Avoid These Domain Forwarding Mistakes to Improve Website SEO

Filed in Organic SEO Best Practices by on April 27, 2014 2 Comments

Is your domain name setup properly for SEO?

seo problems and mistakesOn some recent projects, I’ve noticed some problems with domain name forwarding and website hosting setup than can be confusing to both search engines and users. Most of the time this has to do with the “www” version of the domain name not resolving to the same thing as the “non-www” version of the domain name.

In one test I performed for a client, the “www” version of the URL returned 1 search result and the “non-www” version returned over 200 search results. I had expected the same result for both. So, something was amiss in how Google recognized these domains names.

Why is the “www” version of the website URL different than the “non-www” version?

Intuitively as people, we equate www.example.com and example.com as the same thing. However, technically the software that runs the Internet actually thinks that www.example.com is a subdomain of example.com.

You’ve probably run into subdomains before, like support.apple.com or maps.google.com. In these cases, the subdomain refers to a particular portion of the website that is set apart from the main website. The subdomain often has its own navigation and pages.

But when referring to the “www” and “non-www” versions of your website, you generally expect the same website to show up in browsers and search results.

To get around the www vs. no www problem for the main website, the website owner generally chooses one version to serve as the main website URL and the other redirects to it. That is, they pick www.example.com to be the primary domain and anyone who types or links to example.com will be redirected automatically to www.example.com. Or they may pick example.com to be the primary domain and all www requests for the domain will redirect to a non www URL.

Test your domain name forwarding setup

Here’s a quick test you can do to see if your domain name forwarding is set up properly for Google:

  1. In your browser, go to www.google.com
  2. In the search box type: site:www.yourdomain.com (use your website URL here).
  3. Note the results, print or save the screen image of the results.
  4. Now type this in the search box: site:yourdomain.com (using your URL again).
  5. Note the results, print or save the screen image of the results.
  6. Compare the results. They should be exactly the same. If not, you have a problem to investigate.

Now, you need to check how the redirection is setup for web browsers:

  1. Open your web browser (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.).
  2. In the address box, type in www.yourdomain.com.
  3. Your home page should appear. Note what is says in the address box. Is the www. still shown?
  4. Now type yourdomain.com into the address box.
  5. Your home page should appear. Note what is shown in the address box.
  6. In both cases, the address box should show the same thing. You don’t want one to show the www and the other to show no www.

If you notice any problems with the above tests, talk to your website designer about what you found.

Here’s an example using this blog. I chose www.seotipsandstrategies.com for the primary domain. The results shown below are consistent with this choice.

Please click on images for a larger version.

google site search results

How Google sees your website with the “www” prefix.

Google site: search results example

How google sees your website without the “www” prefix

web browser address box example

Web browser address box example

Where to look to solve to domain forwarding issues

Solving domain forwarding issues can be tricky. So, it is best to have someone with knowledge about domain name registration and website hosting investigate any problems that crop up.

There are three main places to check if you are having issues with domain forwarding and redirection:

  • Domain registrar – The domain name registration DNS records may not be setup properly. Check with the company where you registered your domain name (e.g. Go Daddy, Network Solutions).
  • Website hosting – The website hosting configuration sometimes hosts a version of DNS or has other configuration options that identify subdomains for your website.
  • The website itself – Sometimes website configuration files like .htacess will contain information about domain redirects. In addition, some content management systems, like WordPress or Joomla, may have a configuration field that identifies the website’s primary domain.

Note: DNS = Domain Name Server

How does incorrect domain forwarding affect SEO?

Even though your site might work fine for visitors, Google and other search engines like consistency. If your forwarding is not set up properly, you may be unknowingly fragmenting or duplicating your website as far as search engines are concerned. This may dilute the overall quality and authority of your website and SEO efforts.

Also reporting from tools such as Google Analytics may be affected and show referral traffic from your own website to itself as separate visits or user sessions.

Hopefully, this article sheds some light on the problems that can occur with setting up your website. I have attempted to simplify a complex issue that often takes some technical know-how to fix when problems arise. I’ve armed you with a few simple tests that you can run on your own to verify if your domain forwarding is setup properly or not.

Please check out these related posts for more information on choosing and registering business domain names

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Comments (2)

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  1. Mary Gammel says:

    @Sue: Thanks for the feedback! I’d suggest you check all website config areas and also any XML sitemaps submitted to Google. Also, check internal links to make sure they all use the proper URL.

  2. Sue says:

    Mary -
    Thanks for the info. I already knew this, but it reminded me to check my sites. Found a few problems to fix. Most were easy to fix with a redirect. Just found one site where google results from “site:” were different for the www and non-www version. Not quite sure what causes this. I read something about the robots.txt file — so starting to look there?? Any other insights?

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