10 Jun What is the best URL format for SEO: Hyphens or underscores
Why are hyphens and dashes (-) and underscores (_) used in URLs so much of a hassle?
In fact, they are actually important and have an impact.
A URL is a unique address that allows users to access a specific page of your website. This has a significant impact on the navigation of a website and the user experience.
In order to understand how hyphens and underscores work in URLs, it is important to look at what’s happening in this area. A good URL structure will enhance your search engine optimization.
There has been a debate among webmasters and SEO professionals for years about the use of hyphens and underscores in URLs.
It did raise confusion about the use of hyphens and underscores in URLs when Matt Cutt, head of Google’s Spam Team, in 2007, stated that Google hyphens & underscores are treated equally.
Therefore, multiple recommendations were formulated, fostering the discussion.
While both underscores and hyphens are used in URLs for word separation, their characteristics are slightly different in terms of compatibility, SEO, and readability.
Is it best to use hyphens or underscores in URLs? Let’s take a look.
Importance of URL structure
The importance of SEO-friendly URL structure should be understood before considering the likelihood of hyphens and underscores in URLs. It is important to understand why one of the two triumphs over the other in the hyphen-underscore clash.
This is a quick primer on URL structure. URL structure is the format of a web address that uniquely identifies a web page.
The crawling and indexing of web pages is enabled by search engine spiders by using URLs. By structuring and optimizing your URLs properly, you increase the chances of your content being understood by bots and that your website hierarchy will be understood as well. This will make your website more crawlable.
As your web pages crawl and index faster, they will appear higher on search engine results pages.
The best SEO-optimized URLs are not just search engine-friendly, but also user-friendly.
The URL structure complements your site’s SEO, but there are also other factors that influence your SERP position, including quality of content, page loading speed, backlinks,and more.
Linking URLs with hyphens
Let’s talk about the main point of URL structure now: hyphens and underscores. Firstly, let’s talk about hyphens.
There are numerous advantages to using hyphens in URLs, as listed below.
Search engines and users benefit from hyphens by making URLs more readable by separating words.
Hyperlinks feature hyphens that enable readers to easily discern the content of the URL at first glance by separating multiple words in the URL.
A positive user experience is provided by hyphens in URLs.
Competitive advantage of SEO
A hyphen is seen by search engines as a word separator, and this means the bots understand what your page is about when they break up individual words in a URL.
You have a greater chance of appearing for relevant searches online if the search engine understands the content on your page. If you insert hyphens in the right place in your page URL, you’ll improve your search engine ranking and increase your online visibility.
User-Friendly and Accessible
Individual words in the URL are often interpreted and pronounced by hyphen-based technologies like screen readers and voice assistants.
The use of hyphens in your content will make it easier to read, more user-friendly to use on the Web, and more widely accessed.
User experience can also be improved by maintaining consistency across your website.
In addition to adding consistency to your website, you help to improve navigation and SEO by using hyphens in all your URLs.
Platform-based user engagement
You should use hyphens in your URLs to increase readability.
Hence, you are more likely to get clicks and better engagement from hyphenated URLs when shared on social media platforms and via email.
The more people can understand what a particular URL may take them to and how relevant the page is, the more likely they are to visit it? Exactly.
Utilities that use underscores
The underscore in URLs is more trouble than it is worth, unlike hyphens.
There may be some aesthetic appeal to URLs with underscores. In contrast, users find these URLs harder to read than URLs with hyphens. Take a look at this example.
Site 1: www.domain.com/blog-article/best-way-to-build-an-online-store/
Site 2: www.domain.com/blog_article/best_way_to_build_an_online_store/
According to my understanding, site 1 of URLs are easier to read than site 2.
How do you feel about this? Feel free to comment.
Aspects of compatibility
The underscore character in URLs may not be correctly processed by outdated web servers and content management systems.
There may be problems, such as broken links, that prevent users from accessing your web site due to a lack of compatibility.
