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Jonathan Saipe

Spelling Mistakes and SEO Strategy

4 March 2009, Jonathan Saipe

Whenever I run a writing for the web training course, I am often asked about how misspellings fit into SEO copywriting strategy. Given that misspelled words are so ubiquitous among all of us, should they be considered when writing for the web?

How often do we misspell search terms?
To illustrate how often misspellings occur within search engines, take a look at a Google’s report on search activity for the term “Britney Spears”.

Google reported that over 20% of the search queries were spelt incorrectly; the two most common misspellings – Brittany and Brittney – comprised around 16% of searches.

Similarly, the term “car insurance” is spelt “car insurence” approx 8,100 times on average per month in the UK as is illustrated below.

How do search engines handle misspellings?
You will be pleased to know that Google, Yahoo! and MSN all handle misspellings well by offering alternative suggestions.

Most of us will recognise Google’s “Did you mean…?” functionality whenever we mistype a search term.
MSN operates slightly differently:
Yahoo results for car insurence
…as does Yahoo!:
MSN results for car insurence
So given that search engines are supposedly correcting the errors of our ways, do we need to factor in misspellings into our website content? Well let’s take a deeper look at some results in SERPs.

Interpreting search engine results
We did a search for “car insurance” and “car insurence” in Google.co.uk in order to compare results in SERPs (search engine results pages).

A search for “car insurance” yielded the following:
Results for car insurance in Google SERPs

Whereas a search for “car insurence” yielded these results in SERPs:
Results for car insurence in Google SERPs

The top two results for “car insurance” are moneysupermarket.com and confused.com.

Whereas the top three results for “car insurence” were: beatthatquote.com, churchill.com and ukcarinsurancedirectory.co.uk.

The next obvious test was to see if the misspelling actually appeared in the above three sites. This could be ascertained using the following commands:
insurence site:www.beatthatquote.com
insurence site:www.churchill.com
insurence site:www.ukcarinsurancedirectory.co.uk
By looking at the results, it is immediately clear that the word “insurence” doesn’t actually appear on beatthatquote.com or churchill.com whereas it is contained within ukcarinsurancedirectory.co.uk as links.

However, the reason that these sites rank well for the misspelled search term could be due to many reasons such as historical use of the search term or even as a result of backlinks to these sites using that search term in the anchor text.

This can be seen using the command allinanchor:insurence.

Factoring in spelling mistakes
So does this mean that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with tactical deployment of misspelled words on our websites? The short answer is yes.

Let’s not forget user experience. A website with personalized content tailor-made to that individual’s needs, will result in higher conversion rates. Whereas a website too focused on keyword stuffing without factoring in user experience, might well generate greater footfall, but will be less likely to meet the needs of its visitors.

Inserting misspelled words is clearly not a viable strategy for any serious business. Whilst businesses still insert misspelled words into its meta keywords, the chances of those ranking high in Google are basically zero.
There are still many companies that buy misspellings of domain names in order to forward traffic to the correctly spelt version of the domain name.

Google uses this strategy e.g. click on www.gooogle.com or www.gogle.com or www.googel.com as examples.
Whilst this is considered acceptable in my opinion, I wouldn’t start cybersquatting on many hundreds of domains as it could be considered unethical if those domain names could be legitimately purchased by others; equally it might not be cost effective for the amount the potential traffic it could drive.

As an aside, if you want to play around with a fun tool that generates misspellings, have a go on this misspelling tool.

What about UK/US variations in spelling?
The differences between US and UK spellings is an issue that cannot be sidelined. But this requires an entirely new blog article, so watch this space….

  • I’ve often thought about marketing on misspellings of words… I know of a site that looks at eBay misspellings as you can often purchase items cheaper when they are spelt incorrectly. Good article.