Make sure your website works with or without www

Being a little lazy at times, I tend to skip typing "www." before the domain name when I enter a URL in my web browser. No, it doesn't save me a whole lot of typing, but bear with me here. Most of the time it works fine and I end up on the site I expect.

But it really surprises me how often typing in a domain name without "www." in front results in one of the following:

  • My browser displays an error message such as "Safari can't open the page "" because it can't find the server ""."
  • My browser finds a server but nothing happens because there is no website configured.
  • I am redirected to a parked domain.
  • I get a "Directory listing denied" message.

This happens with all sorts of organisations, from the tiniest single-page websites to huge online presences of multi-national corporations.

You can add "www." in front of the domain name and all is fine. But should you really have to do that? What I think should happen is that the web server either responds on the address I entered or redirects me to the www host. Unlike the no-www and yes-www folks I'm "www-agnostic" in that I don't really care if the preferred host is the bare domain name or "www." + domain name. Just make both work and redirect all traffic to one of them, I don't care which. I do however think that it makes a really bad impression when any of the above happens when you try to access an organisation's website without typing "www.".

I'm no DNS or web hosting expert, so there may well be technical reasons that I am unaware of that make it hard or impossible to configure all web servers to work with or without the "www.". But when this sort of thing has happened to clients, it usually turns out that whoever is hosting the site has simply forgotten about it.

Considering how many use their bare domain name in advertising, and looking at colleagues and relatives, I know I'm far from the only one who skips "www." when manually typing in a URL. And do you really want to risk your clients losing visitors due to a misconfigured web server? I thought not, so remember to check this with the persons or companies responsible for the servers your clients' sites are hosted on.

Posted on February 12, 2008 in Usability