The origins of www
Before we address the question, let’t have a look where the www comes from. The www or “world-wide-web” URL prefix or sub domain, is a relic of the beginnings of the Internet. It used to be standard practise to name internet hosts according to the services they provide.
Initially www was used as the DNS alias for a machine running the main HTTP server of a domain name. With HTTP surpassing other protocols in use and popularity, this job was passed on directly to the domain itself. (History lesson over if you want more details, here you go).
To WWW, or not to WWW
that is the question.
The Big Question
The question if it is better to use www or the non-www version remains consistently popular. There are two types of people. Those that look what other websites are doing and simply follow their lead. And than there are those who dig deeper and actually want to understand why some websites choose to use the www version over the non-www version and vice versa.
If you are from the latter group and interested in the nuanced technical details, the following paragraphs are for you. Let’s have a look at the differences between the www and non-www version.
Two different websites
For Google the www and non-www version of a site are two different websites. Just like blog.octopoly.com and shop.octopoly.com, www.octopoly.com is a sub domain name and therefore a name in its own right. Even though all three are children or sub domains of the main or root domain octopoly.com, they are considered to be seperate domain names.
You might be familiar with blogging platforms like blogger.com or wordpress.com. Both allow users to create blogs using sub domain names under their root domain, for example we have setup octopoly.wordpress.com. While wordpress.com is owned and operated by WordPress, subdomains like our octopoly.wordpress.com or newzealand.wordpress.com are seperate websites.
Why subdomains are used
In the case of wordpress.com and blogger.com, to allow different and unrelated pages and blogs to be hosted under the same root domain. But subdomains are also very useful to seperate marketing websites from shops, accounts or applications. For example, you find our marketing website under octopoly.com but our account and shop is hosted under my.octopoly.com.
Shops or customer accounts use often a different technical infrastructure, for which reason it makes sense to host it separately. They can also contain a lot of sensitive customer information, in particular shops. Hosting those applications on a sub domain and therefore physically separated from the website, allows better protection of the data.
The better version
Back to the main topic and the question that all want to know. There is no SEO advantage of using the www over the non-www or vice versa. While we mentioned above that Google considers them to be technically different pages, users have the option to inform Google about their preference.
If you prefer to use the www in front of your website, go for it. There is no downside to it as long as you use it consistently. If you use the www, make sure you also have selected the www as your preferred choice in Google Analytics and also in Google Webmaster Tools. Google knows then which version to prioritise in their search and treat the other one.
Google honours your choice
as long as you are consistent.
Setup your redirect
If you decide to go with the ‘naked’ version (non-www), you should setup an automatic redirect from www.example.com to your non-www site. You don’t want the www version to show an empty page. Believe it or not, this still happens quite frequently. Setting up the www redirect will prevent any loss of traffic.
The platforms and solutions of some hosting providers do that automatically but others require the user to setup the www redirect manually. Type in your www version and see if it forwards to your website. If it does not, or if you are not sure about it, contact your provider. They will be able to help you.
Remember to setup a www redirect
if you use the non-www version.
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