Google’s Treatment of Underscores vs Hyphens – The Confusion

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Back in July, Matt Cutts made the announcement at the WordPress Wordcamp that underscores are now treated as spaces in Google.

Blogs, webmaster communities, and SEO professionals rejoiced – but why does it seem Google DOES NOT treat underscores and hyphens the same.

Do a multiple word search with hyphens and underscores between the words and you’ll see what I mean.  If you’re lazy, a sample is done for you below:

  • Results 1 – 10 of about 502,000 for “search engine journal”.
  • Results 1 – 10 of about 502,000 for “search-engine-journal”.
  • Results 1 – 5 of 5 for “search_engine_journal”.

Turns out, Matt Cutts didn’t make the annoucnement.  In August 2007, Matt made a post on his blog that read: “some people thought that underscores are the same as dashes to Google now, and I didn’t quite say that in the talk. I said that we had someone looking at that now. So I wouldn’t consider it a completely done deal at this point.”

So what does all this mean? Google DOES NOT treat underscores and hyphens the same – underscores are currently not counted as spaces.

I recommend making a new site using hyphens in the URL as does Matt. He also said, “But note that I also said if you’d already made your site with underscores, it probably wasn’t worth trying to migrate all your urls over to dashes.”

Hopefully, this clears everything up, because there seems to be quite a bit of confusion.  It should also be pointed out that underscores and hyphens are not the only ranking factor and it could be very likely a site with underscores outranking sites with hyphens (if they have other SEO factors that thus place them higher – such as more links, older domain, better titles, etc).

Further reading:

Dave Rigotti is the owner of
Freezing Hot, and internet marketing company that specializes in small business seo and ppc management.

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