Are Hyphens Really That Bad in Domain Names?Posted: November 4, 2011
Our article 10 Things to Avoid When Getting a Domain received some interesting feedback. One response in particular from one of the LinkedIn groups I’m in indicated hyphens shouldn’t be avoided.
“They separate words as they are seen as a space, but they also tie words together,” they said from a database point of view. They also claimed that “Visually such as in links, hyphens help.” Could they have a point?
Are hyphens really that bad in domain names?
Yes and no. Allow me to explain.
Most of our articles discuss primary website domains. Domains can serve many other purposes but most sites only use one domain. The website name in most cases is meant to act as a web brand.
When considering what’s suitable for a domain for a brand, hyphens generally aren’t. Having to say “hyphen” or “dash” when giving the URL makes word of mouth difficult. Consumers have been conditioned towards hyphenless domains over the past decade and have a difficult time remembering to include hyphens.
Hyphens did used to be the way to separate words in domains in the 90’s. Sometime in the early 00’s, that trend changed. Now, there are extremely few popular sites with hyphen domains. Even terms like e-mail started losing their hyphen in popular usage around that time.
So it is clear that people have chosen hyphenless as a preference. Because of that, you should always go hyphenless for your website’s primary domain whenever possible. That said, I did answer “yes and no” to whether hyphens were really bad.
When are hyphens in domains not that bad?
Among the many purposes of domains is SEO. Exact keyword matching domains have an especially high impact on search rankings. They have helped many lower authority, smaller, newer sites to reach the top on incredibly lucrative keyword phrases.
While humans aren’t so fond of hyphens in domains, search engines are fairly indifferent towards them. Whether they are given the exact same preference as hyphenless domains is still undetermined. I’ve seen all 3 conclusions – that they are given penalties, that there’s no difference, and even that search engines prefer them.
The truth is that even if hyphen domains were given slight penalties, they would still be good for SEO. Hyphen domains usually cost a tiny fraction of the hyphenless version on the secondary market. They allow you to essentially get more SEO bang for the buck.
Don’t forget the humans though. Exact match hyphen domains have been abused for many years for their SEO benefits. For this reason, most of the exposure people have had to hyphen domains have been scam, spam, or scraper sites. If they don’t trust that you’re legitimate, they may not buy anything on your site.
Hyphen domains are not universally bad. Similar to non-.com domains, they’re not recommended for the primary domain for your business. They can still serve a purpose to capture valuable search traffic. Just make sure you’re getting that extra bang for your buck. That hyphen domain should have much better keywords than a hyphenless domain with the same price.