Hyphen or Underscore in URL

Website Spoof Domain

There has been a long debate about using a hyphen – or an underscore _ when creating URLs. Current day thinking and user research shows that the hyphen (dashes) is the preferred choice.

Search engines treat a hyphen as a space, so making the URL a natural group of easy to understand keywords for both humans and machines. Matt Cutts (of Google) stressed that the ranking difference between using dashes or underscores is a minor one.

That means there is a ranking difference, albeit minor and it’s something you should exploit for your SEO project.

Should I use a Hyphen or Underscore in URL?

Use a hyphen (-) to separate the words of a web page URL or new directory name. To Google and most other search engines a hyphen appears as a space, so it makes for easier understanding of your URL structure to a computer and human at the same time.

Example of a good directory and page URL structure, using it for SEO advantage:

www.seosme.co.uk/free-seo-tips/url-hyphen.html

You can see I have created a directory within my web site called ‘free-seo-tips’ and have created a web page URL of ‘url-hyphen.html’ and placed the file within the new directory, thus creating the URL above which is easy to read and understand. Each word now plays an important part in user search results.

I now have a good selection of my key-phrases contained within the web page URL. A person searching online for; “free seo tips” or “url hyphen tips” would stand a much better chance of seeing my web page URL in the results page. We have effectively told Google that this web page URL will lead to a page about “URL hyphen tips and seo” or very similar.

Combined with a good web page title and a great page description, we have now given Google an awful lot of useful information when it comes to the relevance of our web page to the users search query. A great domain name is good, but you need to carry that through to using short but relevant web page URL’s.

To Google a URL of: “www.example.com/12334?id6=.php” is meaningless in search. If you are using something like WordPress or other web building software look to see if you can change the default URL structure. I know that with WordPress there are some very good SEO plugins, plus the latest version of WP also allows you to alter the default URL structure.

**NOTE** If you change the URL structure of your website you will of course break any external and internal hyperlinks you had to your website, so best to start the improved URL structure with new pages and not change all URLs at the same time unless you are confident with setting up 301 Redirects. (A means of informing browsers a page has moved).

You should aim for short URLs with only a few keywords hyphenated, do not be tempted to create long URLs crammed with keywords as this form of spam will hurt your SEO efforts and also be harder for people to remember and share online in forums etc.

In our example, we used two keywords when naming the new directory and used two keywords when saving the new page URL, what is very important is the choice of those words. Repeatedly you will hear me mention the importance of researching important key-phrases for your business. You can see that there are many opportunities to use your chosen key-phrases within a website’s code and visible content.

Changing a URL that is already in place can harm your search results and your website traffic figures. If you use something like Google Webmaster Tools or Google Analytics you can decide if changing a web page URL is worth the risk.

Only you can decide this, based upon your web site traffic research, but certainly a URL based on a few keywords is more SEO friendly than a URL based on random numbers or just one word;

www.examplesite.com/about.html < This page is about what?
www.examplesite.com/about-blue-widgets.html < Now this page is about Blue Widgets.

I would advise against creating very similar named web pages too, if you have created a website where any page can easily be reached from another, it is less of an issue if perhaps your ‘Blue Widget’ URL attracts all the attention and not your ‘Green Widget’ URL.

You want to give as many opportunities as you can to Google and if you have several well composed URLs you are in a good place to do it.

Author by Malcolm Oakley

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