What’s the deal with WWW?

October 25, 2018
Backend Tips and Tricks Web Development

I recently had a client ask me ‘is there a difference between ‘mywebsite.com’ and ‘www.mywebsite.com’?’ In short: no. But of course, it’s more complicated.

Of course, we were talking about SEO when we were having this discussion, so my answer was based in thinking about SEO. Since the site didn’t previously have “www” as part of the domain, it was easier to continue using the same domain name to avoid having to set up new analytics or Search Console properties. It also meant that the years of SEO that was previously built over the last 12 years was maintained.

So, Google, Bing, and other search engines don’t see a difference between www and non-www domain names – at least on new sites. On pre-existing sites, it’s better to stay consistent with what is already in place. “www.site.com” and “site.com” also register as different sites, so changing the scheme will mean more SEO work and familiarizing users. Consistency is key. Bouncing users between different URLs might cause them to find your site untrustworthy, or just cause general confusion.

Functionally, there isn’t a difference either. Both URL schemes can do the same things. As a bonus, setting up your domain to work for both URLs is easy – in fact, you may not have to do anything differently at all. But, if your site shows different content for the www and non-www domain names and that’s not the expected behavior, you should redirect one to the other. Using a 301 redirect would be the way to do this since Google sees, indexes, and uses 301s. Check out this post to read more about how to set up a 301 redirect.

The other thing to take in to consideration is what the user expects. Some users will always type “www”, others won’t. Think about your expected demographic when deciding which to use on a new site. As an example, my mom, who started using the internet in the early 90s, expects every website name to start with “www” so she always types it. On the other hand, I never type it. I think this is because I’m younger and the prefix wasn’t as popularized in my day. Another thing to consider is that since my mom’s day of learning the internet, a lot of automation has come along, and some browsers and search engines will automatically include the necessary prefix, like “www” or “https://”.

In short, www and non-www don’t make a difference to search engines on new sites, so the determining factors will be branding and expected behavior from your users. On pre-existing sites, it’s best to stay with what is already present. Either way, you should always install SSL if it’s not already there (<- a post on that is coming soon).

Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash

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