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SEO, To Hyphen or Underscore URLs Revisited

I’ve seen a lot of SEO Experts and many SEO tools recommend that you should be using hyphens in URLs rather than underscores, one example was Ann Smarty over at SearchEngineJournal.  For the disadvantages of the underscore in URLs she says:

Traditionally it isn’t seen by search engines as a word separator (this is slowly changing now)

Slowly changing?  It was reported in 2007 that Google and other search engines treat underscores like hyphens.  To say it’s slowly changing is like saying Facebook is finally catching on.  Three years on the web is an eternity.  She also says that there are no disadvantages to hyphens.  Though I’m not so sure about that. . .

Think about multiple ways that hyphens are used.  Hyphens are added in-between words and in people’s names.  For example, Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaugars has a name with a hyphen.  Let me give you an example of a potential sentence that includes his name:

Now if we use underscores it would look like this:

Slightly different meaning in both of those URLs, wouldn’t you agree?  It is also much easier to read with underscores.  Therefore the BEST option is underscores because people rarely use them when it comes to typing names or phrases.  There is no way they will get in the way.

I know what your saying, I’m preaching to use underscores when this blog uses hyphens.  Wordpress uses them by default (though I’m not sure why and I never changed it)  Though I have used underscores on other projects….  Check out Jones-Drew’s page at

I don’t mean to single out Ann because she certainly knows her SEO, but this issue just keeps popping up every now and then and it truly annoys me.  It needs to be squashed once in for all.

UPDATE: In the comments below, Kieron Hughes provides a link to Matt Cutts suggesting to use hyphens.  I guess I stand corrected.

Do you guys agree with me or am I being too nit picky?

17 replies on “SEO, To Hyphen or Underscore URLs Revisited”

Personally I disagree.

If you have a link that has underscores in, then they can often by misinterpreted in certain instances.

For example. If my website contained underscores and I posted it on a forum, then that link would most likely be underlined due to default CSS styling. Now when somebody looks at that link, they won't be able to tell it has underscores because they blend in with the underlined styling of the link.

If (for whatever reason) somebody decides to type the URL into the address bar (as opposed to clicking on the link/copying and pasting) then they may well just ignore the underscores as they can't see them – meaning the link won't work.

In terms of clarity I think it's much better to use hyphens.

Only one thing to clarify. Please read carefully what I've said in the post “Slowly changing” referred to search engines in general, not Google in particular. Do you have any evidence that ALL search engines treat underscore and hyphen the same way? – Exactly, so “slowly” was the way to emphasize that hyphens are the safer way to go because they are *traditionally* treated as the word separator.

hahahahah, Underscores, what is this 1984? I personally would like to use only what matters for SEO. I can see the point that underscores actually interfere with the underlining of the link but what about other delimiters? I don't want to use slashes, I want all my pages to be for example: rather than something else, ideally though I would like to have a way to separate the parts of the URL

The source you cited is incorrect. The article you link to in your post is from August 2, 2007, and it references comments made by Matt Cutts of Google.

Matt clarified his comments on August 10, 2007 in his blog:

“If you read Stephan Spencer’s write-up, he says some people thought that underscores are the same as dashes to Google now, and I didn’t quite say that in the talk. I said that we had someone looking at that now. So I wouldn’t consider it a completely done deal at this point. But note that I also said if you’d already made your site with underscores, it probably wasn’t worth trying to migrate all your urls over to dashes. If you’re starting fresh, I’d still pick dashes.”

Keep in mind that was 2007, and as you point out that was a long time ago. But I haven't been able to find any concrete info on dashes and underscores being treated euqally, as of November 1, 2010. So I'm sticking with dashes for now.

I am the webmaster of and I fell in love with the idea of using underscores instead of the traditional hyphen to separate words in URLs (the pioneer in me maybe). I quickly made a change to hyphens and my keywords are ranking much better now. I have a specific example of why to avoid underscores and to use hyphens instead.

When typing “review rage madden 11” in Google, the madden_11 (underscored) version is no where to be found. However the madden-11 (hyphenated) version is 2nd in the rankings. Stick with hyphens and do not worry so much about bad grammar in your URLs.

How to find URLs including underscores in my blog? accidentally I found 3 of them : and then following this /2011/07/build-website-popularity-via-google_10.html, 2011/07/build-website-popularity-via-google_08.html and 2013/03/google-reader-how-to-build-website_4.html. I have removed them after moving the content to new substite post. What a pitty, in the result of analysis is : X Underscores in the URLs YES.

I went by the intersection again today twice. So far no roadside shrinehas sprung up which is unusual for this neighborhood. So maybe the nextof kin have not been notified yet.

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