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DreamHost gives me the option to use www for my site's URL, to remove www from the site's URL (i.e., "naked domain"), or let the visitor decide. Is there a best practice for this?

I notice Google treats the naked domain vs www as separate sites (they are both registered in Google Webmaster Tools). I would prefer they are treated as one unified site by allowing Dreamhost to do a moved permanently redirect on one or the other.

What research is available that shows one style is more comfortable to users than the other?

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You should redirect one to the other as two pages the same can never be good but as far as the choice of www. or 'naked domain' it is totally up to you. I was taught to have the www. as default but with the growing number of social media websites dispensing with this I think it is pretty common to see both. It all depends on:

  1. Does it look right without?
  2. How much it will honestly improve the user experience?

If the domain is short like app.com I would drop the www. but if it is longer then I would stick with it. As long as you redirect it shouldn't really matter though.

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I would prefer they are treated as one unified site by allowing Dreamhost to do a moved permanently redirect on one or the other.

Yes, this is the "best practise". However, you can also set this preference in Google Webmaster Tools - although this only affects Google.

What research is available that shows one style is more comfortable to users than the other?

It is entirely up to you, but may depend on your target audience and the domain name itself. Some domains just look better without the www, or maybe you prefer the shortest URL possible. Less-techy users do seem to expect the www subdomain - however, if you are redirecting one to the other it doesn't really matter.

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  • Less-techy users do seem to expect the www subdomain, really :-). Thanks +1 – Abhijeet Nov 11 '17 at 4:38
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I have seen this issue from time to time, and for a website like yours, which was not given a designation of either "www" or "non-www" (a.k.a. naked), the smartest thing to do is to redirect to the version of your website that has the most domain & page authority. For anyone in your scenario, it is very unlikely that both versions have equal value, and to say that one is better than the other is simply incorrect. The truth is simple: it just depends. So, this is one way you can find out:

  1. Visit Open Site Explorer by Moz.com

  2. In the space where it says "URL:" enter either version of your site.

  3. Upon receiving the results, scroll down the side navigation on the left of the page, and select "Compare Link Metrics"

  4. You should now see a blue box to the right of your domain that says, "Add URL". Go ahead and add the other version of your domain (www if you started with the naked version; or the naked version if you started with www). Click Submit.

  5. Now, evaluate both versions of your domain side by side. Specifically, pay close attention to Page Authority, Page MozRank, and Page MozTrust. It will be very clear which version of your domain should be used.

  6. Lastly, you will need to redirect your domain at the DNS level, or using the .htaccess if you have linux hosting. Let me know if you have any further questions!

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They probaly do this via their DNS, one is a CNAME (aka alias) of another, they both point to the same files (like a shortcut on your desktop).

Via .htaccess they remove the www. if you don't want that, or always add it if you do. Technically is makes no difference at all. Both the users who type www. or don't get the exact same endresult because of this.

Google (and other searchengines) are fine with either one, just as long as you only use one!

Edit: This just popped into my head: I don't think you should worry about this too much, more and more people are using the google page to find the page they want (e.g. they type 'stackoverflow.com' in the searchinput and click the first result).

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