6 Ways to Optimize Your SEO for Misspellings – And Why It Pays to be a Bad Speller

March 3, 2010 - Written by Gyutae Park  

I don’t know about you, but I take spelling pretty seriously in my web projects, especially for content sites and blogs like this one. I’m careful to ensure that words are spelled correctly and that typos are minimized. With spell check included in most word processing tools, I don’t think there’s really any excuse for silly spelling errors online.

Or is there?

Despite my urge for spelling perfection, it turns out that a significant percentage of web users are sloppy with their language – particularly when using search engines like Google.  There are around 10 million misspelled search queries every single day.

For example, below are the local search volume numbers (USA, January 2010) according to the Google Adwords Keyword Tool for the common misspellings of “jewelry”.

Sure, there’s a huge difference between “jewelry” (3 million searches) and the misspelling “jewlery” (60,000 searches) but 60,000 monthly searches is nothing to scoff at. This is especially true because misspellings generally have much less competition and are thus easier to rank for. After all, most webmasters use spell check and wouldn’t go out of their way to intentionally spell a bunch of words incorrectly.

This is where you can capitalize with your SEO efforts, particularly in competitive industries where it would be nearly impossible for you to realistically compete for the main keywords (spelled correctly).

Since SEO is all about optimizing for keywords that people are actually searching for, misspellings present a pretty big opportunity to gain visibility in search. You could potentially get more traffic and make more money from organic search by targeting a few strategic misspellings. Just don’t tell your 5th grade English teacher about it.

An important thing to note is that in the past few years, Google has changed the way it displays search results for misspellings. They now show “Did you mean:” with a link to the correct search query and its top 2 results.  See the screen shot below.

While this change significantly decreases the benefit of ranking for misspellings, there is still a lot of opportunity.  In my view, a #3 ranking for a popular misspelled keyword is better than no ranking at all.  And if you’re lucky enough to have a top 2 ranking for a competitive keyword, you can gain even more visibility by adding another ranking on the same results page by optimizing for the misspelled version.

Finding High Potential Keyword Misspellings

Now that you know about the advantages of targeting misspellings in your SEO campaigns, how do you identify the keywords with the largest opportunity and traffic/money potential?

Below are the three different types of misspellings.

  • Common misspellings. These are words in the English language that are difficult to spell and are frequently butchered. Examples include “jewelry”, “archaeologist”, and “etiquette”. For more, see this list of common misspellings.
  • Proper nouns. These include names of people, places, and things with ambiguous spelling. For example, Google previously ran a 3 month experiment to analyze misspellings of “britney spears” in its search engine. The result? There were 593 different variations with 20% of all queries misspelled. The misspellings “brittany” and “brittney” accounted for 16% of searches.
  • Typos. These are simply typographical errors that lead to misspellings. For example, check out thisd awesomew sentnce. Obviously, I know how to spell those words, I was just in a rush and my fat fingers refused to cooperate. :)

So how do you find high potential misspellings for your targeted keywords? Start a list using the 4 methods below.

  • Research. If you know your market, you should be able to identify popular misspellings. Scour blogs and forums and do a search in Google for keyword + “misspellings” to see what comes up.
  • Internal search logs. What better way to identify keyword misspellings than to get them straight from your current visitors? Check your analytics to see what people are searching for. Of course this works best if you have a high volume site.
  • Trial and error. Try and think like a bad speller. What are some variations that might occur? Add these to your list.
  • Keyword typo generator. Finally, plug your targeted keywords into a keyword typo generator. This will get you a comprehensive list of all the different variations that might occur as a result of typos.

Once you have a pretty long list of misspellings, the next step is to find out how often they’re being searched for in Google. There’s no point in optimizing for and ranking for a keyword that no one cares about – especially if it’s a misspelling. You’ll just look like a fool.

Plug your keywords into the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to analyze the search frequency numbers. Be sure to use Exact Match so that you get data specific to each keyword.

