www vs. non-www for Domain SEO

To use www or not to use www seems to be a never-ending question from business owners and SEOs alike. This is one of the top questions we get during sales calls, and we decided to take on the challenge of digging into the web and seeing if there’s a straight answer and an overall best practice. Most questions center around which to set as your canonical domain, and whether it has any effect on SEO.

Does setting the naked domain (non-www) as your preferred domain affect SEO?

The short, and nearly unanimous, answer is no. Having www.domain.com or domain.com set as your preferred domain will not directly impact SEO, providing you have proper canonicalization and 301 redirects set up.

The long and more technical answer is that, setting your naked domain as your preferred domain may cause significant issues in the long run. Your site may be small and uncomplicated today, but down the track when your business takes off and your website becomes more complicated, you’ll potentially regret the naked domain as your canonical location. Here are a few examples of potential complications if you choose non-www over the traditional www.

  • Naked domains cannot have CNAME records. An example where this would be relevant is if you have a failing server, and you need to transfer to a healthy server using the DNS CNAME records, you wouldn’t be able to with a naked domain.
  • Potential restrictions and issues with cookies. Mainly this would be an issue with websites with subdomains, like a blog for example. Or websites that have a static subdomain for one reason or another.
  • You’ll have more flexibility with your DNS with the WWW version. If you’re really curious to dive into the technical bits, there’s a great discussion here about this specific topic.

If I switch from non-www to www, will this affect my current backlink profile?

Assuming that all redirects are properly implemented, then no. A few months ago, the answer would have been yes, and it would involve some heavy lifting from your SEO company to correct this. However, a few weeks ago Google confirmed that redirects will no longer dilute PageRank. Bear in mind that PageRank is only one of many ranking signals and that you should always proceed cautiously when applying redirects of any kind.

This seemingly small act of mercy from Google likely came from their attempt to encourage webmasters to migrate from HTTP to HTTPS. Many developers and SEOs alike were very gun-shy at the potential negative implications of a whole site redirect, but Google has been assuring us for a while now that redirects no longer dilute PageRank. So whether you’re switching HTTP to HTTPS or non-www to www, you no longer have to worry about losing PageRank.

If it largely doesn’t matter, why does www still exist, and why is there a choice?

Besides the above technical reasons for www’s continued existence, it really boils down to personal and aesthetic preference. Some think the www is redundant and outdated, while others believe that many users still prefer the www, and it’s widely more recognizable as a website.

In our research, we discovered that the digital community is still quite split. There are entire websites dedicated to the arguments both for and against www, in fact. However, everyone seems to agree that you should pick one version and stick with it. Most seem to agree that if you have a complicated website or plan to have one down the road, a safer route would be to go the ‘old-fashioned’ route and not to ditch the www.

If you are considering changing preferred domains or setting up a new domain and have queries about which route to go down, you can speak to our team for advice and obtain a free quote for our SEO services.