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Search Engine Optimization Tip – Word Separators

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hyphens and dashes and pipes oh-my!Hyphens and underscores and pipes – OH MY!

Welcome back, hope you are learning lots from my series of SEO Tips.  This week we’ll take a look at some common methods of separating words in your URLs and page titles, and which should provide you the best results in the search engine result pages (SERPs).

Separators in URLs

Depending on how long the developer has been creating pages, how they were trained and the system they use, they often develop a favorite method (right or wrong) and stick with it.  Unfortunately for me, my coding skills were developed before the ‘net took over the world and my brain still wants to use underscores as separators.  I’ll explain why that’s not a good idea shortly.  But, my point is that you may see different developers doing different things, and having no idea that what they are doing is right or wrong – it’s just the way they have always done it.

Some people just smoosh all the words together like “PortlandMaineHomeSales.php”, which to us humans looks OK, but Google will see this as one big word.  Don’t do this if you can help it.

People who started creating documents after Windows (and Macs) gained popularity often want to use spaces in their file names.  In most cases, web servers and browsers (firefox, internet explorer, etc.) can handle spaces fine and will deliver the pages.  However, spaces get translated to “%20″ by the browser, this makes the page URL look confusing for your visitors.  For example, you might create a file named “four bedroom ranch style homes.php” on your web site.  It will load just fine most of the time, and the engines will see each word individually.  However, when displayed to your visitors, it will look like this; “four%20bedroom%20ranch%20style%20homes.php”.  Not so nice to look at, is it? Additionally, the “%20% is saved by analytics programs making it difficult for you make heads or tails of your traffic.

I’ve already told you that using the underscore “_” character is a bad idea.  This is because Google treats the underscore as a connector, not as a separator.  For example, in a URL you may have something like “/quahog_rhode_island_home_sales/”.  To us humans it reads fine, we can clearly see there are five distinct words there.  However, Google just sees one big word.  As such, this URL will not be returned for a query of “quahog rhode island home sales”. Well, that’s only half right – the page might be returned, depending on its content, but the URL will not contribute to its success in the SERPs.

That just leaves us with the dash, or hyphen “-“.  As you may have guessed by now, this is the preferred method of separating words in your file names and URLs.  In one of his webmaster videos, Matt Cutts tells us that if we are already using underscores, and they are working fine – leave them alone.  However, he does say Google prefers dashes.

Separators in page titles

When it comes to page titles, all of the rules above also apply.  But there are a couple additional characters that people will sometimes use.  The ampersand “&” and the pipe “|”.  Google treats each of these as a word separator, so either one is fine to use.  As with all things Google, Matt Cutts hints in another video that it’s best to do what your users like.

Separators in domain names

When it comes to domains, Google does things a little different.   Because domains are so important, and (sometimes) difficult to acquire, Google put some extra steps in the algorithm when it comes to processing them.  Unlike in directory & file names, Google is able to recognize when multiple words are squished together in a domain.  I’m sure that they prefer they be separated by dashes (less time required to analyze the words), but it is not required and there  is not impact on rankings.  It is also easier to communicate your web address to someone when dashes are not used.  Most people understand the spaces are omitted when you tell them a domain name, so when you say “hey, take a look at today’s agent genius dot com”, they know to visit agentgenius.com.  Put that dash in there and it’s not so clear, perhaps even a little confusing to have to say “go checkout the latest post on agent dash genius dot com”.  Obviously, we can’t always get the domain we want without using hyphens, but whenever possible I recommend you avoid them.

There you have – word separators in a nut-shell.  No geekery and hopefully not too much controversy for the commenters 😉

Jack Leblond is a SEO/SEM professional working for a large corporation full time in Austin, TX. He is not a Realtor, he is our in-house SEO expert. Jack is the Director of Internet Strategy and Operations for TG (www.tgslc.org). In addition to managing the team that develops and maintains the company's multiple Web sites, he focuses on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), e-marketing and Social Media. Jack's background ranges from Submarine Sonar Technician/Instructor for the United States Navy, technical writer, pioneer in internet/intranet creation for McGraw-Hill and Times Mirror Higher Education, former Adjunct Professor for two Universities teaching web-related courses, has served as a city council member and co-founded Net-Smart, a web design and hosting company, where he managed networks and oversaw the development of hundreds of Web sites. As a free-lance SEO consultant, Jack performs SEO Site Audits for small/medium businesses that want their web sites to perform better in the search engine listings.

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26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Chuck G

    October 31, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Jack,

    That’s outstanding information! Thank goodness for WP plug-ins like All-in-one-SEO that (I think) do most of the things you talked about above automatically. There’s now way I could remember to code things properly for SEO without it.

    Your series has been great — keep them coming.

    Chuck

  2. Rob McCance

    October 31, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Jack:

    Great post.

    Took a sometimes controversial topic, laid out the known facts and supporting info, and convinced me (at least) that the hyphens are the way to go.

    I’ve been researching this because I am designing some primary portal pages under my main URL and want to get my one stab at the file names as optimum as possible.

    You’ll find all sorts of theories out there, but at some point you need to choose one so you can name the frikkin page and move on, LOL!

