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November 15, 2011 / Steve Hennigs

Is your poor spelling hurting your Google ranking?

Misspelled Word

My very first post to this blog entitled Elusive Website Misspellings outlined areas of a website that are difficult to check for spelling errors with any regularity and now it seems that these errors may cost you a bit more than just a little embarrassment.

The reputable online publication Search Engine Land posted an article in early October covering thoughts from the head of Google’s Spam Team, Matt Cutts.  In a three minute video Cutts states that:

“We noticed a while ago that, if you look at the PageRank of a page — how reputable we think a particular page or site is — the ability to spell correlates relatively well with that. So, the reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well.”

You can find the full Search Engine Land article here, Google: Low PageRank & Bad Spelling May Go Hand-In-Hand; Panda, Too?

While it is fair to say that there is no direct correlation between poor spelling/grammar usage and PageRank it stands to reason that avoiding these errors can only help your website.  Unfortunately it is becoming harder than ever to remain error free for a number of reasons.

Websites (and the web) keep getting larger

I could not track down any data as to the average number of pages per website but there was an interesting blog post from Google in 2008 that really showcases how far the web has come.  To quote straight from the blog:

“The first Google index in 1998 already had 26 million pages, and by 2000 the Google index reached the one billion mark. Over the last eight years, we’ve seen a lot of big numbers about how much content is really out there. Recently, even our search engineers stopped in awe about just how big the web is these days — when our systems that process links on the web to find new content hit a milestone: 1 trillion (as in 1,000,000,000,000) unique URLs on the web at once!”

I can only imagine what they index now!  More pages means more opportunities for mistakes and a larger resource commitment to checking for those mistakes.

More people posting content
More and more organizations are using a Content Management System for the backend of their websites which allows for anyone, regardless of experience and knowledge pertaining to websites, to post content to the organization’s website.  While there are some great benefits associated with this trend like more useful information finding its way on the web there are also drawbacks.  One of those drawbacks is that it is more difficult to monitor what is being posted and if there are errors in that content.

Large websites + multiple content editors = great potential for mistakes!

So, what can you do about it?

First is a bit of an obvious answer.  Make sure that you have a proofreading process in place for your web content.  The more mistakes you can catch up front the better and having a workflow to proofread your content is a must.  Many of the Content Management Systems allow you to set up a workflow for approving content.  Utilizing this functionality is a great way to ensure it passes through at least a few sets of eyes before going live.  If you do not have this functionality available you may want to consider trimming down the number of people who have the ability to post content.  There is nothing wrong with having content emailed to a central person that reviews and then posts the content.  Either of these options will not only help you cut down on misspellings but help you produce a more focused message as well.

Second if there is a spellcheck option built into your Content Management System be sure to use it!  Maybe this goes without saying but too often I speak with website administrators who tell me their content editors do not utilize the built in spellcheck.  This would drive me crazy!!  Even worse is when the website administrator admits to not using it themselves.  You are asking for trouble if you do not take advantage of the tools at your disposal.

Finally I would recommend that you get some software to routinely check your entire website for mistakes in an automated fashion.  Even if you have a proofreading system in place and are using the built in tools for spellcheck there is still a chance mistakes can slip through.  I will again direct you to my earlier blog post on Elusive Website Misspellings as one reason for automated checking but also ask you this question.  If a mistake gets through your proofreading and built in tools when is the next time it would be checked?

The answer in many cases is never.  Only when a potential client, your boss, or (this is the best case scenario) you see it on the live website will it get changed.

With this blog I practice what I preach.  Even though I am the only content editor and I utilize the spellcheck feature in WordPress religiously I still have the blog checked every five days with Siteimprove Quality Assurance.  Sure enough from time to time there is a misspelling that shows up in my error report that I would have otherwise missed.

Looking professional and showing your attention to detail have always been reasons to keep your website free of misspelled words.  You can now add to that the potential boost to your Google Ranking.  I understand that the Google PageRank boost has not been fully proven, but why risk it?  Portraying a professional image should be reason enough.

How do you check your website for misspellings?  Do you feel that PageRank is really impacted by poor spelling and grammar?  I look forward to your comments.

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