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Google’s Treatment of Underscores vs Hyphens – The Confusion

Google’s Treatment of Underscores vs Hyphens – The Confusion

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”.
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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.”

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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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