It only took a few years for people to start omitting the “aitch-tee-tee-pee-forward-slash-forward-slash-colon” bit from a URL when saying it out loud. However, although most people just refer to their website as something like “bee-mon-dot-co-dot-u-k” now, the “double-you-double-you-double-you” element hasn’t entirely died. And there’s a reason for this: the way many domains are set up, it’s can actually be a crucial part of the address. The same domain name with and without the “www” part is not the same website, although almost nobody uses the two for different things, and so if your website has been set up properly, the unused one will seamlessly redirect to the real one.
So, for example, we use https://www.bmon.co.uk as our website. The shorter http://bmon.co.uk is actually a different thing, but we don’t use it, and so we redirect anyone who types that in to https://www.bmon.co.uk …as you’ll see if you try it. Some organisations have been bold enough to settle on the “non-www” version as their standard website address, and that’s fine as long as they redirect anyone who mistakenly includes a “www.” on the front.
What are the implications here? Well, remember that I said that the “www” and “non-www” versions are technically different websites? If you’re not handling this correctly, you could be damaging your position in the search engine results. The way some sites are set up is to have two identical copies, one on each of the the “www” and “non-www” addresses. You might not realise this is how your site has been set up. This effectively means you’re maintaining two separate sites in the search engine results, and your incoming links will be divided across the two.
How can you tell? Type your website name into a browser, firstly with and then without the “www”. One of them, as you hit return, should change to the other as it’s redirected. It doesn’t matter which. So if you type in the website name with the “www”, and once the page is displaying it still shows the “www”, then if you do it without the “www”, once the page is displaying, it should have changed to show the “www”. Both should end up in the same place.
If they’re not ending up in the same place, then you need to get things fixed. Which one should you choose to “standardise” on? The best thing to do is to see which of the two has the most external links. Here’s a great tool to do just that. You can tell Google which version you’ve chosen using Google Webmaster Tools.