I’m often asked by clients to, “make sure people can access my website at both www.mysite.co.uk and mysite.co.uk”.
This is great and something you really must sort out, but you need to make sure you do it correctly.
What is the WWW For?
The www (or any bit that goes in front of your domain name) is called a subdomain. Some people use them to host multiple parts of their site on their main domain name, e.g. mobile.mysite.co.uk for a mobile version. www was the standard subdomain used for the World Wide Web part of your business – your website.
These days it’s redundant as people expect your domain name to connect to your website. Your visitors won’t use other services such as FTP, etc. to connect with you so there’s no need to specify what you’re trying to access – they may not even know what FTP is!
From a public point of view the www is just four (don’t foget the .) extra key presses they don’t need to make. There’s absolutely no reason to keep it these days. So why not drop it?
Upsetting the Search Engines
Your website probably already runs from both versions of your domain name. Have a go.
First type in your address with the www. Look at the address bar when the page appears. Is the www there?
Now type in your address without the www. Wait for the site to load and re check the address bar. Is the www missing?
The address should be identical in both cases. If not you’ve got a problem. It doesn’t matter which version you use but only one should appear in the address bar. If you’ve got Google’s Webmaster Tools installed you can tell Google which version they should use, but it’s best to sort it out properly.
If you think about it you’ve basically got two entrances to your website. This can upset the search engines, or at least confuse them. The search engines need to work out which entrance is the main one? Are they actually two separate sites? Which version should they list in the search index?
Redirect the Wrong Version to the Right Version
The proper set up is to put a 301 redirect on the wrong version of your domain name. This is a technical way of telling the search engines (and everyone else) that they are in the wrong place and should really be ‘here’. Usually this will be done on your web hosting server using a special command file (htaccess if you want to look it up). Or your website designer will add some code to your web pages.
Either way you’ll need to talk to your designer to get it fixed.
With it set up correctly the search engines will understand what you’re trying to do. If you’ve got any links pointing to the wrong version they will now understand that its the same site, but using the wrong sub domain, This lets them adjust their records correctly.