If you have ever found yourself questioning what’s the difference between www and non-www websites and which one is better, you can benefit from the following breakdown. Especially if you plan to start a website and are facing the www vs non-www issue, then you should read this.
From an SEO perspective, www domains have some slight advantages and marginally improve the website’s performance.
That's not the end of the story, though. There are pros and cons to both www and non-www URLs, and there are also methods to work with either choice. In this post, we will compare www vs non-www URLs and list the benefits of both from an SEO perspective. We will also give a final verdict on which one is better, if at all.
Your domain is the part of your site's URL immediately after "http:" or "https:."
So, let’s get right to it and start by understanding the difference between using www and non-www URLs.
WWW vs Non-WWW - Technical Differences
A non-www domain is sometimes referred to as a "naked" domain. And, www domains can act as a hostname and can have several subdomains attached to it.
We use www.spyfu.com as our canonical domain, and spyfu.com redirects to it.
Our canonical domain means that it's the one we've chosen to use as our "official" domain in the eyes of search engines. Choosing one (and sticking with its use) creates a more consistent and authoritative image for search engines–as well as for users.
When the internet first came into being, website URLs started with www, which was really just another sub-domain. Over time, people began typing website names without the www when they searched for a website online. Webmasters took notice of this trend, and adopted a more naked domain approach.
From a practical perspective, there is no difference between a www and a non-www URL. From a technical perspective, though, there is a slight difference between the two.
The most important one for you to know is that search engines view them as different entities.
Google sees www.abc.com and abc.com as two different websites. This can raise issues with duplicate content, so you need to account for it. Make sure that you redirect one page to the other so that Google rewards your selected page.
On that note, Google's Chrome browser hides www from the URL display. It doesn't remove it from the actual URL, and you see it reappear when you click in the address bar to edit the URL. If you are reviewing other sites to view their www or non-www status, be sure to click through to see actual usage.
HTTP 301 Redirect for WWW vs Non-WWW
If you redirect one version to another, you accomplish two things;
- The experience is seamless for users, regardless of what they type to reach your site.
- Search engines recognize one official domain and credit it with the site's authority.
WWW vs Non-WWW - Pros and Cons of Both
Now that you have a basic understanding of www and non-www website URLs, let’s dive deeper and look at the pros and cons of both.
A www URL give you more control over cookies for your specific www subdomain.
Let’s say that you have a www.abc.com domain, and if you set cookies for it, then those cookies will pass down to all the subdomains. For subdomains x.www.abc.com and y.www.abc.com, the cookies will pass down to those as well.
Adding a www prefix allows you to restrict your cookies to your root domain so that there aren’t any additional cookies that get passed down to other subdomains. Therefore, for a website with multiple subdomains, it is good to use www URLs so that you can restrict cookies for each.
One more benefit of using www is that www subdomains are much more flexible when it comes to DNS. So, you can use Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) in a much easier way.
Right now, you have few downsides for this version. It's possible that, eventually, www domains will become obsolete as most people don’t bother to type www while searching for a website.
Earlier I mentioned that Google hides www from the displayed URL in its Chrome browser. In a thread about this decision, one Google staffer commented that "'www' is now considered a 'trivial' subdomain," giving some fuel to the idea that it could grow obsolete in the near future.
Non-www domains are easy to remember and simpler to type and search for, which is great for getting direct traffic. This is the clearest, strongest benefit.
Most people search for websites without typing the www, so eventually, the www domains might phase out, and non-www might be more prominent. Moreover, www is just a prefix that was used in the early years when the internet was first launched, and it is not exactly necessary.
Also, if you don’t need to restrict your cookies, then you don’t even need to consider a www domain and can opt for a non-www one.
For non-www domains, the cons come in the reduced options from a technical aspect. Here are two examples.
No Cookie Restriction
For one, there is no option to restrict cookies just to the root domain in case of non-www URLs. However, that shouldn’t matter much if your subdomains are hosting images on the same root domain anyway.
No Traffic Overload Protection
Also, non-www domains don’t have CNAME records, so you can’t redirect traffic from one server to another. This functionality is useful when one server gets overloaded, and you need to redirect traffic to a healthy server. But, for non-www websites, you can’t do that. This also makes it difficult for a content delivery network to work for such domains.
To conclude, www domains do have some inherent advantages that non-www domains don’t. However, these benefits only apply in case of large websites that have multiple subdomains and many servers. In case of a small website, it does not matter which type of domain you use, and even a non-www one works just the same as a www one.
The counter-argument is that everyone wants their website to grow, and should prepare for that, instead of thinking small. So, even if you have a small website now, you should prepare for it to grow later. This is, again, a personal or brand choice.
WWW vs Non-WWW -- Which is Better in Terms of SEO?
Those slight advantages give www domains a small edge. It's more of an indirect, positive effect. However, this effect is not very significant, and you can do away with it and use a non-www domain.
Website performance and a better user experience will weigh even more heavily, so as long as you don't lose performance, you can make the choice for either one.
Also, the benefits that www domains do offer can be replicated for non-www domains with some workarounds. For example, you can use a separate domain altogether to host your static content. This will make the cookie restriction functionality of a www domain unnecessary.
So, if you have a non-www domain, you can still find workarounds to get the same benefits as those of a www domain.
If you have a large website or anticipate your website to grow, you should opt for a www domain. It does not add that much complexity to the name and has some inherent technical advantages.
If you have a small website, using a www domain is unnecessary. So, it is your personal choice whether you want to go for a www or a non-www domain. It would make practically no difference whatsoever, no matter which one you choose.
The short answer to the www vs non-www question is that there is no major difference, but there are small benefits.
However, if you deep dive a bit, you will realize that www domains have some slight technical benefits that improve a website’s performance. These are especially beneficial for large websites with multiple subdomains and servers.
From an SEO perspective, the differences are incredibly marginal, with www domains having some advantages. So, use your website’s expected size as the critical criteria in determining which type of URL to use.