The inclusion of the hyphen in domain name registration has, for years now, sparked quite a lot of controversy.
Proponents of the trend insist that you should especially consider placing a hyphen in domain name ideas drawn from compound phrases. This, they believe, makes it easy for both internet users and search engines to interpret the constituent keywords.
Critics, on the other hand, contend that hyphens only complicate domain names.
Well, I say both groups appear to have valid points. So, instead of taking sides, I suggest we settle this debate once and for all.
👉 In this guide, we’ll review what Google says about using a hyphen in domain name synthesis, how hyphens in domain names influence SEO, and the marketability of domain names with hyphens.
Does a hyphen in domain name affect SEO?
Google’s Search Advocate John Muller went on record in 2021 to say that their search engine algorithm doesn’t actively look for hyphens in domain names. And even if that was somehow reversed today, John says that Google’s algorithms don’t really consider the keywords in domain names.
That was then followed up by a somewhat contradictory statement from Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes in a 2022 episode of his Search Off The Record podcast.
According to Gary, Google evaluates some parts of the URL to understand what a page is about. Hyphens are interpreted as spaces between the URL terms. As such, Gary even goes on to recommend them over underscores, citing that hyphens are a much better fit for SEO purposes.
Interestingly, these are the same recommendations you’ll find on Google Search Central. The search engine advises you to use hyphens (instead of underscores) to separate words in URLs, as this makes it easy for its algorithms to recognize the subject matter.
Following the guidelines isn’t compulsory, though. Search engine crawlers have many other on-page indicators to draw insights from, such as meta descriptions, content, keywords, and title tags.
That leaves the hyphen in domain name terms with just one job: to clarify to web users what the website is about. This is most important for domain names built from ambiguous compound words.
💡 For instance, you could use a hyphen to transform a rather confusing domain name like volkwagenitalia.com to volkswagen-italia.com.
Such a basic tweak could positively impact your domain’s click-through rate (CTR). The resultant clickability would then be picked up by Google’s algorithms as a firm indicator of your site’s relevance in your target niche, thereby contributing to favorable search engine rankings.
Pros of using a hyphen in domain name
1. Acts as a separator for search engines
Google itself has clarified that it treats hyphens as word separators, meaning that a hyphenated domain name is accurately logged as a compound term instead of a single word.
This prevents any instances of search engines misconstruing what the domain name stands for. Search engine bots can be unpredictable at times, and may end up mistakenly splitting compound domain names at the unintended spot.
Consider, for instance, domain names such as mp3shits.com, choosespain.com and kidsexchange.net. Their constituent compound terms happen to be ambiguous since they can all be split in multiple ways to draw different inferences.
By placing the hyphen in domain name terms, you’ll be pointing out the intended meanings to search engines.
2. Enhances domain name readability
Imagine working with a domain name like aplus.com.
Although it’s quite brief, the wording doesn’t follow a logical semantic flow.
But, if you hyphenated the domain name to a-plus.com, the syllables would start to make sense, and they’d feel more natural and catchy. This should help the target audience to read the domain name more coherently, which is extremely important if you hope to permanently etch your brand name into their memories.
3. Localizes domain names
Another thing you’ll appreciate about using a hyphen in domain names is its efficacy in localizing domain and brand names.
If your business is expanding to a new city or country, for instance, you could use a hyphen to create a localized domain for the new geographical area.
So, studbud.com could have studbud-la.com as its localized domain for Los Angeles, studbud-ny.com as the version for New York, while studbud-chicago.com would serve the larger Chicago area.
Cons of using a hyphen in domain name
1. Sabotages credibility
A study on the impact of hyphenated domain names has established that web users overwhelmingly prefer to deal with non-hyphenated sites . Domain names with hyphens are perceived to be less trustworthy than their counterparts, with internet users increasingly associating them with spam.
Even Google itself has experienced its fair share of trouble with spammy sites that ride on multi-hyphenated keyword-rich domains. This has led to the blacklisting of those websites’ IP addresses, the exclusion of parked domains from the SERPs, and the development of search engine bots that can crack down on suspicious domains.
So, if you fail to follow the best practices for hyphens in domain names, it’s not just your credibility to web users that may be sabotaged. You might also end up getting blacklisted by the bots.
2. Difficult to memorize
Whereas some hyphenated URLs might seem catchy and trendy, the fact of the matter is, hyphens are not the easiest things to remember. The human mind is just not wired to actively process compound word punctuations such as hyphens and dashes.
So, more often than not, you’ll find web users forgetting to add dashes when typing in hyphenated domain names. And that’s how they end up getting redirected to competitors’ websites.
This problem of excluding hyphens is so rampant, in fact, that the Oxford English Dictionary itself has had to drop hyphens from over 16,000 words that were previously hyphenated . It made the decision after observing that people have already gotten used to typing in those specific hyphenated phrases as single words.
Verdict: Is it okay to use a hyphen in domain name? 🧐
Now that we’ve explored the facts about the impact of the hyphen in domain name SEO, readability, marketability, and branding, we know that using hyphens in domain names is something of a mixed bag.
A hyphen will elongate your domain name and confuse some of your prospective visitors. Poorly structured hyphens could even get you flagged as a potential spammer.
On the other hand, we’ve seen that domain hyphenation improves URL readability, helps search engines understand your domain, and facilitates the localization of domain names.
So, all in all, the use of the hyphen in domain names is a double-edged sword. Some websites stand to benefit, while others would be much better off with one-word domains.
For more insights, check out our in-depth 👉 guide to choosing a domain name.