Using Hyphens For Your Domain: Is It Bad For Ranking?
Find out how using hyphens affects your Google Search Rankings!
The internet offers more than enough information to solve virtually any doubts. You can find entire blogs and websites dedicated to clarifying specific issues and topics.
However, that doesn’t always mean it’s easy to find what you need. Sure, finding answers to questions like what’s the best hosting service or how to build a website can be easy. The smaller, narrower queries are the ones that tend to elude us.
That can be both a problem and an advantage depending on whether you can access that information. With how competitive the internet industry (marketing and eCommerce, for instance), knowing something that others don’t can shift the tides in your favor.
If you plan to start your own website, you might find most – or all – of the best domains already taken. The easiest solution would be simply to add a hyphen, right?
Well, that’s certainly a quick way to fix the issue, but is it a good one? Will it hurt your web ranking? What other ways are there to find a good domain name without sacrificing your rank?
That’s what we’ll find out.
Should you use them?
Using a hyphen on your domain isn’t harmless, but it’s also not going to kill it entirely. Besides, hyphens make it easier to find the name you wanted for your domain without having to give up on your “.com” or “.org” in favor of a second-level domain.
Sadly, “isn’t harmless” could mean “it does hurt your ranking”. The thing is that the hyphen can make the website look less trustworthy. Most website owners need to familiarize themselves with SEO, and that means learning that the smallest change can have a significant impact on how your site stands.
Website domain names are among the most critical aspects of SEO, so any tweak made to it can have serious repercussions. This means that adding a hyphen can hinder your performance, but not necessarily because of the hyphen itself: it’s mostly because you’re simply altering your domain name.
How to choose a domain name
Naming a project is one of the toughest parts of any venture. Websites aren’t the exception, especially with all the possibilities – to which you then have to add different extensions like .com, .net, .io, .biz, etc. Going for alternative extensions like .io or .biz can be tempting since you wouldn’t need to change your domain.
Unfortunately, it could have negative consequences in the long-term. TLDs (Top-Level Domains) are preferred by Google, and these your internet triad: .com, .net, and .org. You also want to consider adding a TLD to reflect your location – as long as it’s important for your business. If you live in the UK or Canada (for instance) you want to add the .uk or .ca extensions.
If you want a few guidelines to choose a good website name, you basically to be short, catchy, attractive, related to your business, and having that .com extension.
How to find an unused domain name
After you’ve gathered good ideas for your domain name, it’s time to find one of them available. The more, the merrier since there are countless websites, so chances are high you’ll find several of your ideas already taken.
Finding the best name can be quite challenging. Of course, you can use a domain generator to help you with ideas, but not all domain generators filter out the ones already taken. Luckily, some do, and some even let you enter information to generate your domain around it.
You have many domain generators as well, so you want to try several until you find the best for you. Of course, you’ll usually be tempted to hyphenate. While there are word modifiers such as Mywebsite, there’s a good chance that the alternatives aren’t as attractive as adding the hyphen.
For those who are still inclined towards adding the hyphen to their website, let’s dive deeper into the subject. Yes, you already know it can hurt your website, but we can analyze the extend of that damage and whether or not it’s worth using.
Why should you avoid hyphens?
Let’s get the negatives out of the way. You already know you’re putting your web ranking at risk, but there are some additional consequences you might not be aware of.
First, some people might have more trouble retaining web domains that use hyphens. When you add a hyphen, some might not remember exactly where it’s located (if your domain has several words merged together). Of course, this is worse for websites using several hyphens, so if it’s unavoidable, don’t use more than one.
Nevertheless, there’s an even worse reason why hyphens are a bad idea.
Spam sites tend to use hyphens frequently. Consider how many people creating spam sites use the same names; the more spam websites, the harder it’ll be to find a good name, so they use hyphens to get things moving faster.
That means that some people – and most importantly, Google – can consider your website as spam because of the association.
Finally, you can prove the importance of avoiding hyphens with an easy experiment. You can go to a top X websites list; try to go for those with hundreds of websites listed. Open it, and count how many hyphenated websites there are, and if you do find one, take into account which spot it got.
Can they be good in occasions?
Using hyphens can be a good choice in some occasions, but they’re rather a rare exception than the norm. Basically, the only time when hyphens are actually helpful is when they help Google know what your website is about.
Imagine you want to create a digital gaming magazine called Gamers’ Exposition. If your domain is gamersexposition.com, there’s a chance Google reads it as Gamer Sex Position, so you can imagine the outcome.
This is where a hyphen can help Google understand your site by making the domain a lot clearer: gamers-exposition.com. Besides, you won’t attract any dubious traffic.
Are people abandoning domains with hyphens?
The short answer is “it looks like it”. Domains with hyphens are showing up less in Google’s search results as reported by different users.
There’s not solid evidence backing these reports, though. If you already have a legitimate website with a hyphen in its domain – and you’re handling stable traffic – there’s no real reason to believe that Google will hurt your performance suddenly just because of a horizontal line.
However, as the internet keeps evolving, especially as an industry, hyphens will become a rarer sight around search results. It’s not just because Google might or might not be hindering them, but people are also using them less.
As you already know, hyphenated domain names are common among spam sites. As Google’s algorithm evolves and becomes better at targeting sketchy websites, it’s only natural to see them slowly dissipate from its rankings, and they’ll take many hyphens with them.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that legitimate websites will be targeted equally, but it does explain why hyphenated domains are showing up less. Even people looking to build legitimate websites would want to avoid using hyphens since – while Google won’t actively hunt down legitimate ventures – regular visitors can still feel put off by the hyphen since they know the association.
To summarize the entire article: just do your best to avoid hyphens. The only instances when a hyphen would actively benefit your website are two:
- The original, non-hyphenated domain name for your site would make it difficult for Google to understand it.
- There’s absolutely no other alternative other than going for a second-level domain extension like the ones discussed above.
Even when there’s no other way, just stick to a single hyphen and not more.