Hyphens or Underscores: What’s Best For SEO?

hyphen or underscore

The discussion over URL format has been raging in the SEO industry for quite some time. The issue has been whether to use underscores or dashes. We conducted some research to assist you in making an informed decision. Continue reading to find out more!

What is a URL?

URL is an abbreviation for Uniform Resource Locator, a unique address for a given resource on the internet. URLs are human-readable text that replaces IP addresses and is kept in the database of DNS (Domain Name System). When you enter a URL into a search bar, a request is sent to the DNS server to determine the IP address of the URL.

The URL link can be found in your web browser’s address bar. You can also find a link’s URL by right-clicking it and copying the link.

What is a hyphen (-)?

The hyphen is a punctuation mark connecting two or parts of words. However, it is important to note that a hyphen and a dash are not interchangeable.

What is an underscore (_)?

An underscore (_), sometimes known as an underline, or low dash, resembles an elongated hyphen under the dash or low line. It has the same keyboard button as the hyphen.

It is important to remember that underscores should only be used in subfolders or filenames.

Should I use underscores or hyphens in URLs?

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In your URLs, we suggest that you use hyphens instead of underscores. Overly complicated URLs, particularly those with many parameters, might give crawlers trouble by generating an overly large number of URLs that redirect to the same or comparable content on your site.

What does Google say about hyphens or underscores?

In URLs, Google highly recommends using hyphens rather than underscores as a word separator. Hyphens assist Google in determining the purpose of your pages and producing consistent results. URLs with underscores will not be recognized. For instance, the phrase “how_to_internal_linking” would be interpreted as “howtointernallinking” rather than “How to internal linking.”

“How-to-internal-linking” is more readable to Google’s robots when using hyphens. In turn, this clarity can assist Google’s robots in providing results for various word and phrase combinations.

In short, the easier your URLs are for Google to understand and analyze, the higher your site will rank in relevant search queries. Furthermore, the easier it is for humans to read your URL, the higher your website will rank in search engines. That is a significant advantage in your SEO efforts.

How do I structure a URL for SEO? 7 Tips & Best Practices

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A good URL structure for SEO is critical and should be taken very seriously. But how can you ensure that the structure is correct? Here are some tried-and-true methods for making good use of URLs.

1. Use a standard URL structure

Adhering to the acknowledged norm is critical when it relates to URL structure. For instance, avoid going too far when adding categories and subcategories in URLs. Consider the following examples:

www.example.com/women/shoes/blue-high-heels is a straightforward URL structure. 

However,

www.example.com/women/shoes/blue/high-heels/nameofthespecificshoe 

is overkill.

Take note! Remember to be as uniform as possible in the URL structure you deploy across the site and include the primary categories to make your site’s organization more apparent.

2. Always edit the URL of a page to make it more relevant

Surprisingly, there are still websites that employ gibberish-looking automatically generated URLs. Such URLs are not SEO-friendly and provide a more perplexing experience for visitors. Stay committed to personalizing each URL based on the web page’s content to prevent all this.

3. Keep it short and simple

Avoid inserting extraneous words in your URL. Make it brief, straightforward, consistent, and to the point. Avoid using the same keyword in your URL, for example.

http://www.example.com/blog/url-structure

or

http://www.example.com/url-structure

It would be the preferred choice.

A bad example would be:

http://www.example.com/index.php?id_sezione=360&sid=3a5ebc944f41daa6f849f730f1

4. Delete stop words.

If you use, stop words such as the, or, but, of, and so on, keeping your URL short and simple will be unfeasible. So, get rid of them.

http://www.example.com/the-best- way-to-create-url-structure-for-your-website-a-best-practice-guide

5. Use your primary keyword.

The primary keywords are the ones for which you wish to rank. This implies that you must keep these terms in mind. They are keywords that reflect what is on the web page and contain terms often used (or prone to be used) by individuals searching for the information on the page. The URL of the page must include a primary keyword. Consider the following example:

Consider a blog post titled “11 best hazelnut coffee” published on a website for blog articles. If the goal keyword is “best hazelnut coffee,” the URL could look like this:

https://example.com/best-hazelnut-coffee/

not

https://example.com/11-best-hazelnut-coffee/

You might have 11 best right now, but what if you want to add or remove one of the products from your list? You will have to redirect the old URL to the new one.

