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Debate Follow-up: The Necessity of the 301


Thank you to everyone that participated in my debate. It’s always fun to have people discuss some of the basics.

For those who missed the first post, here is the debate: Are 301 redirects of the non-www version of the site needed, or still considered best practice? If not, what do you recommend? Is the Canonical replacing the need for the 301?

After reading the responses and looking further into the situation, I’m going to share 4 reasons the 301 redirect of the www/non-www is a must.

Get robots to the right address

One of the fundamental elements in search engine optimization is making the indexation of a website as easy as possible. That is why we create the Robots.txt file and the XML sitemap. I think the 301 redirect of the non-www to the www or visa-versa, is on the same level of creating ease for the search engines.

Many expressed this, and I agree that the search engines are getting smarter and don’t need the redirect in place to understand what is going on. However, I am a believer that you are rewarded for making their job easier. There are other ways to help the Google and Bing know which version of the site is correct — Webmaster Tools being one. However, nothing is more telling to the search engine then the 301 redirect. Why make the search engines guess?

Links to the Right Address

There are many who worry about not getting the full link juice of redirected anchor text links. However, I think Kris Roadruck hit the nail on the head in his comment when he said, “Doing [the redirect] can help would-be linkers know which is the proper address to use when linking.”

Many times when I build a link for my blog or for a client, I simply copy and paste the URL straight out of the address bar. If the 301 redirect isn’t in place, there is know way to tell if you should build links to the www or non-www version of the site. Even if you believe the link juice doesn’t get divided between the different versions of the site, getting the right link from the beginning is still ideal and should prove to be more beneficial.

Where the Link Juice Flows

Having the canonical in place is not a good enough solution to simply replace the 301. If you are skeptical of the link juice being passed through a 301, than I would think that you would be even more skeptical of the link juice that passes through a canonical tag.

The canonical makes for a good safety net overall — if you forget to redirect the /index.html or something to the home page, for example. But when it comes to how the search engines treat a canonical, I tend to be just as leery as Ian Lurie. For one, the canonical tag is newer to search. Not all engines are treating the canonical equally. Sure Google says its almost equal to a 301, but that isn’t how Bing sees it.

And Quick Note on Branding

This may not relate exactly to the debate, but since I received a comment about it from Bill French I thought I would talk about the topic of branding. Although Bill may be correct that the non-www version of the site is cleaner, and the www is no longer necessary, I really believe that having the www in place will be more beneficial for link building purposes.

This is why: like I said before, I copy and paste almost all of my URLs from the address bar. However, when it is a top level domain, and I’m pretty confident in its spelling, I’ll type them out. I am so ingrained in typing the www into the hyperlink, I rarely go back to check if it is right or not. Once again link juice aside, you probably have a better chance of getting exact links to the site when you use the www.

En Fin

Overall, the 301 is such a simple thing to implement, that I can’t see why anyone would not put it in place. Overall, I think the pros of redirecting the non-www version of the site to the www out weigh the cons.

Special Thank You

I wanted to give a special thanks to all those that participated in the debate (Nothing says thank you like a link):
Kris Roadruck
Ash Buckles
Rick Hardman
Matt Siltala
Andy (Didn’t provide me a link)
Jill Whalen
Hugo from Zetaq
David Leonhardt
Sam McRoberts
Jacob Stoops
Kelly Hammer
Bill French
John Andrews
Michael @ Email Marketing