Hyphens in Domain Names – The Right Way to Use Them

  • Comments: 5
  • Written on: January 5th, 2009

In a previous post about the use of hyphens in domain names I briefly mentioned that you should use them as sparingly as possible for a bunch of reasons.

I wanted to explore that a little more in depth to explain exactly what Google sees when you place hyphens in your domain names – and more importantly when you do not.

How Does Google “See” Hyphens

The most basic explanation is that Google sees hyphens as spaces, and interprets them in the same way a space is used to separate two words.

One of the best explanations about how this works was written on Guru of Search where he posts that Google considers hyphens to be spaces in a domain name.  If you start thinking of hyphens as spaces separating keywords as well, you can begin to select domain names that will have a slight edge in the search engine results positions (SERPs) over some of your competitors.

Guru of Search points out:

For example, expertsexchange.com – is that experts-exchange or expert-sex-change? In all other instances hyphens are unnecessary, as search engines will correctly parse out the keywords.

Supporting Evidence From Google

Using the Google Adwords Keyword Tool I put hyphen use to the test.  First I entered two separate words – experts exchange.  Here is what was returned:

Next, I repeated the search separating the words with a hyphen (search for experts-exchange).  Here is what Google returned:

As you can see, the results are identical.  This tends to support the claim that Google treats hyphens like spaces.

Using Hyphens to Your Advantage

Obviously it can be difficult to find keyword rich top level domains (TLD’s) for competitive search terms.  Just try and find one for Bankruptcy for example.  Its like someone popped a thesaurus and reserved every possible variation of the idea.

In response, SEO people as well as regular web-savvy business people have turned to hyphenated domains to give them the marginal SERP boost that a keyword rich domain name affords.  This boost often comes at a price.  Hyphenated domains are often mistyped and are difficult to advertise off-line.

If you decide to use a hyphenated domain, use the hyphens to separate your keywords where needed.  Referring back to Guru of Search, use the hyphens to separate keywords that could possibly blend together like in the above example, experts exchange.

The bump you will get in the SERPs by using keywords in your domains is not what it used to be, but it is still better to have keywords in your domain than not to.

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