Domain Name Dilemma: Do Dashes or Underscores Goose Google Rankings More?
by John Gergye

Itís a fact. When it comes to Google ranking you donít have to 
be a lot better to beat out the competition.

So letís take another dip into the "every little bit helps" pool.  

Now believe it or not there are those who like to debate the 
merits of using dashes or underscores in domain names.  

Some assert dashes are better.  

Some have an ongoing love affair with underscores. 

Others are certain there is no difference.  

I agree you do get a bit of a bounce in Google if you do this 
right. But itís only marginal.  

Still letís end this debate once and for all and PROVE which is 

To sort this out we need to conduct a study. Using the Google 
search results to test if Google treats dashes or underscores 
the same or differently.  

The guinea pig search term I picked is "affordable search engine

Thereís nothing special about it. Itís more or less your 
run-of-the-mill multi-word search term.  

So letís get searching  

First, to set a benchmark, I cast the broadest net possible by 
doing a simple search using 

   affordable search engine placement

Google returned these results:

  Searched the web for affordable search engine placement.   
  Results 1 - 10 of about 78,600 

That simply says there were 78,600 pages indexed by Google for 
ANY of those keywords.  

Next I searched on the same phrase only this time I separated 
the words by dashes like this:


Google turned up these results:

  Searched the web for affordable-search-engine-placement.   
  Results 1 - 10 of about 1,160.

As you can see our term with dashes gave considerably fewer 
results than the one without. 

Then I searched on the same words separated by underscores:


For this one Google didnít find much:

  Searched the web for affordable_search_engine_placement.   
  Results 1 - 4 of about 6.

Whoa! Next to no pages with underscores, right?

Finally I searched for 

  "affordable search engine placement"

Note the quotes. Using quotes limits the search results to one 
specific phrase. Just like you were doing an advanced search 
for that exact phrase.  

In this case Google returned these results:

  Searched the web for "affordable search engine placement".   
  Results 1 - 10 of about 1,160.

Huh, exactly the same number of pages as with the keyword phrase 
with dashes.  

Okay so what do we got?

Letís see. The first search returns what you could say is a free 
for all of listings with any of the words in the keyword phrase. 
Thatís why there are so many search results.  

SIDEBAR: Reality check time. This is how most search. In fact I 
saw a stat that said only 3% use the advanced search feature 
provided by Google. Yet the dramatically bigger number of 
resulting SERPS explains why it is harder to rank high sometimes. 
Reason being you are going up against a whole bunch more pages 
- some unrelated to what is being searched for. So itís takes 
more juice, i.e. on-page optimization, internal links and maybe 
even in bound links to come out on top. 

Now our study also showed the phrase with underscores (which 
Google treats as any other CHARACTER) produced negligible 
results. As in next to none.

While the keyword phrase with dashes and the exact phrase search 
turned up the same number of listings.  

At this point you should be wondering "Why is that?"  

Glad you asked. Even if you didnít let me explain. Oh and since 
this is important engage your brain NOW.  

The reason for this apparent match of search results is Google 
uses the dash to separate the words in the phrase. Programmers 
call this a "delimiter". In essence Google sees it as a space 
or separator between the words. Or in other words Google treats 
the dash as a spacer.  

Yet Google does NOT treat the underscore as a delimiter. Again 
to Google itís just another character.  

Which is proven by the search results. Had Google treated the 
dash and underscore alike the number of SERPs returned for 




would be identical. But as you saw they are not. Not even close.

So the answer to the original question of which is better dashes 
or underscores is obvious isnít it? You want to go with dashes 
in your domain names, folder names, files names etc. 

Thatís because using dashes to separate the words will give you 
the biggest Google impact - whatever that impact may be. Since 
Google can parse the different words. While using underscores 
wonít help one iota.  

Look. This isnít theory or speculation. Itís fact. And you can 
repeat the same searches with any keyword phrase you want and 
youíll get the same results.  

In any case letís be real. Donít expect some kind of massive 
boost from this dash trick. Sure it can help a tad as part of 
an over all optimization scheme. But whether or not you use 
dashes in a domain, folder or file name is not going to be what 
gets you top Google listings. Content and links are.

Still this study settles the debate about dashes and underscores. 
Giving you yet another little thing you can do to rank well.

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