6. To separate words, use hyphens

The best SEO strategy to separate two or more words is to use a hyphen. This is because, thanks to hyphens, Google can index all keywords/terms individually. We’ll go through how to use hyphens in URLs in a moment.

7. Use canonical tags wherever possible

You would not want search engines to categorize various versions of the same webpage as separate pages. Hence, if you have the same web page linked to multiple URLs for any reason, you are undermining its SEO value. Consider the following example:

  • www.yourwebsite.com
  • http://yourwebsite.com
  • https://yourwebsite.com

In Google’s opinion, consolidating each URL for the same webpage such that a link back to one of them passes for all versions is the right approach. You can assist Google in understanding this by including the canonical tag on each variation of the page, which specifies which URL symbolizes all versions.

What if you’re already using underscores in your URLs?

Punctuation in URLs assists search engine robots in reading and interpreting URLs when indexing. They are not ranking indicators. If you are currently utilizing underscores in URLs and obtaining the desired results, there is no need to delete or change them.

If you make a change, Google may penalize you, as this could result in a short-term ranking loss since it’ll have to recrawl, reindex, and interpret the updated URL structure.

Are you still not convinced?

Then consider how Wikipedia, which utilizes underscores in its URLs, continues to top SERPs for information searches. Check out this page for The Best FIFA Wonen’s Player, for instance. The webpage’s URL is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Best_FIFA_Women%27s_Player, and not The-Best-FIFA-Womens-Player.

Check the impact of underscores on your website’s SEO performance

It’s essential to see how the use of underscores in your URL affects your website’s visibility on search engines. Running your URL using underscores and dashes from different browsers and search engines can show you how much damage they are causing if any. If you are not ranking well, then you might have a window of an opportunity to change your URL structure. If you’re ranking well, it is best to leave it alone.

What if I don’t get the desired results?

If you’re using underscores in your URLs and aren’t getting the desired results, you can utilize the 301 redirects to switch to a new URL format (the one using hyphens). All crawlers and users are sent to the new URL by the 301 redirects.

What about domain names with dashes?

While including dashes or hyphens in domain names may seem elaborate, it is not advised because some people may have difficulty remembering your domain name. Imagine trying to recall the punctuation in a domain name!

Isn’t that tedious? Imagine how many individuals searching for your website will try to remember a hyphen or dash in your domain name. They are unlikely to find you and will instead browse other sites.

Furthermore, hyphens and dashes make advertising difficult by word-of-mouth or radio. So, avoid using these two punctuation marks in your domain names to keep your audience.

How to fix URL structure problems

  • You can use a robots.txt file to prevent the Google bot from accessing problematic URLs. It would help if you concentrated on barring dynamic URLs, such as URLs that potentially generate endless spaces or that yield search results. Using common expressions in your robots.txt file allows you to block many URLs easily.
  • Instead of utilizing session IDs in URLs, use cookies.
  • Check your website for broken relative links.
  • Shorten URLs: Consider removing any extraneous parameters from your URLs.
  • Consider Using Static URLs: Static URLs are recommended over dynamic ones because they are easier to read and understand. When creating content, try to keep the URLs as simple and static as possible.
  • Finally, consider resetting your permalink structure in WordPress or other content management systems. By configuring your built-in permalink settings, you can ensure your URLs are SEO-friendly and easy to read for both search engines and humans.

Making the Right Choice: Hyphens or Underscores for Your SEO Strategy

When choosing the right URL structure for your SEO strategy, deciding between hyphens and underscores can be overwhelming. However, based on Google’s recommendation, using hyphens is the best option as it aids in word separation and provides consistent results. It’s important to note that using underscores in your URLs may not be recognized by Google.

If you’re building a new website or revamping your current one, it’s essential to consider the impact of your URL structure on search engine optimization. Using hyphens can make a significant difference in helping both users and search engines easily identify concepts within your URL.

So, choosing between hyphens and underscores can enhance your website’s visibility and lead to higher search engine rankings. Therefore, ensure to use hyphens for your SEO URLs to maximize the benefits of your SEO strategies.

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jay kang

Jay Kang, entrepreneur and SEO expert, is the driving force behind innovative platforms like linkilo.co and seorankserp.com. His latest creation, ProductReview.Tools, provides affiliate marketers with a powerful WordPress plugin for crafting high-converting reviews. Committed to empowering marketers, Jay continues to make a positive impact in the digital marketing space.

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