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Spelling and grammar are important. Sure, it’s more of a focus for some than others, but it’s fair to say that almost everyone understands the critical role that written communication plays, and the opportunities that compelling copy can generate.

Writing correctly – and ideally well – will ensure that you deliver your message clearly and impactfully. Bad spelling and grammar, on the other hand, can cause confusion and distrust. In this survey of businesspeople, 81% said that poorly written material wastes a lot of their time. A majority also said that much of what they read is ineffective, for all manner of reasons: length, organisation, clarity, imprecision and the use of jargon.

But our question today isn’t so much about the importance of spelling and grammar to the reader, but rather to the search engines that offer this content up.

Does Google care about spelling and grammar?

To find out whether writing mistakes affect search engine optimisation (SEO), let’s take a look at the available evidence and the factors at play.

The user experience

The value of Google, and any search engine, is in its ability to serve up the most relevant results to any given search query. In the early days of search this was a simple matter of scanning for relevant keywords and serving up websites based on their frequency.

This system proved prone to exploitation, however, as developers jammed websites full of keywords in an effort to move up the search engine results page (SERP). This forced search engines to develop ways to rank results not just by relevance, but by user experience too. Google, for example, uses a machine learning technology called RankBrain that views and experiences websites in the same way a human user would, and a natural language processing model called BERT that reads like a human.

The user experience is sacred to search engines, and a key part of that user experience is spelling and grammar. If a website is difficult to read or understand, the user experience won’t be great. It stands to reason that if a website doesn’t offer a great user experience, a search engine will push it down the rankings.

Trustworthiness and bounce rate

It isn’t all about how Google interprets a website though. How real-life humans interact with your site also impacts SEO.

Imagine navigating to an online fashion retailer and being met with the following banner:

Sail on now !Jeens 20% off, t-shirt’s 40% of, free dlivery!!

Would you trust that website? Would you be confident enough to navigate past the homepage, let alone place an order? If you can’t trust them to perform a spellcheck on their homepage, how can you trust them with your money?

Most users who see such a badly written web page will quickly click the ‘back’ button. In fact, typos on landing pages increase bounce rate by no less than 85%.

The upshot: If your website features bad spelling and grammar, your bounce rate will be high. If your bounce rate is high, Google will take this as a sign that your website doesn’t offer a great user experience. The search engine will push it further down the rankings to avoid other users suffering through it.

What the search engines have to say

At this point it would be wise to hear what the major search engines, Google and Bing, have to say about the matter.

Google on spelling and grammar

In New Zealand, as in most of the rest of the world, Google is the dominant force amongst search engines, capturing approximately 94% of the market. The company has been intentionally vague about how spelling and grammar affect SEO (if at all), though over the years there have been a few notable soundbites from Google executives.

During two separate webinars in 2011 and 2017, Google leaders Matt Cutts and John Mueller said that spelling and grammar aren’t a specific signals that Google uses to rank websites. In 2021, however, Mueller reframed a similar question, saying that spelling and grammar fall under the umbrella of ‘quality issues’:

We have to be able to recognize what a page is about. And if we can’t recognize that because there are so many errors on the page in the text, then that makes it harder. We try to find really high-quality content on the web and sometimes it can appear that a page is lower quality content because it has a lot of grammatical and technical mistakes in the text.

Bing on spelling and grammar

The second-most popular search engine in NZ, Bing, is more explicit about its approach to spelling and grammar. In 2014 Duane Forrester, Bing’s Senior Product Manager, penned this illuminating post on quality, which included this tidbit:

… just as you’re judging others’ writing, so the engines judge yours. If you struggle to get past typos, why would an engine show a page of content with errors higher in the rankings when other pages of error free content exist to serve the searcher?

In short, Bing is spellchecking your website, and if it finds errors, you’ll be placed further down the rankings.

Spelling and grammar hint at larger issues

Both Google and Bing seem to have a similar attitude to spelling and grammar. In some ways it’s a canary in a coalmine – an early and obvious warning sign that this website might have deeper issues.

If you can’t be bothered to invest in quality copy, or to even conduct a spellcheck, what else haven’t you done properly? Bad spelling and grammar are amongst the first and most visible indicators of a site’s overall quality.

What about user-generated content?

Sometimes bad spelling and grammar on your website isn’t your fault at all. Perhaps you have a blog with an active comment section. Perhaps you automatically display recent Google reviews. In these situations you might open your site up to other people’s spelling and grammar mistakes. But does this have a negative effect on your ranking?

Google’s Matt Cutts answered this exact question in a 2014 video:

I wouldn’t worry about the grammar in your comments. You can see nonsense comments on YouTube and other large properties, and that doesn’t mean the YouTube video won’t be able to rank. Just make sure that your own content is high quality.

Cutts did go on to say that spammy, bot-generated comments could potentially be an issue, so it’s wise to use CAPTCHA technology if you offer your visitors the opportunity to leave comments anywhere on your site.

How to fix your spelling and grammar issues

The evidence above makes it clear that spelling and grammar are important factors for search engine success, as user experience is valued above all else. If you have spelling and grammar issues on your site, you won’t be ranking as high as you can on the SERP.

Happily, while bad spelling and grammar can be real issues for a website, they’re amongst the easiest to spot and quickest to fix.

Begin by using spellcheck religiously. Different spellcheck tools seem to be good at picking up slightly different things, so it’s wise to write your copy in a Word or Google Doc, spellcheck it there, then copy and paste it over to your website builder where it will undergo a second spellcheck.

A tool or plug-ins like Grammarly or Hemingway can go one better than simply picking up errors. These use artificial intelligence to analyse things like tone and reading level, to help you write more clearly and compellingly to your target audience. Aim for a Grammarly score of 90 or more, and a Hemingway score of Grade 6-8 for your web copy.

Technology is fantastic, but sometimes the best techniques are analogue. Casting your eye over your work is critical. Often this is the last thing you feel like doing after spending hours slaving over the keyboard, however.

Our advice: after you’ve written your copy, step away from your desk for 10 minutes, an hour, or even a day – however long you need to refresh your mind. When you’re ready, re-read it, checking not only for spelling and grammar errors, but for how it sounds.

Read it once more, this time out loud. You might be surprised at how blind you become to your own mistakes. By forcing yourself to verbalise every word, you’ll uncover errors that are hidden in plain sight.

Is your website error-free?

While the major search engines are a little coy on the details, we can safely say that the quality of your site’s spelling and grammar affects how well it ranks on the SERP, because your web copy has a real impact on the user experience.

If checking spelling and grammar doesn’t exactly sound like your idea of fun, good news: it’s ours.

At Traction, we’ve built a reputation for getting Kiwi businesses ranking higher on Google, including the development of web copy that isn’t just error-free, but that is succinct and compels your audience to act.

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