www vs non www URL – Which is Best for SEO & Why!

www vs non www URL – Which is Best for SEO & Why!

www vs non www URL – Which is Best for SEO & Why!

Have you ever noticed that some domain names begin with www and some don’t? Even if you haven’t, that’s the case with a lot of websites. To the layman, that doesn’t make a bit of difference. Why would it? All it does is save time.

Even if you type in those three letters followed by a period before the domain name, it wouldn’t matter. However, to a web designer, SEO specialist, or a content marketer, it makes all the difference in the world.


The World Wide Web and the Beginning of the Internet

You may be surprised to hear this, but the world wide web is not a synonym for the internet. It’s actually a service that operates over it. Just like how your cell phone isn’t the service, but the instrument that uses the worldwide telephone network.

The World Wide Web is a global information system that connects people to different websites. In the beginning, the abbreviation www was used before every URL to signify this. Since every website had it, there was a compulsion for people to insert the prefix.

However, as time went on, it became a tedious practice. With every website already accessing the world wide web, why was it compulsory to add the prefix? Wasn’t it already implied?

And hence, the www moniker slowly faded from websites as a must-type prefix. Now, whether you apply it to a website or not, it will automatically be added to that website. However, you may have noticed that not all websites now carry the www prefix with their name.

That’s not by accident. The rules of SEO and the internet have changed since the 30 years that it came to be. In fact, there’s very little from the beginning that is the same to this day.

So what is the difference between Google SEO www and non www? Does it really matter what letters you put before or after a URL on the search engine? Let’s find out.

To Assign a Domain Name www or Not?

According to research, there are about 2 billion websites in the world, of which about 400 million are active.

The number of websites in the world has grown exponentially since the early 2000s. That’s not a trend that is likely going to change any time soon.

Even as you’re reading this article, there are thousands of new websites in development. Some are being made for personal use, others for marketing and business use. Those designing the latter are likely deciding on with or without www SEO.

That’s right, whether you select www or not depends greatly on the kind of SEO you want to implement. It’s not that easy to quantify what difference your choice will make, so let’s begin with the basics.

Why Does it Matter if You Assign a Domain Name www or Not?

A non www domain is usually referred to as naked domain. The www domains act as a hostname and they can have a lot of subdomains attached to them. For example, ‘mail.google.com’ or ‘mail.yahoo.com’ includes two domains each.

At the beginning of the internet, every single URL began with just a www, which was a typical sub-domain. As time passed, websites began to be named without the www. That could be chalked up to the fact that people just didn’t type www when searching for the website.

Hence, from a practical standpoint, there really is no difference if you type www or not. Most of us don’t do it on instinct and just type in the name of the website without www. The preference seems to be brand-centric or personal right off the bat.

However, if you look just a little deeper, you’ll find technical reasons why you should assign a URL the www prefix or not. Websites with a URL can adjust to DNS and restrict cookies when they utilize other domains. For a non www domain, there are no such benefits.

To understand what that means, we have to cover a few basic definitions.

What is DNS?

DNS or Domain Name System is basically a protocol that turns domain names into IP addresses. Hence, it breaks down the title of the website to basically convert it into numbers. That way, the internet directs your browser to find the website.

What are Cookies?

Browser cookies or HTTP cookies are just small packets of data that are received by a computer. They are sent back by the computer without any alteration or change. No matter what the cookies are called, they consist of information that a website sends to you.

The computer then stores the cookie in a file that is inside your browser. The cookies store data relating to your visits to the website. They keep track of the information that you’ve entered into the website and your preferences.

Now that we’re familiar with these basics, let’s see what the technical benefits are for www vs non www domains.

The Argument for www Domains

www is a domain meant for websites that receive the highest web views per day. That’s why if you take a look at Facebook, YouTube, Google, Reddit, etc., they all have a www in their name.

Millions or billions of web page views per day require that you have a www domain. This is because these sites usually cater to huge swathes of the world population and offer myriad services. Hence, any website that is hosted in the cloud by the service provider will also have a www domain name.

Large Sites go for www Domain Names

Heroku and Akamai, both hosting providers for websites don’t recommend using naked domains (non www domains). Heroku specifically cautions against it because www domains have the advantage of updating DNS records when switching servers.

This is necessary if a server fails for whatever reason (infection, DDoS attacks, etc.). With naked domains, your web hosts don’t have that luxury.

However, that only becomes an issue when the server is large enough to require redundant hosting.

If you’re not using www, then you’ll have to run your own server farms. As a result, you won’t be able to use similar services to their fullest extent. For those that want their site to get larger and stronger, www is the way to go.

www Domains Restrict Cookies

Another reason to go for www domains is because they can restrict cookies. It’s common to optimize websites to serve static content from subdomains. For example, static.domain.com.

If you add a www to that domain, then there’s no problem. The site’s cookies won’t be sent to the static subdomain. A naked domain can’t do that. It allows the cookies to be sent to all subdomains and slow down access to static content. This causes caching to not work properly.

The only way that you can get around this is to buy a second domain for the static content. The easier way to do this is just to add a www.

Large sites like Twitter have had to buy separate naked domains for static content. The downside to that is sharing cookies across subdomains requires you to have a new domain name anyway.

The only compromise to this situation is to share RFC 6265 type cookies. These can be shared between naked domains and subdomains.

The main thing to remember is that if you want to grow your website and handle a lot of data, www works. The bigger the site gets, the more you will feel the need to introduce www domains.

