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.

  1. John said on January 11th, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Have you considered putting hyphens in between each letter of a given word. The search engines read them as if the hyphens do not exist. Have a look a the About Us page on our website for more details.


  2. Thor Schrock said on January 13th, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I suppose you could, but Google does not ignore hyphens. It treats them as spaces, so to Google your URL would look like t h e n e w com. In other words, your domain name looks like jibberish.

  3. Pay Per Click - Paul said on June 10th, 2009 at 5:11 am

    That’s a good illustration. Do you know what the situation is with other search engines like Yahoo and MSN? They are still a source of good traffic.

  4. UPVC said on October 23rd, 2009 at 7:21 am

    I agree with Thor, keep away from hyphens – they aren’t good!

  5. Britt said on February 19th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    We own several sites. Half of our business is our DJ Company. We own our brand name, JamrockEntertainment.com but then we also own (because that aspect of our business is regional) domain names like south-florida-wedding-dj.com and south-florida-wedding-directory.com.

    We have a very attention getting logo (giant lizards) – and it’s on the top left of every site. Clients find us through the hyphens but remember our company name and type that into Google to find us again where they are directed to our main site.

    Hyphens work great as landing web page sites. From my limited experience though, I don’t think they’d be good for your main website as the average visitor doesn’t expect hyphens in domain names.

    Funniest post I’ve seen about this- someone bought h-y-p-h-e-n.com Can you imagine telling someone verbally how to get to that? Trendy though and is working for them somewhat.


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