SEO Friendliness: Hyphens vs Underscores

I have been asked to clarify the debate on whether hyphens “-” are better than underscores “_” to separate keywords on a URL or file name. The simple answer to this question is: There is  no simple answer. The use of either one will depend on the purpose of the word and the intent of the word for your site.

Underscores have no literal meaning other than to separate two words visually on screen. When read by Google, the word “best_search_engines” for example will result in a Google result of “best search engines.” Consider the underscore as a space that will lock the words as one, to give you an exact result of the two words in that order.

Hyphens are different in that the words “best-search-engines” will provide a multitude of different Google results. You can get results for the words “best”, “search”, “engines”, “best search”, “best engines” , “search best”, “search engines”, “engines best”, “engines search”, “search best engines”, “engines best search”, and “engines search best.”

The use of either one will depend on the need of word separation in a filename or url, and the importance of keeping a key pharase intact, in a specific order. For example: If you only want to rank for the words “Associate Vice President”, you may not want to rank for the term “Associate President Vice.” The two phrases mean two very different things and it may be important to keep the words properly separated. This may fly in the face of any english professor with an eye for grammatical poise. Regardless, if you are looking to rank, you may have to break a vocabulary rule or two. For this term, I would suggest trying the use of the hyphen and underscore together. Here we can use “Associate-Vice_President.” This will lock the term Vice and President in that order, but will allow you to also rank for “Vice President Associate.”

As you can see, choosing the correct times to use either will depend on the importance of keeping key phrases intact. If you only need a visual space, try an underscore, if you feel that your ranking can benefit from the flexibility of using a hyphen, then use it wisely. Also remember good SEO principals in conjunction with this advice, and avoid overly-lengthy keyword rich URLs and file names. Also avoid following these rules for your content to avoid confusing your readers with unnecessary hyphens and underscores in the middle of a paragraph.

If you find this information useful, please feel free to comment with any questions or additional advice. If you seek the advice of a professional SEO firm for your website, please contact Saba, a San Diego Seo Company toll free at 1-866-937-1717.

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This entry was posted on Monday, August 24th, 2009 at 10:18 am and is filed under Search Engine Optimization . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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