    Nice work, much appreciated and that choice is made for me now.

  3. Jay Thompson

    November 1, 2009 at 6:58 am

    I’m confused.

    You say Google can’t separate “smushed” words in a URL, but it can in a domain name.

    A domain name is a URL. Why can Google figure out non-separated words in a URL but not a domain name? If all it takes is an extra step or two in an algorithm it seems like they’d just do that for everything….

  4. Paula Woolley

    November 1, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Love this post! I didn’t realize that Google can ‘unsquish’ domain names but not interior pages names. VERY good to know!

  5. Bob

    November 1, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Rob, this isn’t a controversially subject. Jack laid out what is generally accepted as fact and confirmed as such by Matt Cutts many times.

    • Rob McCance

      November 1, 2009 at 4:12 pm

      How’s that new site coming? Didn’t get tripped up in the WP Admin Module yet did ya?

      🙂

  6. SteveBeam

    November 2, 2009 at 12:16 am

    I’ve always wondered why I see that %20 in there. I guess those long domains are ok after all.

  7. Jack Leblond

    November 2, 2009 at 9:36 am

    @Jay – Forgive me; I did lump both the domain and site structure (directories & file names) into one broad category and call them “URLs”. I should not have.

    In any case, Google is able to break down and figure out the parts of your domain before the .com/.net/.org etc. It can not figure out the parts after that.

    While I can not answer with any certainty, there are a few possible reasons for this. 1) Google knows that it is better for the user to not have extra characters in domains. 2) Google knows that while domain names are sometimes out of your control, folders and files never are. 3) It takes time to breakdown all that text. While it may only take a few fractions of a second for each full URL, imagine how much slower the indexing would be if they had to figure out the words of every folder and file on every site.

  8. Kyle Hogan

    November 2, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Thanks for the information. I think I need to make some quick changes to my website based your information. Those %20’s are sure ugly on my site.

  9. Ann Cummings

    November 2, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    I had been told this forever but never knew why – thanks for that explanation. I try to stick to the pipe or a dash because that was drilled into my head. Knowing why makes sense..

  10. Jack Leblond

    November 2, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    @Kyle Good idea to change those file names, just make sure you do 301 redirects from the old names to the new ones.

  11. Tim Wilson

    November 4, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Jack,

    Thanks so much! Your entire series is a “must read” for me as I am putting together my new site…

  12. Debra Hardy

    August 13, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Jack, Once again thanks for such a great explaination of the dash vs. underscore. I was using the underscore between words in my alt tags, so I think changing those to dashes might be one more step in improving my SEO ranking. I keep coming back to your website over and over, and keep learning more everytime!

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Social Media

Social media is being used for hiring, and no, we’re not talking just LinkedIn

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Social media has evolved from being only community-oriented to career-oriented. See how users are getting jobs by being creative.

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social media, like tiktok, is being used for hiring. here are some examples of tiktok resumes.

Gen Z and Millennials are no doubt the heaviest users of social media, and perhaps the internet in general. But it’s no longer just about catching up with friends and family, posting memes, and hailing yourself as hashtag king – they are using it to get jobs in creative ways.

Kahlil Greene was a student at Yale University hell-bent on educating others about African American social movements and culture. Known as “The Gen Z Historian” on Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn, he got to posting about the lesser-known facts and stories of history, amounting to 1.3 million views very quickly, catching the attention of employers. Now with over 500,000 followers across all major platforms, Greene is heading to work in consulting focusing on public education.

“I think that’s the thing that people don’t realize that social media is everywhere, and it’s congruent with every lifestyle you want,” says Greene.

Another TikToker, Emily Zugay, has over 2 million followers on the platform from hilariously redesigning brand logos. Her personality of shooting down brand choices with such a dry delivery is sure to make you giggle. She’s appeared on Ellen, and many brands changed their logos to her suggestions, including McDonald’s, the NFL, Tinder, Doritos, and Nascar. Just announced, Panera Bread is realizing limited holiday cups by Emily Zugay, taking a stab at Starbucks who typically creates the mad rush for holiday cups. Though she hasn’t publicly spoken about taking on a new role due to her wacky design endeavors, she has been approached for many partnership collaborations and markets herself as a content creator on the platform in order to rack in the dough.

Having the perfect one-page resume and perhaps, an inkling of personalization in the cover letter (which no one enjoys writing and barely anyone reads), is no longer the secret to landing jobs. 92% of companies use social media to hire.

“Creating a personal brand doesn’t have to be scary, hard, or time-consuming. You just have to be yourself. Consistent posts, a few follows and some direct messaging can go a long way to open doors.”

TikTok launched a pilot program of applying to the short-form video powerhouse by well, making a TikTok on the platform. Within 48 hours, 800 videos were submitted with #TikTokResumes in their captions. Expanding from internal hiring to external hiring, the program allowed job seekers to apply with their videos to Chipotle, Target, Shopify, and more.

Want to get in on the action but don’t know where to start? Unfortunately, the TikTok submissions have now closed, but you can always follow these tips to start getting creative for your next career move: Embrace the tools on the platform, do your research about the company you’re applying to, make connections on the platform and within the company, show off achievements as you would in a typical resume, and be yourself!

