What Are the “HTTP” and “WWW” in URLs? Are they required?
Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and World Wide Web (WWW) both are acronyms used online and are an inherent part of all website URLs. For the average internet user, despite having seen them time and time again before the URL keys, these two terms often remain shrouded in mystery.
Historically, both terms were coined in the 1980s by the British computer scientist, one of Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Important People of the 20th Century’ - Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Back then he couldn't have predicted the far-reaching impact these terms will have on everyday internet browsing for decades to come.
What does HTTP mean? How is HTTPS different from HTTP? What is WWW? What are the differences? Does your website/eCommerce store need both? Read on to find out.
HTTP in URLs (http://)
As explained and defined on Webopedia - HTTP is the underlying protocol used by the World Wide Web and this protocol defines how messages are formatted and transmitted, and what actions Web servers and browsers should take in response to various commands.
In other words, it is the “language” in which web servers and web browsers communicate. HTTP is needed, but if you just write, for example, www.website.com in your browser, without the HTTP acronym, the URL still has enough information to communicate between the browser and the server. Why is that? Because WWW already indicates that a given website uses HTTP. HTTP is needed, but if you just write, for example, www.website.com in your browser, the URL still has enough information to communicate between the browser and the server. Why is that? Because WWW already indicates that a given website uses HTTP.
WWW in URLs
As previously mentioned, the World Wide Web (WWW) indicates that a given website is using HTTP (or HTTPS). Similarly, WWW combines all the users and resources that are using HTTP (or HTTPS).
It was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and has been widely available since 1991. The World Wide Web (WWW) is often wrongly called “the internet”, which is wrong, since the Internet is the global network of networks, an infrastructure, while The World Wide Web or simply The Web is a service on that infrastructure.
The main difference between HTTP and WWW is that HTTP is a protocol which enables communication and data transfer online from one machine to another. WWW is a set of linked hypertext documents, viewable on web browsers.
It is not mandatory to use WWW on your website, as in most cases it serves no technical purpose other than to identify the URL as a website.
If you choose not to include WWW in your website URL - e.g. http://website.com, you will need automatic server-side redirects from the WWW version to your non-WWW domain, so in case when users would type the WWW version, they would get redirected to the right one without worry. If you choose not to include WWW in your website URL - e.g. http://website.com, you will need automatic server-side redirects from the WWW version to your non-WWW domain, so in case when users would type the WWW version, they would get redirected to the right one without worry.
So why is WWW used so widely, you may ask? The frequent use of “ World Wide Web” or WWW has become unintentional, even accidental practice, ever since the first web server was launched. If you’ve implemented WWW on your site, it is again mandatory to have the redirects from alternative versions in place.
HTTPS in URLs (https://)
Ok, we have covered HTTP, but what about the often used HTTPS? The extra “S” means “Secure” and, basically, it's the secure version of HTTP. Communications between the browser and website are encrypted by either Transport Layer Security (TLS), or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which is the only difference between HTTP and HTTPS.
Historically, HTTPS was made specifically for sites that store secure information, but nowadays HTTPS has become a standard, as more and more sites switch to the secure protocol. Some reasons why switch to HTTPS include:
HTTPS Impact on sales
A study by GlobalSign revealed that 84% of users would abandon a sales funnel if they saw that their data would be sent over an insecure connection. This can be viewed by any user easily, as certain web browsers, e,g Google Chrome, since January 2017 Google labels label HTTP sites as not secure.
Users always want to be given the peace of mind that your site can be trusted with their personal information, hence you should avoid any signs showing otherwise at all costs. Besides, Google considers this especially for sites that include payment fields, or need a password to login. If you host a site like that, e.g., an eCommerce site, switching to HTTPS (if not already) is a must. Have you switched to serving your website on an HTTPS connection already?
Improved site security with HTTPS
There are cyber attacks happening every minute. You can see for yourself by checking out some of the real-time cyber-attacking sites on the Digital Attack Map. And each attack is yet another reason for adding extra layers of security, especially when your business deals with sensitive data.
HTTPS in URLs results in higher Google rankings
Since Google strives to deliver secure experiences to their users, it comes as no surprise that HTTPS sites are prioritized in their search results. Google prefers to show pages with HTTPS over the ones that are still HTTP and lack a secure connection in search results.
HTTP, HTTPS, WWW in URLs and SEO
We have already covered the importance of redirects from one version to your site to the main one from the end-user perspective, but there are other SEO related aspects to it:
Switch to HTTPS or lose rankings
We already mentioned the fact that Google Chrome labels non-HTTP websites as not secure. This makes sense, because information stored on a HTTP can be stolen quite easily. Therefore, around 50% of the pages on Google rankings Page 1 are HTTPS. From an SEO point of view, switching to HTTPS would benefit any website.
Consistency in the use of WWW or non-WWW domain name
Because your SEO rankings will be applied to one, canonical or main version, you want to use that one version (either WWW or non-WWW, either http or https) throughout your entire site.
HTTPS websites load much faster than HTTP
Faster websites are more likely to rank better on Search Engine results. Better rankings can lead to more traffic.
Overall, as Google is increasingly enforcing switching from HTTP to HTTPS, it's definitely a good direction to follow for SEO, as most sites at the moment are going that direction anyway. If these arguments aren't persuasive enough, we're emphasizing once more how important it is to switch to HTTPS as soon as possible. Regarding WWW - you can create a domain without WWW, but it is important to ensure that your website is configured to provide the appropriate redirects.
Let us help you:
What are your thoughts on the WWW and HTTPS acronyms? Have you already migrated your site from HTTP to HTTPS successfully? Need SEO help? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our SEO & Growth Marketing services page.