If you prepare for that now, you’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges later.

www Domains Allow for Easy Structuring and Segregation

When you’re designing a website, non www URLs can assist in segregating a section of the website for development purposes. This means that everything in the www folder of your website is directly related to the service you’re giving to the visitors. However, the non www part isn’t related to that.

This allows for a simple root-level organization of your site. Hence, you can have a development folder and a subdomain for the development site. If you want to boost your site’s SEO through similar high level techniques, then contact SEO Resellers Canada.

The Argument for Non www Domains

The obvious argument that you can make for non www domains is that they’re easier to type out and remember. Even with www domains, you rarely type them out in their full form. ‘facebook.com’ redirects to ‘www.facebook.com’ after all.

This is a great strategy to help you get traffic. If people don’t have to think twice before they type in your URL, you’ll automatically get more spontaneous site visits. You may even remember being frustrated when a site didn’t open just because you forgot to type in www.

The second most basic argument for non www domains is that www is a relic from the past. It was used in the early years of the internet as an acronym for the World Wide Web. No one even calls the internet that anymore.

You will save four character spaces and 4 bytes of data by just reducing the size of the domain that you need to type in. You will also save bandwidth. It may not seem like much, but with billions of visits a day to your website, every single bit counts.

If you don’t need to restrict any cookies from your domain to your subdomain, all the better. As we’ve discussed before, your cookies will be shared to subdomains automatically with a non www domain.

With or Without www SEO

This is a tricky question. It doesn’t seem obvious that any name changes would make a difference to SEO. www SEO or non www SEO would technically be the same, all other factors made equal.

What Preference Does Google Have with SEO www or Non www?

According to John Mueller and Dr. Pete Meyers, both scientists in the field of marketing and political science, Google doesn’t.

There is no preference either way when it comes to SEO for www vs. non www URLs. According to Dr. Pete Meyers, there are minimal SEO implications. The decision is specifically for a brand and a specific audience. A new site specifically shouldn’t be impacted through that choice.

However, it turns out that there are small implications that do make a difference over a large enough search volume.

User Experience

The one obvious observation that gives non www URLs the advantage here is that user experience factors into SEO. SEO is not just about keywords and landing pages, and beautifully designed content.

It’s also about how the website feels to the customer. If it loads quickly and is easy to access, it’s great for SEO. Speed also relates to the mobile experience that people have with the website.

Heavy elements, including images, videos, banners, ads, etc., all increase the loading times for sites. A study showed mobile sites that took longer than 5 seconds to load had 70% shorter viewing sessions. Google’s research also confirmed that a one-second delay can impact conversions by up to 20%.

This brings us to the non www URL. It’s faster to simply type the name of a site without the www before. Hence, it’s much easier for sites that don’t require typing that in to access them.

That means speedier access and better SEO. That, in some small way, may tip the scales in the non www URLs’ favor. If you want to boost your site’s SEO through similar high level techniques, then contact SEO Resellers Canada.

Naming Confusions

However, it’s still true that switching back and forth between www and non www URLs is not wise. It can create a lot of confusion for search engines. They may flag one version of the site for duplicate content. If you want to pick on type of URL over the other, stick to it.

If you want to make a change later, it’s not a big deal. Just make sure that the redirects you set up are all functioning correctly.

One way to do this is to use server-side 301 redirects.

Server-Side 301 Redirects

A redirect is basically a simple protocol that sends search engines to different URLs from the ones they requested. Businesses use this trick all the time to redirect people from an easy to remember URL to the real one.

There are two major types of redirects. One is the 302 redirect, which moves a search engine to a Found URL or a URL that has been moved temporarily. However, a 301 URL redirect moves the search engine to a permanently moved site.

The 301 redirect is important for sites that shift between www and non www URLs. Each time a server receives a request to access the old domain, this redirect will take it to the actual site. So if the preferred version shifts from ‘www.site.com’ to ‘site.com’, or vice versa, the 301 redirect will come in handy.

Rel=canonical <link> tag

The second way that you can avoid confusion when it comes to SEO with regards to shifting site names is the rel=canonical <link> tag.

This allows you to tag all non-preferred version pages if you don’t have the means to set up 301 redirects.

This method may not be as reliable as the 301 redirect method. This is because Google treats these canonical tags as a recommendation and not as instructions. Hence, it won’t be as effective an SEO tactic as the 301 redirect protocol.

Set It and Forget it Options for SEO www or Non www

There are some tools you can use so that you don’t have to worry about this choice ever again. Turns out they’re both free and they’re both popular enough on most widely used platforms.

Use Google Webmaster Tools to Choose www vs non www

You can avoid any confusion in naming your website by using something called Google Webmaster Tools. After you’ve registered your site with the Webmaster, you can click on the gear icon and go to ‘Site Settings’.

Then, choose the preferred domain and set it and forget it. It will allow you to choose for Google SEO www and non www for the foreseeable future.

Yoast Chooses Between www and non www For You

You can also use something called the Yoast SEO Plugin in WordPress. It will automatically set the canonical URL in your site header. It will also let Google know that you have a personal preference.


author – Jamie – Barton
Jamie Barton
CEO of NASN Licensing Inc. & Shopincities.com

Jamie has more than two decades of experience in accelerating brand visibility for online businesses. His company operates SEOResellersCanada.ca, a white label SEO and digital marketing agency. With his unique and actionable business processes, agencies and small businesses can successfully expand online operations without the traditional associated cost overhead.

For over 18 years we have been the solution to fit any size agency or business. Our team of creative SEO experts and marketers develop some of the best results driven campaigns in the industry.

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