Underscores are now word separators, proclaims Google

Head of Google's webspam team, Matt Cutts, shared some meaty tips on SEO to WordPress bloggers at WordCamp 2007 this weekend.

Photo of Matt Cutts from Google
Matt Cutts at WordCamp 2007 Laughing Squid
I got to enjoy Matt Cutts live and in person on Saturday speaking to the WordPress bloggers and fans at WordCamp 2007. Matt was in top form, witty as ever. The session was blogged by numerous folks. The sessions were all recorded, so, we hope, we should see a video of Matt's session surface online pretty soon. Matt said he'd probably be posting his Powerpoint to his blog, assuming he gets approval from Google's PR department.

One key development that Matt shared with the audience was that underscores in URLs are now (or at least very soon to be) treated as word separators by Google. That's great news, because it historically hasn't been that way. Back in 2005, Matt stated that Google did not view underscores in URLs as word separators. That meant that in a URL like http://www.mysite.com/iphone_review.html Googlebot couldn't "see" the words iphone or review. Instead it read iphone_review as one word. I wouldn't recommend targeting "iphone_review" as a keyword, as I doubt anyone will be including an underscore in their Google query.

So it used to be--until now--that any benefit that you would have gotten by having a keyword-rich URL was negated by the use of underscores separating those words. TypePad and Movable Type blogs were particularly affected by this, as by default, underscores were used instead of hyphens. This new change in the Google algorithm should make bloggers using the TypePad service or the Movable Type blog software (and anyone else using underscores in their URLs) very happy, as I anticipate their Google traffic will be going up.

A few other highlights from Matt's talk that you may find interesting:

  • Matt claims that Google treats URLs with a query string the same as static URLs. Caveat: as long as there are no more than two or three parameters in the URL, that is! Put another way, you won't take a hit in your Google rankings if you have a question mark in your URL; just don't have more than two or three equals signs in the URL.
  • Matt stated that the number of slashes in your URL (i.e. the number of directories deep your page is) isn't a factor in your Google rankings. He went on to say that although it doesn't matter for Google, it is rumored to matter for Yahoo and MSN (Live Search). Matt addressed this because I specifically asked the question from the audience.
  • According to Matt, the file extension in your URL won't affect your rankings. So it's inconsequential whether you use .php, .html, .htm, .asp, .aspx, .jsp etc. The one extension you should avoid for your Web documents? .exe.
  • Matt stated it was myth that Google uses its status as a domain registrar to access domain registration data to use it as a ranking signal. According to Matt, being a registrar doesn't grant one special access to other registrars' customer data. Note that Matt didn't state whether Google is or isn't using WHOIS data as a signal. I believe they are.
  • When asked about how to get one's blog into Google News, Matt shared one of Google's requirements for inclusion: the blog must have multiple authors. So those of you wanting your blog showing up in Google News results, I hope it's a group blog!

I was flattered that Matt Cutts gave me props twice in his presentation: first by recommending my WordPress plugin SEO Title Tag, and second by listing my blog optimization series as recommended reading. Matt even called me out in the audience. Thanks Matt! :-)

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About the author

    Search engine optimization expert Stephan Spencer shares late-breaking SEO tools, tips, trends, resources, news and insights. Stephan is the founder and president of Netconcepts, a web agency specializing in search engine optimized ecommerce. Clients include Discovery Channel, AOL, Home Shopping Network, Verizon SuperPages.com, and REI, to name a few. Stephan is a frequent speaker at Internet conferences around the globe. He is also a Senior Contributor to MarketingProfs.com, a monthly columnist for Practical Ecommerce, and he's been a contributor to DM News, Multichannel Merchant, Catalog Success, Catalog Age, and others. Disclosure.

     

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