Find any gems? In the next section we’ll go into how you can appropriately integrate your targeted keyword misspellings into your SEO campaign.

6+ Ways to Optimize For Misspellings

1. Use SEO best practices as usual – not recommend
The first and most obvious option is to optimize a page for your targeted misspelling as you normally would for any keyword. This means including it in your URL, title tag, header tag, content, and navigation. However, having misspellings on your site front and center is very unprofessional and could cost you a lot of links and credibility. This hurts you in the long term and isn’t really worth the immediate gains you get from ranking for misspelings. I don’t recommend you do this.

2. Turn the misspelling into a brand name – get the exact match domain
An alternative is to get creative and use a common misspelling of a popular keyword as the brand name for your site. Isn’t that what Flickr.com does? By utilizing this method you get the best of both worlds – optimization for your targeted keyword and a popular misspelling. Plus you don’t sacrifice any credibility in the process (as long as the misspelling isn’t blatant). If you do decide to go this route, be sure to pick up the exact match domain for the misspelling (more on this in the next point).

3. Build microsites using exact match domains for your targeted misspellings
Google and the other search engines tend to give websites with the exact match domain for a keyword a significant boost in the rankings. For example, regardless of links and site authority, Cars.com gets an advantage in Google rankings just because it’s domain name exactly matches the search query. Use this to your advantage for misspellings of your keywords. Buy up the most popular misspellings of your targeted keywords (if available) and build out microsites for each. It’ll be much easier for you to obtain #1 rankings for the misspellings this way and then you can add links back to your main site.

4. Add in a “commonly misspelled as” section
Another way to add misspellings into the body copy of your pages is to add a phrase or section that states “…commonly misspelled as…”. Of course the effects of this method won’t be huge because the misspellings won’t actually be in important elements like the title tag, but it can still be effective when coupled with links to the page using the misspelling as the anchor text (more on this in point 6).

5. Add the misspellings in user-generated content on your site
This one’s my favorite way to get misspellings on a site. If you have a blog or a forum as part of your website, simply add in a few fake comments or forum replies that make use of the misspellings. This won’t take away from the credibility of the site because it’s someone else making the errors, not you. This happens naturally with user-generated content anyway. Extra bonus if you can create a forum thread with a misspelling that shows up in the title of the page.

6. Build links using the misspelling in the anchor text
If you remember, a bunch of bloggers engaged in something called “Google bombing” a while back to get President George Bush’s website to rank #1 in Google for “miserable failure”. All they did was simply link to that page using the “miserable failure” keyword as the link text. Well the same principle can be applied here with misspellings. First, try to get the actual misspelling on the page you’re trying to rank for by using tip #4 or 5. Since Google has put filters in place to prevent Google bombing, having the actual misspelled keywords on your page will help. Once you’ve done that, build links to that page using the misspelling in the anchor text. Blog comment links (without nofollow) and links in blog and forum posts are the easiest and should help you move up in the rankings.

Additionally, you can even create links on your own site using the the misspellings as the anchor text.  Of course you wouldn’t want this version to show publicly, so what you can do is place the link in a noscript tag so that only search engines see it.

Bonus Tips

Here are a few more tips related to optimizing for misspellings…

7. Forget about the meta keywords tag
There was a time when search engines actually used the meta keywords tag to determine the relevancy of a page. No more. This was once a good place to insert keyword misspellings, but it’s pretty much useless now.

8. Bid on misspellings in paid search
Similar to SEO, there is opportunity to drive traffic and make money with keyword misspellings in paid search. Since competition is generally very low for these terms, clicks will be very very cheap. Add some of your misspellings in a PPC campaign and test it out. You might be surprised at some of the keywords that drive traffic and convert well.

