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Matt Cutts Says Poor Grammar and Spelling Can Kill Rankings

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For anyone who has a blog or a website, Google matters; and where a site ranks in the most popular search engine matters even more. Figuring out how to move up or maintain your page rank is important, and Google engineer Matt Cutts offers some advice as well as a warning for anyone who is thinking about how to make the best impression both for potential customers and for better rankings.

Do Spelling and Grammar Matter?

Many factors are considered when a page is ranked, including reliability and helpfulness of a site for its users. One significant component of providing an effective experience for users is ensuring that a website uses proper grammar and spelling.

Cutts, who is Google’s search engine expert, has been asked directly about whether these two elements are part of the algorithm which determines page ranking. The specific question he has repeatedly been asked is: “Do spelling and grammar matter when evaluating content and site quality?”

Cutts has been asked about this since 2006, and he always stops just short of answering “yes” to this question. Here is exactly what he said about the correlation between spelling and ranking in a Google Webmaster Help video in 2011:

“We noticed a while ago that, if you look at the PageRank of a page — how reputable we think a particular page or site is — the ability to spell correlates relatively well with that. So, the reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well.”

While it is true that, as Cutts says, spelling and grammar are not factors which send what are referred to as “direct signals” to Google, they do have the ability to influence a website’s ranking. In fact, Cutts does reveal that “spelling, stylistic elements and factual accuracy“ is one of 23 elements used in the Panda algorithm to determine whether websites and blogs are being properly monitored and edited to eliminate careless work and poor editing.

Spelling is not likely to be a stand-alone factor in such algorithms because of dialects, regional spellings and even variant word choices, such as those found between UK and American English. However, Cutts has indicated that Google may consider adding some kind of a reading level filter which will determine how easy the copy on a website is to read. Spelling and grammar are significant factors in maintaining the professional quality of a website or blog.

Do Comments Affect a Website’s Ranking?


Cutts recently reinforced the correlation between spelling and grammar and page ranking when he was asked whether the comments that people post on a website or blog are a factor in a site’s ranking. As anyone who reads the comment sections of nearly any blog or article posting knows, most commenters are relatively unconcerned about such things as proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. Cutts re-affirms Google’s position, saying that user comments do not affect a site’s ranking; however any website errors do matter – a lot. While any spammed comments, whether generated by an actual person or a computer-bot somewhere, should be removed, a website will only be held accountable for its own errors and of course the errors of any site to which it links.

Do Links Affect Page Ranking?


Because links are still a primary consideration in a website’s page ranking, your site could be in trouble even if it is completely error-free. Linking to pages which use incorrect grammar, demonstrate improper spelling or have poor readability could have a serious impact on your website’s ranking. Remember that the standard is supposed to be an effective user experience, so linking your website to a site which is not as meticulous about spelling and grammar becomes a liability to you. Conversely, if your site is not “clean” in these areas, none of the so-called power sites is likely to link to your site, no matter how helpful or informative it is, because these companies are trying to protect their own rankings. In both cases, you are liable to lose standing in the rankings if you fail to pay attention to spelling and grammar on other people’s sites as well as your own.

How Can I Avoid These Problems?

Because there is a direct correlation between sites that demonstrate correct grammar and spelling and those that have a high ranking with Google, it is essential that these kinds of problems be eliminated from your website or blog. Poor spelling and incorrect punctuation are perhaps the easiest problems to fix, but these are certainly not the only issues to consider in terms of user readability and effectiveness. If you have missing information or sentences that are, for whatever reason, unintelligible to your readers, you are likely to suffer for it in more ways than one.

Since everyone is not gifted with the same abilities, those who are not skilled in these areas may need some help to create a virtually error-free website or blog. Perhaps hiring a professional editor or domestic copywriter would be helpful to ensure clean and readable copy. Consider printing the copy from your website and reading it as a document; this kind of close reading is likely to reveal any grammar, spelling or readability errors, especially if the copy is read and reviewed by several people.

Reputable sites simply do not have consistent spelling and grammar errors, and the most reputable sites are likely to appear higher in the page rankings than others. The connection is not hard to make. So much of what happens in terms of SEO and page ranking is out of your hands, but this is one area over which you are able to maintain complete control. The only way to ensure that spelling and grammar problems are not impacting your website’s ranking is to make certain that everything is perfect.

The level of professionalism in a business or an organization should be reflected in the material it produces, including its website; and a company’s reputation for excellence should be at least as important as its Google ranking. In other words, avoiding spelling and grammar errors is something which should be done for customers first, in order to gain and maintain their trust and confidence. Getting a boost in the page rankings is simply an added benefit. If you strive for excellence for your users rather than just writing for search engines, you are setting a standard of excellence.

What Cutts says about spelling and grammar is good advice; however, it is also a warning. Simply inundating website copy with key words is not likely to improve a site’s Google page ranking. Concentrating on the readability and accuracy of your website’s copy is a better investment of time and resources in order to increase a page ranking. It may be hard to believe that a few misspelled words or several misplaced commas could be the reason your website gets lowered in the rankings. The good news is that fixing those spelling errors and repositioning those commas could be the simple key to boosting your website’s page rankings.

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Daniel Threlfall

Daniel has a nerdy fascination with SEO. He's even been known to study Penguin and Panda for "fun." As well as being a family man and world traveler, Daniel prefers his coffee without cream or sugar.

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