Bad Spellers of the World, Untie!

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  • February 4, 2008
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

This is a guest post by Marc Berry, from techne-eikon.com

It has come to my attention that one popular SEO strategy involves deliberately misspelling key words and phrases. The idea here is that about 10% of all searches contain a typo or misspelling, and by targeting some of the common typos, one can capitalize on them, and make some extra money from it. As one who writes for a living, my knee-jerk reaction to this idea is not a good one. I am a notoriously bad speller, and my spell checker hates me for it. However, as a writer, I have to show good spelling. I wish it weren’t so, but it is… All that aside, let’s take a closer look at this strategy, and see if perhaps there are occasions where typos and misspellings might be acceptable, or even a good idea.

My first thought was that Google usually suggests the corrected spelling of the keyword you are searching for. As a test, I Googled “How to take a poto”, poto being a common typo for photo. Sure enough, the mighty G had a suggestion: “Did you mean: How to take a Photo”. The majority of the search results had little or nothing to do with my search, though there were a couple that were photo related. No how-to’s, though. But this is where it gets interesting…

The only sponsored result was from HP, entitled “Photo taking tips”, and it went to a page that was all about how to take a good photo. Hmmm… either Google took an educated guess, and tossed up an ad related to what it thought I was looking for, or (more likely) hewlett-packard bought the keyword “poto”. But that’s PPC, not SEO. The organic results of my search did nothing to help me. So is there a time and place that using misspellings as an SEO strategy could be appropriate, or even profitable? Ideally, without making you look stupid?

I think so. Let’s say, for the sake of example, that your favourite band just released an album called “Life Sux”. Anything that you want to write about the album would use the title as the artist wrote it. In this case, sux would be good SEO. However, that is a pretty narrow set of circumstances. Are there other instances that would make sense? That’s a question that is a little more difficult to answer, because it depends quite heavily on your target market, and their demographics. For example, if your target market was the online gaming community, to SEO for the term “gamerz” might be appropriate.

Then there are the regional versions of the language. American English is not the same as the British version (gray or grey?), or Canadian, which fluctuates freely between the two. If you were creating a page intended for the UK, the British spellings would be correct, just don’t forget to turn off your Americanized spell checker. The bottom line is the same advice you will hear anywhere else: write for your audience, and SEO accordingly.

For myself, I cannot endorse this strategy for general SEO purposes, except in the specific circumstances outlined above. This has more to do with my obsession with spelling than anything else, and other, more relaxed people might not agree with me. I just think that professionalism is paramount, especially in an online environment, where your audience’s main impression of you is in the words you write. I would suggest, however, that a better and more appropriate use of misspellings would be in a PPC campaign, as HP did with “poto”. Done correctly, it could prove to be a very profitable campaign, because the cost per click would be much smaller than the correct spelling. A quick check for the terms “photo” and “poto” showed a huge difference in the estimated CPC for each term. Photo came in at $0.85 – $1.27 per click, whereas “poto” came in at an estimated $0.58 – $0.82 per click.

Buying typos for your PPC campaign could give you the traction you need to enter a highly competitive field for a lot less money. But what about Google’s spelling suggestions? Certainly some people will click on it, to get the (correct) organic search results, but the sponsored results show up above the suggestion, so I’m willing to bet that a fair number of people will simply click the top entry, especially if it answers their question, just like HP’s did.

Side Note: The estimated clicks per day for these two terms were about 20,000 for photo, versus about 20 for poto. Not enough clicks per day to warrant a PPC campaign for poto, in my opinion.

The key, whichever way you decide to go, is to do your research. Is the typo common enough to warrant spending all that time and money on it? In the case of SEO, is it a term that your target market uses? Has the meaning been changed from the original word (fat vs. phat)? As in all things, if you don’t know your market, you stand a good chance of failing, so I will say it again: do your research. And when your research pays off, and you are rollin’ in bling, make sure to send me a poto.

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