A few days ago in a thread at Webmaster-Talk I was giving advice to someone who had chosen a new domain of the form keyword1keyword2.com. I’ve been of the opinion for a long time that search engines won’t see either keyword1 or keyword2 in the domain keyword1keyword2.com, but a post later in the thread questioned whether or not that was true, implying that they will pull keyword1 and keyword2 out of that domain.. So which is it?
The original poster decided on the new domain wildlifeart-online.com which I surmised was in part to get the keywords wildlife and art in the domain. I mentioned that while I preferred the new domain to the old, I didn’t think it would make a difference as far as ranking, due in part for my belief that keyword rich domains aren’t given all that much weight and in part because search engines wouldn’t see wildlifeart as wildlife and art.
Earlier tonight another post disagreed with the part about search engines not seeing wildlifeart as both wildlife and art and offered this google search for car wash with the observation that domains like carwash.com still had both words of the domain highlighted. It got me thinking so I did a little exploring.
First on this post from Matt Cutts about Dashes vs. Underscores. The post is a year old so things may have changed, but I don’t believe they have. Matt mentions how it’s better to use keyword1-keyword2 than it is to use keyword1_keyword2 since Google won’t see either keyword1 or keyword2 in the latter. Google would see the underscore version as one word. If Matt’s advice is to use the dash since the underscore is seen as one word then I would think it would be preferable to use the dash over running the two words together as well. Seems like it would hold from inductive reasoning.
I thought why not dig a little deeper though, with some searches at Google. The search above for car wash shows carwash.com as #1 in the results and again both parts of the domain have been highlighted in bold. Try the search inurl:car and the site is nowhere to be found. At least in the first 100 results which is as far as I looked. What’s more though, if you look at the results every one has the word car at least once in isolation. No results are returned where car shows only as part of a longer word.
Of course it’s possible those other sites simply rank better based on the inurl: search than carwash.com. So I extended the search a little with inurl:carw, inurl:carwa, inurl:carwas. Stands to reason that the more letters of the domain we include the better the chance of it showing toward the top of the results for the inurl: search. At least as long as Google will pull out keyword1 from keyword1keyword2. But it doesn’t happen. carwash.com only comes back once we use the full inrul:carwash search where it’s back to #1 in the results.
I tired a similar series of searches with the word pet and found the same results. I would think that if Google was seeing carwash as the separate words car and wash in the URL, carwash.com would show up for one of those inurl searches. Similarly petfinder.com, which was the #1 site for the single keyword pet, would show up for the inurl:pet searches.
I think the reason for the bold highlighting in the search results is due to different technologies being used for the syntax highlighting and for search ranking. As for why Google wouldn’t pull out single words from two words joined together I don’t know if it’s a technical issue or if its an algorithm decision or something else entirely.
It might not be the most scientific test the world has ever produced, but it’s enough to convince me my original thought was correct. It certainly hasn’t convinced me that the thought was wrong anyway. I’m still open to having my mind changed though if anyone can offer something indicating Google or any other search engine is seeing keyword1 and keyword2 as individual words in keyword1keyword2.com.