What do you mean by website versions?
I really mean variants of your domain. I count each of the following as a version (variant) of our domain :
Visitors might go to any of those links. There might be links to any of these out there in the ether, on websites that have linked to you 10 years ago, on business cards, on social media, and in search engine results.
The pages served up to your visitors should normally be the same for each version. Without any other assistance from you, search engines would typically treat each of these as separate sites. What you, or typically, your website developer, would do is to invisibly forward each of the website versions to one version only.
This is important, because if you don’t have the right forwarding in place, then search engines might index your page(s) twice (or more), and then split their search juice between the two pages.
You may have more website versions than we have. For example, if we had a client area sub-domain, then we might also have :
What is the issue with different website versions?
The first thing I would say here, is that your website is probably ok, but a quick and simple 2-minute check will make sure.
Here’s an example of an issue that had been impacting a website for several years before it was spotted…
A sobering tale
A website owner contacted us to do a little SEO work on his site and also to install and configure an SSL certificate. When we took a look, the www version of his site looked slightly different to the non-www version (i.e. the version without the www).
It turned out that he had migrated his site to a different hosting company a few years earlier, but had left his old hosting account active. Either he, or his website developer, in repointing the hosting to the new server, hadn’t done it properly. The result was his www and non-www versions were pointing at different servers.
So, visitors were potentially being directed to an outdated version of the site (think – old content, different contact telephone numbers, contact forms not working etc.). Added to that, there was a huge impact on his SEO. Search engines were potentially sending visitors to the wrong site, and could also have been penalising his more recent version. To top it all, the WordPress version and plugins were so woefully out-of-date on his old hosting that there was a grave risk of getting hacked.
What do I need to check?
You just need to open your internet browser (preferably using a private / incognito browser tab), and open up each of the variants in turn (http://www-version, http://non-www version, plus the 2 https:// equivalents) and make sure that :
- they all load without issues
- they are consistent in terms of layout, content and style
- they all end up getting redirected to a common variant (so, for example, if you type the http:// address of your site into your browser address bar, you end up at the https:// version
Simple! Should only take a minute or two.
If any variant fails any of the above 3 tests, then you are potentially wasting lots of website effort.
How can I fix it?
If you have any issues where one or more variants of your website don’t work, you may have to investigate any (or all) of the following areas :
- Your site may not be configured correctly for SSL – it is not always sufficient just to install your SSL certificate. Ideally, you’ll need to make sure that all references to http:// resources on your site are changed to https://.
- Make sure that your site redirects (often by using a rewrite rule in your .htaccess file) from http:// to https://. This is subtely different to the point above.
- Make sure that you also redirect all requests to the correct www or non-www variant. The jury is out on whether www or non-www is best, but whichever you choose – make sure you are consistent, and a good way to do this is to add a rewrite rule in your .htaccess file)
- Check your DNS ‘A’ records to make sure your ‘@’ record points to the same place as your ‘www’ record.
Very few website owners realise that they could potentially be presenting multiple versions of their websites (website variants) to an internet audience. As well as misrepresenting your brand, this can also have some serious SEO considerations.
So it should really be avoided!
If you have made fundamental changes to your website in recent times, particularly if you have changed hosting provider, it’s worth a quick check.
If you go through these checks for your website, and find some issues, get in touch with us if you need them resolved.