As businesses continue to expand their online reach globally, user experience is one of the most important factors for building audience satisfaction and driving revenue. But whether you are delivering videos, web content or even files, ensuring engaging online experiences from an increasing variety of devices around the world, is a huge challenge.
Organizations have a number of methods for improving user experiences, one of which is leveraging a content delivery network (CDN). But not all CDNs deliver the same level of service. This guide will provide some tips on how to determine what is most important to your organization and how to choose a CDN that meets your needs.
There are four major performance factors that can affect the user experience:
Any organization evaluating CDN providers should include these four factors in their analysis. Let’s look at each.
You can have the fastest site in your industry, but if it’s not consistently fast and available globally, your users—and, therefore, your business—will be negatively affected. You need assurances that your video content doesn’t buffer, and your content will always be available, everywhere. Ask the CDN providers you are considering about content redundancy, connection redundancy, proactive monitoring and other features that will protect you against unexpected—and costly—downtime.
Users located across the globe want their online experiences to feel local, even when dealing with international brands. A CDN that relies on the public internet is at the mercy of content complexity and network congestion. A private network, on the other hand, can offer global scale that bypasses the public internet, massive capacity to handle high surges in traffic, and greater optimization flexibility. For example, because Limelight Networks controls the entire delivery path—from the point the content is fetched from the source to the end user’s device—it can apply more optimizations for varying conditions.
You can’t afford to have your website to go down because of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) or web application attack. And you can’t afford your digital content to be stolen or accessed by unauthorized users. In both cases you are impacting your user’s online experience and losing revenue. To address today’s volumetric and targeted attacks, only a comprehensive suite of global cloud-based security services, rather than on-premise equipment, allows you to keep abreast of the latest threats and preventive mitigation measures without adding latency to the delivery experience.
If you have a system for improving performance but can’t measure the impact, it is not very useful. For example, imagine a user is on your shopping site and the page loads fast but the visitor cannot interact because the “Add to Cart” button does not show up at the same speed. Do you know the cause of the disruption? What if you need a better understanding of your video content. Do you know when viewers are dropping off? Or what devices they are using? How can you be sure your files or device updates are reaching the intended customer? Detailed and actionable analytics should include traffic patterns to reveal trends, insight into download completion rates, geo-reporting to drill deep for granular data, storage, and content utilization so you know what is being viewed, how often and where. Even device and error level details provide great insights into the site visitor’s journey and experience.
Since addressing complaints related to online user experience is often a primary driver for evaluating website acceleration solutions, it’s easy to see why page load speed can be given too much emphasis. Speed is an important factor—maybe the most important and most visible one. But it is just one factor of the performance puzzle, especially when you’re delivering different kinds of content (dynamic and static) across different geolocations.
Organizations considering options for performance improvement should be looking at additional contributing elements that impact a user’s experience on the site. From a purely technical perspective, web performance is about responsiveness and speed, but from a user experience perspective, performance is more about “wait.” For example, “How long did I have to wait for a video to buffer?” Even when the web team optimizes the site for speed, other factors can disrupt performance and leave users frustrated that they have to wait for content to appear or to add items to a shopping cart.
Cutting-edge content delivery providers such as Limelight Networks, a global leader in content delivery, understand that speed will always remain paramount to performance metrics. But they also know that the definition of performance must be expanded to include all the factors that affect how users interact with content when it is delivered, no matter where those users are in the world, or what devices they use.
Many organizations judge CDN speed based on average speed statistics alone. But averages don’t really give a complete picture of performance, and could miss potential business losses that could occur in specific geographic regions. For instance, an organization could look at a global average and see that a page is loading in five seconds and be satisfied.
However, the web team may be missing the fact that in the U.S. the load time is two seconds, while outside the U.S. it is nine seconds. Limelight recommends diving deeper into CDN provider statistics to fully understand capabilities for delivering any kind of content – video, images, files, music, games – worldwide. Furthermore, real user measurement (RUM) techniques should be used in conjunction with standard measurements to get more specific user metrics. This not only helps with improving performance, but it also makes sure the overall experience of the site visitor is great each time.
Potential CDN customers should do an audit of their websites to understand the mix of dynamic or personalized content and static content that drives the user experience. Dynamically generated content is tailored to specific users, while static content does not change across users and can be cached.
All websites are a complex mix of static and dynamic content. A content audit can provide you with insight into what bottlenecks may be standing in the way of your performance objectives. For instance, an audit of your mobile site could reveal multiple dynamic thumbnails that are being refreshed on every request. The resulting round trips back to origin could cause potential server overload and delay delivery. This problem would require a very different solution than on-demand video files would require, for example.
Although often overlooked in the user experience conversation, choices about content storage have a direct impact on your workflow, total cost, and access speed. Poorly-integrated storage can make it more difficult to manage a large content library. Access costs can exceed storage costs. And access speed can suffer from inefficient storage placement and slow transfer.
Limelight Origin Storage Services are designed specifically for content delivery. Collocating storage within Limelight’s CDN increases security. Tight integration, plus the ability to automatically serve content from the closest site, means Limelight delivers up to 300% faster than traditional cloud storage.
Simple storage can provide an adequate origin to deliver content. However, intelligent services can improve your ability to manage your library, and can also improve user experience. Automation, policies and services can save you time while increasing control over your content, including where and how it is ingested, stored, replicated and delivered. Based on traffic patterns, user requirements, and other business needs, you can modify policies to squeeze out the last bits of latency and deliver a stellar user experience. Make sure to ask the CDN providers under consideration about their storage capabilities and policies.
Most CDNs today depend on public internet connections to deliver content—which, as we’ve noted, can affect performance when inevitable congestion occurs. This is where Limelight sets itself above the rest of the crowd. Limelight owns and operates one of the world’s largest private content delivery platforms, connected directly to hundreds of user-access networks around the world. A suite of patented technologies is integrated into the network to provide consistent, high-performance digital experiences across all online touchpoints, mobile devices and geographies.
When evaluating and deploying a CDN, the common denominator and primary driver is the need for speed—web pages must load quickly, videos must start immediately, and files must download fast. As discussed, delivering the wide range of today’s digital content to meet the expectations of global audiences carries with it multiple challenges. And there is also the issue of scaling in two dimensions: reaching a globally dispersed audience, and handling large and unpredictable traffic spikes. Finally, organizations must take measures to secure content from unauthorized access and theft, to enforce licensing restrictions, and to protect against attacks against corporate websites.
Limelight Content Delivery Services position website content in edge caches, leveraging last mile acceleration and employing object compression, which results in fast web page load times and lower abandonment rates. These services identify connected device types, providing the ability to deliver content in the correct format to all users. Last mile acceleration and edge caching also ensure the lowest possible video rebuffer ratio, which is of critical importance in keeping audiences engaged with live and on-demand video content. Finally, Limelight can prevent unauthorized access to your content with URL tokenization and secure it through HTTPS delivery using the largest SSL footprint on the planet.