CDN and e-commerce: why it is a necessary requirement but not enough to improve performance

The web is increasingly becoming synonymous with mobile and mobile has accelerated what has always been a user’s primary need: browsing quickly. 

This rings true when comparing many different actors while making a purchase. Speed ​​has become the deciding factor in the battle between competitors and has the power to send conversion figures into double digits in a fraction of a second. Let us tell you why CDN has become a necessary tool, but, nonetheless, is not enough to compete in e-commerce.

CDN for e-commerce: Why we can no longer do without it

Gone are the days when a good product and the right price were enough to crack e-commerce. That’s not to say that a product’s quality, exclusivity or competitive price is not important anymore. But it is no longer a novelty open to a handful of pioneers.  It has reached a twenty- year milestone and can thus be considered a mature market with all that goes with it.

Firstly, this means that today’s e-commerce is navigating in an overcrowded and extremely competitive scenario from all sides. Yet although every online shop can have a competitive advantage linked to its ranking, price, quality, exclusivity etc., there is one transversal approach which, regardless of positioning and sector, is now fundamental:  the quality of the user experience.  And UX means speed above all else.

The role of the CDN in an e-commerce

CDN stands for Content Delivery Network. Through a series of strategically located servers across the globe, CDNs are able to distribute website content to web visitors who have made a request, based on their geographical location. In practice, the system is layered between the hosting server and the end user, and is able to determine the web visitor’s geographical origin. It then passes the data directly to them via the nearest CDN node. Bandwidth is significantly reduced and response speed increased securely. Crucially, a CDN is to set up to reduce latency and download speed i.e.  the time-lapse between making a request for a static object and its completed page upload on the web visitor’s device.

E-commerce sites handle a considerable amount of data  (just think of the amount of product images or videos) which significantly impacts on the speed of navigation. This is where CDN comes into play and makes the difference, guaranteeing higher performances. Every proxy in the delivery chain rewrites the URLs of static objects so they can be pulled from the nearest CDN domain on the node when a web visitor makes a request. This results in a significantly higher response speed and consequently navigation compared to a system without one.

Nowadays, managing a site with high website visits as is the case with the big e-commerce companies, would be inconceivable without a CDN for two main reasons:

  1. Bandwidth reduction equals significant large-scale cost savings.
  2. More than 50% of users abandon a site and move on to the next competitor if their page doesn’t load within 3 seconds.

In addition to the above, the crux of Google’s latest algorithm updates has become increasingly important for SEO over the past few years- the impact of loading speed on search engine rankings.

The benefits of CDN for e-commerce: when performance and UX also matter to Google

For years, the User Experience, a discipline created to investigate and measure the quality of the experience a service gives its user, has been addressed in the digital domain. Google’s latest move to include evaluating the user experience as a ranking factor is destined to cause a revolution in SEO.

Positioning is no longer just a question of keywords, HTML tags… Today it is, and will increasingly also become a question of user experience.  For Google, user experience primarily means loading speed. 

The latest statements issued by the Mountain View giant do not leave many doubts regarding the company’s new direction:   websites which best meet the requirements established via certain fundamental metrics, will be rewarded. We are talking about the so-called Web vitals.

These metrics measure three fundamental aspects of the user experience:

  • Loading speed of the most important content on the page
  • Time needed for first interaction with the page
  • Stability of visual layout during loading

Now you can see why not only User experience, but also SEO ranking is becoming increasingly affected by page loading time reduction and why it’s so important providing a site as quickly as possible. In parallel with an optimized design and content, a fast, secure and responsive site ultimately meets end user needs.  It is believed that Google search ranking Armageddon is on the horizon for many businesses when web vitals become the overriding factor in the Google algorithm from May 2021.

The benefits of CDN for Conversion rate optimization (CRO) in the e-commerce sector

Conversion rate optimization is that branch of digital marketing dealing with identifying and applying all the necessary strategies to increase site conversions. There are many strategies which can be applied in the e-commerce sector, but crucially, increasing the number and value of sales is what counts.

The customer journey an e-commerce user embarks upon before arriving at the final purchase point is long and fraught with pitfalls: from the landing stage right through to conversion, they pass through product comparisons, searches for detailed information, requests for support… not to mention the most critical stage of the whole process for an online shop: the shopping cart.

In this narrow conversion funnel, the percentages of potential buyers who leave a site at various stages along the way would have you shudder. And besides, in most cases, this is not down to the product itself, but to the purchase experience. It goes without saying that loading speed plays a decisive role in the online shopping experience.

On analysing this aspect on a large scale in big e-commerce, improving page loading speed by even a fraction of a second can equate to increasing conversions by several percentage points, and this especially holds true when users navigate via mobile, where connections are largely weaker.

A one- second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. (neilpatel.com)

This is what was written on a reliable portal not so long ago: today we are talking about percentages which far exceed double digits, particularly, but not solely in the luxury sector.

Why CDN is not enough

As previously mentioned, equipping your e-commerce platform with a content distribution system via CDN is now an absolute must, but it is no longer enough for competing at the highest levels.

If a CDN network allows you to distribute content more quickly based on user’s geolocation, it is possible to drive site performance to a higher level by optimizing the server and content before it is deployed. This significantly impacts on loading times.

Many optimizations can be carried out starting from resources management at the server level to the post-processing of the content to be distributed.  Some of the most important ones are:

  • Load balancing: intelligent management of traffic loads on different servers
  • Smart cache management for static content: standard content caching management
  • Compression of HTML / JS / CSS files and images: helps to reduce the size of resources
  • JS and CSS resource minification: compact JS and CSS files by eliminating whitespace to reduce file size and accelerate loading speed

Most commercial CDNs, which vary in terms of number and quality based on providers, perform some of these tasks. They guarantee loading speed improvements even during peak time traffic. Nonetheless, the first problem is that none of the above are able to do everything.

In addition, commercial CDNs are unable to perform some optimizations which notably impact on a site’s loading speed and obtain high rankings on Google page speed. Here is a list of the most relevant ones:

  • Combination of JS and CSS files into one file: decreases requests to the server thus increasing loading speed
  • Smart cache management based on real user usage – it provides both a copy of static content cache and also intelligently manages content caching based on actual resource usage thanks to AI
  • Management of the loading order of the page elements according to the indications obtained from Google Lighthouse

A combination of these functionalities, particularly the latter which is by far revolutionary, can drive SEO and UX optimization to levels which until recently were inconceivable, thus immediately impacting on conversion rates and page positioning.

Last, but certainly not least, let’s look at technical SEO optimizations regarding code. Although CDN is not solely limited to distributing content due to its basic optimizations performances as seen before, it is nonetheless unable to manage aspects regarding SEO semantics in the source code. These are becoming increasingly more relevant for Google and such optimizations are usually performed by specialized agencies with lengthy development and maintenance processes and are expensive.

iSmartFrame

As a result, Aritmetika offers the iSmartFrame WEB optimization platform which, in addition to performing the functions of an advanced CDN, also integrates an SEO Engine capable of automatically performing over 100 optimization tasks at a technical SEO level. It increases speed, improves UX and ranking and ultimately increases conversions.

This is the reason why iSmartFrame has become a market standard for the most important big companies and for e-commerce globally.

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