The devil's advocate

The devil’s advocate

As a copywriter and online editor, I’ve always considered it my duty to ensure that the text I publish online is absolutely correct. I double check for grammar errors and misspellings, and I’d be mortified if one slipped through. After all, I am representing my brand, and a professional image can be badly dented by sloppy writing.

Imagine my shock, then, when an SEO professional suggested to me that I might want to introduce a few common errors into my web copy. Admittedly, he was playing devil’s advocate, but there was a logic behind his stance, which was as follows:

People use their most lax English when they’re online, unobserved. Almost always, folk are in a rush to get off the search engine and onto their destination, so typos are commonplace. Add into the mix the fact that the greater population may not aspire to the high standards of spelling and grammar that we editors may impose upon ourselves. Indeed, spend any time with the log files of your website, and you’ll see many highly, erm, creative spellings of your keywords.

Consider, if you will, the famous film It’s A Wonderful Life. A quick glance at Amazon’s auto-suggest search box reveals that it’s as likely to be searched for with that crucial apostrophe in ‘It’s’ as it is without, no matter how much that might make us grammar-pedants cringe. So the question is, should you optimize both for those who would never dream of missing out an apostrophe, and those who drop it like a hot potato?

Personally, I do not have any problem with putting both variants into my metadata, where it need never be seen by anyone other than a search engine’s crawl-bot. The thought of deliberately including such an error on my web page’s copy, though, is quite a different matter. And yet, to optimize properly for those who miss it out, that is the suggestion.

It’s A Wonderful Life is just one example, and perhaps not a terribly important one. The issue becomes more complex when you consider foreign languages with their accents and umlauts and so forth: hasty typists will leave them off, but does that mean that they would be comfortable to see webpage copy reflecting their own lazy typing habits?

To take this concept to its extreme, would you deliberately introduce misspellings of your own brand name on your site? I’m guessing that the answer is certainly not. Ultimately, I suspect that introducing misspellings is the strategy of someone who prizes SEO above all else – because it is his job to do so – while it’s equally a strategy that a careful editor would never accept. Where would you stand?