Do you think using hyphens or dash (-) and underscores (_) in URLs isn’t a big deal?
Well, they actually matter and they do make a difference.
URLs significantly impact web navigation and user experience as they are unique addresses that allow users to access specific web pages on your site.
So, it is important that you get a closer look at what’s being said about hyphens Vs. underscores in URLs. This will help you implement a URL structure that bolsters SEO.
For years, the use of hyphens and underscores in URLs has been a matter of debate among webmasters and SEO professionals.
When former Google Spam Team Head, Matt Cutt, in 2007, said that hyphens & underscores are treated equally by Google and also noted, “If you’re starting fresh, I’d still pick dashes.”, it did stir confusion about the use of hyphens and underscores in URLs for sure.
As a result, multiple recommendations emerged, nurturing the debate hitherto.
Even though both hyphens and underscores act as word separators in URLs, they have subtle differences in terms of readability, SEO, compatibility and more.
So, hyphens Vs. underscores: what’s best for your URLs? Let’s find out.
Why URL Structure Matters
Before delving into the likelihood of hyphens and underscores for URLs, you need to understand why SEO-friendly URL structure is important. Comprehending this will help you make better sense of the hyphen-underscore clash and why one of them triumphs over the other.
To brush up a bit, URL structure refers to the format of the web address that uniquely associates with a web page.
Search engine spiders leverage URLs to crawl and index web pages. If your URL is well-structured and optimized, it will make it easier for the bots to understand your content and the entire hierarchy of your website. It will improve the crawlability of your website.
Most importantly, SEO-optimized URLs aren’t just search engine-friendly; they are user-friendly too.
Note: While URL structure plays a role in complementing your site’s SEO, there are also other factors, such as content quality, backlink quality, page loading speed and much more, that contribute to your SERP standing.
Using Hyphens in URLs
Now that you are aware of the significance of URL structure, let’s get to the main point, which is hyphens and underscores. Let’s start with hyphens.
Using hyphens in URLs provides ample advantages as below.
Hyphens improve the readability of URLs by separating words and making them more comprehensive for search engines and users alike.
In the presence of hyphens, multiple words included in the URLs are conveniently isolated and that makes it possible for readers to make sense of what the content is about at the very first glance.
This way, hyphens in URLs make way for a positive user experience.
Just like visitors to a web page, search engines perceive hyphens as word separators and this splitting up of individual words in the URL helps the search engine bots to understand what your page talks about.
The better the search engine understands your content, the higher the chances of your page appearing for relevant searches online. Using hyphens in your page URL the right way will increase your online visibility and boost your search ranking.
Accessibility and User Friendliness
Screen readers, voice assistants and other similar technologies often leverage hyphens to interpret and vocalize individual words in the URL.
That said, using hyphens will make your content more accessible and user-friendly and improve its reach across the web.
Maintaining consistency across your website is another way to offer a smooth user experience.
When you use hyphens for all your URLs, you add to the consistency of your website while opening doors to easy navigation and SEO friendliness.
User Engagement Across Platforms
As I mentioned earlier, hyphens boost the readability of your URLs.
So, when you share hyphen-infused URLs on social media platforms or via email, they are likely to attract a good number of clicks and fetch you better user engagement.
I mean, when people can understand at a quick look where a particular URL will possibly take them and how relevant the page is, they’ll probably visit it, right? That’s the point.
Using Underscores in URLs
Unlike hyphens, underscores in URLs are more of a troublemaker than a good candidate.
URLs with underscores may look good aesthetically. However, they aren’t as readable as URLs with hyphens for users. Check out this example.
Version 1: www.yoursite.com/blog-article/how-to-build-an-ecommerce-store/
Version 2: www.yoursite.com/blog_article/how_to_build_an_ecommerce_store/
I guess you can read version 1 of the URL more easily than version 2.
What do you think? Comment below.
Outdated versions of some web servers and content management systems may not be able to process underscores in URLs properly.
This lack of compatibility can lead to potential issues like broken links, which will block the user’s access to your web page.
Again, The use of hyphens in URLs helps search engines like Google better understand word boundaries and interpret the URL structure more accurately.
