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Of course Google is now highlighting both in the SERPs but tests have not shown otherwise.
Insofar as underscore is not a letter or digit you might reasonably expect it to be treated as a separator, but what happens when searching for function names such as URI_UNESCAPE? This could be treated as a search for "URI UNESCAPE" with almost the same effect. If Google were to use this strategy, underscore chars in urls could be safely treated in the same way as hyphens.
Perhaps, with a little experimentation, you could test whether Google does treat underscores as I have suggested.
But that's assuming Google is following standards. I can't understand why Google wouldn't downweight "-" considering it's used so widely in doorway pages and the like.
Try a few:
'fun-fair' as opposed to 'fun fair'
'shot-gun' as opposed to 'shot gun'.
You'll see that Google lists the joint words (i.e. 'funfair' and 'shotgun') for the hyphenated versions.
it's likely that underscore is treated like any other alphabetic character, such that two words separated by underscores would be read by google as one word
This seems to be right, I searched:
allinurl:keyword1 keyword2 keyword3
and it returned only keyword1-keyword2-keyword3 urls, whereas underscores seem to be treated as letters, making keyword1_keyword2_keyword3 only findable by
But in the SERPS they clearly highlight key words in urls using underscores, so at least some of their system is able to correctly identify the underscore as a word separator, which is what it is. Why they made this decision is beyond me, underscore is clearly, and always has been, clearly a word separator, that's the first programming thing I learned almost. Whereas a - is supposed to hyphenate a single term. But if that's how they have decided to treat the symbols not much can be done about it.