Should you use “www” in your URL or not?
It’s a question for the ages: to www or not to www? For years, people have been asking if there’s any difference between the two, which one (if any) is better for SEO, and whether or not they need to change their site address.
Not surprisingly, the internet is full of opinions on the topic. On one side, you have the yes-www’ers who argue that using www “makes you more prepared to handle the challenges of a growing website beyond a single server.” On the other, you have the no-www’ers who insist that using www is “redundant and time-consuming.”
While we can sympathize with both sides, our official opinion is that it doesn’t really matter (Google agrees!). For the average blogger or freelancer or even agency, there is absolutely zero advantage to using www or not. That said, there is a technical difference between the two, and there’s a very good reason why you shouldn’t be using both.
Appearances can be deceiving
It’s pretty common these days to be able to access a website from both the www and non-www version of its URL. If you want to visit our website, for example, you can type in “http://www.themezilla.com” or the “naked” version, “themezilla.com”—either way, you’ll end up on our homepage.
Now, these URLs may look similar—many would argue they’re as good as identical—but they’re not. In fact, they are completely separate sites, and Google treats them as such.
To capture variations in URL formatting, some people set up their site at a handful of similar but different addresses, only to be penalized by search engines for duplicate content. Instead of competing against yourself for page rankings, a much better approach is to set up a 301 permanent redirection from one version of the URL to the other (we redirect all themezilla.com traffic to http://www.themezilla.com).
“Canonicalization” is a big word that Google may or may not have made up to refer to “the process of picking the best URL when there are several choices.” No matter which format you decide to use, the important thing is to be consistent and help search engines determine the “canonical version” (ie. the version that best represents your entire site).
For example, don’t send half your links to http://www.yoursite.com and the other half to yoursite.com. Instead, pick the URL you prefer and always use that format for your internal links. Not only does it keep things simple for search engines, it stops the page rank and link juice from getting divided between what Google thinks are two separate sites.
Picking your poison
While URL formatting is a matter of personal preference, there are a couple technical differences we alluded to earlier that might affect sites with very high traffic.
Basically, when you use a non-www or naked domain, and you also have several subdomains, it can become difficult for servers and cloud services to update DNS records. The other issue that can occur with naked domains has to do with cookies: without the www, the cookies get sent to all subdomains, slowing down access to static content and tripping up caching.
If this all sounds like Greek to you, don’t worry. These are highly specialized situations that really only affect extremely large websites receiving millions of page views per day. (We hear the chorus of yes-www’ers countering, “But who doesn’t want their site to get that large?”)
For our site, we default to the www domain because we have a soft spot for end-of-alphabet characters, and because it makes us feel like we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves.
But you may hate the letter “w,” or you may just prefer your URL to be naked. And that’s okay! No one option is unequivocally better than the other, and we encourage you to be your own webmaster and decide which is best for you.