To www or Not to www — That is the Question

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In the dim and distant days at the dawn of the web, those publishing a URL on offline media would add the ‘www’ prefix. It informed everyone you’d moved into the twenty-first century and owned a piece of prime real estate on the World Wide Web.

Fast forward to 2012. Everyone knows what the web is — few organizations publish their URL with a preceding www. People understand that Google.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com and SitePoint.com are websites.

Before we take this discussion further, your site must work with or without the www. For the sake of SEO and canonical/duplicate content issues, you should choose one domain option and redirect when the other is used. If you prefer naked domains, redirect to it when a visitor requests the fully-dressed www version. It’s not difficult — a three line Apache .htaccess file will suffice:


RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^mydomain.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^/?(.*)$ http://mydomain.com/$1 [L,R=301]

The question is: which should you choose?

Those in the pro-www camp point out that ‘www’ has not been deprecated. It’s unambiguous, technically accurate and distinguishes the address from similar URLs for FTP, mail or other data types.

The anti-www camp point out that it’s simply not necessary. No one’s confused. URLs are shorter, easier to read and quicker to type.

“Ahh”, says the pro-www lobby, “you’re just being vain”.
“Well”, responds the anti-group, “you’re being finicky and my website looks far better than yours”.
“Does not”, shouts pro, “Your site smells.”
And so on.

My opinion: it doesn’t matter. Pick one and stick with it. Some word combinations look better with the www, some look better without. Ultimately, it’s your personal branding preference and few people will notice or care.

Just remember that your site should load regardless of the URL and redirect when necessary. If you’re breaking that rule, go and stand in the naughty corner and consider the consequences of your actions.

Comments on this article are closed. Have a question about domains? Why not ask it on our forums?

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  • http://www.onmysoapboxblog.com Lee

    It all depends on the host that is being used. I know that with some platforms such as Shopify, if you don’t put in www, then it will tell you the store doesn’t exist. In my opinion, you should always use the www.

  • Pedro H.

    There are obvious advantages to consider naked domains. Unfortunately, older web generations are used to type www, but I believe that tendency will be gone soon. We don’t write http:// anymore before a domain, so I would submit naked domains would suit an easier typing experience. I can’t agree with the pro-www group statement “Those in the pro-www camp point out that ‘www’ has not been deprecated. It’s unambiguous, technically accurate and distinguishes the address from similar URLs for FTP, mail or other data types.” As we all know, www serves as a “pseudo” subdomain. What cleary distinguishes FTP and Mail or other datatypes are the protocols we call in the browser ( http:// ftp:/// …. etc … )

  • http://walkleftstudios.com Luke Madhanga

    Great post Craig, IMO, having to type in “www.walkleftstudios.com” is just unnecessary, therefore I’m in the no-www camp. But thank you for clearing this issue up,

    Luke Madhanga | CEO Walk Left Studios (WLS)

  • Martin

    In my opinion, it is better to use www prefix. This are my reasons:

    1/ you will be able to search this particular domain on Google with “site:www.example.com” without including results from your subdomains – what happens when you search for “site:example.com”

    2/ next reason is cookies: if your app sets cookie to root domain “example.com”, cookie will also be avaible for all subdomains “*.example.com” thus this cookie will possibly interfere with cookie used on other subdomains

    3/ simply, people (and highlighter in chat/email/etc) are used to “www”, they automatically recognize that you are talking about website when you say “www…..”

    Of course, both varians should be working, while one variant is redirect to variant you prefere!

  • George Gooding

    Actually, it does matter, in certain circumstances.

    If you want to serve static content from subdomains on the same domain name, you’ll want to go with www since you can then make the static content subdomains cookieless, thus improving performance.

    Other than that, do whatever floats your boat. But you’ll notice that almost all big popular sites still go with www. Going without it may make your site seem “small”.

    • http://www.xoogu.com/ Dave

      Exactly, this is standard practice I thought? How did the author miss this when it is recommended in nearly every site optimisation article out there?

