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Keyword domain - better with dashes or not

5:39 pm on Apr 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Striclty from an SEO perspective, I starting a new website and have a domain name that consists of three words. The three words are a common search phrase and is exactly what my site is about. I have the domain name both with dashes, as well as without:

http: //www.keyword1-keyword2-keyword3.com
http: //keyword1keyword2keyword3.com

All three words together are 15 letters total... (www.123456789012345.com)... so not to huge (They are all about 5 letter words). There is no confusion about where one word ends and another begins, except one word ends in age... so you could wonder if it is another word (age) but if you looked at it that way the first word would not form another by breaking it there. I plan to do a 301 redirect for the domain name that I do not target as the main... My question is dash or not to dash the main domain?

Main concern is SEO optimization, rankings...

[edited by: RedWine at 5:54 pm (utc) on April 14, 2009]

5:59 pm on Apr 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

From an SEO perspective, there are two issues here:

Can search engines separate conjoined words (and can they do it effectively as those separated by hyphens)?

Generally speaking, words that are joined together cannot be easily separated - it's just too complex a task. With a few other "signals" (i.e. mentions of the separated words elsewhere on the web, in the site itself and in links to the site) then an engine like Google has a fair chance of figuring it out. It's no sure thing, though, and this counts against using joined words.

The other issues is, do hyphens in a domain name lessen perceived quality? I.e., is it a negative signal, or a sign of spam?

If you take a quick survey of lists of most popular websites, you aren't going to see many hyphens in there (perhaps because of the widespread use of quirky brand domains (Google?Yahoo etc.). Yahoo in particular used to be (still is?) pretty heavy handed on hyphenated domains. One of the senior Google people commented not so long back about brands being a good signal of quality on the web.

So, this counts against the use of hyphens.

I'd say keyword-keyword-keyword.com is probably pushing it (just looking at it in writing makes me think of the type of result I skip over when scanning a SERP for something relevant). Personally, one hyphen per domain is my limit. If you must have a three word keyword domain, IMO you'd be better off without the risk of being perceived as spam, even if search engines are going to struggle to separate the words in terms of ranking algorithms.

Depending on the circumstances, you may even want to review the way you are "branding" the site - in the long term, you may be better served by something a bit more unique and memorable.

Others may have different opinions, of course :)

6:06 pm on Apr 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I would go without the hyphens. As long as it is fairly obvious what the words are, the search engines (and your human visitors) will figure it out.

Hyphens were all the rage there for a few months, but they can be spammy if overused, and savvy web users notice such things.

I am guilty of over-using them myself, and am not looking forward to the hassle of swithcing domans or redirecting to fix it!

Jeff Copeland

[edited by: Receptional_Andy at 6:11 pm (utc) on April 14, 2009]
[edit reason] No signatures, please, see ToS [/edit]

6:08 pm on Apr 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for the response. That makes sense to me. One thing to note is I have read before about search engines not being able to seperate out words in a domain that all run together. However, if I type the three words (used in teh domain name above) into a google search (without any dashes or spaces), it will come back with a DID YOU MEAN: keyword1 keyword2 keyword3 .... meaning it quickly recognized that these words should be seperate. Is that a good indication taht it will not have a problem understanding/seperating the words in the domain name as well?

Thanks again for the response and information!

7:07 pm on Apr 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Yes - you should't have a problem.

The classic example is petsmart - should it be pet smart, or pets mart? They might need to use a dash. Sounds like you don't.

That being said, I don't think dashes will hurt your search engine rankings. <snip>

But too many hypens may hurt your brand with human eyes in the long run.

Hope that helps!

[edited by: Receptional_Andy at 8:15 pm (utc) on April 14, 2009]
[edit reason] No specifics please, see charter [/edit]

9:02 pm on Apr 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

However, if I type the three words (used in teh domain name above) into a google search (without any dashes or spaces), it will come back with a DID YOU MEAN: keyword1 keyword2 keyword3 .... meaning it quickly recognized that these words should be seperate. Is that a good indication taht it will not have a problem understanding/seperating the words in the domain name as well?

