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Promotion Tip:
Are Hyphenated Domain Names A Good Buy?

by Larisa Thomason,
Senior Web Analyst,
NetMechanic, Inc.

  
November 2003
(Part 2)
Vol. 6, No. 19
 • Design Tip
 • Promotion Tip
 • JavaScript Tip
  

Many webmasters avoid using hyphens in domain names because visitors might get confused and enter the wrong URL. But some promotion experts claim that the potential for search engine success makes the hyphens worth the risk.

Who is right? Unfortunately, both sides make good points. The need (or not) for hyphens depends on your individual site and your online competition.

Could You Spell That Again Please?

Let's look at the problems first and consider how to mitigate them.

  1. Hyphenated names are hard to read aloud. Imagine giving this domain name over the phone:

    Carter-Graphic-Design-And-Printing.com

    "Our domain name is carter hyphen graphic hyphen - no, that's a hyphen on your keyboard, not the word hyphen spelled out. No problem! Let's start over. Carter hyphen graphic hyphen design hyphen and hyphen printing dot com."

    It's best to avoid having more than two hyphens in your domain name. It's less trouble for visitors to type and easier to read aloud.

  2. Visitors forget to include them. Many users aren't used to hyphenated domain names and forget to type the hyphens. If a competitor registers a domain that's identical to yours - but without the hyphens - visitors may see the competing site instead of yours. You'll never even realize you're losing traffic to the competition.

    Research your competition before you buy a name. If you do decide to select a name with hyphens, be sure to register the same without hyphens as well and redirect it to your main address.

But It's Easier To Read And Parse!

Webmasters were excited years ago when they were able to register 63 character domain names instead of the previous limit of 22 characters. Longer names give you more choices, but are generally harder to read in one unbroken line.

Look at the difference in these two names:

CarterGraphicDesignAndPrinting.com
cartergraphicdesignandprinting.com

The capitalization works great with human eyes, but not for search engine spiders.

However, hyphens may increase legibility to humans and may help search engine spiders:

  1. They're easier to read in print. An important offline site promotion strategy is to plaster your URL on every flat surface, from your stationary to print ads to the local soccer team you sponsor.

    So consider which would be easier to read on the back of a kid's soccer uniform (assuming it would fit):

    Carter-Graphic-Design-And-Printing.com

    or

    CarterGraphicDesignAndPrinting.com

    The extra space provided by the hyphen makes a big difference to the human eye. Just be sure it's worth the extra trouble to read aloud and spell.

  2. You get more choices. If the exact domain name you want is taken, consider whether you might benefit from hyphens. But be careful! If you find that your first choice - PossumsAsPets.com - is taken, don't automatically register the alternate name with hyphens: Possums-As-Pets.com. As we said in the previous section, that may send your traffic to a competing site.

    However, if you're registering a domain name for a regionally-specific business or organization and your first choice is taken, you may want to add a hyphen and text that includes location information:

    PossumsAsPets-Dayton.com

    That would distinguish your opossum club in Dayton from the one in Boston.

  3. Keywords stand out to humans and search engines. What's the point of using targeted keywords in your domain name if search engine spiders can't parse them (separate them from surrounding text)?

    Search technology has improved enough that most search engines can pull individual words out of a domain name. But there's always room for confusion. What if your online window treatment business has this domain name?

    windowneedsnow.com

    Of course, in print you'd display that as WindowNeedsNow.com, but search engine spiders ignore the capital letters in a domain name. The spider could get confused and read this as:

    window need snow

    Or confuse the first word. Is it window, win, or wind?

    But there's no confusion with:

    window-needs-now.com

  4. Have your exact URL used in link text. Remember that a key linking strategy is to have text links contain your targeted keywords. If your domain name is legible to the human eye, another webmaster is more likely to use your domain name as the actual link text.

    That gives you a boost for having targeted keywords in your domain name and inside link text. If you need help selecting the best keywords for your site, refer to our Simple Rules For Keyword Selection or use the keyword selection tool bundled with Search Engine Power Pack.

Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? Only you can decide that. Although we listed fewer disadvantages, they can pose significant problems to your site promotion efforts. Don't disregard them. Names without hyphens are easier to spell, read aloud, and remember when you're talking directly to another person. However, hyphens do seem to add legibility in print and in link text.

No single technique works best for every site so weigh the pros and cons for your site before you make your choice.



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