Search Engine Optimization or SEO is something I keep reminding myself I need to learn more about. I’ve got some of it worked out and have found invaluable the free, downloadable guide Google released some time ago – Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. But to improve my knowledge and hopefully the findability of my blogs, I’m embarking on some self-education. So my plan is to focus on something about SEO once a week, at the beginning of the weekend, and report here in a series which I am grandly titling SEO Saturday.

Today I’m looking at the question of whether hyphens or dashes in URLs are better than underscores. As the title of this post declares, it seems that the verdict is no contest in favor of hyphens.

Why would this question concern me?

Well, having spent about half an hour today trying to find a good domain name for a new project and discovering the top level, dot com version of each name I picked was not available, I got to thinking about using a hyphenated (i.e. with a dash or dashes) domain name, just as an SEO expert colleague of mine does regularly. In the particular instance this would make quite good sense, because each of the dot com names I looked at was parked, that is it was not being used for a “real live” website or blog. So I would not, on the face of it, be competing with someone active in the same market space with a live site and the same site name.

And indeed the dot com domain version of the ideal name I wanted for the new site proved to be available in the hyphenated version.

Maybe it was time to get over my prejudice in favor of “continuous” domain names and get into the hyphenated variety?

Then, no doubt because I was thinking about all this, I noticed in my FriendFeed stream a video by Google searchmeister Matt Cutts about hyphenated versus underscored URLs. Not that I’d been thinking about using underscores, but the video was brief and I found it very interesting for the implicit insight it gave into how the people behind the scenes at Google think and work.

Verdict on the particular question? Google’s machines read hyphens in URLs as separators, i.e. indicating separate words and thus, Matt indicates, hyphens are better than underscores. At least, better for now. He acknowledges that they might change the algorithm one day.

The next question is: given the choice between a hyphenated¬† dot com name and a non-hyphenated, “wholeword” dot net, or dot org or other alternative to dot com, which is better?

I’ve done a bit of searching online but don’t know what the “right” answer is to that, although there does appear to be a consensus of “one hyphen good, two or more hyphens bad”.

Advice and comments welcome.

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