Putting “WWW” in your URL—is it necessary? In short, no.
But to maximize your website’s search performance and ease of access for users, you’ll want to set things up so it works with or without those three letters using a specific method.
WWW Used to be Popular
As commonplace as the Internet and websites are now, not too long ago, these were new things that many of us had a hard time wrapping our heads around. As Rich Adams writes, seeing .COM beside a word was not enough to signify that a word or phrase was a domain name that could be accessed on the Internet.
“In the early days of the Internet, if you’d seen something like ‘jurassicpark.com’ on the bottom of a movie poster, it wouldn’t have been obvious what it was. Is it the name of the production company? Adding the WWW to the beginning made it immediately obvious to everyone that this was something to do with the Internet or World Wide Web.”
As people became more accustomed to typing and clicking on URLs, seeing .COM or .NET or any other top-level domain became enough to indicate that something was a domain name on the Internet. Just seeing example.com, people understood that there was an implied WWW. at the beginning of it. Soon they discovered that if they left out the WWW. altogether, in most cases, they could still access the intended website.
What Does the WWW in a URL Mean?
Then what is the difference between a URL with WWW and without? Is there a point of including WWW. if most sites will load without it? Actually, there is.
The WWW. in a domain name is an example of a subdomain or third-level domain and was initially used to distinguish the website of a domain from any other elements of that domain. For example, a website administrator would set up FTP for an FTP server or MAIL for an email server that were useful for the domain owner but of no use for the general public. As websites have grown, there are now common, public-facing subdomains like SHOP and HELP.
Today, it’s in your site’s best interest to ensure that your domain works with or without the WWW. You’ll need to configure it properly so it works whether a user types www.yoursite.com or yoursite.com. To do this, you’ll need to set up a 301 redirect. There are a number of reasons why this is important.
Should I Have WWW in My URL?
If your intended main homepage is www.yoursite.com and someone types yoursite.com, a 301 redirect will forward them along to www.yoursite.com instead.
For those who type www. to get to your website, it can be very easy to accidentally miss a w or two. To account for these scenarios, it’s best practice to also use 301 redirects to send people who enter w.yoursite.com or ww.yoursite.com to your main site as well.
Search Engine Performance
301 redirects are perhaps even more crucial for search engines. Without a 301 redirect, search engines will crawl both yoursite.com and www.yoursite.com as two distinct websites. Since all of the content is the same, it will penalize both sites in search results—something you definitely don’t want! A 301 redirect will tell search engines to ignore one of the sites and to give all of the ranking authority to the intended website.
Using WWW for Cookies
When using WWW, you can apply a unique cookie to that subdomain and any other subdomains your website contains. This allows you to track whether a person has viewed your main page, pricing page, contact page and so on, giving you a better picture of how they have interacted with your site. If this is important to you, you’ll want to set up a 301 redirect so that yoursite.com forwards to www.yoursite.com in order to have more accurate tracking.
How to Create a 301 Redirect
If you’ve got some technical know-how in the webmaster department, you may be able to create a 301 redirect yourself. Otherwise, you’ll want to contact your domain registrar or hosting company. Note that website forwarding may not be the same as a 301 redirect.
So, Do You Need to Use WWW?
Technically, you do not need to use www. in your domain in order for your site to load properly. But, if any of the scenarios mentioned in this article apply to you, you’ll probably want to use www. in the domain. Whatever you choose, at least you don’t have to say “double-you double-you double-you” every time you tell someone your domain name. Your goal is to make sure that whether they type it or not, they’re able to find you.