Have you chosen to display a www or non-www URL? Does it even matter?

WordPress Users – Should You Specify www or non-www URLs?

Should you choose a www url or a non-www url? Do you even know there’s a difference? Is one better for SEO than the other? Because it’s one of those things that causes all sorts of confusion, we thought it’d be handy to clarify things for you.

What’s the difference between www and non-www in site URLs?

First, know this: there’s absolutely no difference as far as the average user is concerned. This isn’t something most people will even notice, never mind be worried by or concerned about. It’s a personal preference and shouldn’t matter either way. There are no SEO benefits, something that Google has made clear by saying: “The preferred domain is the version that you want used for your site in the search results.

Once you’ve made your choice, you have chosen a permanent ‘canonical’ domain. While the www or non-www thing doesn’t matter in itself, the important thing is to be consistent, remaining loyal to the choice you made when your website was first built. It’s really important not to change your site URL, either adding or removing the www prefix.

The technical bit…

Is there a technical difference between www and non-www urls? Using www. in a url acts like a host name, which can help restrict cookies when using multiple subdomains amongst other things. Non-www domains, on the other hand, don’t come with any such technical advantages.

How about site indexation? You might see a message from Google saying your web pages have not been indexed. But it might actually be indexed under a different domain. It’s best to add both the http://yoursite.com address and the http://www.yoursite.com addresses to your webmaster account and check the data for both sites.

How to tell Google your preference

When you tell Google your preference, they will honour it. To do so, head for Google Webmaster Tools and navigate to your site. Then click on the gear symbol to your top right and choose ‘site settings’. If your website sits on the WordPress platform, you can tell Google via the Yoast SEO plugin, the best and most popular way to make sure you take SEO into account at every stage on every page. It automatically sets the canonical URL in your website header, which in turn informs Google about your preference.

Once it’s clear what you want Google to do, it will use the information for every future crawl it carries out on your pages, and every index refresh. If you made it clear you want your preferred domain to be http://www.yoursite.com and they discover a link to your site formatted without the www, they’ll follow the link as http://www.yoursite.com instead. And they’ll also take your wishes into account when displaying the URLs to users.

What happens if you don’t specify?

If you don’t specify a preferred domain, Google might treat the www and non-www versions of your domain as separate, referencing a separate set of identical pages, which might even put you at risk of a penalty for duplicate content.

How long will the change take to bed in?

Google won’t change its index straight away. It takes time. Next time they carry out an index refresh, your site pages should all resolve to your chosen url format, www or not.

Is there anything else to do?

Google might ask you to prove that you own both the www and non-www versions of your site before crawling and indexing the pages. They usually point at the same location, but not always. Luckily it’s easy to verify one once you’ve verified the other. On the other hand if for some reason you’ve decided to take out the file, meta tag or DNS record, you’ll need to re-verify.

It makes a lot of sense to create a 301 redirect to send traffic to your chosen style of domain, just to tell other search engines – and your visitors, of course – which version you have chosen to display.

Following the rules makes a website look consistent to users and to search engines, which means you always need to link to the chosen domain as well as sharing link addresses using the same protocol.

In a competitive landscape where every little thing matters, getting the canonical side of things right makes a huge impact. If you don’t have the time, energy, skills or inclination, we can do it for you.