      (Of course it doesn’t matter if your cookie domain is www, just as long as it is a sub domain and not the base domain).

  • http://stylesie.com Colin Styles

    From my younger colleagues I get the impression that there is a demographic associated with the choice, bare or ‘www’.
    A website aimed at a younger crowd should forgo the “www”, while an older more conservative audience will type in the www automatically.
    I think, over time that the “www” will become effectively deprecated, but I agree, always cater for both with a 301 redirect.

    • http://www.itamer.com Sarah

      Barney is spot on that www is just another subdomain but Colin has picked up on the important issue… alot of web users aren’t techie. I have a customer whose site has 20 subdomains (yes, it does make sense) but you’d be amazed how often I get corrected by users/media/sponsors when giving out the urls over the phone – “You mean www first right?”, actually no, and the server is set up to redirect those misguided souls. Even the client gets tripped up because older people who don’t live and breath the internet think the www is vital.

  • Ian

    I agree, pick one and redirect the other — with one caveat. Newer TLDs don’t necessarily look like URLs (eg test.me, funky.tv or the newer custom TlLDs) and could cause confusion to the less technically savvy especially when displayed out of context like a print advert. As such even if you choose to eliminate the www from the URL it’s probably a good idea to promote it with the www to make it obvious.

    • http://rdksoftware.com Dave Keays

      Thanks for the point I didn’t consider, but with time these newer TLDs will become just as obvious as the older ones.

  • http://tricky3.co.uk/ Rick Davies

    I love it when I ask people where their website is at and they say; “Double you double you double you dot…”

  • http://www.paulund.co.uk Paul

    I prefer it when websites go without the www, this is something I’ve been thinking about changing on my site but there isn’t really much advantage. Better to just stay with the one you have.

  • http://www.anblik.com Shivaji Mitra

    With over few trillion links on the Internet primarily with www, I will go with the convention of using www. I’ll keep www and just redirect 301 non www to www. And, I can promote either one, doesn’t matter. :)

  • http://seo-website-designer.com/ Tiggerito

    Another thing to keep in mind is that your offline material can use either form without caring which way you decided to redirect online.

    PageRank does not take into account links from the offline world.

    So you can have one policy offline and another for your online linking. e.g.

    Include www in your business cards which can redirect to the non www when it’s typed in.
    Say www on the phone even if that’s not the online policy

    Or you can use a different domain entirely, say a shorter more memorable one.

    Some of the concerns I’ve seen in the comments seem to relate to people typing in these URLs, and that only really happens when they are coming from the offline world.

  • barney

    There’s a lot of comment here on subdomains, but kinda overlooking the fact that www *is* a subdomain. So, do ya go to http://www.a.domain.tld? Or a.domain.tld? ‘Cause the primary is [www.]domain.tld. By my readings, you’d have subdomain www, subdomain a, and sub-subdomain www. If my reading is wrong, please correct me [politely, please ], but the specs seem to be fairly straightforward.

  • http://www.onehitgamer.com GCSkye

    There are many people out there that just use Facebook.com, Twitter.com and Google.com. I watch them type www all the time for no reason at all. Sure, they probably know they don’t have to but they do.

    My feeling towards it is picking one for google sake. Don’t have both, always put up a redirect. There will always be people typing www so it’s what ever you feel is best.

  • Shakti

    If it doesn’t matter, why waste time to write or read the article?

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      …or respond to it?

      That is the point of the article. Some people argue the www is essential, some argue it isn’t. They’re both right/wrong — it doesn’t matter which you choose.

      • http://rdksoftware.com Dave Keays

        Either Shakti responded to an article he didn’t read or Shakti was willing to waste even more time than typing the three redundant and unneeded letters.

        It’s redundant since the letters .com, .co.uk, etc. already tell us it’s a URL.

        It’s unneeded since the lack of a specific protocol tell us it’s the standard default. Does the pro-www group dial their area-code when calling a neighbor?

    • ralph.m

      “If it doesn’t matter, why waste time to write or read the article?”

