The Highest-ROI One-Line SEO Change You Will *Ever* Make

houston, we have a problem

Houston, We Have a Problem!

I was examining backlinks for a website today and noticed that it had two backlinks from the same page (names obscured to protect the innocent):

http://www.foo.com/index.html

http://foo.com/index.html

That’s neither here nor there for the site I was looking at, but it indicates a huge problem for the “foo.com” site where the backlinks are coming from.

A user can type in either version and they are brought to the page – but in the browser the second one doesn’t redirect and appear in the browser navigation bar to be the first one.  From a user perspective this is fine, but from an SEO perspective this is *really* bad.  The reason is, Google’s spider perceives two pages – so it tries to rank them twice for the same things – and any PageRank value to the one is not credited to the other.

For instance if you do the following query on Google (substitute your own page), you could see the backlinks to that page that don’t have www.  If there are a large number it’s of concern because those aren’t helping the www version rank for whatever it is you are ranking for:
[http://foo.com/index.html -site:foo.com -"www.foo.com"]

I run into this all the time.  It’s impossible to control all the people giving you backlinks and to tell them ‘please go back do it this way please’, but fortunately there’s a simple solution.

If your site has this problem, all you need to do is figure out how to redirect all non-www traffic on your website to the www version – make sure you do it as a 301 redirect (which passes PageRank, 302 does not).

If there are a lot of backlinks involved, you could get a substantial boost in that for a one-line configuration change somewhere, either in your Apache settings or whatever else you’re using to host – probably the highest one-line-change-ROI you could ever get.

There’s a free tool by a fellow named Rex Swain called Rex Swain’s HTTP Viewer - you can use it to see the HTTP Headers returned by any page and see what’s redirecting and what’s not.   For an example put in “microsoft.com” and you’ll see that it 301 redirects to www.microsoft.com, as an example of the behavior you want.

Just be careful when you do it that you don’t mess up any subdomains you have! (like widget.foo.com etc.).

6 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    Can this be done the other way around from what you suggested? I.e. can you have http://www.foo.com redirect to foo.com and have similar results?

  2. Ted Ives says:

    As far as I know, yes, but the best practice is to do it the other way. I see you have a vested interest in getting this question answered ;-) … I will check in with someone on this and get back to you.

  3. MOGmartin says:

    @Ted – are you insinuating that an FQD with “www” as a prefix is somehow better than without?

    because its not.

  4. Ted Ives says:

    From asking around and reading up, it doesn’t appear that it matters. Twitter certainly is a successful example of making having your home page without a www.

  5. Mark F. says:

    There IS an argument to be made that most internet users are more “familiar” with the www. format of a domain, but ultimately if you compensate with 301′s like Ted states here, there’s no SEO reason you can’t choose either format.

    In fact, I usually recommend non-www for vanity URLs, and www. for domains, but compensate with redirects upon request as needed.

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