Willis-Owen SEO

As you will have already noticed, I have a double-barrelled surname: Willis-Owen. This has a few advantages in that 2 relatively common surnames (in the UK) Willis and Owen are joined to form a pretty rare one. This makes it easy to get a username when signing up for a forum or internet service without having to add a sequence of random numbers on the end, but when it comes to being found via a Search Engine there are a few problems.

The trend for friendly urls has lead to the minus sign ‘-‘ also used to represent a hyphen to be recognised as a seperator character and interpreted as a space. If you Google for willis-owen the results favour a large investment broker Willis Owen. The hyphen is simply ignored by Google and in this context Google are not helpful in its aim of giving you the best search results.

The results are very similar if you wrap the name in double quotes and search for “willis-owen”.

Ironically the negation symbol that Google uses is the minus/hyphen symbol, so if you wanted to search for Willis-Owen but exclude results containing Willis Owen your search term would look like: “willis-owen” -“willis owen”
Unsurprisingly this doesn’t work at all and Google doesn’t find anything.

I have looked into using HTML entities to replace the hyphen but there aren’t any alternatives that convey the same meaning (Wikipedia has a great article, as does GrammarBook):

  • ­ is a soft hyphen and used to advise a computer where a hyphenated break may be made if it needs to
  • – used for periods of time e.g. 2000-2011
  • — used in informal writing to replace other forms of punctuation like commas e.g. I pay the bills-she has all the fun

So unfortuately there’s nothing that I can do to help get Willis-Owen, my family surname, recognised as it should, unless maybe one day someone with a double-barrelled surname will end up running Google and then I’m sure we’d see it sorted out pretty quickly.


If you get the opportunity, go for a non hyphenated version of words when registering domain names. The hyphen may make it easier on the eye when you are typing in a full address and can break a domain neatly into chunks. However most people tend to find things by typing into search engines and these won’t give you any benefit for having the hyphens.