      It seems you didn’t read the article. The point is that you should choose one or the other. As this message still hasn’t gotten through to a lot of site owners, it’s worth repeating. :-)

  • http://www.brandings.com Chad

    Without the www all the way. No one uses it, it is shorter and doesn’t interfere with the design of the site. It just looks better.

  • http://www.getdomainer.com Brad Davis

    I agree with most of the comments that we don’t use http:// so why use the www. If i recall correctly the person who invented the “www” chose those letters because they are the longest and most cumbersome to say anyhow, now throw it out the window.

  • http://www.companynamings.com Jim Lundin

    Who cares about the www, as long as you make sure that you forward the one to the other. You might want to list them separately in Google Analytics because they will track separately.

  • Alex

    First off, I’m lazy and never type anything I don’t have to. I never ever type www unless for some reason the site isn’t found and then I add it just in case. If it’s a .com then I simply wack in the middle part and hit [Ctl] + [enter].

    Please help my ignorance though – I haven’t done anything special to my websites and they all work with or without the www. in front. I even just tried shopify.com and that worked without (re. Lee’s comment above). I’ve never bothered with a 301 redirect and never had a problem with either. In fact, it’s extremely rare these days that I come across a site that doesn’t load without but does with.
    How do you specifiy? Is it really necessary? It is the modern browers that are simply clever enough to excuse my naivity?

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Some hosts will configure their servers so your site will load with or without the www.

      However, Google could then see two websites with identical content: yourdomain.com and http://www.yourdomain.com. Both could be marked down as being a duplicate of the other. Therefore, you should always choose one option and redirect accordingly. The .htaccess file above can do that for you.

      Note this has nothing to do with browsers. They use whatever domain you specify in the URL bar and don’t care either way.

      • Guy

        I think that may be the way my web host’ servers are configured as my clients site works with or without the www.

        Due to both working, does this mean there will be an impact on figures from Google Analytics?

        How would I re-direct from the none www across to the full www URL?

        Thanks

  • http://trophylinks.com Brennan

    A redirect is a must either way. It is interesting to see that some of the top-ranking SEOs use www and some don’t. There is no SEO debate to use www or not to use it. Personally, I don’t use www because it looks better to me.

  • Nimmi

    I never use to type www always use to type site name and ctrl+enter…
    thats it its done for you.

  • http://hollywoodblack.com.au Hollywood Black

    Lovely article, simple, sweet and true!

    A non-www preferrer.

  • http://jeffdownerbailbonds.com Jeff Downer

    If the argument is form over function and and the function is unchanged, then give me the sleeker non www version.

  • Stevie D

    I’ll admit to being a tiny bit schizophrenic here … in general, I much prefer to be non-www, because it’s less to type (and none of my websites are .com so the whole Ctrl+Enter shortcut doesn’t work) and the extra prefix is completely unnecessary. But there is a minor downside when it comes to text-based media, whether printed or online, and that is getting it recognised as a web address. In print, it’s usually pretty obvious that example.co.uk is a web address, and you can add styling touches to highlight that. But plain text online? Not so easy. The chances are that if you send a plain text message – whether email, tweet, Facebook post, SMS or whatever – it will recognise a URL beginning with http:// or www. but won’t recognise one without either of those. So in order to make the URL into a clickable link, you have to either put www. or http:// on the front, and of the two, www. is shorter, less clunky to look at and easier to read.

  • Lars

    On a business card, I would spell my website without the www prefix, and still keep the www on the server because you never know if one day you won’t be using cookies and subdomains for static content.

  • http://www.trivial.ly Nicholas Johnson

    You can’t set a cname record on a naked domain, so if you’re cloud hosted, and the IP of your server is changed by your host, your site will go down. Not a problem for Twitter.com who control their own servers.

    Typically I do a 301 redirect from the naked domain to the www subdomain, then everyone is happy :)

  • George Jetson

    It’s simple really.

    www = hostname
    example.com = domain name

    Using the domain name without www is like saying that your domain name IS your hostname.

