Domain names – to hyphenate or not to hyphenate?

I’ve read quite a bit suggesting that you should  hyphenate domain names because Google sees hyphens as spaces, therefore making it easier for Googlebot to identify your keywords. By this reckoning, is better than Some say long domain names are also easier to read this way, which may be true, but they’re certainly  not easier to say. They’re not easy to type either. Branding-wise, hyphens are usually considered as mistake.

My gut instinct has turned against hyphens partly because they are awkward to read out (it’s much easier to say the web address is all one word) but also because of the very fact that hyphens do have perceived SEO benefits. This means that a web name with hyphens in it can look spammy and detract credibility.

A quick google suggests that there’s also a debate about whether the SEO benefits are actually there at all, with some  tests suggesting domain names with hyphens, especially with two or three hyphens, actually take longer to rank well than those without hyphens (see the OrangeCopper blog for example). Beyond the domain name itself, it’s probably still good practice to use hyphens for pages, images and folders.

In light of this, it looks best to focus on quality content and quality links, and not to use hyphens unless you have a good reason to as in the famous example of Would you buy a pen from them?


How to do SEO, or how to make your site google-friendly (part 2)

Come up with great keywords and key phrases
This is not as easy as it sounds.  Try to think  of words that people will use to get to your site but also think of ones that are unique to you too – find your niche! Use Google’s Keyword Tool to help you identify popular keywords and phrases or use software such as the free Good Keywords (which also has some useful free resources on keyword research and SEO) or Wordtracker. Check what keywords your competition are using too but don’t assume they’re the best ones. Come up with better ones that will direct searchers to you not them!

Use your keywords effectively
Content is king. Try to use keywords several times in the first 200-300 words of your site (but not so it looks like spamming and to the detriment of the content). Most importantly, make sure your keywords feature in your <title> tags, and in your main headings <H1>, <H2> etc, and in the ALT tags for images.  Keyword metatags don’t really matter any more for SEO (they were abused by the black hat brigade) but do use the meta description tag. Make sure any documents or videos that can be downloaded from your site also contain relevant keywords and this applies to the site’s own folders too – don’t save the home page in a folder called home.htm, use something more sescriptive.

Make each page unique
It is better to have several pages of 400 words than one of 1000. Target keywords to particular pages and make sure that they feature in the url and page titles, and create meta descriptions for each page. Separate keywords in urls by a hyphen so Google sees them as distinct words. Don’t optimise every page with your your domain name unless it’s a natural fit – your domain name is unique to you and will be represented throughout your site.

Validate your site
An accessible site that meets web standards is also likely to get more brownie points with Google. Don’t use frames (invisible to Google) or tables to lay out the pages. Validate your website with W3C – a site that validates has been coded well and Google’s search robots will crawl the website more easily. If it doesn’t validate, you  will find out the reasons why and be able to rectify them. Use Google’s excellent Webmaster tools to check your site too.

Use good navigation and internal links
Clear navigation around your site will help the Google robots too as will good use of internal links. Use relevant keywords in the texts of those links and don’t use ‘click here’. Include a sitemap and avoid Flash or Javascript for navigation links. Stick to simple HTML links.

Keep content up-to-date. Add new stories, pictures, new products, write articles or update your blog. Google likes new content. It makes your website look active and an active website is more likely to be a relevant one. Sprinkle your blog with keywords and submit your blog to Google’s Blog Search.

Get links
Inward links to your site helps Google determine what your site is about, how important it is and what keywords are most relevant. Google likes this because it is not in your control and represents what others think of your site. Now that business employs teams to analyse and get links, Google may like it a bit less, but they are still very important.  It’s a sign of trust. Links from respected and well-known sources are the best ones to get, and better still if it is just a link from them to you. Try to get links into all your pages, not just the home page. Google is not so keen on reciprocal links (too cosy) and be wary of those that promise to create hundreds of links to your site (Google is coming down on links generated by such tactics). And one good link is probably worth more than a hundred dodgy ones, and good relevant content will create its own links as people willingly link to your site.

Use social media
Make a video, upload it to YouTube and Vimeo and link it to your site, utilising keywords (of course) at the same time.  Use Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogger and get your friend to link to your site from their social media too. Make sure there are links to your site from relevant trade and local online directories but also from friends, partners, associates. The more (genuine) links the better. Don’t overdo it though and make sure the social media you use is appropriate to your business.

Don’t just do it once
Monitor the results. Is your ranking getting higher or lower over time? Analyse your site using Google Analytics, tools from your host or software such as LinkDex or WebCEO, which include some free features, or employ someone to do it for you!