We are all aware that some domain names start with www and some that don’t. And, most people wonder what the difference between both is because very few know.
If you have ever found yourself questioning what’s the difference between www and non-www websites and which one is better, then this post can help you. Especially if you plan to start a website and are facing the www vs non-www issue, then you should read this.
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.
So, let’s get right to it and start by understanding the difference between www and non-www URLs.
WWW vs Non-WWW - Technical Differences
A non-www domain is usually referred to as a naked domain. And, www domains can act as a hostname and can have several subdomains attached to it.
When the internet first came into being, website URLs started with www, which was 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 a lot of them just got rid of www.
So, from a practical perspective, there is no difference whatsoever between a www and a non-www URL. It is just a personal or brand preference.
However, from a technical perspective, there is a slight difference between the two. Websites with a www URL can adjust to DNS and restrict the cookies when utilizing other domains. For a non-www domain, there are no such technical benefits.
Also, even though there’s practically no difference between a www and a non-www domain, search engines view these sites as different entities. So, Google will view www.abc.com and abc.com as two different websites. This creates a duplicate content issue and should be avoided.
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.
This has been the standard way to begin a website URL for many years and is very popular. In fact, it is so popular that it might appear as more authentic than non-www URLs.
Another benefit of a www URL is that it lets you set cookies for your specific www subdomain.
But before you understand that, you need to know how cookies work. Let’s say that you have a www.abc.com domain, and if you set cookies for it, then it will pass down to all the subdomains. So, if you have subdomains x.www.abc.com and y.www.abc.com, then 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.
The only con is that eventually, www domains might just become obsolete as most people don’t bother to type www while searching for a website anyway.
Non-www domains are easy to remember and simpler to type and search for, which is great for getting direct traffic.
Also, 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.
Using a non-www space will not only save you four character spaces but will also save bandwidth and 4 bytes of data.
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, there aren’t many cons in the general sense; instead, it’s the lack of benefits that www domains provide.
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.
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-WW - Which is Better in Terms of SEO?
From an SEO perspective, www domains have some slight advantages and marginally improve the website’s performance.
And, if the website performance is better, then you can deliver a better user experience, which, in turn, enhances your website’s performance in terms of SEO.
Therefore, www domains have an indirect, positive effect on SEO. However, this effect is not very significant, and you can do away with it and use a non-www domain.
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 big difference, no matter which you use.
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.
If you have any further questions on the topic, feel free to ask those in the comments section. We will answer all of your questions as promptly as we can.
Article Credit - Zac Harris Director of SEO at Spyfu.com. Data lover, taco expert and SEO ninja.