Search, Spelling and the Long Tail

    February 28, 2005

A post at passing notes, threadlinked above, brings up the somewhat famous, and apparently, quite mythical Cambridge University study that showed, that provided the first and last letters of a word were correct, people can read it just fine.

Try this:

“”I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdgnieg! The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer inwaht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt.””

This lead me to thinking about misspellings in general, how it affects Long Tail of Search marketing and where it might be best put to use.

I’ve seen all manner of techniques, none of which i’ve ever tried, to target misspellings by Search marketers over the last few years. They include:

* Meta keywords with misspelled words in
* Titles and alt attributes on images
* Pages dedicated to “common misspellings”
* Hidden text on pages

There are probably a ton more, please point out any that i’ve missed.

User Generated Content

One of, if not the, best way to leverage the long tail of misspelled search terms is user generated content. Blogs and Forums all lend themselves nicely to this. The very nature of the fast paced mediums and their looser style provide ample opportunity for both the author (i speel things wrong all the time and am usually to rushed to correct anything not immediately obvious) and the reply posts to make all kinds of natural errors.

Your users make the same mistakes searchers do
Naturally, searchers make the same mistakes that a sites users do. So those mistakes typed into Yahoo or MSN will be reflected on your page. The nice thing being that even if you only allow visitors to comment or ask questions on your pages, you get the misspellings, but it doesn’t look unprofessional on your part – provided the user generated content is clearly seperated from your sales copy, everyone’s a winner right?

Folksonomies work even better – and not just for misspellings. Think of all those different ways of saying the same thing! If you’re tagging content, and using the tag in the url of the page and, also displaying user generated content on that page, you have everything – if you’re unsure what folksonomies are then get yer head outta that bucket and read: Tags & Folksonomies – What are they, and why should you care? it’s good stuff even if i do say so myself, and will get you up to speed.

Thinking out loud…

I enjoy posts like this. Im neither a journalist nor a researcher so i’m afforded the great luxury of just “thinking out loud” without needing particularly to present facts, figures and citations. I would like to see any good links that you have bookmarked though, and to hear of any other ways to take advantages of misspelled words and synonyms.

So, tell us about your experiences, findings, research or just air a few thoughts on the subject…

Nick Wilson is the publisher and founder of

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