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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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Tech News

Get all your digital organization in one place with Routine

(TECH NEWS) Routine makes note-taking and task-creating a lot easier by merging all your common processes into one productivity tool.

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A desk with a laptop, notepad, smartphone, and cup of coffee settled into an organized routine.

Your inbox can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Without organization, important emails with tasks, notes, and meetings can become a trash pile pretty quickly. Luckily, there are a lot of tools that aim to help you improve your efficiency, and the latest to add to that list is Routine.

Routine is a productivity app that combines your tasks, notes, and calendar into one easy-to-use app so you can increase your performance. Instead of having to switch between different apps to jot down important information, create to-do lists, and glance at your calendar, Routine marries them all into one cool productivity tool. By simply using a keyboard shortcut, you can do all these things.

If you receive an email that contains an actionable item, you can convert that email into a task you can view later. Tasks are all saved in your inbox, and you can even schedule a task for a specific day. So, if Obi-Wan wants to have Jedi lessons on Thursday, you can schedule your Force task for that day. Likewise, chat messages that need follow-up can also be converted into tasks and be scheduled.

To enrich your tasks, notes can be attached to them. In your notes, you can also embed checkboxes, which are tasks of their own. And if you have tasks that aren’t coming from your inbox, you can import them from other services, such as Gmail, Notion, and Trello.

To make sure you can stay focused on the events and tasks at hand, Routine makes it easy to take everything in. By using the tool’s keyboard-controlled console, you can access your dashboard to quickly see what tasks need to be addressed, what’s on your calendar, and even join an upcoming Zoom session and take notes about the meeting.

Routine is available for macOS, iOS, web, and Google accounts only. Overall, the app centralizes notes and tasks by letting you create and view everything in one place, which helps make sure you stay on top of things. Currently, Routine is still in beta, but you can get on a waitlist to test the product out for yourself.

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Business Finance

A tiger shows its stripes: The growth of Tiger Global and their investments

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Tiger Global has been acquiring a load of tech companies – let’s talk about who they have and how they’ve been so successful.

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Two business partners shaking hands as part of a Tiger Global acquisition deal.

In 2003, Tiger Global was founded by Chase Coleman who began his career at Tiger Management (brilliant name choice). In the ensuing years the investing firm expanded to include private equity and venture investing. Today it’s hitting the charts at $65B with its employees (number at ~100) being the firms’ biggest shareholders.

Earlier this month, Tiger Global raised one of the largest pots of VC money ever recorded, coming in at $6.7B. These came from a list of occurrences and investments.

  • Roblox: A sandbox gaming startup, Tiger Global owned 10% when it went public in March and the value is hitting ~$38B+
  • Stripe: A fintech firm Tiger Global leaped onto this investment when Stripe announced a $600m rise in value at a $95B monetary evaluation of the company.
  • M&A wins: In 2020, 3 portfolio companies (Postmates, Kustomer, & Credit Karma) of Tiger Global were acquired in billion-dollar deals.

The tactics that Tiger Global stands by are well documented in a few different locations. One of the biggest that they push is speed. The deals that fly across their tables are completed in just 3 days, far outpacing other firms. When you are an investment firm hour are a time between success and failure. To keep up with these ideas, they have a pre-emptive approach to startups. Doing thorough research and throwing money at people before they even start looking for it. Knowledge is power and this lets them get their foot in the door faster than anybody else.

Resources and a monstrous war chest are 2 of the other factors that they set their claim to fame on. The numerous portfolio companies have high-priced consultants thrown at them for advice on a regular basis. These consultants just add to the success of the companies and keep things building. Where does this money come from? The stakeholders. The mountainous mounds of money that this firm keeps on hand is matched very few in the world. Scrouge McDuck would be hard pressed to keep up with these guys.

They also keep to long-term holdings as an approach to their methods. Unlike traditional VCs, Tiger Global operates public market hedge funds which provides price stability for startups since it doesn’t have to distribute funds after an IPO, unlike traditional VCs.

In the first quarter of 2021 Tiger Global has closed 60 deals, keeping with their hit the ground sprinting approach. They have bids on a number of different companies already as well (ByteDance, Discord, Hopin, & Coinbase). At least one of these reaches a value into the tens of billions. This company is set to be one of the fastest growing groups in the globe. Who knows where it will stop? Let’s wait and see, or join. Whatever hits your fancy.

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