Is www Better or Worse For SEO?
Does it seem like an odd question? Well, many people ask us this, so therefore it's not an odd question!
Back when websites first started appearing, round about 1995, "www" was prepended to domain names to form the complete URL of a website.
Why? To differentiate the World Wide Web site from other types of site that were common at the time.
In fact, websites were just one method of accessing content on the Internet, amongst quite a few other methods such as FTP, Gopher, telnet.
So content owners would give their URLs easy-to-remember names such as ftp.something.com for their FTP sites (accessed via special FTP software) and www.something.com for their websites (accessed via special WWW software - now known a web browser!)
But it was not long before websites became by far the most popular way of accessing content online. This was because of the many key advantages of accessing content via the browser, including hyperlinks, embedded images, sophisticated page design possibilities and more.
We have Tim Berners-Lee to thank for inventing the World Wide Web and working on the first web browsers.
So, the "www" was a carry-over from the time when we needed to differentiate between the different ways of downloading our stuff.
Eventually, websites became practically the only way the average non-technical user would access content. Techie types do still use alternative protocols like FTP. Let's not get into that now!
First websites to drop www
The first website I remember that dropped the www was twitter.com. It was quite a talking point at the time. This was in keeping with Twitter's short and to-the-point style. If a tweet was only 180 characters then it suited them to have the shortest domain name possible.
It was in contrast to Facebook who, to this day, use www.facebook.com instead of just facebook.com, which seems a bit quaint, don't you think?
So long, www, it was nice knowwwing you
Over time, users began to notice that if they were typing a URL into a web browser, they could omit the "www" and still get the right website. Sometimes the browser would divert them automatically to the "www" site. Sometimes there was no "www". Either way, the users got what they wanted.
And that's probably why webmasters decided to drop the "www" altogether from most websites.
Can I drop the "www" from m website's domain name?
It can be perfectly safe to drop the www even if your website has been around a long time. But you need an SEO continuity plan.
If your website has been going a long time you might have established its identity with a "www" domain instead of "non-www". In this case, perhaps you feel that it's time to drop the www. If so, this section is for you, because there are SEO considerations to think about.
It's really important to understand that Google considers www.something.com as a completely different website from something.com (the "non-www" version). The technical reason for this is because a server can serve completely different content from "www" and "non-www". They are, in reality, two completely different websites.
For this reason its important to ensure that Google knows that when you are dropping the "www" from your domain name, you are changing the domain name of your website and transferring all your traffic to the new site (the non-www version).
People do this all the time and there is no reason to be afraid of dropping the "www", providing you do it correctly.
How to drop the www
You need to ensure that your website redirects all traffic from the www site to the non-www site. This can be done using something called a 301 redirect. This is a special message sent from your website to the person (or search engine) that's requesting your content, telling it that the content has permanently moved to a different URL.
There are other reasons to do this. Your customers might have bookmarked your website. You don't want to to find their bookmarks are broken just because your changed your domain name.
You don't necessarily need to install a 301 redirect for every single page in your site. Rather like setting up rules in your email Inbox, you can set up 301 rules which apply to whole categories of URLs (for example, all the articles in your blog), saving you time.
How you set up these rules will vary depending on how your website is built. If (like about 30% of the world's websites) your site is on WordPress then you can install a free plugin which can handle this task for you. The most common redirection plugins that we see use at Dotwise is one called Redirection. It's free and we're happy to recommend it.
If your site is not on WordPress, you still have choices but you'd definitely be well-advised to contact your local SEO company for advice. At Dotwise, we've managed dozens of migrations from one URL to another with no SEO damage done.
Pitfall: one thing you should always avoid is delivering the same website via both the www and the "non-www" domain names. This is because (as mentioned above) search engines consider them separate websites. And search engines do not like duplicate content. Google might think one of your sites is a copy of the other. And you can bet that Google will like the version you don't want it to.
To avoid the pitfall, you need to set things up so that when the user tries to access your "www" site she is redirected to your "non-www" site. Contact us for details on how to do that. It varies.
Do search engines favour www?
Actually search engines have never favoured websites with www over those without. However, there are a few nuances to this statement. But for practical purposes we can say that whether you use www or not, will make no difference to your search rankings.
Should I drop the www?
So we have discussed whether you can safely drop the www, and how to do it.
The million dollar question is should you drop the www?
The answer is probably, yes. For most websites there is very little reason to keep using www, providing you don't have another, different, website using the non-www style.
Just make sure you follow the SEO continuity plan as mentioned above. And welcome to the twenty-first century!
In an forthcoming blog post, I'll look at how many websites are still NOT using https. This is a completely different kettle of fish, unconnected with www.