I just bought a domain name on Godaddy for a new project. I really love that phase of a project. Searching for a good domain always feels like a treasure hunt. And yes, you sometimes still do find treasures out there. But not often. Which calls for some tough decisions, such as whether or not to go with hyphenated domains.
It’s 2016 and keyword.com domains have been taken literally decades ago. Some of the owners actually develop their domains. Others just squat over them, charging exuberant sums from any interested party. Not really an option when all you want to do is start a new blog on something you’re interested in.
So, we’re talking about domains with at least two words in them.
Anything with “blog” as the second word is taken. Duh! Most other cool words like “love”, “lover”, “fun”, “central” or “about” are long gone as well. Some are available though and my keyword (a type of pet) was available in several fairly tolerable combinations.
Why even consider hyphenated domains then?
Some combinations just don’t work well without a hyphen. Everyone knows that famous example Matt Cutts used, right? How Experts-Exchange has to be hyphenated or people will read it as Expert-Sex-Change. Ha, ha.
Does that mean Matt Cutts ever recommended hyphens in domain names? Not that I’m aware of. That video is all about URL structure and how Google reads words. The message was that hyphens are used as separators of words while underscores are not. Hardly relevant to domain names.
Some SEO experts claim that whether a domain is hyphenated or not should not really matter. Hmmm, I can see how in theory that could be the case. After all, why would anyone be penalized for a hyphen if everything else is ok. I am guessing that’s the case.
That said, how many popular websites do you know with hyphens in their domain names? I can’t really think of any, to be honest. The ones that have words like “blog” or “forums” in their domain name, for example, seem to avoid hyphens and do well without them.
Hyphenated domains used to be relevant
I still remember the time when hyphenated domain names were hugely popular. Back then, in the early Jurassic era, people used extreme SEO tactics to create and promote what was basically MFA (Made for Adsense with some Amazon thrown in that A for good measure 😉 ). I know because I had such sites myself. There was a time when this was a viable and productive way to make money online. I promise you, a decade ago nobody considered this spam or blackhat SEO. It used to be a legitimate way to optimize your blog or website for the search engines.
Then the bad guys took over and spammed Google like crazy with sites that had shitty content. And by shitty (pardon my French) I mean either illegal scraper sites or sites that can barely be considered to be in English – those produced by word jumbling algorithms. The first type (scrapers) are illegal. The second type should be.
Using software to mass produce these junk sites means their producers couldn’t care less about what their domain name sounds like to surfers. In an effort to SEO to the extreme, they used domain names that had 2, 3 or even 4 keywords. These were almost always hyphenated. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe the hyphenated ones were easy to find (so why waste time searching for non-hyphenated ones) or maybe they thought this was in fact better SEO.
The bottom line is: hyphenated domain names have become a trademark of junk websites. And if I can see that as a surfer, I am pretty sure Google sees it as well. After all, the whole point about the Google algorithm is that it tries to be as intelligent as a human being using the web.
So, are hyphenated domains always a bad idea?
Well, I will say that. I have very mature domain names that I use which are hyphenated and as far as I can tell they’re doing well on Google. You could say this proves that hyphens don’t matter but I suspect Google realizes that old websites – well over a decade old – were created in a different environment. Or it could be that they are mature enough for Google to realize they’re good sites despite the initial flag the hyphens may have raised. I still think a new website that starts out with hyphenated words could suffer.
Which is why – after some deliberation – I decided to go with a non-hyphenated domain name. I finally found the combination that works for me and will start working on the new project today (WordPress files being uploaded as I’m typing this!) Now, all I need to do is start working on some top notch content and hope for the best!