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Say I have a site listing Academy Awards whose URLs were built using run-on words.

http://example.com/bestactress/2016
http://example.com/bestdirector/2016
http://example.com/bestpicture/2016

As a user, I would have preferred using hyphens for readability.

http://example.com/best-actress/2016
...

First, is there any reason (SEO or otherwise) to prefer the run-on forms? I wasn't around when these URLs were created or I would have pushed back, but maybe there's some logic to it that I'm missing.

Assuming the answer is no, is there any benefit beyond readability to changing the structure with 301 redirects from the old URLs and correct canonicals?

  • Higher click-through from readability?
    I would think a tiny amount at best.
  • Better accuracy when searching for "best actress"?
    I expect modern search engines handle this just fine.
  • Better ranking?
    Doubtful, but SEO is definitely not my expertise.

Our site luckily has only a handful of these run-on URLs, and fixing them correctly shouldn't require significant effort. In those cases, as long as there's no danger to do actual harm, I favor fixing it. But I realize I may be giving in to OCD pressure. :)

  • Google uses word boundaries, being a programmer I am sure you know what I mean, as a first step to determine terms. After that, it uses n-grams over the entire string to find terms, 2-gram would be 2 character segments, 3-gram would be 3 character segments, and will find that bestactress is actually best actress. So from a search perspective, this works just fine. No worries! From a UX (user experience) perspective, using a dash (-) is better. Much better! Cheers!! – closetnoc Aug 27 '16 at 3:02
  • That sounds like "As long as you 301 and canonical correctly, you'll be fine." If that's the case, we're good. – David Harkness Aug 27 '16 at 5:06
  • It sounds like it! In fact, the redirect should be really really simple and lean. Cheers!! – closetnoc Aug 27 '16 at 5:08
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For the reasons you cite, you should change them to hyphenated words. Search engines are pretty good at extracting words out of run on sentences but that's a shot in the dark. I'm sure Google would give preference to separated words over run ons. Users are more likely to guess at a URL using hyphens than run on ones. So, overall they are more discoverable.

So switch them out.

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