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What's in a (Domain) Name? Take 2

Mark Jackson
by , Comments

Was I wrong? At least one reader thinks so.

I took a stand on hyphenated domain names last week ("How to Choose the Best Domains for Search Engine Visibility") declaring domain names such as http://www.keywordA-keywordB-keywordC.com are spammy.

I've never been one to shy away from controversy, so here's a reader-inspired follow up on the domains this week. One of my readers wrote:

Mark, IMO, this is neither factual nor based on anything but opinion! This kind of statement is why we have stupid 3G (third generation) SEOs running around propagating myths. Users don't have clue one what SE spam is, nor do they care.

I love the description of "3G SEOs." It's one that may catch on.

My reader's point brings to mind a deeper SEO (define) issue that may land me in even hotter water: much of SEO is opinion. As much as people would like to have the industry more regulated (and it could use some standardization), SEO is both art and science. The art part includes opinion.

Are Hyphenated Domains Spammy?

SEOs agree on many issues. The relative spamminess of domains? Not a chance.

I recently spoke with several reputable SEOs at PubCon and asked them if they believe domains with two or more hyphens in the root are spammy.

First, though, the words of Matt Cutts, Google spam cop, who wrote if given a choice to use your keywords in your domain, use them. If that means using dashes in your domain, there's no Google penalty. With perhaps exceptions proving the rule:

To answer a common question, Google doesn't algorithmically penalize for dashes in the url. Of course I can only speak for Google, not other search engines. And bear in mind that if your domain looks like www.buy-cheap-viagra-online-while-consolidating-your-debt-so-you-can-play-texas-holdem-while-watching-porn.com, that may still attract attention for other reasons.

Has that changed since Matt's 2005 blog post?

SEO For Domains Wisdom

An interesting opinion came from a former colleague of mine, who asked (fear of Google reprisal?) not to be named. He feels "domains with keywords separated by a hyphen may be a red flag to the search engines that the Web site could be spammy. The search engine may look for other indications the Web site could be spammy, including duplicate content or backlinks from the same IP bank."

John Coronella from Onlinemarketer.com, said he's noticed "an abandonment of keyword stuffed domains such as these, as these Web sites have become a tarnished brand. The general population of the Web world consider these Web sites spam."

He said keywords not separated by a hyphen can -- and do -- rank well in the SERPs (define). He doesn't believe Google will apply weight to dashed keyword domains, adding you're much better off stuffing the keywords all together.

Bruce Clay feels that once the registrars limited character limits to 64, hyphenated domains got flagged. He believes that three or more hyphens are spammy.

Seth Coman, owner of more than 200 domains and director of advertising sales for ModernDomainer, said domains with two or more hyphens are absolutely spammy, and "without a doubt" they've fallen in the SERPs.

Perhaps as both my former colleague and John Coronella suggest, domain owners are abandoning multi-hyphenated domains. Two or more hyphens in the root of a domain may be an indicator that something else isn't right. I tend to believe you're better served with a domain that crams all the words together.

But, again, that's my opinion.

SEM Crossfire, Google, Domain Resources

SEW Expert Chris Boggs told me, "I typically recommend clients avoid more than two or three hyphens per domain. I've seen people 'get away' with it more often when the hyphens are on the directory level, even two or three levels deep, instead of the root domain. In fact, that's where we typically use hyphens since we're trying to parse keywords. I think Google is advanced enough now to parse the keywords without the hyphens."

Here are some additional resources for you regarding domains:

Search Engine Watch Forum. A new thread for our readers get involved in a more updated discussion on this topic. Also, see some older opinions on the topic in the Search Engine Watch forums here.

"12 Rules For Choosing the Right Domain Name" by Rand Fishkin.

WebmasterWorld Forum, rather old, but this is a great resource to discuss such topics.

DaniWeb Forum, more current discussions but limited input as of the date of publication of this column.

As a point of full disclosure, I do not, have not, and probably will never represent a Web site that uses hyphens within the root domain. My personal experience: I've noticed fewer and fewer hyphenated root domains in the SERPs.


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