Once you've read this post, see the new proof about underscores and hyphens
in June 2011.
I'm sick of having this argument with people who claim to know SEO and/or programming but demonstrate their ignorance. What really incensed me, was when Matt Cutts, head of anti-spam at Google gave definitive direction here
(rare) on what was best practice, hyphens or underscores
, and then in person at an interview, he was still misinterpreted
by people who wanted to believe what they still wanted to believe!
Come on people! This isn't a religion, why the blindness?
So here's some conclusive proof I have developed in reviewing this issue with my long time friend and colleague James, who does SEO Sydney
1. Google: search-engine-optimisation
Results: 44,800,000. This is the big one.
This is clearly the correct search - Google news picks it up, as well as squillions of advertisers. I'm even offered a two word definition of what a 'search engine' is.
2. Google: search_engine_optimisation
Results: 12,500 with a better suggestion
Firstly you note Google offers you a better search, trying to break the single word into separate words, but then shows you your limited results - 12,500 misled minions who think underscores are better than dashes. Notice too that there are no advertisers bidding for this search...!
3. Now finally Google: engine_optimisation
Results: 590 with a better suggestion
This is the clincher. 590 sensless mentions of the word engine_optimisation. And notice again that there are no advertisers bidding for this search because Google isn't counting it as a search for two separate words, but one big ugly word with an underscore in the middle. Instead, I'm being offered a better search with a space before the word optimisation.
Do you get it now?
A space, like a hyphen (or dash) is a word break.
An underscore is not.
That's true grammatically, and programmatically.
Don't be fooled by the keyword highlighting... the bold on a SERP (Search Engine Results Page) is applied after the search is calculated and conducted. So the bottom result shown in the image above (the unfortunate Bond SEO) has the word engine_optimisation in bold, as though Google can see it separately, but this in only because the bold is applied after the search is calculated. We only have 590 results available. If Google were seeing the keyword as separate words, then we'd have millions of results available.
Your honour, I rest my case.
"What should I do?"
First of all, if you really want to evaluate how good an SEO company like the ones listed above are, make this the first question you ask them: do you recommend hyphens (dashes) or underscores in urls? Then get them to explain why. It will help you tell the SEO men from the boys.
What if my massive website already has underscores in the urls and (maybe because of the CMS) in the title tags or meta description?
A good SEO agency with both marketing AND technical programming skills is what you need. This is hard to find an agency that's good at both, that doesn't have two competing halves that don't cooperate or communicate, and that doesn't cost the earth!
We (Pioneer Websites
) are a small family agency, solving the issue of competing halves. We probably favor technical over marketing while never neglecting either, and our client's track record speaks for that combination's success. If you're not sure how big a job your site is, send us an email
and we'll gladly analyse your site and give you a recommendation.
It could be as easy (for us) as adding programming which corrects SEO underscore vs hyphen errors, picking up any lost SEO value and rechannelling it correctly, without you having to change your whole Content Management System or your content.
P.S. Yes I've spelt it the British way optimisation instead of optimization but the results are the same for either, as you can see, Google's SERP using alternate spelling for my results - but only where I used dashes and Google can see it's a separate word!!!