The hyphenated domain name dilemma

It seems the hyphenated domain dilemma is rearing its head again.  However this time I’m hearing from SEO guys that hyphenated domain names actually hurt your search engine rankings.  I’ve found no evidence that this is the case but I do have plenty of evidence to the contrary. Not only that, hyphens can increase the number of  visitors you get once your site shows up in the rankings.

Let’s start with some hyphenated domain names that are #1 in Google for their search terms. For those people who think you can’t get to the top, this should dispel that myth:

Website Keyword Front porch ideas Dog Obedience Training Windows vista update Home theater guide Digital Photography Tips Digital Photography Tips Digital Photography Tips

So if you’re at all concerned about hyphenated domain names, you can clearly search for any of these terms and find these domains at the top of the list. Most of them are in the #1 position. And the digital photography tips page is dominated by hyphenated domain names. Dominated.

It’s clear from these domain names that the site owners are likely adept at using SEO techniques to help their domain names climb the ladder. Perhaps they are so adept they can overcome the fact that they have hyphenated domain names.  And perhaps a search for sites with lesser skilled developers would prove the point better. But since these are more skilled developers AND they still chose the hyphenated domain name  -wouldn’t that further indicate hyphens aren’t bad.

In fact, check out SiteBuildIt’s Results Page to see a list of sites in the top 1% of Alexa’s rankings built mainly by people who’d never built a site before. Notice that most of them are hyphenated. Hyphens are one of the notions Site Build It teaches in their course (the best website building course on the net, in my opinion).

As I further explain in this YouTube Video (Does a Hyphenated Domain Name Make Sense?), hyphens can often increase the number of visitors, reduce confusion and quickly show visitors what your site is about. Suppose you were searching for “money making ideas from home” and you saw these two websites pop up in Google’s results: or

Which one draws your attention the fastest?

Some domain names should be hyphenated whether it hurts your rankings or not. Check out this domain for a popular restaurant in Philadelphia:

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 9.55.27 AM

It’s clear from a marketing perspective that would have made better sense.

If you still believe hyphenated domain names will hurt your search engine results , I invite you to help sway my thoughts. What makes you believe this to be true? When asked if hyphens or underscores would be better, Matt Cutts of Google himself said hyphens would be better than underscores. While not totally related, he did not say that you should avoid using both.  Please leave your thoughts, I look forward to a different opinion.

(Also check out what Google prefers: hyphens or underscores)

10 thoughts on “The hyphenated domain name dilemma”

  1. Handy Nasty, that’s hilarious!!

    Thanks for the clarification on dashes in domains. You make a great point that hyphens are some times better. Hadn’t thought of that.


  2. That’s definitely a good example of a domain name that should be hyphenated. And redirecting all the alternates and common mis-spellings is just good practice.

    I agree.

  3. For the sake of a few $ a year, register domains with and without dashes when available is surely the answer and redirect from the dashes name to no dashes. sounds much better than expertsexchange!

  4. Adam, do you know anything about deliverability of e-mail that comes from a domain that happens to have the word sex in it? (like If having those letters in a row like that reduces deliverability of e-mail, I’m thinking that’s another reason to consider hyphens.

  5. Dan it’s an interesting topic that I’m not totally clear on either from an SEO perspective. Generally think that I’d go with a pure play over a hyphen 99% of the time but I’m not going after long domains and I’m not playing the marketing game. I’m a type-in domain guy. I go for names that don’t need Google to get traffic. yea they still exist. BUT I do own some hypenated domains as well because often the pure/generic domain is taken or hard to come buy and a hyphen isn’t always bad looking or undesirable. I’m not sure I’d pick a hyphen over a .net though . . .

    Lastly, I think the long names lend themselves toward hyphens making them LOOK good and that works for PPC campaigns so that may actually help conversions on a ppc campaign. It’d be interesting to test using a hyphen and a non-hyphen in a campaign to see if the users do actually consider it spammy and thus dont click the hyphen as much. Also remember it’s not only readability on the internet. It’s typability and memorability. A hyphenated domain is definitely not either.

    It’s an interesting discussion.I’ll see if I can get more of the SEO guys I know to throw their hat in to the discussion.

  6. I came across another hyphenated domain name question. When the word “sex” appears in your domain name, and it’s not intended, like:

    Should you hyphenate it or change it? My comment was it may not matter to search engines, but if you send e-mail from that address it might have an effect on deliverability. I’d be interested to hear an e-mail marketing expert’s take on the question.

  7. Speakability is definitely an issue. I think it’s always wise to have a short domain name redirected to your site for speakability issues. (Is speakability a word?)

    Anyway, that’s a great point. I’ve never heard anyone relate hyphens to spamminess before. I wonder how that notion came about? Why were spammers using hyphenated names?

    Doug, I totally agree. That was the very first thought I had when reading Another guy had – which somepeople read as Shirt Soft Ruth instead of Shirts of Truth.

  8. Dan, I don’t think hyphens matter at all. Your point about readability is well-founded. If it is easier to read, use it. I think you always win when you do things that work well for humans.

  9. I’ve never heard a definitive answer whether hyphenated domains help or hinder your search engine rankings. But I do think they hurt your click through rate. Maybe I’m just a cynical Internet marketer, but to me, hyphenated domains (along with .info domains) look spammy.

    And don’t forget, SEO isn’t the only consideration. There are other forms of marketing as well, and some of them might require *speaking* your domain name. “Dog dash obedience dash training dash review dot com” is quite a mouthful. 🙂

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