On the flip side, when you use underscores, the search may sometimes interpret the entire string as one word.
I’m pretty sure you don’t want Google or any other search engine, for that matter, to comprehend words (for example, link building strategies as link building strategies) in your URL the wrong way.
In fact, Gary Illyes, a Google executive, says, “”we can’t easily segment at underscore and that’s why we are recommending dashes.”
If Google finds it hard to read individual words in your URL, it may not show up your page for relevant searches and that will affect your rankings.
Make sure you use hyphens in appropriate places of your page URLs to slice individual words to improve readability and help the search engine to establish relevance without any hassle.
Hyphens Vs. Underscores: URL Best Practices
As we were saying all along -using hyphens and underscores the right way- what is it? Check out the best practices below.
Follow a Standard URL Structure
Just as I mentioned earlier in this article, consistency is key. Make sure you follow a standard URL structure for all the pages on your website.
Using hyphens in URLs is good. But don’t overuse them. Keeping your URL short and precise with one or two keywords included is a good way to avoid excessive use of hyphens.
Don’t Use Hyphens in Domain Names
Using hyphens in your domain name is NOT recommended for multiple reasons.
Domain names with hyphens are hard to remember and if people miss out on the hyphen when trying to visit your site, they may land on a different website instead. That’s a loss of traffic for you.
Google may sometimes interpret domain names with hyphens as keyword stuffing done to manipulate search rankings. This may get your site on the wrong side of Google and you may end up with low rankings.
Last but not least, the appearance of hyphens in your domain name may bring an air of untrustworthiness on your website for other webmasters. This will prevent you from earning quality backlinks to your site from other relevant sites.
Remove Stop Words and Dates
The inclusion of numbers and stop words, such as to, with, the, etc., can make your URL look complex and less readable.
Make sure you remove them to simplify your page URLs, especially if you are using plugins to auto-generate URLs.
Use Lowercase Letters
Characters used in URLs are usually in lowercase.
Some web servers perceive lowercase and uppercase letters in URLs differently. This will lead to duplicate content issues, which is a red flag in SEO.
So, make sure you avoid using uppercase letters in URLs and switch to their lowercase counterparts instead.
Using Underscores in URLs for UTM Parameter Tracking
Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters are commonly used to understand online traffic sources. Using a UTM helps improve the effectiveness of digital marketing strategies. UTM parameters are now used extensively to track detailed insights about the source, medium, campaign, term, and content related to a click.
While using various symbols to separate these UTM parameters, it’s particularly crucial to discuss the usage of underscores (_).
Purposeful integration of Underscores within URLs for UTM tracking can significantly influence your data gathering quality and accuracy. When it comes to UTM parameter tracking, the underscore serves as a unique character separating words within parameters, allowing analytics tools to read and record these parameters correctly.
So why underscore? While other characters such as hyphens are often mistaken by analytics tools as spaces, underscores are consistently interpreted as unique characters.
This makes them more reliable for ensuring your UTM parameters are properly tracked and reported.
For example, if you’re running a Facebook campaign named “summer_sale_2023”, an underscore would allow you to see this exact name in your Google Analytics or other tracking tool reports, providing you with precise data for this specific campaign.
Without the underscore, the analytics tool might read this as three separate words, resulting in potentially confusing or inaccurate data.
Using underscore in the UTM can lead to more informed marketing decisions, improved ad performance, and ultimately, better return on your marketing investment.
The hyphen Vs.underscore for URLs clash has been around for years. However, Google recommends using hyphens.
Google says,” Consider using hyphens to separate words in your URLs, as it helps users and search engines identify concepts in the URL more easily. We recommend that you use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) in your URLs.”
Using hyphens in appropriate places of your URL will improve its readability, make your page easily accessible and user-friendly, increase social engagement for your content and boost your search engine rankings.
Ensure that you follow the hand-picked URL practices specific to the hyphens I’ve mentioned above to reap maximum SEO benefits.
Ananyaa has been penning down industry-specific content for 6+ years. With blogging as her special interest, she loves exploring multiple verticals to keep track of dynamic market trends.