Hashes or Underscores? Matt Cutts Reveals Best Url Practices for SEO
Search engines have always taken a close look at urls. Website owners know if they can get their target keywords in their url they have struck gold. How do you structure them though? One of the biggest debates is whether you should use hashes or underscored to separate your words. Matt Cutts reveals the best practices for gaining url SEO value.
In a recent video on Search Engine Land, Google’s chief engineer describes why the search engine prefers hashes in the urls.
History of Urls in SEO
Cutts’s statement finally provides a little closure to the SEO community. In August, 2007, Google created a lot of confusion when they made contrasting statements. On August 2, they told everyone that Google treated both hash tags and underscores as tools for separating words in urls. On August 10, they retracted the statement. The revised statement claimed that Google didn’t implement the practice they originally made. So why did they say it in the first place?
I’m not exactly sure anyone knows why Google made two separate statements just over a week apart. Possibly, they intended to make the change and ran into a brick wall. In the long run, it doesn’t matter why they made the original statement. The important thing is that Google decided that hashes and underscores needed to be treated differently, at least for the time being.
From Cutts’s video, it seems as though Google simply hasn’t gotten around to making the updates yet. The biggest reason is that the original engineers were programmers. He says that in the rankings, Google joins words together when they have underscores. They separate words that have hyphens together.
What does this mean? Imagine Google reads a url and sees the phrase casino_affiliate_programs. The searchbot interprets this as casinoaffiliateprograms. This site still works for the primary keywords. However, it would be much more effective if the keywords could be separated. Writing the url as casino-affiliate-programs does the job.
It has been over four years since Google first announced it was working on the change. They have announced underscores still are treated differently. Matt Cutts clearly suggested the influence this has on SEO.
How Much Does It Matter?
What does this mean for website owners? Should they buy an entirely new domain name or completely change the way their content management system is configured? Matt Cutts says this is excessive. Google uses many different metrics when it ranks websites. A website can rank very highly even if its urls have underscores.
Case in point: Wikipedia. Wikipedia uses underscores in all of its urls. They also rank at the front page for almost every keyword they target.
You don’t need to completely redo your website if it uses underscores instead of hashes. Matt Cutts recent revelation is just an indication of the best practices you can use for setting up urls. His statement is most useful for new websites. Anyone setting up a new website may consider using hashes to get the most out of their SEO strategy.