Should you use "www" in your URL or not?

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).

Getting canonical

“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?”)

Summing up

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.

16 Comments

  1. eveintheworld May 13, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for this very useful post. It’s something that we were thinking about , but not certain how to fix, this gives us a simple fix.

  2. Susan May 13, 2016 Reply

    Cool – easy fix to redirect – thanks!

  3. Adwiz May 13, 2016 Reply

    Good information. Thanks for posting this.

    FWIW, as a marketing professional, I prefer using the www for one reason alone: many people, especially seniors, understand instantly when they see those letters that this is a website address. It’s not clear enough to them when you leave it out. We’ve found that this is vital with the new gTLDs like .construction or .lawyer or .healthcare because people don’t yet identify those as being URLs, so the www at the front of the name make it obvious.

  4. Ilka May 13, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for the post, this is something I have been wondering latley!

  5. Robin Jennings May 13, 2016 Reply

    Our company manages well over 100 websites on behalf of clients, many of which don’t use www and I haven’t seen any difference in their rankings.

    The main thing is stick with either non-www or www, changing things post launch is a big hassle and can lead to a rabbit hole of potential problems.

  6. Steve Pringle November 20, 2016 Reply

    Use www to avoid SSL and cookie issues.

  7. Atul December 18, 2016 Reply

    Amazing write up. I would like to add that using www in font of domain helps to strip all the cookies from other domains. If you have just a naked domain it will send the cookies to itself as well as all sub domain, but if we use www then it is possible to block passing of cookies to other sub domains.

  8. Sadam January 24, 2017 Reply

    Q for the poster/writer.

    Do you have any data or stats on % of sites that run the (WWW) vs the (non WWW) I cant get any info or think of a way to check it other than looking at the top 500-1000 sites on alexa or something similar. Can you think of a way to get that info ?

    • Alanna January 25, 2017 Reply

      Hi Sadam, thanks for the question – it’s a good one! So good that I haven’t had much luck tracking down an answer for you. I think your idea of tallying up www vs non www sites using Alexa (or even just some random sample of websites) is a good, though time-consuming, solution.

      I think the main point to make here is that it doesn’t matter which option you choose. Neither is better than the other. Just pick one and stick to it!

  9. Steve Mu June 9, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for for the article. After reading this article and reading comments, I decide to use let my non-www redirect to www.

  10. The concept of www and non-www are very interesting, Thanks for sharing the technical information in a simple way. Before reading this article I was confused in www and non www. Now I understand it very easy way. Thanks again.

  11. Henry Joseph July 7, 2017 Reply

    Hi,
    I have a domain and Indexed like http://example.com/ (not www) and I added my site(same domain) in webmasters like http://www.example.com/ (www included) and I’m not getting any data like search and traffic info about the domain and nothing is happening there even after few weeks. is including www in webmasters for the domain is a problem for that? If it’s that how can I resolve it? Please give me some suggestions to overcome it

    • Alanna July 10, 2017 Reply

      Great question, Henry. My advice would be to have your server redirect to either the `www` or `non-www` version. Running both can confuse search engines and reduce your SEO. You’ll have to talk to your web hose to set up a server-side redirect, so any traffic to `http://example.com/my-post/` can automatically redirect to `http://www.example.com/my-post`. Hope that helps!

  12. Kirsten B. August 6, 2017 Reply

    Thank you for the article! Just going through and improving SEO for our websites and my research led me to this page to answer the www vs. non-www question. One of my websites was www and the other was not – I’ve switched to both www after reading your article.

    I have a couple of question about google webmaster tools… before reading this article I added the achieveanything.ca website. It then became listed as http://achieveanything.ca. We use SSL, so it should actually be https. Then, I changed the htaccess file to redirect all versions to https://www.achieveanything.ca. Now, I’m having trouble verifying my “real” site – it keeps failing. Could this be due to propagation or do I need to start over?

    Next question – when it asks for me to add all properties, is that only if I didn’t use redirects and instead have multiple websites on the various URL versions (and who would do that???). Or, do I put all the URL versions (that are redirected) plus the “real” version and then tell Google I prefer the “real” URL?

    Finally, do I need to include the https:// in my “real” URL (for canonicalization) or does http://www.achieveanything.ca suffice?

    Thanks for any help on these!

  13. Kirsten B. August 6, 2017 Reply

    Aggghhh! it auto-added the http part… The question should read only the www(dot)achieveanything(dot)ca

    • Alanna August 8, 2017 Reply

      Hey Kirsten! Thanks for your questions. I’m not 100% sure what you’re seeing, but one thing you should try is using only the www. version. The http vs. https shouldn’t matter (though it’s good to always use https) but a site with www. is technically different from the same site without.

PSA: As of Sept. 29, 2017, you can no longer purchase themes from this website. We will continue to provide limited support, including bug fixes and security updates, until March 31, 2018. Thank you for everything. We'll miss you dearly.
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