When launching a new website, there are some things that seem unimportant at first, but turn out to really be an issue later on. One of them is the WWW vs. Non-WWW issue.
When you first think about it, it doesn’t sound like much of a deal. You might not even care at all about it. When you first research it, you’ll probably learn around the web that it doesn’t really matter for SEO.
However, if you start digging deeper, you’ll discover a lot of things you didn’t know. So did I, so follow this journey to understand once and for all why this hassle about which one is better.
- Short History of the WWW
- Pros & Cons of WWW and Non-WWW
- Does It Matter for SEO?
- What Should YOU Choose
While the truth is that it doesn’t directly matter whether your domain is WWW or Non-WWW for SEO, it can impact it very slightly. That’s because it can potentially impact performance (although in a very slight way) and performance impacts UX, which ultimately impacts SEO.
Short History of the WWW
There’s something about the WWW that you probably haven’t thought of. The fact that it’s actually a subdomain. However, because it has become so popular, people almost forgot that.
You see, the World Wide Web (www) isn’t the only thing on the internet. You also have mail, smtp, pop, ftp and other important functions that are all run under specific subdomains.
Back in the day when the internet was not so popular and e-mail was the actual thing, a web server would have the domain name alias of WWW assigned to it, just like any other protocol.
Over time, the web became the most popular thing on the internet. (Google also kind of took control of it).
People would type the URLs manually, often excluding the WWW. Webmasters caught on to this and started using the Non-WWW domain as the preferred variant.
This could be an issue for webmasters as Google sees http://www.example.com and http://example.com as two separate entities, therefore creating duplicate content issues. However, most websites now correctly 301 redirect the unused version to the preferred one. You should also note that through 301s, some of the link equity could get lost, so it’s always better if you get all your backlinks pointing to the preferred version.
Pros & Cons of WWW and Non-WWW
Both the WWW and Non-WWW versions have their upsides and downsides. Let’s outline them so that you can quickly decide which one you think is best.
Interestingly, there are 2 websites dedicated to this issue, which I will list soon enough.
WWW Pros and Cons
WWW has been the standard for many, many years. Many people still associate www with websites.
However, these are not the pros. Not by far. You see, because of how the web works, WWW allows you to do some really cool things.
First, it allows you to set some cookies only for that particular www subdomain. Cookies get passed in a hierarchical way. This means that if you set a cookie for www.domain.com it will be passed to thing.www.domain.com and another.thing.www.domain.com and so on. You’ve guessed it: if you set a cookie for domain.com, it gets passed to all the subdomains.
Usually, the domain level cookies are important ones which you would use anyway, like session IDs and tracking scripts. However, if you want to host your images on a subdomain to remove unnecessary cookies, you won’t be able to do so by setting a cookie to the root domain.
Using WWW ensures that you only send the cookies to the WWW version, leaving any other subdomains, such as static.domain.com or img.domain.com cookie-free.
Secondly, a subdomain is more flexible, at least DNS-wise. That means you’ll be able to use CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) a lot easier.
As cons, we could say that WWW is kind of ancient. Eventually, the web will probably adapt to using the non-WWW with full potential, but it might take a while. I mean, who knows, maybe at some point we won’t even use URLs anymore.
But for now, the technology is still relying on old protocols and www is not likely to go away very soon due to its vast and efficient uses.
You can read more about the pros of using www on https://www.yes-www.org.
Non-WWW Pros and Cons
If you don’t use WWW, you get a prettier and shorter domain. Shorter domains have been associated with higher rankings, but that could only be a correlation.
Also, if you won’t use any cookies or if your cookies are anyway required everywhere (including images), then you will save bandwidth as there are 4 more bytes of data to be sent (www are 3 and the 4th is the dot before your domain name).
You could also say that the domain is easier to remember, spell, type and tell. This isn’t an issue with direct traffic, as there are 301s that always take the user to the good version, but it can leak link juice through the redirects. Ideally, all the backlinks should go to only one version instead of being always slip into two. This applies regardless of whether you use WWW or not.
The cons are basically the opposite of what the pros are for the WWW version:
Firstly, you can’t restrict root cookies only to the root domain, as they will always get passed on to all subdomains. However, most blogs and websites host images on the same domain anyway so the cookies get sent either way.
Secondly, it will be harder to get a CDN to work, as you will not be able to set a CNAME record for your root/naked domain without messing up other things like FTP and Mail.
Apparently, using a non-www version can also be less secure, however this is only applicable if you don’t use HTTPS and secure cookies.
If you want to see the pros of a non-www web page, go to https://dropwww.com/why.
As you can see, the reasons to drop WWW are a little more puerile. They don’t get into the technical issues at all. It seems like the reasons to keep WWW are rather stronger.
Don’t rush to decide. Not yet! Read the next section and you’ll understand why.
So which one is better?
