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Just curious...

Not sure how many domains are actually visited directly like that - I'm guessing it would be impossible to know exactly - but what would be a rough estimate?

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the www still has some relevance for organizations which need to maintain multiple sites but want to house it all under one domain. support.dell.com and support.microsoft.com are good examples of this. They may be maintained by a completely different team in a completely different environment from the marketing focused www. –  robertpateii Sep 4 '10 at 20:20
    
Who types www anymore? Unless the site requires it as a subdomain it is not needed. –  Chris Sep 6 '10 at 21:01
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4 Answers

Practically zero. Because:

  1. The vast majority of users don't type in URLs anymore. They type the company name / domain name into a Google search box in the browser chrome, and go to the first result Google returns.
  2. If users expect to revisit your site often, they'll bookmark it.

Update: I'll add a bit based on the good comments and answers given by others in this thread.

I believe all webmasters should do the right thing, and normalize their URLs with HTTP redirects to their preferred site address, with or without the "www." prefix as they see fit.

With prefix normalization in place, the whole argument about typing domain names directly versus searching is moot. In all cases, "www." or not; search or direct input; the user will arrive at the right place in the first try.

To use or to omit "www." based on personal taste, fashion whims, or perceptions of what is common in your target market is completely okay. Just help the users who do the opposite with a redirect.

What I disagree with is the notion that we should all remove "www." because of the external ''rational'' motives of efficiency or usability. ASCII characters are not an endangered species; nobody is being hurt if the server automatically adds the prefix.

When does the prefix matter for end users? On print advertisements, TV and other offline media. In this case you need something to communicate to the user that he's seeing a web address. If you're not promoting "www.", then that something is "http://", which certainly isn't shorter or prettier than "www.".

When does the prefix matter for the technology side?

  • If your site gets very, very large and you need to implement global server load balancing (GSLB), then having "www." is a little bit neater. It gives you a separate DNS subzone that you can delegate to your GSLB or set up as a CNAME. But there are ways to make this work without the "www." too.
  • If you are not using "www.", then keep in mind that cookies set by "domain.com" apply to "*.domain.com" as well. Again, not a real problem, something you can either accept or work around if you want to.

Use "www." or not, as you prefer. Just own up to the fact that it was a matter of person taste, and not a choice dictated by usability, efficiency, or technological considerations. And set up 301 redirects to the right domain.

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That would be true if all internet users had the same power-user habits which you do, however, I suggest that you watch a typical internet user (that is, someone who does not spend all day working with the technology) - you'll observe an entirely different set of behaviors. –  danlefree Sep 5 '10 at 1:14
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@danlefree - exactly! The users you speak of will typically type www.example.com into the Google search box, and then click on the first link! (I seriously see this behavior all the time.) –  nhinkle Sep 5 '10 at 8:07
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Exactly 87 million keystrokes.

Dilbert strip

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According to pingdom, there were 234 million websites online in 2009, so it would be fair to say that if each website gets hit at least once, you'd save close to a billion keystrokes.

The more relevant point for webmasters, I think, is to support both variants (www. and not), but ensure that the website is set up to 301-redirect to one or the other to maintain a single canonical address for the benefit of search engine bots (SEO).

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Redirecting to the www or no www is also good for usability as it gives the user a consistent URI (good for usability = good for SEO) –  John Conde Sep 4 '10 at 18:22
    
Exactly correct. There is also an additional benefit to forcing a canonical site name: it makes log file analysis more consistent. –  Peter Rowell Sep 5 '10 at 4:48
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Earlier this year, a blog called ReadWriteWeb wrote a post about Facebook's login process. Because it's a popular blog, it soon appeared near the top for the search query, "Facebook login". Facebook users began to confuse ReadWriteWeb with Facebook and became angry when they weren't able to login. The ensuing comments are priceless and I really wouldn't do it justice to try to describe them, so I'll just link to the post.

A few days later, UX Magazine wrote a post covering the incident. In it, they also shared a video in which people on the street were asked what a browser is. If you've ever enjoyed watching Jay Leno's Jaywalking segment, you'll enjoy the video. If you make websites for a living (or browsers), you'll probably laugh nervously for a moment and then sob uncontrollably.

The point is, as webmasters, we really need to support as many different ways to access our sites as possible. Technology is a huge hurdle for many people and they do their best to scrape by, but for most, they're lucky if they can find what they're looking for. Even the supposedly tech savvy younger generation doesn't fare so well. Would it make sense to get rid of the www altogether? Probably, but it would also cause a lot of confusion and so it's important to support both.

In general, anything that you can do to make it easier on the user, you should do. Users aren't dumb, but I think we can sometimes fool ourselves into believing that our field and tech skills are shared by more people than reality would seem to indicate.

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When I read this not long after it happened I was shocked by this. I still am when I see adverts that say "for more information search for X". Yes it's how people use browsers, but you (as a company) are putting your fate into Google's (or Bing's) hands. –  ChrisF Sep 5 '10 at 21:55
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