to target keywords with a unique domain and set it up on a CDN without trying to do the entire setup at an origin datacenter.
Today, availability is table stakes. Speed and performance have become the currency of user experience, and that includes both your website’s performance and the ability to be found. Web teams responsible for SEO can no longer focus solely on the website content but must also take a look at the bigger picture. By expanding their focus and scope to their websites set up and infrastructure they expand control. This results in a greater impact on recognition within search engine algorithms and an optimal experience for users.
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