Breaking The Spell

Scott Lambert


Following speculation on the part of users, it has now been revealed that the Apple App Store search engine has undergone an update. The most important change? It can now cope with misspellings and typos. Though it is too early to be certain of the impact this will have, it seems highly likely that it will result in an increase in sales for the company, with more people able to find the products they want.

This might seem like a trivial issue but it fact it is one that marketers should take very seriously. It is estimated that 10% to 15% of the American population is dyslexic and almost 20% have a first language other than English. The average typo rate is somewhere between 4% and 6% even when good spellers are included. The upshot of this is that errors are to be expected and any sensible system has to take account of them; what is more, marketers have to take account of them.

The matter is still more complicated on the internet because of the proliferation of acronyms, oddly-spelled words and grammatical rule breaking. An individual might be perfectly good at spelling my and space but not realize that they are joined together in MySpace, and therefore have difficulty finding it using a search engine that does not consider variations. Another might be able to spell comics and film but not find Comics2Film, and so on.

In some cases the problem can work the other way, with some search engines so quick to "correct" what they identify as unusual that they misdirect searches. This is a problem that can be particularly frustrating for mobile users, who may have limited bandwidth or a poor connection and already find the search process slow.

What does this mean for marketers? It is not as simple as always making sure to use simple, well-known words, as these tend to be the first ones to be used by other people, and when it comes to domain names they can be considerably more expensive. In cases where poor search engines are likely to be an issue, one option is to include likely misspellings of the brand name – including likely typos – in the meta tags. They do not need to be high priority because it is unlikely that other sites will be trying to compete on them.

Some sites, such as FaceSpace, have built their brands on other people’s errors. There are positive ways to learn from this approach and make sure proper spelling is not essential to discovery.

Topics: SEO