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Dashes vs Underscores what is best as a word separator for SEO friendly URLs?

Thursday, July 30th, 2009 by Emily Mace tagged ,

URLs‘Should I use Dashes or Underscores as word separators to help my SEO?’ This is something we get asked from time to time so I thought I’d spend some time talking about the separation of words in URLs and some definite do’s and don’t’s to help you get the most from your URLs. I’ve also seen people using the plus symbol (+) in URLs – which is a pet hate of mine!

URLs are an important part of how your site is seen by the search engines and also your potential customers, and you want to make sure that the way pages on your site are presented is user-friendly and easy to read, as this will help with both of these audiences.  below I’ve outlined some key things to consider for your URLs to make sure you are not falling down when creating new pages on your website.

One definite no-no in URLs is a space.  Adding spaces to a page name creates something that needs to be coded when a search engine crawler looks at the site – so www.youdomain.com/my product will become ww.yourdomain.com/my%20product.  This can look really bad in the SERPs and could stop people from clicking on your listing, if they take time to look.

Generally the rule is that punctuation is a good way to go as a naming convention. A hyphen (-) is generally used in words in the English Language either as a joint between two words (such as merry-go-round) or as a separator when a word is split between two lines on a printed page.  So, a hyphen is seen as punctuation and using this as a method of separating words in your URL (www.youdomain.com/my-product) will probably work best as a separator, as Google understand punctuation.

There are other methods used on the web including a plus sign (+) as I mentioned above,  or merging words into one.  Merging words into one to make a one word URL (myproduct) could work but there will be cases where a URL is long (for example the URL of Joe’s Post about Microsoft and Yahoo playing together nicely which is currently http://www.verticalleap.co.uk/blog/Another-day-another-SEO-non-event-Microsoft-and-Yahoo-play-together-nicely-while-google-sulks-probably/. However, imagine this was one word, missing off the Domain and Blog folder Joe’s blog would them be named “AnotherdayanotherSEOnoneventMicrosoftandYahooplaytogethernicelywhileGooglesultsprobably/” (which doesn’t even fit on one line in this blog!) – for this to be split accurately to help search engine rankings is expecting a lot from an automated algorithm. It’s also not that great for users as even though I wrote that, even I am struggling to actually read the words in the right way!

On and off over the last few years there has been talk that Google will be recognising an underscore in the same way as a dash but historically Google has always treated an underscore as part of a word and not a separator between words.  Although Google’s algorithm is constantly changing, the underscore may become a viable separator between words in a URL but for the time being it’s best to use a hyphen.

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About the author

Emily Mace

Emily Mace

Emily joined Vertical Leap in 2008 and is now the Senior SEO Campaign Delivery Manager. Emily previously worked in training, IT Support, Website development as well as SEO and worked for local Government departments and Tourism South East. Emily gained Google Analytics Individual Qualification in 2011, and regularly blogs on the technical aspects of SEO, sharing her expertise with our readers. Follow on Google+