9. Buy up typo domain names for type-in traffic
Finally, look into buying up misspelled domain names for their type-in traffic potential. For example, a domainer named Kevin Ham shrewdly bought up the .cm domains (Cameroon country code, misspelling for .com) for popular websites like the New York Times. Needless to say, he’s doing very well for himself. The potential payout for domain name “typosquatting” is huge. Google supplies about 60% of the ads on these types of sites and makes $497 million per year. Wow.

Have you discovered any opportunities with keyword misspellings in SEO or PPC?  If so, how much traffic and revenue are they driving? Share some of your experiences and tips in the comments below.

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24 Responses to “6 Ways to Optimize Your SEO for Misspellings – And Why It Pays to be a Bad Speller”

Tom | Build That List on March 3rd, 2010

I once had a typo domain for hostgator, but I wasn’t very experienced at the time and didn’t take advantage of it and think I just let it expire. I have been tempted to target typo’s with a few of my niche blogs – I might start doing it.

 
Andrew@BloggingGuide on March 4th, 2010

As much as we would want to be perfect in our spelling and in everything, customers or readers or search engine users aren’t. So, the best thing to do is to be flexible and also try to accomodate or integrate mispelled words in our system, no matter how much we like it or not. Thank you for these tips that you’ve shared. They’re truly helpful.

 
Typhoon on March 4th, 2010 Subscribed to comments via email

There is a huge difference in such misspelled keywords and properly spelled keywords. Interestingly, I will be working over a niche blog in few days related to womens beauty niche. The keyword I have chosen is actually misspelled intentionally since I didn’t found a good domain with properly spelled keyword. The difference in the search volume is really tremendous as I checked now.

The Real Gets – 1.8 Million
Misspelled Gets – 1 Million

I think I must look over some alternate way or just hit the internet with that domain only. Will see what will happen then :0

 
Chris Peterson on March 5th, 2010

Lots of different between misspelled keywords and spelled keywords. Some times misspelled keywords gives better result, if your site is new and fail to stand against your competitors. But if will continue long period such type of mistake then it will be harm full to our site. So it depend on us how we solve this type of minor problem. It should better to us always try to fix such type of error.

 
Richard Hostler on March 5th, 2010

I believe searchers are being conditioned by Google to click “did you mean” on a misspelled search. Even if you rank in position 3, those red letters at the top grab a lot of attention. There are some misspellings and alternative spellings that Google serves results for in a standard manner. This is especially true with oddly spelled or punctuated brand names. With a bit of keyword digging and Google testing, one can find untapped gems out there.

 
infopediaonlinehere on March 6th, 2010 Subscribed to comments via email

true…simple strategies leads to great results

 
ldii on March 6th, 2010 Subscribed to comments via email

I’ve practiced the strategy at my site bestsurabayaproperty.com and it really works. Great tips and thank you for the sharing.

 
Claire Jarrett on March 6th, 2010 Subscribed to comments via email

Wish I had had the foresight to buy up all the cm domains!

 
Dorian on March 6th, 2010

I agree with Richard Hostler’s comment. It used to be great before the “did you mean” suggested spellings.

The traffic from mispelling is next to nothing now. Not worth optimizing for imo.

 
Josh on March 8th, 2010

Very interesting article, I appreciate the research you put into this and will consider misspelling when doing future work.

 
Jon on March 9th, 2010 Subscribed to comments via email

Will this still work on google? Google now shows the correct spelling first on some searches e.g.

Showing results for xxx Search instead for xyx

It might not be long before this is the norm.

 

Humm nice topic to discuss on……

 
Nimit Kashyap on March 12th, 2010

getting rankings on misspelling keywords does work, as i have tried it on one of my weight loss site long time ago.

 
upen on March 18th, 2010 Subscribed to comments via email

truly it’s an interesting article. In fact most of the time i do the same mistake but some time get better results as well.

 
seo expert pakistan on March 23rd, 2010 Subscribed to comments via email

yes i agree with you , but the compitation is little high and sometime reader dont like to read worng spell

 
Malaysia web design on April 3rd, 2010 Subscribed to comments via email

Yes, I notice that if you left out the meta keyword, google is smart enough to pick up keyword from you content.

