When registering a domain name a lot of people are wondering if a dash, hyphen or minus sign would affect their search engine ranking compared to a domain name without. Similar questions are asked when creating a webpage and people are asking them self if they can put a dash in a domain name or an underscore. Let’s take a look at the how and why first.
The Legend of the Dash
If you look at the way Google handles web page URLs with underscores it shows where the developers of Google come from, where they have their roots. In programming languages you have commands like _MAXINT which could have completely different meaning than MAXINT. If you have a URL that contains keyword1_keyword2 it will be only returned by Google if someone is searching for the exact match, in this case keyword1_keyword2 (including the underscore), which in this case would almost never happen. If you create a URL that contains a keywords divided by a dash instead of an underscore, e.g. keyword1-keyword2 then the page connected to that URL will be returned by Google if a search is done for keyword1 or keyword2 and even “keyword1 keyword2”.
For this reason I would always choose a dash above an underscore in a URL. Things brings us to the myth that Google penalises websites that uses a dash within the URL. This is absolutely not true; Google indexes the page and gives ranking to the page as if the URL to the page is without a dash.
Domain Name, to Dash or not to Dash?
I recently did some test regarding this to finally get the answer for myself and to share it with you guys. There seems to be do significant different to have a domain name with or without a dash, Google seems to finds the domain name and indexes it accordingly with or without dash.
Within the English language the dash or hyphen is the most used word separators which to my opinion is the reason why there is no difference for Google regarding keyword1-keyword2.com vs. keyword1keyword.com. Google seems to see the dash as a white space.
Natural Search Queries
Let’s put search engine optimisation (SEO) aside for now together with search engines, spiders and bots and let’s look at the arguments around a domain name with a dash or not.
Some of the arguments (stupid or not) that people put on the table regarding a domain with a dash are the following.
- A domain name containing one or multiple dashes look unprofessional – there are people that believe earnmoneyfromhome.com looks better than earn-money-from-home.com.
- People don’t like to type a dash – This is clearly a good argument. Personally, when someone tells me about a new website I enter it in my browser without the dash, as one word with the .COM extension. Even if I know that the domain name has dashes I might unconsciously enter the domain name into my browser without dashes.If you are targeting a market and you have a domain name consisting out of keyword1-keyword2.com while your competitor has keyword1keyword2.com you might end up sending a lot of traffic to your competitor.
- Having a dash in your domain name makes the domain more complicated – It can be problematic to explain people trough the telephone to explain how a dash or hyphen looks like. Some people may use an underscore or a slash instead of a dash/hyphen because they are not familiar with the term. It’s much easier to say trough the telephone that the domain name has only one word.
- If you have dashes in your domain name it makes the domain name longer – true, but it’s not a very strong argument why not to use a domain name with a dash vs. one without a dash.
Not looking at any SEO arguments whatsoever the only advantage of having a dash in a domain name is for readability. A domain name with dashes is more visually appealing and more recognisable compared to a domain name without dashes; especially with longer domain names or when a domain name consist out of two words where the first word ends with the same letter as the second one begins: e.g. medicallecturer.com compared to medical-lecturer.com. Another example: earn-money-selling-products-on-the-internet.com looks better than earnmoneysellingproductsontheinternet.com.
Nevertheless, my personal advice to you is when you buy a domain name buy the one with dashes as well as without, especially when it’s a keyword rich domain name.