How Hyphens Ruin Search Results

We’ve all been duped at least once. You need some information and turn to Google. Maybe you are looking for plane tickets or a new pair of shoes. You trust Google to make the decision of which website is most trustworthy and relevant, so you click on one of the top results. Far too often, these sites are phishing scams or affiliate marketing sites or, perhaps worse of all, a retailer who will sell you something that they know nothing about.

For a long time, one of the easiest ways to rank highly for a search term in Google was to purchase a domain name that contained the keyword you were trying to rank for. So, if you wanted to rank highly for “green lightbulbs” you would purchase a domain like bobsgreenlightbulbs.com. As more and more domain names were bought up, scammers and spammers became desperate and bobsgreenlightbulbs.com turned into bobs-green-lightbulbs-inc.com. Hyphenated domains started showing up everywhere.

Google has done a decent job of filtering a lot of these domains out in recent years, but hyphenated, keyword dense domains undeniably still work. Look at these common search queries:

 


It is rare for these hyphen-heavy domains to provide useful information or a trustworthy ecommerce experience to searchers. Sure, everybody knows of an exception or two but would you honestly recommend nike-outlet-store-online.com over Nike.com or Eastbay.com for a pair of cheap Nike shoes? I know I wouldn’t.

It should be a slap in Google’s face to see so many domain names like these near the top of search results. It’s obvious that the entire domain is purchased and built to rank for a few keyword phrases. The entire founding of the website wasn’t based on the idea of creating an amazing online shoe store or passing along quality information on colleges. It was designed from its inception to rank highly in Google by any means necessary.

The worst part is that these domains should be easy for Google to filter out. While many legitimate websites and companies have one hyphen in their domain (virgin-atlantic.com and post-gazette.com come to mind), not many have two hyphens; and those with three or more are even rarer.

Why not penalize sites with hyphens? Any site with 2 hyphens gets a penalty and it goes up from there. So ugg-boot-superstore.com gets 1x the penalty (2 hyphens) and ultra-best-ugg-store.com gets 2x the penalty with 3 hyphens. (The only exception is http://www.d-e-f-i-n-i-t-e-l-y.com/ which should d-e-f-i-n-i-t-e-l-y be mandatory reading for high school and college students)

Domains with 2+ hyphens have no site or brand name. They exist solely for SEO benefit. While some may provide some quality content, the site owner’s end game is often less than noble. If you wanted to organically build up a readership, choosing a lengthy and brandless domain name is a terribly misguided decision at best.

Google is encouraging people to forego building legitimate online companies by continuing to rank hyphen-heavy domains so highly. Why go to the trouble of building an online brand when you can just buy ultra-top-best-store-ever.com and start getting traffic and making money faster than everybody else?

  • http://taylor-and-associates.com Allen Taylor

    Many legitimate websites have more than one hyphen. It wouldn’t be fair to penalize websites just for being hyphenated. Google already has nearly 200 search rank criteria. When those are applied across the board, they apply to hyphenated and non-hyphenated sites alike, then many of the spam sites you are talking about will lose their rankings. Google isn’t always fast at taking spam sites down, but they usually do get them.

  • http://www.webpagefx.com/blog Trevin Shirey

    @ Allen

    Hi Allen! Thanks for the comment 🙂

    Certainly, you fall into the group of legitimate, well-built sites that happen to have multiple hyphens in the domain name. While I still believe the amount of spam is much higher for domains with 2 hyphens than those without, a trusted company like yours should produce enough other signals (branded search, social media, local citations, active blog, etc) that would cause any penalty to be lifted.

    There are plenty of sites like yours that would be unfair to penalize on hyphens alone. Using hyphens as a starting point/early filter, though, is valid I believe 🙂

  • http://361designs.com George Lehman

    I definitely see your point and am equally annoyed by non-sense sites using this technique. While many less-legitimate sites do this, there are also many legitimate sites who have no alternative but using the technique. I would suggest that Google discount the URL across the board. Not significantly, but enough to make a difference. Domain authority, age and other domain related factors can be made to weigh more heavily in SERP positions. Certainly Google is not doing themselves any service by promoting these sites on SERPs. I would think their Panda updates will eventually catch up with the practice.

    Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.sarhssrrtchuhbloger.de Reita Farrier

    Thats remarkable, i certainly not knew that Baidu is currently building that much manipulate on the search engine market. They still have a long way however to catch up with google. I sense sorry for ask however.