Cost-Per-Click: Will it cost less if you lose the hyphens?

Dear Copy Bitch: We are always having these debates in the office.  I am always on the losing end, but I think I’m right.

1. Is website one word or two?
2. Do you capitalize internet?
3. Do you capitalize jargon phrases like “cost per click”?  Do you put dashes between them?  “cost-per-click”

I know I have others but now of course I can’t think of any of them. I thought maybe other people need/want to know the answers…

—Becca S, New York, New York

Answer: Well, you might not love my answer, which is this: it depends. It depends on the style guide you follow (e.g., AP, MLA, Chicago, etc.). Back in the dark ages (i.e., 2002) when I started my business, I wrote “Web site.” Now I write “website” as one word, but I often see it as two words and don’t think, “Gee, that’s wrong.”

As for “Internet,” I follow the rule that it’s a place and, therefore, believe it needs to be capitalized, just as Paris and George Clooney Paradise do. But I see legit pubs that lowercase it.

As for cost per click, same answer: it depends on the person, the editor, the business owner, the publication. For me, I follow this rule: I use caps only (usually) for the acronyms (CPC). I don’t usually use hyphens if the term is used as a noun: What was the cost per click? or The cost per click was $1.45. However, if a term is used as an adjective, that’s when I’d add hyphens: We need to be mindful of our cost-per-click budget. But again, I see sentences that violate my rule all the time (and I’m sure some smart reader could point out places where I violate my own rule).

The key is consistency. Be consistent with your usage (and when I say be consistent, I mean be consistent for that particular publication or for that particular company. I’m not saying you should simply decide how you want to do it and that’s it). Publications have style guides. Smart companies should have internal style guides that address items like the ones you list above (in addition to other things, such as serial commas). Anyone who creates content for the company (marketers, copywriters, consultants, etc.) should receive copies of the style guide (and adhere to the rules).

So how would you answer your own questions? I’m curious. Let me know in the comments.