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Does WWW still belong in URLs?

Does WWW still belong in URLs?

Does “WWW” belong in a URL? Some developers hold strong opinions on the subject. We’ll explore arguments for and against it after a bit of history.

Critics of “WWW-less” domains have pointed out that in certain situations, subdomain.example.com would be able to read cookies set by example.com. This may be undesirable if, for example, you are a web hosting provider that lets clients operate subdomains on your domain. While the concern is valid, the behavior was specific to Internet Explorer.

In conclusion, as long as you don’t explicitly set a Domain value and your users don’t use Internet Explorer, no cookie leaks should occur.

Sometimes, a “WWW-less” domain may complicate your Domain Name System (DNS) setup.

For instance, if the administrator configures a CNAME record for example.com pointing to example123.somecdnprovider.com, and an A record for example123.somecdnprovider.com exists pointing to 1.2.3.4, then Cloudflare would expose an A record for example.com pointing to 1.2.3.4.

In conclusion, while the concern is valid for domain owners who wish to use CNAME records, certain DNS providers now offer a suitable workaround.

Opponents of the WWW subdomain have also pointed out that dropping it comes with a humble performance advantage. Website owners could shave 4 bytes off each HTTP request by doing so. While these savings could add up for high-traffic websites like Facebook, bandwidth generally isn’t a scarce resource.

One practical argument in favor of WWW is in situations with newer top-level domains. For example, www.example.miami is immediately recognizable as a web address when example.miami isn’t. This is less of a concern for sites that have recognizable top-level domains like .com.

The current consensus is that your choice does not influence your search engine performance. If you wish to migrate from one to the other, you’ll want to configure permanent redirects (HTTP 301) instead of temporary ones (HTTP 302). Permanent redirects ensure that the SEO value of your old URLs transfers to the new ones.

Sites typically pick either example.com or www.example.com as their official website and configure HTTP 301 redirects for the other. In theory, it is possible to support both www.example.com and example.com. In practice, the costs may outweigh the benefits.

From a technical perspective, you’ll want to verify that your tech stack can handle it. Your content management system (CMS) or statically generated site would have to output internal links as relative URLs to preserve the visitor’s preferred hostname. Your analytics tools may log traffic to both hostnames separately unless you can configure the hostnames as aliases.

To preserve control over how you appear in Google, it recommends inserting canonical link tags. First, decide which hostname will be the official (canonical) one.

For example, if you pick www.example.com, you will have to insert the following snippet in the <head> tag on https://example.com/my-article:

This snippet indicates to Google that the “WWW-less” variant represents the same content. In general, Google will prefer the version you’ve marked as canonical in search results, which would be the “WWW” variant in this example.

Despite intense campaigning on either side, both approaches remain valid as long as you are aware of the benefits and limitations. To cover all your bases, be sure to set up permanent redirects from one to the other and you’re all set.

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If you need help creating a digital marketing strategy for your business, don’t hesitate to contact one of Digidude’s consultants.

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