For more cool resume ideas, check out this article on the most creative techie resumes.

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Business Marketing

Pay employees for their time, not only their work

(MARKETING) Yes, you still must pay employees for their time even if they aren’t able to complete their work due to restrictions. Time = Money.

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pay employees for their time

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a lot of insightful questions about things like our healthcare system, worldwide containment procedures, and about a billion other things that all deserve well-thought answers.

Unfortunately, it has also led to some of the dumbest questions of all time.

One such question comes courtesy of Comstock Mag, with the inquiry asking whether or not employees who show up on time can be deducted an hour’s pay if the manager shows up an hour later.

From a legal standpoint, Comstock Mag points out that employees participating in such activities are “engaged to wait”, meaning that – while they aren’t necessarily “working” – they are still on the clock and waiting for work to appear; in this case, the aforementioned “work” comes in the form of the manager or supervisor showing up.

In short: if the reason your employees aren’t working is that the precursor to completing the work for which you pay them is inaccessible, you still have to pay them for their time.

Morally, of course, the answer is much simpler: pay your employees for their time, especially if the reason they are unable to complete work is because you (or a subordinate) didn’t make it to work at the right time.

Certainly, you might be able to justify sending all of your employees home early if you run into something like a technology snag or a hiccup in the processes which make it possible for them to do their jobs – that would mean your employees were no longer engaged to wait, thus removing your legal obligation to continue paying them.

Then again, the moral question of whether or not cutting your employees’ hours comes into play here. It’s understandable that funds would be tight for the time being, but docking employees an hour of their work here or there due to problems that no one can control may cause them to resent you down the line when you need their support in return.

The real problem with this question is that, despite most people knowing that the answer should always be “pay them”, the sheer number of people working from home in the wake of worldwide closures and social distancing could muddy the water in terms of what constitutes the difference between being engaged to wait and simply burning time.

For example, an employee who is waiting for a meeting to start still fits the bill of “engaged to wait” even if the meeting software takes an extra half hour to kick in (or, worse yet, the meeting never happens), and docking them pay for timecard issues or other extenuating factors that keep them from their work is similarly disingenuous – and illegal.

There are a lot of unknowns these days, but basic human decency should never be up for debate – especially now.

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Business Entrepreneur

Lenders need to see these 3 things to get your LLC off the ground

(ENTREPRENEUR) Securing a small business loan is tedious, but there is a shortlist of requirements you should be aware of before getting info from lenders.

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401k retirement fund lenders

If you are reading this, you probably have an LLC for your small business already, or money talk gets you going. If it is the former, let me say CONGRATULATIONS, and insist you pat yourself on the back in honor of your small business’s progression. Your arrival at a point where expansion is necessary is no small feat given half of small businesses fail in the first year. So, kudos to you.

Now, back to the money talk…

For LLC businesses looking to expand, please don’t fret about all of the information you’ve seen on the web. Yes, securing a small business loan of any kind is tedious and depends on varying lending organizations and business needs, but there is a list of general requirements small businesses should be aware of before getting knee-deep in conflicting information about lenders.

After some extensive research posing as the owner of imaginary businesses and annoying every loan officer who’d take my call, I’ve found three general lending requirements. I also provide a collection of the tangible information banks will likely review to meet those requirements. Take a gander:

Assets
Small businesses must have necessary assets: steady cash flow, financial reserves, personal collateral to support a variety of business fluctuations (i.e. unexpected employee loss), and a realistic payoff plan. These assets and financial safety nets are necessary for any lending organization to be confident in your business’s ability to support employee expansion in lieu of current expenses.

Proof of past
Just as you will come to expect from your soon-to-be employees, lenders want proof of the past and how you’ve managed past loans to align with your business goals. Historical evidence will further determine if your expansion is feasible, but also if it is worthy for the company to accept the lending risk.

Specific plans
Finally, be prepared to provide your small business’s explicit expansion plan, including how you arrived at your suggested loan amount and how you intend to divvy out the funds. It is important that you are as specific as possible in your projected numbers, seeing as one employee could make a $60,000 difference, and largely affect your expansion plan and financial need.

Before you go…

Now that you’re equipped with the magic three, you’re probably feeling empowered to walk into your nearest bank and demand your small business loan. Let’s first be sure you have all of the necessary information on hand and ready to produce.

Lenders that look for the magic three before investing arrive at their conclusion after collecting data from the following pertinent information:

– Proof of collateral
– Business plan and expansion plan
– Financial details
– Current and past loan info
– Debts incurred
– Bank statements
– Tax ID
– Contact info
– Accounts receivable information
– Aging
– Sales and payment history
– Accounts payable information
Credit references
– Financial statements
– Balance sheet
– Profit and loss history
– Copies of past tax returns
– Social Security Numbers
– Assets and liabilities details

Now, my friend, do I release you as proud as a parent unto your nearest bank to secure your small business loan and begin growing your staff the way you’ve dreamed. I’m confident you will find the aforementioned information helpful in the said quest and would like to wish one last time (because it’s impossible to over-congratulate) a sincere CONGRATULATIONS on your business’s growth.

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