Preferred Domain and 301 Redirect

If you don’t set your Preferred Domain, you could be falsely lowering your pages PR (Page Rank) status.


How do you know if you have set your Preferred Domain?

If you can reach your website (or a page on your site) using either the www or the non-www version AND the destination page (in the Browser address bar) looks just as you typed it (with www or no-www respectively), then you could be diluting your PR (Page Rank) status.  Lower PR means your page is less likely to show up in top SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages), which means poorer traffic/visitors.

In other words, poorer SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

Note: preferred domain is also sometimes referred to as the canonical domain.


What happens if you don’t set up your Preferred Domain?

If you don’t set a preferred domain, then Google (and other search engines) recognize

  • and


Say you get 1000 visitors who use the www- form and another 1000 users who use the non-www from to get to a specific page on your site.  That means, for that specific page, you have had 2000 visitors right?

Very simplistically, the higher the number of visitors, the better Google likes you, the higher your PR status, the more likely you show up on SERPs for related searches, the better your traffic. (Traffic means money for many sites).

However, without a preferred domain, Google only recognises 1000 visitors to www- URL and 1000 visitors to non-www URL.

So overall, your PR for that particular page just got diluted.  Not good.

Another way of looking at this …

say there are 2000 users who search for something for which your page’s content might satisfy.  Remember you have only ONE ‘physical’ page with that qualifying content.  But when the search is conducted, Google finds two URLs with the same content.

  • URL 1: and
  • URL 2:

Google will only serve up one or the other; sometimes one, sometimes the other.  And that is how the traffic count to that exact same page gets diluted.

By setting your preferred domain, you are telling Google that when the above scenario happens, you desire to set your preference for one of those URLs over the other, i.e. your Preferred Domain.  In that way, Google knows to  show your preferred domain in search results, ensuring that maximum benefit goes to the preferred URL.

www and non-www: Choose one as the preferred domain


How to Set Your Preferred Domain

You use a Google Webmaster Tools (it’s free).

Add 2 Sites – in Google Webmaster Tools: the www- and the non-www version.

(You might need to do site verification as proof that you own that domain.  Google will let you know.)

Then set the (same) preferred domain for both of them.  (You can choose either the www- version or the non-www version as the preferred domain).  (I tend to choose the www- version as my preferred domain.)

Set Preferred Domain at Google Webmaster Tools – Step by Step

Log onto your Google Webmaster Tools.   If you have more than one site registered there already, click to select the one you want.

I will assume you have already added your sites (www and non-www URLs).

Image below shows an example of  2 sites at my Webmaster Tools home page: both the www and the non-www forms.

set preferred domain at Google Webmaster tools

Google Webmaster Tools: www and non-www sites

To set both of them to a preferred domain (here I choose the www version) click on (say) the non-www URL first.

On the next screen, to the top right, click on the gears icon to show the drop down box, and click “Site Settings”

set preferred domain

How to set preferred domain

Next, in the Site Settings screen, under “Preferred domain”, check the www- you prefer as the canonical domain.

select preferred domain

Select your Preferred Domain

Now  do the same for the other site of your domain and set it to as above.

You can do it from the same screen by just selecting the specific site from the drop down box. This time, we select the www- site and choose the preferred/canonical domain as www- version as well.

set preferred domain

Set the same preferred domain for the next site


Sidenote: the screen captures here are as at 31 July 2013.  Google Webmaster Tools changes its interface every now and then so it might not always look the same.  But it should be similar enough to figure out.


Next, you will want to do a 301 Redirect.

Why do a 301 Redirect when you have already set a Preferred Domain?

This is a recommended step. A server-side 301 redirect ensures that users and search engines are always redirected to your preferred domain; no second guessing.

Remember in our example above, because you have specified your preferred domain (in Google Webmaster Tools), Google now knows you prefer to show your preferred domain in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

But what happens when someone actually types in your domain name or the URL to a page on your site, into their browser address bar?  They don’t know (nor care) what your preferred domain is and you cannot predict which URL form they will use. (Will they type it in with the www. or without?)

You want every bit of traffic that arrives at your page to be counted at that one URL only.  The 301 redirect ensures that this happens.  It “converts” a non-preferred form to the preferred form and in that way, traffic to that particular page is always recorded for that specific URL.

Say your preferred domain is the www version.

With a 301 redirect, if someone types into their browser:

the 301 redirect will “convert” this to

If you have Analytics, you will see that traffic is recorded with respect to the preferred domain version, giving you a much clearer picture as well as better SEO results.


For example, if someone types in into their browser, with a 301 redirect, they will land at the correct page and the browser address bar will show (if you have chosen www- version as your preferred domain.)

There are a few ways to do a 301 Redirect.

If you are going to do it via your cpanel, then see this article on Preferred Domain and 301 Redirect via cPanel.  You can also refer to the references below for more information and ways to accomplish 301 Redirect.

Note: If you have a WordPress installation for your site, see 301 Redirect if you have a WordPress Installation.

Summary: Set Preferred Domains and 301 Redirect
Choose a preferred domain for your site. Set that up using your Google Webmaster Tools.
Next, set up a 301 Redirect to force a redirection to that preferred domain.


References for thso who must have more:



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  1. Killer post! I’m so in love with the way you explained everything, but doesn’t the WP has 301 Re-direct by default?

    • Helena Asmus Lim says:

      Hi Arnav,
      thank you! I am so glad you enjoyed the WordPress and 301 Redirect article.
      No, WP does not by default have a 301 Redirect. For example, when you installed your WP, and you installed to (without www). Then you set your Preferred domain to (without any changes in WP), when you type in into your browser, it will just show (i.e. not redirected to your preferred domain).
      However, if you set your Preferred domain to non-www, and you installed to non-www, then as long as WP has the WP Address and the Site Address showing non-www URL, then yes, you are set.

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