A foolish consistency may be, as stated by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “the hobgoblin of little minds,” but the fact remains that computers are notoriously consistent. The entire concept of SEO is built around getting computers to focus on areas and information that benefit you, so it’s always good to play to the computer’s logic, whether it makes sense to you or not.
One of the arenas where this comes into play is how you label the various of your site. Obviously, you want to use names the computer understands, and stay away from anything that might confuse a search engine or spider. Here are a few things to look out for, whether you’re programming a site yourself or checking on the work of an outside resource.
Hyphens or Underscores?
Back before the web was ubiquitous, programmers were taught that any type of file name needed to use underscores between words, instead of hyphens or spaces. Putting spaces between the words made it harder to differentiate what words make up the actual label, while the use of hyphens often clashed with the allowed nomenclature of program languages (that is, hyphens were characters reserved for the programming language itself, and therefore were not allowed in names).
Things have changed, however. Modern search engines view underscores as concatenation, or joiners. This allows for keywords that are actually key phrases, which is crucial for niche/ “long-tail” searching. Obviously, you need to use this judiciously, no more than one or two hyphens per category name or topic level pages.
Having said, you really want to avoid using hyphens or dashes in your actual domain name. Sure, it gets harder and harder to find an unclaimed URL that represents your business in a concise, professional manner, but adding dashes comes across as compromising and makes your URL more likely to be mistyped.
So why do companies use site names with hyphens? Usually it is a trick to insert keywords into the URL, but that is likely to backfire: search engine algorithms don’t focus on exact domain name matches, and having hyphens may raise a red flag to other sites when you reach out for backlinks and citations. In fact, your best bet is keep things simple by using letters or numbers.
Secure, or Not Secure?
Search engines really don’t differentiate between http: or https:, right? Don’t you believe it. Google openly admits it uses HTTPS as a ranking signal, and even a cursory data analysis will show that HTTPS sites have a ranking advantage over http-URLs.
Why? Well, it makes sense that Google would prefer sites that are certified secure and trustworthy. By focusing on HTTPS sites, search engines can be sure they are recommending sites that will encrypt users’ information for that extra level of security.
In and of itself, having an HTTPS URL is only one relatively small ingredient of a sophisticated and complex algorithm, but there are other SEO benefits to consider. For example, HTTPS websites load much faster than non-secured sites, and faster-loading pages are more likely to rank higher. All things considered, even a small ranking boost may serve as a “tie-breaker” for competing sites. For example, if your website is about the same as your competitor’s (in terms of speed, keywords, content freshness, and the like), but your site is HTTPS and your competitor’s isn’t, well, Google will most likely rank yours ahead of theirs.
Plan Now for the Future
Eventually, Chrome plans to label all HTTP pages as non-secure, with a big red triangle marking when users enter text into a form on any HTTP page. The new warning is part of a long-term plan to mark all pages served over HTTP as “not secure,” and if Chrome is doing it, the other browsers will likely follow.
As it relates to eCommerce—what financial technology experts call “The Trillion Dollar Opportunity”—something as comparatively straight-forward as having secure web pages can make or break an only company. If the industry is indeed heading in this direction, playing “catch-up” could put you out of business.
All of which means you need to be proactive in your keeping your site aligned with where search is heading. Keep up with and conform to changes in search engine behavior, and avoid common practices that obstruct SEO. If that feels overwhelming to you, the experts at SEO Clearwater are here to help.