    You could however use main.example.com and it would be just as correct as http://www.example.com

    That is is technically incorrect.

  • Craig

    I’m curious about this as well. Managing 150 or so sites I tend to set the default to non-www though I admit to sharing www and non-www URLs based on context and audience.

    How about a poll so we can see where the majority lie?

  • http://www.stereointeractive.com/blog Scott

    I used to be anti-www until I started working on large-scale websites. As the article states, both www and non-www URLs should work. The question is, which do you chose as the default?

    I haven’t seen anyone mention this very important fact: A “naked” top-level domain without the “www” can have availability and uptime implications. Naked domains (also sometimes called root or apex domains) must be configured using DNS A-records, which point to a static IP address.
    If services at that hard-coded IP become degraded (even short-term, lets say because of high-traffic or hardware failure) you can run into availability issues.

    Now imagine you use the “www” subdomain instead. This is configured in DNS using a “CNAME” record. These records allow you to point your domain to another hostname rather than a fixed IP address. The service at that hostname can be continually updated to route around disturbances and service degradations. This is especially useful in cloud-hosted apps and infrastructures.

    Now, with all of that said, this isn’t an issue for most sites. I think at some point last year Amazon Web Services announced support for “zone apex support” on their “elastic load balancing” service, but cloud-hosting services like Heroku still encourage the “www” approach.

  • Doug

    Written like a true blogger. If you have a simple blog of no significance, it certainly is just a matter of preference. But the impact is at the cookie level and this shapes how you choose to optimize for performance and/or scalability. Using no www will set domain-level cookies and send them for all requests. If you had a www and then an assets subdomain, you can safely send your assets without cookies. If you used non-www, then you need to do like many of the massive sites do and have separate CDN domains to serve the assets without cookies. Whitehouse.gov used to send 13k of cookies with each request due to this screwup. So instead of pushing around the same old “personal preference” line, at least point out the real impact such a decision can have – it’s not insignificant if you care about performance or have scaling considerations.

  • Joe

    There are actually strong technical reasons for using the www. The quick argument is, go to google and/or amazon and see which one they use (hint: it’s with the www). The long argument is about cloud compatibility and redundancy. In DNS, A records can only point to an IP address, hence you are pointing your bare domain at one and only ever one machine… not very redundant — that machine is now a single point of failure that will take your whole site down. If you use a CNAME (e.g. www) it can point to another address which can be a DNS round robin of machines (e.g. a set of load balancers) so when any of those machines go down your site survives it… (for WAY more technical detail look at Amazon’s Elastic Load Balancer product and the articles about it).

  • http://BennettMedia.com Bill

    Writing www in a URL is redundant. The http protocol indicates the intention to communicate with a Web server as opposed to a FTP or SMTP server. Technically www is positioned in a URL where the name of a sub-domain should be.

  • http://www.shavingdetective.com Hans Henrik Appel

    Interesting post.
    I generally use both versions, depending on the target audience of my site.

    I manage several websites, and I usually go for the non-www version for sites targeted at professional IT people (e.g. a site for webmasters or IT professionals). On the other hand, I use the www-version for “low tech” websites like my blog http://www.shavingdetective.com which is targeted at men of all ages from all over the world.

    I don’t know if you can call it a rule of thumb – in fact I didn’t realize I did it that way until I read this post. ;-)

    But as it has been said over and over again – as long as you have a permanent redirect from one version to another it’s merely a matter of personal choice.

  • Carlos Aguado

    I’m in the pro-www camp: www is like a “trademark” of the web and thus completely unambiguous and self-explanatory, no matter the age. But of course the 301 redirection is a must-have SEO-wise…

  • JB

    There is something that most of you are forgeting, and it is very important for heavy loaded websites: CDNs.

    Almost all Content Delivey Networks (CDNs) rely on DNS and subdomains, meaning that you need to point the www to the CDN Network. This CANNOT be done with domain.com, but something like http://www.domain.com will work.

