Webmasters should understand a simple concept that anything before the domain name is a sub-domain including www. Hence, the sites https://www.webnots.com and https://webnots.com are not same for search engines. Earlier, Google was offering an option called ‘Preferred Domain” in Webmaster Tools account. The Preferred Domain (with WWW or without WWW) setting option allows the webmasters to set how their domain is to be shown in the search results, that is with www or without www. With the latest Google Search Console interface, you can use this feature as “URL Prefix” when adding your site.
How to Set a Preferred Domain in Old Webmaster Tools?
Login to your Google Webmaster Tools account and select the site you want to set a preferred domain. Go to “Site Settings” option available under the Gear Box Icon located at top right corner. Preferred domain section has three options to choose from:
- Don’t set a Preferred Domain
- Display URLs with WWW
- Display URLs without WWW
You must add and verify both www and non-www versions of your site in order to set a preferred domain. If both versions are pointing to the same content (this is a normal scenario), then once you verify one version, the second version will get auto verified by just adding to the Webmaster Tools. Otherwise you need to verify it two times as two different sites.
Submit URL Prefix in Google Search Console
The latest Google Search Console has different way of handing preferred domains. When adding a new property, you have two options:
- Domain – using this option, you can add a domain property that includes all subdomains (www and other subdomains) and protocols (https and https).
- URL prefix – you can submit www / non-www and http / https versions using this option. Make sure, other version of your site is not used for displaying the same content.
For URL prefix method, simply enter the correct URL of your site (which is a preferred domain) and click continue button.
Google will show multiple options for verifying the ownership of your site. If you have already installed Google Analytics then the site will be automatically verified using that tag.
Changing from One Version to Other
If you are changing the version of your site from www to non-www or vice versa, then you can use URL prefix option to submit the new site address. However, make sure to setup proper 301 redirect from old address to new address to retain your ranking. Once you change your preferred domain settings, it may take considerable time for Google to display correct URLs in the search results. The URLs belonging to the non-preferred domain will be still showing in the searches till the time Google refreshes the indexing of those pages. This is the reason you may be seeing both www and non-www versions of your URLs in the searches once you set your preferred domain.
Impact of Setting a Preferred Domain
Setting s preferred domain is not an optional choice for webmasters since it has an impact on following thins:
- Search Results Display
- Link popularity of your site’s URLs
- Search engine ranking
- Site Indexing
1. Displaying Search Results
The URLs showing in the Google search results will follow your preferred domain setting in Google Search Console. If you are intended to use any sub-domains like blog.webnots.com then it is recommended to use the www version for your main domain. If you don’t set any preferred domain Google will decide what version is to be shown in the searches.
2. Inbound Link Popularity
It is highly possible that the links pointing your site may use http://www.yoursite.com or http://yoursite.com. If you do not submit the URL prefix properly, then Google will count these two links as separate links and hence you may lose your inbound link popularity. When you submit and verify the domain, then Google will consider all links pointing your site for the domain regardless of whether it consists of www or not. This helps to improve the link popularity of your site and you may not need to worry about the version of your inbound links at all.
3. Search Engine Ranking
As the link popularity and backlink count are having high weightage on search engine ranking of your pages, by not setting a preferred domain your pages may be ranked low in the search results.
4. Site Indexing
As mentioned above Google will index http://www.yoursite.com and http://yoursite.com as a two different sites. If you see no data for your site in Google Search Console, the possibility is that the other version of your site is indexed by Google. Hence you need to add both www and a non-www versions of your site and view the available reports in your account.
Note: Ensure the Sitemap you are submitting should be for the preferred domain version you set in the Webmaster Tools. Otherwise you may see error in processing your Sitemap.