Adding a content delivery network (CDN) is one of the best ways to speed up your WordPress site’s page load times.
CDNs store cached static copies of your website files in data centers around the globe so visitors load pages from the server location closest to them.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through what CDNs are, their benefits, and how to set up and configure a CDN for your WordPress site using either a free or paid provider.
Follow these steps to accelerate site speeds and improve performance.
What is a CDN and How Do They Work?
A content delivery network is a network of servers distributed geographically to efficiently deliver cached website files and assets to visitors based on their physical proximity.
When a user visits your website, instead of requesting files from your origin web server, their browser requests assets from the nearest CDN server “edge node” to deliver content at the fastest speed.
Popular CDN providers include Cloudflare, Fastly, Amazon CloudFront and Akamai among others.
The CDN automatically caches static files like images, CSS, JS, fonts, documents and more across global data centers. Dynamic content like HTML or database queries are still handled by your main server.
Benefits of Using a CDN With WordPress
Adding a CDN provides significant benefits:
Faster Page Load Times – Serving static files to visitors from nearby CDN servers is much faster than from a single origin server. This greatly improves site speed and performance.
Improved SEO – Faster page speeds improve SEO rankings, engagement and conversions.
Decreased Server Load – Lightens demand on your main server by handling static files separately.
Enhanced Scalability – CDNs easily scale to handle any amount of traffic without affecting main site.
Increased Reliability – If your main site has an outage, the CDN still serves cached content.
More Global Reach– Your static content is accessible from edge locations worldwide.
Enhanced Security – CDNs protect against DDOS attacks and offer free SSL options.
Implementing a CDN is one of the most impactful performance upgrades for WordPress or any website.
How to Choose the Best CDN Provider
Key factors when choosing a CDN for WordPress include:
Cost – Prices range from free entry-level plans to expensive premium services with more features. Compare pricing models.
Ease of setup – The CDN should integrate easily with WordPress without requiring extensive configuration.
WordPress optimization – Choose a provider with specific WordPress optimization expertise.
Performance – Test different CDNs to compare speeds based on your location.
Reliability – Check uptime record and service level agreement guarantees.
Security – Evaluate security features like DDoS protection, web application firewalls, rate limiting.
User interface – Assess usability of management console and analytics.
Global network – Broader server distribution improves delivery speeds more regions.
Features – Consider special features like video/media optimization, load balancing, custom rules.
Popular picks like Cloudflare, BunnyCDN and KeyCDN excel in WordPress performance, value and ease-of-use.
Step 1: Point DNS to the CDN
Once you select a CDN provider, the first step is pointing your DNS records to the CDN nameservers instead of your hosting provider’s servers.
This will direct traffic through the CDN servers first before passing dynamic content back to your origin hosting.
For Cloudflare, change your domain’s NS records to:
For KeyCDN, adjust NS records to:
Consult each provider’s documentation for the specific nameservers to use. This takes DNS propagation time to take effect.
Step 2: Create a CDN Provider Account
Next, sign up for an account with your chosen CDN provider.
Entry-level plans are often free, then pricing scales up based on bandwidth needs. Select the right tier based on your traffic levels.
Features also progress across plans – start with core caching then add advanced capabilities like image optimization, security enhancements etc.
Once registered, follow the initial setup steps to connect your domain and link to your WordPress site’s origin server.
Step 3: Configure Settings
Within your CDN provider account, there are various settings you can configure:
Caching rules – Set global or path-specific caching policies and cache expiration rules. Start with defaults.
Origin configuration – Specify allowed origin servers and advanced routing methods.
Security – Toggle firewall settings, DDoS protection, disable hotlinking etc.
Performance – Enable/disable image optimization, HTTP/2 delivery, compression, etc.
Domains – Add/manage any other domains you want to route through the CDN.
Reporting – Access analytics on traffic, top files, regions, etc.
Advanced – Custom rules for cookies, headers, scripts, redirects and other behaviors.
Start with recommended settings for WordPress then customize as needed.
Step 4: Set Up Caching Plugin
To fully leverage the CDN caching with your WordPress site, you’ll also need a caching plugin like WP Rocket or W3 Total Cache.
This enables local browser caching, page caching, database caching, and works seamlessly with the CDN for maximum performance.
The plugin will generate static HTML files the CDN can cache. Follow plugin configuration steps specific to integrating with your CDN provider.
Step 5: Upload Media Library to CDN
To serve images from the CDN rather than self-hosted, you’ll need to upload your media library.
Within your CDN account, there should be an option to bulk upload your WordPress image folders.
CDN providers like Cloudflare offer a plugin to automatically sync new images. Otherwise, manually upload images after changes.
With the plugin active, new images will automatically get pushed to the CDN.
Step 6: Update Resource Links
With a CDN now serving your static files, you’ll need to update any hardcoded resource links in your theme and plugins.
The CDN provider will assign a custom subdomain for your account (e.g. “cdn.yourdomain.com”).
Find/replace absolute URLs with the CDN subdomain in:
This ensures links point to the CDN.
Step 7: Modify WordPress Config
Lastly, add the following constants in your wp-config.php file to complete CDN configuration:
define('WP_CONTENT_URL', 'https://cdn.yourdomain.com/wp-content'); define('WP_PLUGIN_URL', 'https://cdn.yourdomain.com/wp-content/plugins'); define('WP_INC_URL', 'https://cdn.yourdomain.com/wp-includes');
This properly replaces file paths with the CDN URL.
Adding a content delivery network can significantly improve WordPress performance and site speeds by serving optimized static files from servers closest to your visitors.
Follow this guide to implement CDN caching and optimization the right way. Be sure to use a compatible caching plugin and configure your WordPress theme and settings to integrate properly with the CDN.
The speed boost is well worth the effort! Have you used a CDN with your WordPress site? Let me know your experience in the comments.