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.
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.If you like this post, subscribe to the RSS feed. Get the latest updates delivered straight to your email or news reader.