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The Right Domain Name Drives More Website Traffic



There is no doubt that many search engines factor the words you use in your domain name and web page URLs into website ranking algorithm in search results.

In the Advanced Link Building session of Search Engine Strategies Conference in NY City on March 8, 2004, Craig Silverstein, Google's Director of Technology, pointed out that it's better to use hyphens than underscores in domain names because within Google's parsing policy underscores in domains are treated as letters while treating hyphens are viewed more like spaces.

Craig also recommends you put descriptive words in page titles and URLs as signals to the users. Any signals to the users will be perceived as being good in eye of the Google algorithm. (cited from http://www.promotenews.com/2004/0303.html)

Another example is New Google Bombing experiment. A page that had nothing to do with Gmail ranked in the top 20 of SERPs for the keyphrase Gmail Account when hyphenated page URL was used on a high PageRank site.

Based on the solid evidence from Google, you should consider using your most important keyword(s) in either your domain names or your web page URLs. For more than two keywords, consider separating them by hyphens.

Common practice

For many years, it has been a common practice in the SEO world to use hyphens and descriptive keywords in domain names or page URLs.

GoRank.com conducted a research report titled as Google Keyword Density Analysis. For the top 10 results for over 2000 keywords were analyzed to create a report data covering over 20,000 data points.

"37% of all result URLs contained the keyword somewhere in the URL. 23% of URLs contained the keyword somewhere in the path. 1.7% of the URLs contained the keyword in the directories. 22% contained the keyword in the filename. 4% of the result URLs contained the keyword in a GET query. 10% of the result URLs contained the keyword in the domain."

A hyphenated domain name or page URL gives you the following benefits:

  1. it can be read like a normal phrase or sentence.

  2. it can be viewed by the users.

  3. when people search Google (or other search engines) by using "inurl" or "allinurl" operator, your site will be picked up because words separated hyphens can be parsed by Google's algorithm.

    For example, if you type "inurl:search engine optimization" or "allinurl:search engine optimization" in Google, it will find all the URLs which have the word combination of "search", "engine", "optimization", or "search engine optimization" in the URL. This is only possible if hyphens are used in URLs. Therefore, stuff your keywords separated by hyphens into domain names or URLs do help people find you easily.

    If no hyphens to separate the words, Google has no way to easily figure out individual words. As a result, your page will be left out of the SERPs.

    To learn how to manually search more specific info from Google, check out Google's Advanced Search Operators.

  4. Good single word domain names have become more and more difficult to find. You may want to try the hyphen-and-keyword combo as an alternative.
Disadvantages of hypenated domain names and page URLs

I have mentioned before that the easy readability of a hypenated domain name or page URL comes with the price of losing speakability and typability. Hypenated URLs also don't look very professional. Check out Microsoft site and you hardly can see any hyphens being used in page URLs.

The-hyphenated-URL-debate

There is a forum discussion thread on SEO Chat Forums about hyphenated URL and hyphen filter. The thread started with a question about the possible existence of a Google hyphen filter - a filter Google might have implemented in its algorithm to penalize sites that have hyphenated URLs. The worry has its merits because to get a higher ranking for certain keywords, a site could spam search engines by using irrelevant keywords in page URLs.

By using common sense, anyone can argue that a hyphenated URL is more readable and conveys clear information to users about what a page is about.

In my opinion, Google might compare the keywords you use in a page URL and the page content. If no relevancy between the two, your site could be penalized.

The balance

Personally, I follow this guideline when create URLs.

  1. use descriptive but simple paths and file names.
  2. use keywords in URLs and separate them by hyphens.
  3. use only keywords that are relevant to the page content.
  4. minimize the repetition of the same word in a URL.

Conclusion

Search engine ranking algorithms do factor hyphenated URLs into consideration. Your role is to provide users with viewable and relevant URLs. Don't spam search engines with another black hat SEO practice.

Finally, remember that adding your keywords in anchor text of internal and external links is more important than hyphenated URLs. Furthermore, providing something useful to your site visitors is the ultimate determining factor for them to come back, not your domain name or URLs.


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