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January 24, 2006

Spelling Counts

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What do Matt Cutts and Rob Malda have in common? Aside from both having extremely popular blogs (MattCutts.com and Slashdot.org, respectively), both have used recent posts to look at the importance of grammar and spelling on websites. Malda (Slashdot’s CmdrTaco), in an entry discussing how the editors decide which stories are going to be posted to Slashdot, made it clear that grammar and spelling were low on his list of priorities, valuing a concise summary and clear anchor text over proper English. His preference was to view the typos as part of community building and adding to the character of the site as well as giving the various Slashdotters something to complain about.

Matt Cutts, on the other hand, was scathing in his dismissal of websites that have typos and grammar errors. He pointed out that people like John Walker have a one strike and you’re out rule, meaning they will walk away from your page at the first mistake.

The comments to both entries are amusing. On Slashdot, people complained that improper spelling and grammar gives the impression that the editors simply don’t care. On Matt’s blog, people complained that insisting on proper grammar is elitist.

I’m on Matt’s side, personally. Sure, as the comments anecdotally suggest, you can get traffic from misspellings and it may be worth it to optimize one page for commonly mistyped words but with Google’s Did You Mean? feature, it’s becoming less necessary to seek that unqualified traffic. If you do decide to optimize for a misspelling, make sure your page acknowledges that it is not the correct spelling, that way you don’t look like an idiot who can’t figure out how to use a spell checker. The web searcher is allowed to misspell things because they’re in a hurry and want their answers now. You, as a professional businessperson who presumably cares about what impression you present, are not.

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