Many websites will find at least half of their traffic comes because someone has done a Google search. Sometimes it’s even higher than that. So if there is a conflict between what human beings prefer and what search engine robots prefer, which should you favour? This puzzle was graphically illustrated by two blog posts that appeared in the last 48 hours.
Today on the side of the humans, we had perhaps naturally Seth Godin. He was discussing URL Hygiene. He believes URLs are for humans. He particularly likes the advice that is given on Aaron Goldman‘s goodURLbadURL website. Here are some key points:
URL Best Practices
3. Whenever possible, use YourBrandName.com.
7. Use subdomains when driving people deeper than your homepage – e.g. Product.YourBrandName.com.
1. Don’t include www. We know to go to the World Wide Web to find you.
The previous day, Matt Cutts of Google had blogged about Subdomains and Subdirectories. In a sense he is speaking for the robots, because Google wants to make sure the robots will see what humans see. His advice yesterday would encourage web designers to use Subdirectories rather than Subdomains. That now goes quite counter to the 7th Do above.
On the much bigger question of whether to WWW or not to WWW, Google does not take a position. The only point they would recommend highly is to be consistent in using one or the other. Using Google Webmaster Tools in fact, you can specify whether you prefer them to index www.mydomain.com or mydomain.com.
The reason why this is important is that if both exist in the Google index, then each will be less visible than if only one of them was indexed. That visibility is created by other websites that have links to the website in question. A summary measure of this is the so-called PageRank. This is a fundamental factor in Google’s algorithm, which ranks Web pages in keyword searches. If both versions (the WWW version and the non-WWW versions) are used indiscriminately, then some links will point to one and other links will point to the other. Standardizing on one ensures the maximum PageRank and thus the maximum visibility in keyword searches for the website.
Which is better, the WWW version or the non-WWW version? If you follow Seth Godin and Aaron Goldman, you’ll go with the human-friendly URL and use the non-WWW version. If you’re trying to be friendly to the robots, that’s a tougher question. It all depends on those webmasters out there who may provide links to your website. The WWW version is much the more popular way of handling URLs so many of those links will point to that version. If you want to make sure that more of them get it right, then you’ll join the WWW camp.