My Preferred Domain Setting for Your Website

Best Domain SettingYou have valuable content, a grand design and a domain name. You are itching to publish your website, but are you overlooking a very important first step? Have you decided upon a domain setting and have you religiously adhered to that setting throughout your web development process and site architecture? Failure to establish a domain setting can hinder your external backlinking strategies and impact your long-term SEO strategy.

What is a domain setting?

The “www” portion of a web address, or URL, is the subdomain. The “.com” or “.edu” is known as the top level domain. The part in-between is the domain. For my site the garthobrien is the domain < http://www.garthobrien.com/>. As a website owner you must decide on your domain setting. I set all my sites in the following manner:

http://www.domainname.com/

Are there other domain settings?

Yes, there are numerous ways to set a domain. Below are a number of examples how I could have setup my domain setting for this blog:

http://www.garthobrien.com
http://www.garthobrien.com/
http://www.garthobrien.com/index.html
http://www.GarthOBrien.com
http://www.GarthOBrien.com/
http://www.GarthOBrien.com/index.html
http://garthobrien.com
http://garthobrien.com/
http://garthobrien.com/index.html
http://GarthOBrien.com
http://GarthOBrien.com/
http://GarthOBrien.com/index.html

Notice some have the www. and some have a trailing slash (/) and some have an index.html ending. Some of the URLs include capitalization. They are all different, but they all have one thing in common; the search engines will treat each unique version above as a separate URL even though they all render the homepage of my blog.

How does my domain setting impact backlinking?

If you want increased search engine referral traffic then you must engage in accruing backlinks or external links from other websites pointing back to your website. Sometimes those links will point to an internal page or your site’s homepage. You want to make sure every possible backlink is using the same URL format. You want to control the proper way to backlink to your site as much as possible. If you do not and you start getting 50% of your links to http://garthobrien.com and 50% to http://www.garthobrien.com/ the search engines will start splitting your backlinks because both of those addresses will be indexed by the engines even though they are the same page.

What is the preferred domain setting and why?

I prefer and many of my colleagues prefer using this setting:

http://www.garthobrien.com/

Steve Krug, usability guru, wrote a wonderful book called Don’t Make Me Think. He hammers into the reader that conventions are a good thing and trying to break a convention can be costly for your business. We all have been conditioned over the last two decades that a website is www.domainname.com. Think of every commercial you hear on the radio or see on TV. A vast majority of time you will hear www.domainname.com. Over the years brands have gotten away with domainname.com, but the Users enter www. because that is how we were trained in the beginning.

If we are trained to enter www. then when another webmaster or blogger links back to your site they most likely will link to www.domainname.com. If you have your domain setting to http://domainname.com you are missing out on all those backlinks. Backlinks that are happening because of the popular and steadfast convention of using www. before your domain name.

Finally, I always use the trailing slash (/). It is clean and it is the proper way.

How can I make search engines adopt my domain setting?

There are a few ways you can make a search engine adopt your domain setting. The first way is to create an .htaccess file that will be uploaded to your root directory. In your .htaccess file and near the very top of the code you will write the following:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^domainname\.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.domainname.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Obviously, you substitute your actual domain name for domainname above.

You also can and should create a Google Webmaster account. Once you have activated your account you will need to add your website. Add both the http://www.domainname.com/ and http://domainname.com/ versions. After you verify you are the owner of this website you can select Site Configuration on the left sidebar, and then Settings. The second option is Preferred Domain. Select Display URLs as www.domainname.com.

Google Webmaster Domain Setting

I completed those steps, but I still see backlinks to other versions of my homepage URL, help!

Some website owners are too lazy to figure out the proper link or to use the proper link when they backlink to your site. Some owners do not understand the importance of backlinking and do not realize what they are doing is not helpful for your site. So there is a solution and that is implementing the rel=”canonical” tag. Rel Canonical tells the search engines which version of a page and which URL is your preferred URL. So now the search engines will know that links to http://garthobrien.com should accrue for http://www.garthobrien.com/. I will go into greater detail about Rel Canonical in a later post.

Am I the cause of my domain setting chaos?

Possibly. When you link to your homepage in your own website are you always using the same URL every time? Sift through your website source code and make sure every internal link to your homepage is pointing to your preferred domain setting. So every homepage link on my site is using the URL http://www.garthobrien.com/. Make sure your editors are writing links to your homepage properly and make sure your CMS is properly crafting your homepage URL. Do not get lazy on writing your domain URL.

This certainly was not an exhaustive list of reasons why it is important to properly set your domain setting, but this should have been enough information to convey the value and importance of a properly set domain setting.

About

Author: Garth O'Brien provides SEO, Social Media and Community Management consulting services. He can help boost the online presence of a small local business or global enterprise corporations in both Google and Bing.

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