 
R W on April 14th, 2010

Arrgghhhh! I loved this post and that it addresses the inner conflicts we experience in writing web (or any other kind of) copy. I recently ran across a post that had a title like, “5 misspellings that make you look like a Dumbass.” Many of the misspellings weren’t actually misspell’s, per se, but rather, language issues: you vs. your, its vs. it’s, there vs. their.

We know that the English language is very ambiguous often having so many meaning for a single word, it borders on ridiculous. Someone coin a new word already!!

While it is hard to “vote” for misspellings by supporting the habit, cloaking the misspellings in a noscript is a great idea. This way you are maximizing your efforts. Hey, we have all been guilty of typing you when we meant your – a personal pet peeve of yours truly…and one I still do from time to time.

We do strive for perfection in writing and it is a noble goal, however, coming to terms with our “only human” nature just makes good sense.

A different problem is that when you are composing something, your head is in Compose Mode and your brain will actually fill in the errors and typos on the page, sort of visually tweaking them to flow with your gist during a re-read. I actually have to get up and change gears for a while to do a clean re-read and try to catch things, as I am notorious for intense and fast flow, speeding fingers that are merely human, and the perpetual struggle to get it all into text before the thought gets interrupted by another idea or thought…or any one of a million things…

So, I sort of wimped out ;P I would fail miserably as a secretary and I am not ashamed to admit it. I opened my new microphone package today and began training my voice recognition software, so now I can just talk and IT can do the typing. Typing is a laborious process for us non-typers, and I can say in the span of ten minutes what would take me hours to type.

No, I am not too big of a person to admit my Achilles heel. I am just incredibly thankful to find out that Vista comes with voice recognition software already installed – and that it rivals the top program in the field: Dragon Naturally Speaking. I had just never thought of it before, but a light went off in my brain when I finally Got It.

You have to train it and it isn’t perfect, but it does learn the more you use it. I can Speak hours worth of typing in merely minutes and do an edit of what IT has typed in farrrr less time than typing it myself…and my wrists are happier for the rest! I can run the whole computer from my headset, even the Web! I am still besides myself with amazement!

Still, designing with the reality of typos in mind makes good business sense and I have heard it from many pro’s. Many people don’t think to do it, that is what makes it prudent to do.

Your ideas here rock and I am totally going to employ them. Very savvy…thanks for sharing them.

Great posts. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff here, as I just discovered the site today.

Cheers…oh, and sorry for any typos ;P

Rigg

 
Brigitte Mehr on May 20th, 2010

Using mispellings is a great way to get more keywords in your PPC campaigns I get a lot of traffic this way.

 
Janice Phillips on May 24th, 2010 Subscribed to comments via email

I have always prided myself on my ability to spell correctly as well as having good grammar in my writings. I think it would be very hard for me to do this, unless of course the blog/website was made strictly for this purpose, even though I do see dollar signs.

It would be interesting to set-up a blog for a few elementary school kids, and see what happens. No spell check, correcting grammar or any interference from an adult (except to make sure it stays kid friendly).

In fact, I can think of 3 such kids that have been on me to set them up a blog since I asked them to help me with my “25 Things…” a week or so ago.

It is something to keep in mind though.

 

I have never thought about misspellings from an SEO point of view,Gyutae – even though I had been spelling so much wrong when I sometimes type in something into google wrong. I know this when Google corrects me with the correct phrase.

One interesting thing is, at the one point this could very well work especially in the example with the ‘jewlry’ and ‘jewelry’ when the searches are high. At the other point – if you build ‘wrong’ backlinks or misspelled backlinks – won’t your ranking immediately drop as the person clicks on the corrected phrase that Google gives him?

I have seen this. So I guess you only win when the person don’t click “Did you mean x x x” phrase.

 
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