Content Marketing Blog

Reviews, search and learning to spell

Recent news and comment in the search engine world has been dominated by Google's Panda update and while this post is not strictly-speaking about Panda it does warrant a mention at the start.

Panda was intended to target spammy, low quality sites. One of the many issues it raised was how Google might measure quality algorithmically.

There is a range of metrics Google could look at, from bounce rate and dwell time to link graphs and social ripples. A particularly interesting angle is spelling and grammar.

Google's algorithm is a very complex and highly-scrutinised mathematical formula, so it would be fair to assume that it's capable of running a basic Word-style spell check when crawling pages.

Even without a spelling and grammar check, articles with typos and other errors are likely to raise other quality flags.

Panda has put quality on everyone's mind and has prompted the rewriting of countless pages of web content since it went live back in February.

Zappos, an online retailer, has even taken the virtual red pen to its customer reviews. Apparently a small army of freelancers has been correcting typos and spelling mistakes in the reviews customers post on the site.

Better quality reviews – positive or negative – lead to more sales, or so the theory goes.

Bad spelling is part of the trade-off when it comes to user-generated content. You get the engagement, you get the free, unique content, but you might see some creative variations on your brand name (Zaposs, Zapos, Zappoz etc).

Whether it's because of ignorance or laziness, spelling and grammar standards appear to be on the slide – particularly online. Just read a few blogs or look at the search volume on mis-spellings of popular keywords. Incorrect spellings have even trended on Twitter.

When it comes to brand management, you can understand why Zappos would want its brand spelled right – and also why it wouldn't want typo-riddled gibberish on its site, even on a reviews page and even if the intentions were good.

What to do is a bit of a quandary for brands. Customers may be less willing to post reviews if they know they'll be edited. And once you open the editing door, will you be able to resist the urge to tone down negative comments or only correct the positive ones?