Adam Barber

Does good spelling and grammar still matter?

Anyone who takes the time to blog on a regular basis probably likes to think they can hold their own when it comes to good spelling and grammar. After a quick read-through and with the help of a spell-checker, we ought to be able to catch most of our missing words, spelling mistakes and bad grammar before hitting publish. But do our readers notice and would the odd typo really do us any harm?

SpellingIt may be a sign of getting older, but I'm convinced that standards are slipping when it comes to spelling and grammar. I see typos, mixed tenses, missing apostrophes and other glaring errors everywhere I turn and if you're a fellow stickler for this sort of thing (I prefer "stickler" to "elitist grammar bore") you'll have noticed it too.

I'm sure we all have otherwise bright and impressive colleagues who can't decide between "your" and "you're" in their work emails. I've seen many a job application (from people in different age groups and not just here in Australia, but also in Britain and the US) with embarrassing typos in the covering letter or the CV itself (even on occasion in the actual sentence in which they describe their exceptional attention to detail). Not even professional writers are immune if some of the blogs I enjoy reading are anything to go by.

Does it matter?
In most cases, it would seem it really doesn't. We'll forgive our workmates for purging their emails of apostrophes. We know what they mean and that's what's important. The same applies to blogs. If the content is compelling, the odd missing word will be forgiven. You would think CVs would be an exception, but I guess someone is employing these people.

Perhaps education standards have declined over the years (ask anyone who graduated a decade ago and they will swear their degree was much harder than the contemporary equivalent) or perhaps modern forms of communication like SMS and Twitter have blurred the lines between right and wrong. Language is constantly evolving and it is becoming increasingly localised. What looks like a misspelling or even total gibberish becomes common parlance with the right audience and medium.

The way that we consume information has also changed dramatically over the last 15 years or so. The immediacy of the internet has shortened attention spans to the extent that we won't even wait a few seconds for a web page to load. If typos escape our notice on blog posts and emails it's probably because we scan rather than scrutinise them.

Good spelling and SEO
But while we may be more forgiving of grammar gaffes than previous generations, minimising typos and other errors does have its benefits. If you have even a passing interest in online marketing you'll be well aware of Google's recent Panda update and its attempt to reward sites that publish quality content. There has been much debate about how Google can measure something as subjective as quality with a mathematical formula, but one of the ideas knocking around is that pages may be spell-checked as they are crawled and indexed.

Given the number of ranking factors and the complexities of a universal spell checker (allowing for local variations in language, surnames, unfamiliar brands, accepted slang and abbreviations etc) the direct impact of a typo on your SEO is likely to be minimal. Lots of errors could though hurt you via other signals, such as bounce rate, dwell time, inbound links and social sharing.

And while we may tolerate the odd grammatical oversight when we're focussed on the message, it seems we do draw the line somewhere. Take this recent example involving user reviews on Zappos.com, a US online retailer. The company attracted criticism from some quarters after manually correcting reviews posted on its site. Apparently well-written reviews have been shown to make a positive impact on sales even if the review itself is negative.

 

I'd be really interested to hear views from the Digital Ministry community on this topic. How important is good grammar? When does it matter most? Have standards declined in the digital age? Please though resist the urge to correct this or anything else I've written in the past ;-)


COMMENTS

Posted by JD, 1 July 2011

Absolutely!

My colleagues and I often debate over the correct use of certain words in sentences and enjoy picking up on each others spelling mistakes.

While we all do make mistakes - some a lot more than others - most of the time it is a simple display of laziness or someone not double checking their work.

It is also important to note that grammatical and spelling errors in emails and official communication channels are reflective of the company the author is representing.

On the other hand, a simple mistake doesn't mean someone is terrible at everything else...

JD

Posted by Mike, 1 July 2011

Heh heh have to pull you up on the use of ( " ) quotation marks when they should be ( ' ) inverted commas. :-)

You're right though, people are sometimes slack, but most of the time plain ignorant of the correct spelling and grammar. I think the more people there are out there who don't know right from wrong, the less important 'right' becomes and in that light, it is also dependent on the audience. If you happen to be emailing somebody who does know their stuff, your errors will no doubt reflect negatively, but if the reader doesn't know or as you say, has just 'scanned' it, chances are your spelling and grammar will make no difference.

Over time languages evolve though and many words, punctuation etc. become redundant. I suspect the digital age will have a major hand in shaping (simplifying?) the future of ours.

Posted by Ash Nallawalla, 1 July 2011

Heh heh, Adam. I spotted the deliberate error in the title, which should be "Do good spelling and grammar still matter?" :)

I have seen SEO opinions suggesting that good spelling and grammar are useful for ranking, but ceteris paribus I am not convinced that they are major influencers of the algorithm. The exception is where the grammar is so bad that the article looks like it went through one of the re-writing tools used by some people. Recently, Google's JohnMu asked people to write good content but also pointed out blogs where the quality of language in the comments was beyond the control of the blog author.

I also see so-called quality newspapers in India that have appalling English, mainly from one wire service. Either the subbies can't copy-edit or don't bother. Yet, for most searches relating to those topics, the newspapers rank very well. I can't see the Google algorithm making special allowances for certain countries.

Posted by Julian Peterson, 8 July 2011

Of course it still matters, bad spelling and bad grammar make the writer look stupid.

You'll like this page from a developer who agrees with you:

Learn to f***ing spell - http://iampaddy.com/spell/


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Adam Barber Castleford Media Pty Ltd Adam Barber
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British new media professional living and working in Sydney. Interested in developments in online content, search, social media and the digital world in general.

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