It's a more complicated issue than that, unfortunately ;)

"Did you mean?" is/used to be a suggestion based on spelling errors, and because Google have a huge database of both words and user activity, they are able to match both very uncommon mistakes, and also "know" correct words that aren't in the dictionary. But this is a for a user query - perhaps the single most important aspect of a search engine. Recently, Google have moved heavily towards re-writing user queries. So, when you make a typo, it shows results for the correctly spelt keyword too.

To apply the same to a domain name (i.e. the relevancy boost for having a matching domain name, and for the external links that use the domain name) is a bit of a leap of faith - and not that reliable - there are too many possible combinations of words (hjcopeland gave one example above).

Perhaps the biggest benefit of a keyword domain is for external links. If your domain is example.com, then even if people just use the URL as the anchor text pointing to you, you still get a match for "keyword" (and also "com", incidentally - that's why results like [google.com...] are interesting).

I think the main question is whether you get a boost for both the joined up keyword and keywords separately. Because sites definitely get increased relevance for the joined words. E.g. a random UK university site:


(I couldn't think of a more suitable example, I'm afraid). And if you get increased relevancy for both, is it as much as you'd get with obviously separated words?

As for domain names specifically, if you "brand" the site "Keyword Keyword Keyword" and people link to you that way, then I think a small amount of links would quickly outweigh the importance of a hyphenated vs non-hyphenated domain.

This is one of the most frequent topics on the forum, btw ;)

[site:webmasterworld.com hyphen non-hyphen] [google.com]

6:53 pm on Apr 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for the great in-depth response. This really helps. I plan to go with the non dashed version!
4:11 pm on Apr 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I believe in creating website for people and not search engines. Just think which domain would be easier to market and easy to remember. I think the one without dashes would work better. Try spelling your domain in a radio commercial. That will help you determine which domain is better.
9:18 pm on Apr 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

I plan to go with the non dashed version!

i have seen sites rank for queries of separated keywords that are joined in the domain name.

e.g. keyword keyword = keywordkeyword.com

unless of course other more heavily linked sites outrank them.

here's matt cutts' take on hyphens and their overuse:


1:05 pm on May 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

underscores obviously are a no no. these are machine friendly for variables and such not user friendly. keyword to all domain usage "user-friendly!" maybe a devlopers typing would include underscores, but not the scores of regular internet users out there. underscore is a underscore in my book!

i would like to say as well, i have a big competitor with the domain www.keywordkeyword.com the domain www.samekeyword-samekeyword.come is still available. if i wanted to build an additional shopping cart just to compete because for my business these are the highest traffic generating keywords related to my product. i was thinking of building another cart all content different, pictures and all just to get better ranking. Any say on this?

1:07 pm on May 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

oh by the way, every serverside url rewrite is using hyphens, drupal, sava, EVERYONE so either everyone that develops is retarted or theres something to it
12:29 pm on Jul 2, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

@ Receptional Andy Do you mean that keywordkeyword.com would not help get good ranking but only help in getting optimized anchor text back links?
If I have no back links at all (but am indexed)then also I would not rank well for keywordkeyword in SERPS?
5:15 am on Jul 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Okay, I've gone both ways too and I think the SE's tend to favor the non-hyphenated.

Hard to be sure because there are so many other variables though.

Pardon me if this has been covered elsewhere, but what about subdomains? I have a few generic domains sitting out there (haven't really developed them yet).

Anyone have input on how blue.widgets.com is judged by the SE's?

I thought subdomains would give me near unlimited flexibility.

2009.widgets.com - compare.widgets.com - female.widgets.com - male.widgets.com - someuniquetype.widgets.com - anotheruniquetype.widgets.com and on and on....

My examples are obviously quite contrived and don't reflect the creativity and catchiness I'd employ in "real life".




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