www or non-www

The local PHP users group has been having an interesting discussion on the use of www vs non-www in a domain name. The discussion has raised some interesting points.
  • Everybody agrees that both should work - it's immensely frustrating when you type in "domain.com" and you get an error message. There are still a number of big websites that get this wrong.
  • The preferred method of handling this is for one domain to do a 301 (permanent) redirect to the other.
  • Google and most search engines have no particular preference for which one you choose to go with.

If you have been quietly redirecting between www and non-www for years, then none of this is new.

The argument for www

I'm going to make my case for www.domain.com being the preferred version. It comes down to 3 main reasons.

Better handling in regexes

If a forum / email client / whatever is configured to automatically turn plain text that looks like a URL into a working link, more often than not they will stumble on "domain.com" but be fine with "www.domain.com" - of course "http://domain.com" is usually fine too. It really irks me when I get a "domain.com" in an email that I have to copy-paste to be able to visit. Much nicer when it's a clickable link.

As I posted the above paragraph into the Google Groups system (in plain text), it came back with the www. versions clickable and the non-www versions non-clickable - which basically proves the point.

Better for type-in traffic

Something which had never occurred to me was highlighted by Chris Hope, in his article on use of www in web addresses. The concept is that browser address bars will autocomplete more reliably on www websites. To get "http://www.yahoo.com" to autocomplete, you can start typing either "www.ya..." or "ya...". However, to get "http://digg.com" to autocomplete, you must start typing "di..." - typing "www.di..." will not initiate the autocomplete.

Convention + User expectation

I'm remembering back to the days where you would receive an email with an attachment called "www.freesex.com" - people would click the attachment with the expectation of getting a website, but the attachment was actually a Windows executable file with some nasty virus inside.
To most people, something starting with "www." just looks like a web address. Or as was pointed out in the discussion...
Nick Taylor said...
WWW acts as a human-readable bit of punctuation - it means "what follows is a web address". It's a little bit of meta-data.

This is especially important in printed media - having the www makes the message that little bit clearer, even if it's 4 characters longer.

The argument for non-www

It's shorter and easier to say. Have I missed anything?
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Tags: 301 redirectusabilitywwwnon-wwwredirectswww non-www usability redirects "301 redirect"