To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate a Domain Name?

Hyphen's grave I have been recommending affiliates to use keyword-rich domain names more aggressively, and I myself have been experimenting with different types of domains and how well they do with search engines. Today I would like to share with you my experience with hyphenated domain names.

Some are saying that hyphens in domain names are a “no-no” for SEO “because people won’t remember to put them in when they’re trying to remember how to access your site” (not sure where the connection with SEO is though), while others state that it isn’t bad for your SEO at all, and hyphenated domain names do well with narrow search engine searches.

A little over a year ago I registered two domain names: both in highly competitive niches, one – hyphenated, another one – not. The non-hyphenated one reached the #1 position on Google and MSN (it still keeps it with Bing, but dropped a bit in Google) about a month after its registration and loading content, whereas the hyphenated one did relatively well with other search engines, but wasn’t very successful with Google. Here are its current rankings across 6 different search engines:

  • Google – not in the top 100
  • Yahoo! – #3
  • Bing – #8
  • AOL – not in the top 100
  • AltaVista – #3
  • AllTheWeb – #3

Based on this experience, I would recommend looking for a non-hyphenated domain name over a hyphenated one.

If, however, you do decide to go with a domain name that contains separators (such as hyphens or underscores), you want to stay away from underscores. Earlier this year Matt Cutts of Google has strongly recommended hyphens over underscores because at this time, and in case with Google, “dashes or hyphens are treated a separators, and underscores are not.”

Finally, remember that while metatags no longer matter much, your page titles and inbound links still matter a lot.

9 thoughts on “To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate a Domain Name?”

  1. I purchased hyphenated domain names cheaply through the 1 & 1 registrar prior to becoming a member on ABW. At the time the hyphenated names appeared to be a good choice. I’ll stick with them for now.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Rhia

    So hyphenated domains rank well for you? How do they do in comparison with non-hyphenated ones? I’d love to hear about your (or anyone else’s, for that matter) experience.

  3. While it’s been my understanding that google treats hyphenated and non-hyphenated keywords the same, It’s impossible to register a name with underscores so that shouldn’t be a problem for anybody.

  4. In answer to your question:

    So hyphenated domains rank well for you?

    I’ve used two different hyphenated domains for a while and I don’t believe that the hyphen is an onerous obstacle.

    I rank very high for Google images on certain keywords/search terms. Sometimes I wonder if people who use Google images instead of plain Google (web) want to just look at a product instead of buying it?
    People still find my sites — even pages that have not been updated for some time.

    I do not think that I’ve “killed sales” due to the use of a hyphen. I’ve found that some search engines will look at the first time alone and the second term alone and then also the combination.

    The structures/layouts of my sites need improvement. Improved layouts + fresh content will override the “handicap” of the hyphen.

  5. This has been a topic of debate for quite a long time now. However, all the domain names I purchased until now are non hyphenated, and they’re doing quite well.

  6. I believe MCutts’ recommendation regarding hyphens/dashes vs. underscores had more to do with page names and links (internal) than domain names. It also affects image names. Some datafeeds are full of poorly constructed URIs that can and do negatively affect the merchant’s efforts. Image and page names that work just fine on your desktop do not necessarily work just fine on all servers.

  7. This is a great point, Nancy. Since you cannot register a domain with an underscore, he more than likely meant page names, etc; and merchants should make sure they follow the advice about the hyphens in their page and image names, and also flee from any kinds of special characters, etc.

  8. IMO Google could care less whether you use hyphens in the domain name or not. I think they rank equally well based on my experience. The choice of whether to use hyphens or not IMO should be based on the type of site…

    I always recommend to clients that if they are building a legitimate web site that they intend to keep indefinitely and brand, one that they want to represent their business… one that they will want people to remember from offline and online marketing… that they get a non-hyphenated domain name. It’s more about usability than anything.

    A legitimate business’ domain name should be as short as possible, easy to remember, easy to speak, easy to type. Adding hyphens makes the domain name longer, harder to remember, harder to speak, harder to type.

    Also, visitors and other webmasters seem to view non-hyphenated domains as more legitimate since spammers and affiliate marketers are notorious for buying/promoting hyphenated domains. Even if they do rank well, hyphenated domains will get fewer click-thrus than its non-hyphenated equivalent because they are perceived as less legitimate. AND they will attract fewer natural backlinks from other webmasters because webmasters also see theme as less legitimate.

    When is using a hyphenated domain name acceptable? I think it’s a good option if you ONLY care about being found through search engines and PPC as in the case of an affiliate marketer trying to rank well for some single high volume, highly competitive search term and the non-hyphenated domain is already taken. Having an exact match domain like “” will make it much easier to rank for “my keyword phrase” since exact match domains do get a big boost at Google and most engines. But ranking well for a single high volume, highly competitive phrase for an affiliate marketer can be a gold mine… and the reduced click-thrus and reduced natural linking to their domain doesn’t is not that important.

    Just my $0.02… 😉

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