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Settling the Underscore: For SEO, Believe The Hyphen Hype

SEO optimisation is a subtle art; with best practices occasionally prone to interpretation as the big dogs of search adjust algorithms and the goalposts. As they do emerge however, and especially as they’re confirmed from the likes of Google directly, it’s important to sit up, take note and make best use of the simple rules that are here to stay. Simple tweaks, uniformly deployed, can have real and tangible impact.

It is a fact universally acknowledged that a site’s URL structure should be as simple as possible. Crawlers love sleek, succinct URLs that prioritise words a human being could understand over  long strings of unintelligible numbers. Ensuring that carefully chosen key words are included will clearly help appeal, but running together multiple words (http://www.example.com/fastcar.html) is less effective. In these cases, we know that punctuation should be deployed; however a recurring question has traditionally been whether underscores (that_look_like_this) or hyphens (which-link-words-in-this-manner) should be used.

The short answer: always use a hyphen for your SEO URLS. Google regards hyphens as a word separator, but will not recognise an underscore in the same way. As a result, “fast_car” is still “fastcar” to a Google crawler and the desired effect is not obtained. There are no two ways about this, the information is confirmed by Google itself.

In terms of ranking difference, the advantage is minor, but an advantage nevertheless, and hence best practise and an absolutely worthwhile endeavour in the subtle and ongoing quest for improved search query relevance. Go forth and hyphenate.

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