Ask the Experts: Should I Have Dashes In My Domain Name?

by Gravity on April 9, 2008

Q: I noticed you don’t have dashes in your domain name (your-seo-plan.com). Why? Is there anything wrong with them?

A: There is no major problem with dashes in domain names. The main reason that we chose not to use one, and that we generally advise against dashes, is that hyphenated names don’t pass the “radio test.” The radio test is this: if you had to say your domain name on the radio, would people know how to spell it, or would you need to spell it out? So, names like “wherehouse.com” or “civil-litigation-firm.com” have a problem because every time you give out the URL in person or over the phone you will have to spell it out. That means it’s harder for people to remember and communicate to others!

It’s well-known in the SEO industry that search engines are aware of hyphens and perceive them as spaces (see Google’s Matt Cutts on the subject of dashes and underscores ). However, we generally advise against using too many words, as a Google engineer wrote: “you can have too much of a good thing. It also doesn’t take a special tool to know that this page name isn’t user-friendly:
african-elephants-and-their-habitats-and-diet-and-history-and-extinction-possibilities-and-this-page-is-really-great.htm”

While we generally avoid dashes in domain names, this advice does not apply to filenames. We do recommend that dashes be used in filenames to separate out keywords. For example, the file name: “seo-advice.html” is preferable to “seoadvice.html”. Similarly, it is a good idea to use a seperator in folder names. This not only helps search engines, it also helps your human audience understand what the page is about, as you can see when you compare these two examples:

  • without dashes: http://www.yourseoplan.com/seotips/googlelovesme.html
  • with dashes: http://www.yourseoplan.com/seo-tips/google-loves-me.html

If dashes don’t float your boat, you can choose another separator. We believe that underscores and tildes (_, ~ ) are also recognized by Google as word separators.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Goyal February 8, 2010 at 12:25 am

article is informative. i have searched a long on internet to find solutions of choosing a domain name. i strong advice not to choose hyphens in domain numbers. numbers should also be avoided in domain name.

Jamie March 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm

We’re currently having a huge debate about hyphens – an seo guy told us to buy a new hypenated domain, which we balked at. Thanks.

PurpleRoseCashware April 14, 2010 at 7:35 pm

I was wondering – is: money-making-website.com the same as moneymaking-website.com as far as SEO is concerned?

Bill White December 22, 2010 at 1:32 am

Great article with one exception…

Although the “radio test” is cute, it doesn’t really apply to searches in 2010 and beyond. The media that more than 90% of all traffic is derived from IS NOT the telephone, so having to spell your domain name doesn’t really apply anymore.

Dashes/hyphens in the domain name IS a better strategy…

The same reasons you give for hyphens/dashes in your file names apply to domain names as well. Using hyphens/dashes will help Google understand the name of your domain easier (just like your file names) and allow the algorithm used by its spiders to gain a better sense of what the page is about.

An even better strategy? Spend an extra $10 and grab BOTH versions…
http://www.thisisabetterdomainname.com and http://www.this-is-a-better-domain-name.com.

@Jamie – go grab that hyphenated domain name!

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