    Therefore, I agree that you can print out domain.com, but you MUST assure that you have a redirect to www in order to be sure that the content is being served through the CDN.

    So, call me pro-www maybe, but for me www will never drop, or at least in the following years.

  • http://www.aweb4u.co.nz Murray

    Given that most of the big sites that I use daily seem to have decided to stick with www, I will too. This includes sitepoint.com, google.com, bbc.co.uk, facebook.com, etc.

  • http://afterlight.com.au John V.

    I’m with Pedro H. on this one. The WWW is ambiguous and unnecessary. People often say that it indicates that it’s the website/webserver/webwhatever. Of course the protocol should dictate what your accessing here, not the subdomain.

    IMO this looks quite … dirty
    http://www.example.com
    ftp://ftp.example.com
    smtp://smtp.example.com

    whereas this looks a lot cleaner
    http://example.com
    ftp://example.com
    smtp://example.com

    • Shane

      You are assuming that the same server is running all your (HTTP, SMTP, etc.) services. That is rarely the case.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      That’s the point. Some URLs look better without the www, but others look better with it (like http://www.bbc.co.uk which Steve mentioned above). It doesn’t matter which you prefer, just be consistent and ensure both work!

  • Steve

    For a site that is an online service, such as a library’s,
    it is useful, and the intended use, to use www (which,
    roughly, means “open to the public” ) to send the public
    there, and to password-protect, or otherwise protect,
    the rest of the site from the public, for us of staff and
    other insiders.

  • http://www.jkb.com.au Jacob Ball

    I found it hard to concentrate with the three annoying full colour adverts jammed in between six whole paragraphs of article. I understand the need to generate revenue from advertising, but seriously, this site is just getting worse.

    On topic, I personally redirect (using a .htaccess file) from the non-www to the www. That way, everyone’s happy, especially the search engines :-) I can see good technical reasons (already posted) as to why the www should be retained.

    It’s amazing though how many times when I try to give a subdomain address to someone, eg devsite.mydomain.com (see that, Luke Madhanga – I didn’t spam my business domain name!), they STILL start putting the www in front. I then say no, no, don’t put the www, it’s a subdomain! On reflection, this is probably an argument for the non-www brigade :-)

  • nvrau

    I prefer non-www when typing or seeing a domain but I REALLY prefer URLs called out without the www. Quiet annoying when a radio announcer STILL feels the need to tell the audience http://www…..

    However, we’ll all need to go back to www when the new custom domains hit. e.g. super.fly

  • Steve

    Until such time that email software and MS Word type software etc start to recognise www-less urls such as bbc.co.uk as opposed to http://www.bbc.co.uk as a live clickable link, without me having to manually edit in the hyperlink, then I will be sticking with the tried and tested www prefix (interesting to see that bbc.co.uk auto-redirects you to http://www.bbc.co.uk)
    Also I feel that http://bbc.co.uk (which does auto-apply the hyperlink) looks ‘uglier’ than good old http://www.bbc.co.uk

    • Steve

      Hmmm – your system has auto added the ‘http://’ bit to the ‘www’ bbc urls above – but I guess you can see I mean (outlook, word, etc don’t add the http:// bit to a www url!)

  • Zach Shallbetter

    What if your internal domain is mydomain.com and you company’s web address is mydomain.com. How would you allow internal users to access the external website?

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Sounds like you need to sort out your domain management. But it won’t matter if you’ve chosen http://www.mydomain.com as the default for your site.

  • http://club-muzic.blogspot.com Free Fly

    Personally I prefere the “without www” version. But as you said it’s just a matter of personal taste and it won’t make any difference to visitors and clients.

  • http://www.weekmania.com WeekMania

    I think that may be the way my web host’ servers are configured as my clients site works with or without the www.

  • http://vpsbolt.com VPS Bolt

    Great article!
    For my internal links within the website, I don’t use ‘www’ such as:
    http://vpsbolt.com instead of http://www.vpsbolt.com

    However I tend to post my link with the ‘www’ when I send emails or over the phone.