“Ok, from what I can tell it seems like we’re better off using the WWW. It spares us of all the hassle.“
True. As a matter of fact, I can’t really think of a big website that doesn’t use WWW.
Well, there are workarounds.
Although WWW seems like the best option, there are workarounds that make Non-WWW just as good.
We all like workarounds, especially when we really, really want to get to that result, don’t we? If you’re set in your head that you really want to go for the naked domain, then don’t worry. There are ways.
First, you could use a completely separate domain for hosting your static content. Yahoo mentions this in its guidelines. For example, they use yimg.com to host their static content.
The downside is, obviously, that you have to pay $8.99 per year for another domain. Not really a downside.
Also, if you really want to go for a CDN without using WWW, it’s possible. There are CDNs out there that have found workarounds by using some techniques called CNAME Flattening, ANAME or alias records.
You can read more about these techniques here.
Cloudflare, for example, uses CNAME Flattening and it is a perfectly viable option to use CDNs without WWW in your domain.
Considering all the workarounds available these days, choosing between www and non-www is more and more a matter of preference.
Does it matter for SEO?
In short, (directly) no. From an SEO perspective it doesn’t make a difference whether you use WWW or not in front of your domain name. What’s important is that you have a preferred version and redirect all others to that one.
Make sure that you take all the versions into account. If you also consider things like HTTPS and /index.php, you get around 8 possible combinations that should all be pointing to a single location.
Google’s officials kind of said the same thing. However, the answer is very nuanced:
Minimal SEO implications, IMO. It’s a brand decision, in part, and audience (-savvy) decision, in part. On a new site, shouldn’t impact SEO.
— Dr. Pete Meyers (@dr_pete) August 3, 2017
Minimal implications doesn’t really mean NO implications. Yadayada what? So on an older site it could impact SEO?
Well… If you think about it… there are some things that could slightly influence the SEO on the long run, mainly related to performance. As you know, Google really takes User Experience into consideration when it comes to ranking website. And users very much like speed. So the faster a site is, the better it will usually rank. Both CDNs and Cookie-less static resource loading are speed related improvements.
For smaller websites, it doesn’t really matter. As explained above, there are two main reasons why WWW still stands out:
- You can set static.yourdomain.com as your cookie-less static resource loader. This will slightly improve the speed of your site. However, quantified with thousands of images and billions of hits and requests, it does add up quite substantially.
- You can add a CNAME record without any issues, therefore making it easier to connect to CDNs and distribute your content faster around the Globe.
However, if you’re only targeting your local market, CDN’s don’t really make a difference. If you have a small site, you probably don’t have a ton of images and also not very many cookies.
In the end, it’s pretty much a matter of speed.
With today’s servers and internet connections, a couple of cookies won’t make a difference in speed but it can make a difference in price depending on your bandwidth limits. It adds up over time, you know?
If they were to be compared, the speed is pretty much the same in many cases. Take a look at this comparison between our site and our competitor Moz. Although they also run without WWW, they host their images on a separate, cookie-less domain and distribute static content such as images and scripts through a CDN.
They use a CDN which hosts their images on a cookie-less domain. The results? Not very different from us. We don’t use a CDN and don’t host our images on a cookie-less domain.
What Should You Choose
The answer is pretty simple. If you’re a blogger and don’t plan on becoming the biggest site in the world, it doesn’t really matter. Just go with whatever you like. If you really like the www version, feel free to choose it. You’ll get the benefit of having shorter and prettier URLs, which is always good for starters.
If you’ll ever need to go CDN or cookie-less for static resources, you can just use the workarounds. They aren’t any more complicated and also not a big expense.
However, if you’re planning on launching a very big website with potentially thousands of images and a lot of traffic, then it’s probably better to listen to your developers and go with the WWW version. It will make things a lot easier in the long run.
Remember: if you’ve already set the preferred version and Google has indexed it, stick to it! Unless the website has been published 2 days ago and only has 1 page, it’s not worth going through all the hassle and risk your rankings just to switch to www or non-www. Just make sure your 301s are in order and keep focusing on the most important things, like publishing and distributing great content.
If you have already published your website and search engines have already indexed it, then stick to the already chosen version!
In the end, it’s pretty clear that WWW is the easier choice if you want to take advantage of easy CDN implementation, more flexible DNS options and limiting cookies to only one place.
However, as the internet evolves, it gets easier and easier to ignore the WWW and host your site directly on the root domain. This makes its URL shorter.
For SEO at least, it’s a matter of preference. I’d say go for the WWW if you don’t really know what you’re doing at all, as it will keep things simple. However, if you really like your domain naked (just like your motorcycles and your women) then know that there are workarounds that can easily solve your problems.
Which version do you prefer? And for those that don’t use the WWW, did you even encounter the issues I’ve mentioned above? Let us know in the comments section, we’re very curious!