Should I use underscore or dashes in URLs?

This question comes up occasionally when building a website and wanting to design it for absolutely optimal SEO, and it relates to how the URLs should be structured.

Using keywords in URLs is helpful for promoting that term, so if you wanted to promote your site for a search term like SEO in Adelaide then an ideal URL for a target page or directory would be: www.<your domain>/seo in adelaide

Unfortunately this will display using the hex charcaters for a space (2o hex) and look this this: /seo%20in%20adelaide

So to improve the display of this URL we can join the words with a dash (seo-in-adelaide) or an underscore (seo_in_adelaide) but which should you use for optimal SEO outcomes ?

Google’s Matt Cutts explains this including the history behind it here:

How do I find the best keywords?

Selecting the best Keyword(s) for your requirements is the critical activity in almost all online marketing activities, but sadly it seems most of us don’t invest the time or effort to really understand how to do this.

Keyword research

Rather than diving into Google and trying random searches, a considered approach is much more valuable.

  • Sales Objectives
    I usually start with getting inside the businesses objectives – typically sales objectives
  • Client Searches
    Then try to understand what that businesses prospective clients might be looking for – is it a solution they seek or are they more likely to search about their problem?
  • Keyword Planner
    Fire up the Google Keyword Planner and adjust the settings to reflect the client’s geographical demographics
    Then jump in with some generalised terms and observe the results
    Refine the results using the include/exclude facility
  • Excel 
    Download results into Excel where you can filter, slice and dice further

Keyword Tips

Here’s a couple of tips for the keyword research beginner:

Competition: Be aware that some keywords are highly competitive, and so will be difficult &/or expensive to compete against. If you are starting out and dont have an enormous budget or leadtime look for search terms that aren’t as competitive but still represent prospective clients searches ie ‘niches’

Don’t assume: It never fails to amaze me how variable search terms are. I would never ever ever assume what the most frequently searched term is. The Keyword Planner is free – Use it!

Keyword resources

Here’s a couple of resources to drill deeper into the deep depths of keyword research:

  • Discovering your Target Keywords
    I originally published this in 2010 but this white paper still reflects the process of selecting ideal keywords.
    It provides practical advice and strategy.
  • Keywords to the Wise
    Published by Google for use in their Adwords system, Keywords to the Wise provides some AdWords specific tips but much of this can be applied to keyword research for other mediums.
    Well worth a read…

Are H1 tags important for SEO ?

What is a H1 tag ?

The HTML H1 tag is an important element for communicating to search engines what a page is about. Use of the Heading 1 tag dates back to the primeval days of the internet when the H1 tag was used to indicate a page’s principal subject through the application of special HTML formatting. Sub-headings H2 may provide more details on a secondary subject such as a section within the page, and so down though a hierarchy of headings H3,h4,h5 etc.

In that simplistic era, the page heading was a exactly what the page was about. Even with sophisticated formatting and layouts in the modern website, search engine spiders still recognise the H1 tag as an important indicator of the page’s over-all content.

So how do you use H1 for SEO ?

As search engines see H1 as an important indicator of the page’s topic, using target terms in H1 reinforces to the search engine that the page, indeed the site, is about the target term, and so is more likely to be featured in searches that also relate to the topic/keyword.

Is there H1 code in my site?

Click to view the source code in a page (this is dependant on your browser but try right mouse clicking on the page) then search for ‘H1’  The H1 will be surrounded in HTML open and close syntax eg <H1> to open and </H1> to close.  H2 will be similarly opened <H2> and </H2> closed. Capitalisation of the ‘h’ doesnt matter

h1 in code

Here’s how H1 looks in this pages code

h2 in code

Here’s how H2 looks in this pages code

Applying H1

Many new websites do not use the H1 tag, so retrofitting them into an existing site can be high SEO value, and involves using Cascading Style Sheets to re-define the default H1 style to to suit the layout. Avoid the temptation to add multiple or long H1 elements in a page. It is far more effective when kept concise and highly relevant to the target term. Synonyms and headings formatted as a question also provide greater engagement with the semantic characteristics that Google’s Hummingbird release  was designed to seek.

Maximise exposure for your target topics by using variants of the H1 headings and H2 sub headings across your site.

What else can I do ?

Ensure your site’s Title meta tag also contains target topic related terms or synonyms and of course that your posts & pages contain lots of great original content about your target topics