Hyphen in Domain Names: Domain Value vs SEO, Pros, Cons

mushfiq sarker

Not many big-name websites have hyphens in their domain name anymore. This practice was a little bit more common when the web was new, and it might be tempting to think there’s no reason to buy a hyphenated domain name.

Does the data support this assumption? There are good reasons to believe the answer is no.

While there are some disadvantages to having hyphens there are also several advantages. I’m going to go over the pros/cons of domain names with hyphens, how they affect domain value, as well as SEO effects.

Let’s get into it!

3 Advantages of Hyphens in Domain Names

While it’s not the first choice of many website owners or domain investors, there are several potential advantages to going with hyphenated domain names.

1. Relevant Domain More Likely to be Available

Since most people are looking for website names without hyphens, many great names are already taken. These might have existing sites or are being held as premium domain names costing thousands of dollars.

This can wreck a project budget. The same domain name with hyphens separating the words is often available. Many times at the base rate of $10-20 for a domain name.

This opens up the options for picking up a domain name or getting the domain name that matches the name of your business. There are more relevant, memorable options for domain names available when hyphens are in the mix.

2. Improved Legibility

Separating the words with hyphens can make the domain name much easier to read. The longer the domain name, the more helpful this can be. Clarity is important, especially when someone is looking for your website.

This improved legibility with hyphens can also solve another huge problem that certain domain names have: inappropriate meanings. Let me explain.

The problem with no spaces between words in a domain name is that sometimes the last letters in one word and the first letters in another can spell a curse word or a grossly inappropriate name. 

For some examples, take a look at these and re-read them with no spaces:

  • Pen Island
  • Speed of Art
  • IT Scrap
  • Who Represents
  • Therapist Finder or even the other way “Therapist” can be read in a domain name

See where problems can pop up?

While lists of unintentionally inappropriate domain names can be good for a quick laugh, it’s not good for branding.

Buying these domain names with hyphens can take care of these problems for most of these domains by separating letters that can become a problem when mashed together.

3. Own Variations of your Brand Name

Building a brand is important and part of that process is protecting your brand. This includes the hyphenated version of the brand name. This prevents others from buying it and imitating you or funneling traffic away, and it can capture traffic that takes place because of misspellings.

For example, it would make sense for me to own The-website-flip.com. If you owned “NewProductY.com” then you would also want “New-Product-Y.com” to protect that brand. 

This can get a little bit more traffic coming in, and that domain name with hyphens can direct straight to the regular site. It’s a good way to protect your brand.

This is the same logic that’s used when someone not only buys the .com of their name but also other TLDs of the same name like the .co, .io, .ai, .net, etc.

3 Disadvantages of Hyphens in Domain Names

While those three factors can make buying a domain name with hyphens a good idea, there’s no denying that there are also disadvantages to using hyphens in domain names.

1. Unusual and Spammy Looking

This is not the standard practice for domain names, which means it is unusual. Most people will assume a domain name is without hyphens. Aside from looking weird, the longer extended domain names can look spammy.

Using hyphens in domain names was a common practice with many microsite builders in the late 2000s or early 2010s, and that meant a lot of thin spammy sites using those types of domains.

Fair or not, that reputation still will stick in the minds of some potential visitors to your site.

2. Harder to Advertise Through Word-of-Mouth

Word-of-Mouth advertising can be a powerful tool, but since most domain names do not use hyphens, people you talk to about a website will assume the name is without hyphens. Even saying “With hyphens between the words,” might not guarantee the person remembers to type it incorrectly.

The more awkward a word-of-mouth recommendation is, the less likely it is to be remembered and to spread.

Using hyphens in a domain can be good in some situations to get a better domain name in a competitive field but it will limit the word-of-mouth spread.

3. Lower Value When Selling Due to Stigma

The existing stigmas around hyphenated domain names mean that they will almost certainly be valued at a lower rate when sold. There isn’t much that can be done about this.

Revenue will still be the most important factor, having good backlinks to encourage a higher multiple will help, but the hyphenated name will be less popular. 

Whether or not this is a small factor or a large one will depend on the buyer, market, and other factors specific to each individual situation.

The SEO Factor of Hyphens

Do hyphens in a website name affect how Google views that site? Does it affect SEO efforts in some way or not? These are important questions when building a brand.

While there hasn’t been a lot directly from Google in recent years on this topic, recent conversations with individuals from Google seem to echo old sentiments. According to this Search Engine Journal article, hyphens are not a direct factor in site ranking in Google.

The Algorithm Google uses doesn’t take hyphens into consideration.

Is this the whole story? Some people argue that while this might not matter directly, hyphens can have a negative SEO effect for other reasons.

In this article, the author points out that the stigma around hyphenated names can make it harder to get backlinks. It looks spammy, and that reputation can make outreach efforts harder which can mean less success getting guest posts or direct links.

That would make it harder, especially in a competitive niche.

Should You Buy a Hyphenated Domain Name?

Generally speaking, as a primary brandable domain name for your brand you should not buy a hyphenated domain name. Especially if there aren’t any inappropriate spelling issues when all the letters are mashed together.

If you are protecting a brand, or find a hyphenated version that has a non-spammy history and could pass link juice with a redirect, then it may very well be worth buying a hyphenated domain name.

This protects your brand and potentially pushes traffic from misspellings. Meanwhile having the main brand on a non-hyphenated domain name gets the full benefits of word-of-mouth while looking professional.

mushfiq sarker

Analyzed by Mushfiq Sarker

Mushfiq has been buying, growing, and selling website assets since 2008. His first exit was in 2010. Since then, he has done 218+ website flips with multiple 6-figure exits. He is the founder of The Website Flip. Check out all Mushfiq's articles, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

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