Are Domain Names With Hyphens Penalized?

A hot debate in online SEO (= Search Engine Optimization) forums is whether domain names like, say, are deliberately being ranked lower by Google, MSN, Yahoo, and other search engines compared to the same name without hyphens, like:

Google’s engineer, Matt Cutts, is saying “No”. But it seems what he actually said was: “We don’t use hyphens as a spam signal.”

Is that the same as saying “No”? I think he’s side-stepping the question: “Do hyphenated domains get penalised?”. And as Google keeps its ranking formula a closely guarded secret, it’s not surprising he’s not giving a precise answer.

The fact is that there are any number of reasons why search engine ranking will rise or fall, and most reasons have nothing to do with whether the web site is spammy or not.

Observations suggest that hyphenated domains are not getting booted out of Google. Page Rank is maintained, so there is no obvious spam penalty. But… there do appear to be fewer and fewer domains with hyphens ranking in Google’s top 10 for popular searches.

So… if you want your site to rank well in the search engines, my advice would be to register a domain WITHOUT hyphens if you possibly can.

And don’t worry too much if your domain doesn’t include your site’s main keywords. A short, catchy domain name will likely be just as successful.