Hyphens in URLs: Good or bad for SEO?


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A long standing debate is whether or not hypens in domains are a good thing or a bad thing.

Below is an example of two alternatives:

http://www.yourcompanyname.co.uk or http://www.your-company-name.co.uk.

So what do the experts say?

Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz recently answered this question:

Do search engines read URLs as separate words? Are dashes in URLs SEO friendlier? www. ThisURL .com vs www.This-URL.com?

99% of the time, they do. But be careful if you make up words. For example, SEOmoz itself may not get the benefit of having “SEO” in the domain name, because “moz” isn’t a word. Likewise, something like “Everywhereist” might not rank for “Everywhere” because the engines interpret “ist” as part of the word, not a separate one. However, if you have a domain like “greetingcards.com” that will certainly be seen as the words “greeting” and “cards”.

Matt McGee wrote about hyphens and underscores in URLs on Search Engine Land and commented:

The same advice that has applied for years still applies today: If you’re just starting on a new website, use dashes if you plan to place keywords in your URLs. Those keywords might provide a minor signal of what the page is about and help a wee bit with rankings. But if you have an existing website that’s already doing well in Google and Bing – pages are indexed, you’re getting quality natural search traffic, etc. – don’t switch from underscore-based URLs to dashes. The potential problems from changing URLs might be worse than the potential gains from having dashes rather than underscores in your URLs.

So what about inner pages and folders?

Matt Cutts, part of the Google Webspam Team, did this great video on the subject:

You can view this video on YouTube, click here.

My view on hyphens in domains and pages/folders

Starting with domains, I’ve used both hyphenated and non-hyphenated domains for SEO projects and I have to say that I’ve found domains without hyphens do perform slightly better.

I’ve also found that domains with more than one hyphen struggle, for example 2 or 3 hyphens in the domain name. One project I worked saw a domain with 2 hyphens take twice as long to rank well compared to a domain with one hyphen both targeting the same niche.

Also you’ve got to consider, which are easier to remember? Look at some of the great websites: Google, BBC, Facebook, Twitter, Digg, WordPress etc, none of these sites have hyphens in the domain name.

With reference to pages and folder names, I don’t see hyphens being a problem from a user or search point of view and I typically split all words in pages and folder names with hyphens every time.

A few golden rules I try and stick to…

  • I always try and go for a short domain name over a long domain.
  • I try and avoid hyphens in domains where possible
  • I avoid purchasing domains with common words like – and, it, the, what, who etc.
  • I always try to keep a full URL string less than 66 characters, example – look at the URL for this page, it’s 46 characters long.

Do you have any thoughts? Leave your comments below.

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