Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Is it time to drop 'www' from government site promotions?

National Australia Bank (nab.com.au)

Banks do it, utilities do it, even media does it, is it time for government to also do it - drop the 'www' from web site promotions in advertising and links?

This came to my attention while playing with the Australian Department of Health and Ageing's new my child's eHealth record app.

Looking at the information for people without an eHealth account, the help page lists the new my.gov.au site in two places as www.my.gov.au, and once as my.gov.au.

It also states that people can register for an ehealth account at www.ehealth.gov.auehealth.gov.au would work just as well.

The designation 'www' stems from the earliest days of the world wide web. It was used to indicate to web browsers that a given resource was a web page rather than a different type of content, such as a file repository (ftp).

As the web grew, so did the use of www, even though technology improved such that web browsers no longer needed it to recognise a web page and web servers no longer needed to use it to select the right page to serve.

In fact 'www' has been technically unnecessary since the late 1990s. It continued to be used out of habit by marketers, due to the use of old web server technology and as it was recognised by early internet users as a designator of a web site.

AGL (agl.com.au)
Since the early 2000s we've seen a decline in the use of 'www' in sites and site promotion as the online community matured and moved on from needing it for recognition of sites.

First pure online services such as Google and Facebook stopped using it - rebranding themselves as google.com and facebook.com.

Next the news media, banks and utilities started dropping www from their website addresses. Most advertising by these organisations in Australia now excludes www, illustrated in the advertising images at right (look at the small print) as 'TheAustralian.com.au', 'AGL.com.au' and 'nab.com.au'.

Government has pursued a more uneven course. There's still inconsistency as to when and whether agencies and councils use 'www' or exclude it from web addresses.

I can appreciate that there may be concerns over whether government's audiences may not understand that a web address without 'www' may not be a web page - though I'd love to see the research in support (and understand what they think it might be instead).

I expect that these concerns are most commonly voiced by older public servants, who more clearly remember the early days of the internet and remember the days when 'www' was necessary.

The Australian (TheAustralian.com.au)
However times have changed.

It seems clear Australian banks, utilities and news media are convinced 'www' is now unnecessary and have put in place consistency policies avoiding its use.

It's also clear most web-based services have also dropped the use of 'www' - to shorten their name and focus on their brand.

In fact none of the top ten sites visited by Australians still use 'www' in their branding or advertising.

Australian governments have few, if any, customers, clients or stakeholders who would not use one or more of the private services considered above. Australians are big users of web-based email, of search engines, of online banking and media.

Given government is being inconsistent - sometimes using 'www', sometimes not, this can only confuse audiences at best, or make government look less professional and old-fashioned at worst. So isn't it time for agencies to come to a common view on its use?

The Australian Government has firm web standards in place through AGIMO's webguide (which drops its own www). The Webguide already states that agencies should accomodate users who don't use 'www':
When you are setting up a website on a domain, you should ensure that the website can be reached whether or not a user adds ‘www.‘ at the front of the domain name when typing it into their browser. It is very common today for users to drop ‘www.’ from website addresses and agencies should accommodate this behaviour.
Source: http://webguide.gov.au/initial-requirements/domain-names-naming-your-site/ 
The next step is to mandate an approach - either using 'www' or dropping it.

If required 'www' should be used consistently in advertising, branding and links.

If 'www' isn't required it should be dropped from these communications devices - at least on a moving forward basis.

Either way, it's time for government across Australia to consider their policy around the use of 'www'.

Whether to ban it or use it consistently, the worst outcome is to leave things as they stand, to be inconsistent in the use of 'www'.

5 comments:

  1. Absolutely, web addresses in other media need to be easy to remember, and easy to put back in to find what you want when you get back to a computer/phone.

    "http://www." is useless in this regard, so it's best to drop it and get straight to the point.

    It's also important to know that customers might only remember part of the address, and that should be enough. If the URL is example.gov.au/campaignName then simply going to example.gov.au should be enough, there should be some clear feature/link to the campaign (if it's important enough to advertise, surely it's on the home page right?)

    It's also important to remember those URLs you publish and manage them. Like nab.com.au/lower which goes to a 'file not found' page. There's a wasted opportunity!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just mandating that Comms types and Ministerial staff are banned from making ICT decisions such as "using www is a good idea" or "an ampersand in the web address is important to our branding" would solve the problem overnight. Maybe a simple rule like "you can't register
    domain names unless you can prove you can personally configure a web server" would suffice...

    ReplyDelete
  3. And yet I know of more than one government website that literally does not work if you don't type in the www. before the rest of the address....

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree but so many government websites still don't work without the www - eg. try parliament.vic.gov.au - very annoying!

    ReplyDelete