The use of hyphens (dashes) in domain names: good or bad for SEO and users?

Choosing a good domain name is the first important step you take to build a website. Choosing an authoritive, SEO-friendly domain name is the first important step you take to optimize and build the online visibility of this website.

Most people interested in the subject, would know that it’s important to choose keyword rich domains, with high domain authority/domain rank.

However, many of my clients seem to be confuse weather or not they should chose a domain name that contains dashes or not. A recurring question I hear from clients is:

“Should I chose www.my-domain-name.com or www.mydomainname.com? Which one is better for SEO?”

Because a single domain may contain multiple hyphens in it, it’s natural that people question themselves what is best for them: hyphens or no hyphens in domain names.

In this article, I will give you my personal answer to this question, based on several criteria:

  • SEO
  • User experience
  • Readability
  • Domain availability and usability
  • Domain name length
  • Domain name value and resale value

Impact of hyphens (dashes) in domain names in terms for SEO

There’s no negative impact on domain names that use dashes. In fact, search engines are able to understand hyphens and perceive them as spaces (as confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts in this blog post on the subject of dashes and underscores). 

Therefore, in terms of SEO, hyphens don’t have direct impact. In the eyes of a search engine, the domain name www.mytargetedkeyword.com should have the same value as www.my-targeted-keyword.com

However, don’t forget that Exact Match Domains (EMD) should always be prioritized (even though their importance in SEO is in decline). If we take the example from above, the best domain name for SEO would be www.targetedkeyword.com (without any prepositions). 

Impact of hyphens (dashes) in domain names in terms of user experience

On the other hand, in terms of user experience, hyphenated domains may have a negative impact.

That’s because most people are generally used to domains without hyphens. Users usually get confused with the separators and they are easily missed when typing a domain name directly in the browser. This may result in a loss of direct traffic.

Also, hyphenated domains are not that catchy and more difficult to remember. This means that this type of domains are harder to advertise on radio, TV or through word of mouth. This may result in a loss of viral traffic.

Because of this negative impact on user experience, my recommendation is to go with a domain name without dashes.

Impact of hyphens (dashes) in domain names in terms of convenience and readability

So, considering the user experience factor, you should prefer non-hyphenated domains over hyphenated domains (www.mytargetedkeyword.com > www.my-targeted-keyword.com).

However, in some situations, a hyphenated domain could make more sense. I call this the readability criteria.

I included this criteria in my list after reading about the case of expertsexchange.com. They were forced to change their domain name to experts-exchange.com, because of the way most people were reading it: Expert Sex Change instead of Experts Exchange.

Another example is my Bulgarian client www.chicshop.com. Because Bulgarian language uses Cyrilic letters, many users were confused how exactly to read and spell the word “chic” (which in Cyrillic is spelled “шик”). Even after they included the Cyrillic translation on their website slogan, the fact that the domain name had the letters C and S next to each other seemed to confuse the users.

Therefore, in some cases, hyphenated domains may have a negative impact on readability.

Impact of hyphens (dashes) in domain names in terms of domain availability and usability

Your choice of weather you’ll buy a domain name with dashes or not, should also depend on the domain availability.

You should absolutely check if a hyphenated or non-hyphenated version of the domain name already exists.

Because many good domain names are already booked or parked, very often you’ll find yourself in situations where www.greatdomainname.comis already taken, but its hyphenated version, www.great-domain-name.com is still available. 

My advice: never choose a domain name, whose hyphenated or non-hyphenated version is already owned by someone else. Actually, the best practice is to register and own both the hyphenated and the unhyphenated versions on the domain name you want and to host your website on your preferred one.

This will protect your domain name and brand in the future and will help you to avoid being “blackmailed” by cybersquatters.

Hyphens and domain names length

Another fact to consider is the number of words and prepositions your domain will include. In case you want to have more than 2 keywords with 1-2 prepositions, using dashes won’t be a good idea, because you’ll find yourself with too many dashes in the domain.

For example, the domain www.keywordandkeyword.com is shorter and less spammy looking than www.keyword-and-keyword.com

Even though some people would argue that domains with dashes between words are easier to read, they are often associated with spammy websites, domain keywords staffing and companies attempting to trick search engines with shady practices.

My personal advice is to use no more than one hyphen. Otherwise the domain will appear less authoritive and “spammy” to searchers.

Hyphens and domain names value

Another factor to take into account could be the potential resale value of a hypended domain compared to its non-hyphenated equivalent.

In general, non-hyphenated domains are more expensive than the same domain names which have hyphens. Of course, this depends on the domain name’s age and history, but the rule is pretty clear: non-hyphenated domains are more expensive than their hyphenated equivalents.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should prefer and buy a hyphenated domain name, because you can’t afford the other one. It’s just the opposite. As I wrote above, it is not recommended to register a domain, if its hyphenated or non-hyphenated version is already owned by someone else. If a non-hyphenated domain has a high value, it is also potentially inserting for other people to purchase. Therefore, it may be risky to register one version of the domain without owning the other.

On the other side, if you decide to own and work on a hypended domain name, you need to consider that its potential resell value in the future may be lower.

Conclusion and final thoughts

Through this article we saw that even if domain names with hyphens don’t have a negative impact on SEO, they may have a negative impact of user experience and may hurt your direct and viral traffic.

At the same time, dashes in domains may have advantages in some situations:

Advantages of hyphenated domain names

  • They are more likely to be available.
  • They provide better readability and understanding to the user
  • They help avoid the “slurl” issue where words put together can spell and be interpreted differently.

Disadvantages of hyphenated domain names

  • They add an extra characters to the domain name
  • They may get very long and spammy looking if they include several words with prepositions
  • The extra characters and separators can be easily omitted or forgotten by users, which may result in decrease in direct traffic
  • They are harder to advertise on radio or through word of mouth.
  • They won’t normally have as high resale value as their non-hyphenated equivalent.

My personal advice is either to prefer a non-hyphened domain or to have no more than one hyphen. Otherwise the domain will appear less authorative, more “spammy” and longer to searchers.

Actually, the best practice is to register and own both the hyphenated and the unhyphenated versions on the domain name you want and to host your website on your preferred one.

The use of hyphens (dashes) in domain names: good or bad for SEO and users?

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