Limitations of SEO
Hyphens are recommended in URLs by major search engines.
Although underscores may improve your SEO, they can negatively affect your site if you use them in your URLs.
Google’s Recommendations: What Should You Do?
To make your website URLs SEO-friendly, Google recommends using hyphens instead of underscores. The best part is that underscores are not recommended at all.
Google’s official documentation contains exactly this information.
It is important to remember that the use of hyphens in URLs helps search engines like Google to better interpret the URL structure and understand the boundaries between words.
Underlining can sometimes result in the entire string being interpreted as one term by the search engine.
If you’re building a link building strategy, for instance, your URL shouldn’t contain words that can be misunderstood by Google or any other search engine.
Gary Illyes, a Google executive, says that underscores are hard to segment, which is why they recommend dashes.”
Your ranking may be impacted if Google does not find your page relevant for relevant searches if it has trouble reading your URL.
The use of hyphens in your URLs will improve readability and make the search engine more comfortable in establishing relevance.
Best Practices for URL Hyphens and Underscores
The right way to use hyphens and underscores has been what we have been saying all along. Here are some best practices to follow.
Standardize URL structure
It is important to be consistent, as I mentioned earlier. The URL structure of all your website’s pages should follow a standard format.
Hyphens are a good addition to URLs. Use them sparingly. The best way to avoid excessive use of hyphens is to keep your URLs short and precise with only one or two keywords included.
Domain names shouldn’t contain hyphens
Multiple reasons make it unwise to use hyphens in your domain name.
When people try to find your website with hyphens, they are likely to land on a different site instead if they miss the hyphen. You’re losing traffic because of that.
Domain names with hyphens may sometimes be interpreted by Google as keyword stuffing. The result may be low rankings for your site on Google.
Also, it may give other webmasters the impression that your website is unreliable if it has hyphens in its domain name. Other relevant sites will not link back to your site because of this.
Do not include stop words or dates
You should avoid using numbers and stop words, such as to, the, with, etc., in your URL because they make it look more complicated and less readable.
When using plugins that automatically generate URLs, you should make sure they are removed to simplify your page URLs.
Letters should be lowercase
It is common for URLs to use lowercase characters.
URLs with lowercase and uppercase letters may be perceived differently by some web servers. Having duplicate content will result in SEO issues, which are red flags.
To avoid confusion, make sure to use lowercase letters in URLs instead of uppercase letters.
How to track UTM parameters with underscores in URLs
Online traffic sources can be understood by using Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters. Using a UTM will help digital marketing strategies become more effective. It is now common practice to use UTM parameters to track detailed insights about the term, source, content of a click, medium, and campaign.
It is essential to discuss the use of underscores (_) when separating the UTM parameters using various symbols.
When Underscores are added to URLs for UTM tracking, they can have a significant impact on the quality and accuracy of your data collection. UTM parameters are identified by underscores, which act as a unique character in separating words within parameters, thus making analytics tools able to correctly read and record parameters.
Why are underscores used? The analytics tools consistently interpret underscores as unique characters, unlike hyphens, which are often misinterpreted as spaces.
The parameters are thus tracked and reported properly, therefore making them more reliable.
In Google Analytics or other tracking tools, an underscore would allow you to see the exact name of a Facebook campaign, such as summer_sale_2023, giving you exact data for that specific campaign.
Analytical tools may read this as three separate words without the underscore, causing confusion.
You’ll be able to make better marketing decisions, improve the effectiveness of your ads, and ultimately generate a better ROI.
URLs have long clashed over the use of hyphens and underscores. In Google’s recommendations, hyphens should be used instead.
The search engine says to separate words in your URLs with hyphens to make it easier for users and search engines to recognize concepts. Make sure your URLs contain hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_).
In the URL, placing hyphens in appropriate places will make it easier to read, make it easier to navigate and more accessible, increase user engagement and boost SEO.
If you want to reap maximum SEO benefits, make sure you follow the handpicked URL practices I discussed above.