One question we get a lot on the digital marketing side of Code Authority is “what should I name my website?” The Uniform Resource Locator, or URL you select for your website plays a major role in regard to SEO (search engine optimization). But the actual title of your domain? Not so much. What is important for your URL is consistency, and that is a term we refer to as Canonical URL.
Should You Use "www" For Your Website?
The short answer is NO. The www is all a matter of presentation. That being said, it is in your site’s best interest to ensure that your domain works with or without it.
Most people are used to the "www" before the address, and in some psychological aspects, including it makes your website look more professional or “global”. The www in a domain name was originally used to distinguish the website of a domain from any other elements of that domain. By including the www, visitors on the World Wide Web would be taken to the public page for the website that was intended for them to visit.
As people became more accustomed to typing and clicking on URLs, seeing website endings like .com or .net was enough information to indicate that something was a domain name on the Internet. Eliminating the www was becoming a more common practice as it just wasn’t deemed to be necessary.
Today, just seeing (for example) “website.com”, people understand that there is an implied www at the beginning of the website’s name. They can still access the intended website they wished to visit without typing the www.
The Argument Against www
Ask any number of marketing sources and you’ll get answers on either side when it comes to the topic of using www. Some rationalize that using it makes you more prepared to handle the challenges of a growing website beyond a single server.
The most common argument against using www is that it’s archaic and just adds extra unnecessary steps to typing out an address. The decision to include www is more up to the business/company owner depending on his/her preference. It all boils down to aesthetics and how you want your users to see your site.
What is a Canonical URL?
So now we look at the canonical URL. A canonical URL refers to an element of HTML that tells search engines what address to prioritize and link the website under. Or in simpler terms, the process of picking the best URL when there are several choices.
When establishing a website, it will often have multiple addresses that are both secure and not secure. Start by selecting 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 SEO rankings from getting divided between what search engines think are two separate sites. The important thing here to remember is to be consistent and help search engines determine the “canonical version” (ie. the version that best represents your entire site).
Code Authority's SEO Analyst, John, is all too familiar with the “do we/don’t we use www in the website name” game. He uses Code Authority as a perfect example, saying,
“On Code Authority alone, we have: codeauthority.com, www.codeauthority.com, http://www.codeauthority.com and https://www.codeauthority.com. We index it all under the canonical https://www.codeauthority.com.
I have to stay consistent with our in-house web development team and make sure whatever our internal linking strategy is, it always leads to https://www.codeauthority.com, and not https://codeauthority.com. The reason why is because our www.codeauthority.com URL has much higher authority and better backlinks, so we want to preserve that as much as we can on an SEO level.”
Domain Names and SEO
Another common occurrence John sees is when clients ask if they should name their domain or their website based on high ranking keywords relevant to their content or services. “I always tell them no,” says John.
He references a Code Authority client that sells high-end/elegant lighting products as an example. They ranked high in search engines for “high-end/elegant outdoor lighting” as well as other keywords with the terms “elegant” “high-end” and “lighting”. “They asked us if the URL name has any impact on the high rankings in SEO,” John explains, “But really it’s because of the headers on their site and how people searched for them on Google, not because of their URL name.”
At the same time, this client had lower rankings on other keywords that came from another indexing issue related to a lack of a canonical URL. To solve the issue and get everything on the same page (so to speak), John had to audit the site and fix indexing issues when Google gave him reports for the website with the www and without it. “Once Code Authority’s web team set an appropriate tag, Google no longer reported an error for redundant domains or repeating content and could crawl the website more efficiently now that it knew to follow just one domain name instead of multiple.”
Canonical URL and SEO Best Practices
“My biggest advice from an SEO standpoint is to make sure your redirects are consistent and always check on which URL has the most authority,” says John. Sometimes this means sacrificing that www if you have better backlinks to a URL without it. John feels that it’s not worth losing authority and quality backlinks just for the looks, since at this point the use of www is primarily viewed cosmetic.
In terms of best practices and establishing a canonical URL, here are three of the most commonly used methods:
- 1.) The html line rel=”canonical”is the standard way of doing it and establishes how the URL will be indexed.
- 2.) A 301 redirect will tell search engines to jump from one URL to another, a more brute force way of establishing a canonical URL. It can also help transfer authority from one old page to a newer, lower ranking page, which can help make your overall site rank higher.
- 3.) Set URL parameters in the Google Search console once the URL has been verified. This involves telling Google not to index certain pages when using its bots to crawl it. However, this method only works on one search engine so it’s the least recommended, even if Google is the most widely used search engine.
SEO is recognized as being incredibly important in today’s competitive business environment. The understanding and use of canonical URLs can help organizations better inform search engines which URLs have identical or highly similar content and help with SEO rankings. The days of saying “double-you double-you double-you” every time you tell someone your domain name are behind us, and now hopefully you have better understanding as to why.
Feel like you need a bit more knowledge on making your website SEO friendly or that you are missing some vital SEO tools from your digital marketing strategy? Code Authority has the right people and services that today’s successful businesses rely on to grow. Request a free consultation for your next project and put your organization on the path to greater awareness.