Will using “www.” or no “www.” at the beginning of a domain name affect SEO? Do Google and other search engines have a preference? What is the difference between “www” and “non-www,” anyway? If you’ve asked yourself these types of questions, you’re in good company. In this article, we’ll walk you through what “www” and “non-www” mean and how they can affect your site’s ranking in search engines.
The terms “www” and “non-www” simply describe URLs that either start with “www.” or leave out the “www.” For example, a URL with “www.” would look something like: https://www.example.com. A URL without “www.” would look something like this instead: https://example.com.
Where did “www” come from, and why do we use it? To help explain its origins, here is an excerpt from an article by Search Engine Journal on the topic:
The World Wide Web (WWW) describes the vast collection of textual documents and multimedia files that can be accessed using the Internet.
The URL or web address is translated by the name server into an IP address, which your browser connects to in order to serve the webpage.
When the internet first started, all website domains started with “www.” It wasn’t until more recent years that sites began to leave out the “www.” from their domain names because of how their users’ behavior has changed over time.
From an SEO viewpoint, there is no difference between using “www” or “non-www” domains; however, there are some general rules to keep in mind when choosing one or the other.
If “non-www” is the preferred version for your site, the “www” version of your domain should not be indexed. If both versions get indexed, it can lead to a duplicate content issue with Google, and the link equity can be spread across both versions instead of being given to just the preferred domain.
When comparing the data of a “www” domain against the “non-www” version, you’ll likely see that the preferred version tends to have more backlinks, referring domains, and organic traffic. This is because traffic gets automatically redirected to the preferred domain from the non-preferred version.
In the example above, you can see data for the Barton Interactive site from Ahrefs.com, which uses “non-www” as the preferred version. In the two screenshots, you’ll notice that there are more backlinks, referring domains, and organic traffic for the preferred version of the domain compared to the non-preferred version.
Because of the way Google Search Console indexes websites, using both “www” and “non-www” on your domain can potentially harm your search engine rankings, so we highly recommend choosing one version to stick with long term.
You could use both “www” and “non-www” versions for your domain technically speaking, but it is not recommended practice because Google will see these two versions as two separate websites.
We don’t suggest this setup, but If you choose to use both versions on your site, make sure to create 301 redirects to your preferred domain. Note that these should be 301 instead of 302 redirects because PageRank doesn’t transfer as easily to the redirected domain when using 302 redirects.
So which version should you choose for your site? There’s no one right answer. You should choose the version that best fits your needs. To help you understand the differences between the two options, below is a breakdown of the main pros and cons of each version, according to Search Engine Journal:
— Used for years and considered a standard.
— Allows you to set cookies for your specific www subdomain. It’s also easier to set up a CDN.
— Takes longer to type, most people don’t say www when announcing it in broadcasts. Modern users might skip it.
— Takes up more space in the address bar. (And now Google hides it unless you click on the URL.)
— It’s a short domain.
— It’s easier to say and pronounce.
— There’s no option to restrict cookies only to the root domain.
— It will be harder to get a CDN to work, as you will not be able to set a CNAME record for your root/naked domain without messing up other things like FTP and Mail.
Once you make a decision, double-check that your sitemap URLs and internal links feature that preferred version. If it’s possible, you can also ask websites that link to your site to update their backlinks to be consistent with your preferred domain as well.
Whether you decide to use “www.” or no “www.” in your domain name, the best choice you can make to ensure that your site SEO isn’t affected is to stay consistent. Use the preferred version for internal links, backlinks, and sitemap URLs so that Google indexes the preferred version.
As a reminder, if you do use both versions, make sure to set up 301 redirects pointing to your preferred domain so that traffic, links, and authority are transferred to that domain instead of being spread between both versions.
We hope this article helps you better understand “www” and “non-www” domains and how each can potentially affect your site’s performance and ranking in search engines. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or if you’d like assistance determining which version is best for your website.