Spelling mistakes on websites – How to kill your online credibility
Avoid making spelling mistakes on websites
Have you ever left a job interview realizing you had a stain on your shirt? Or a blouse in need of an iron?
First impressions count. So, why are websites riddled with misspellings? Have a look at this, from a major US insurance company’s product page (scanned May 2014):
“Teen Driver Discount: Parents and teens have enough to worry about when a teenager is learning how to drive; getting a teen auto insurance shouldn’t be one of them. Learn about our teen driver discounts that can keep your rates down while rewardring your teen for responsible driving.”
Here is what your reader thinks: Wow, if they can’t even get basic spelling right, what else could they be screwing up? Misspellings in your web copy are a sure fire way to instantly damage your brand credibility. For marketing teams, misspells are at best an embarrassment, at worst something that can lose potential customers.
I wanted to get a realistic feel for how corporate sites fared. Do they have many misspellings? If so, why are they slipping through? Surely the CMS (Content Management System) vendors have spell checking built in? Why do marketing teams miss this kind of stuff? Is there some issue with spell check in the CMS?
So, I scanned an arbitrary 100 pages on a number of sites with Clarity Grader (used to audit web content). We looked at a basket of 13 large corporate sites. All are publicly traded, 8 are US based, the balance are UK or Australian companies. Most are in Financial Services mainly; Banking, Insurance, Retail and Legal.
So let’s see what we found. Spoiler alert- it wasn’t pretty! I’ll finish out by explaining why I think CMSs are not working for Marketing teams.
What does the web look like today?
One leading US based insurance company issued a press release on 14th April 2014. They announced a senior appointment with this text:
“We are excited to have Timon join us,” said John XXX, Chief Underwriting Officer, Commerical. “His experience in managing global complex insurance solutions will be valuable as we strengthen our customer segment strategies abroad.”
And, here’s the webpage (still live at time of writing):
I airbrushed out the company name to protect the innocent. This same organization had more issues. Some with possible legal implications like this:
If you are an employee based outside the U.S. please review the Non-U.S. CIG guidelines (PDF, 47kb), complete the application form (PDF, 44kb) and have the charitable organization complete the Affadavit Packet.
This is a publicly traded company in the Financial Services market. We only looked at an arbitrary 100 pages. How many more issues lie undiscovered across their full website?
What does the reader think when looking at this content? If they publish content rife with simple misspellings, and don’t care enough to fix these issues, can I really trust that they’ll look after me?
We had a hunch this is not an issue confined only to the US, so we analysed a top Australian bank, publicly traded. We spotted no less than 9 misspellings of ‘voliatility’. Not to mention ‘oustanding’ on another page:
…During times of market voliatility, you can keep on top of your margin loan by registering for buffer an margin call alerts.
You need to transfer enough security to restore your amount oustanding to your borrowing limit or below. This can be determined by dividing the margin call cash amount by the loan to value ratio (LVR) of the security you wish to transfer:
Now when you see spelling mistakes like this, you might think; “ah well, it’s probably in a fairly out of the way place on the site. Nobody will likely find the issue”. So, here are the pages where we found these issues. Many are prominent; educational pages, FAQs etc.
For our final example, this is a corporate risk and standards organisation based in the US and quoted on the NASDAQ. This time in a HTML heading:
National Equipment Regster (NER)
Here’s how it looks online:
Your content reflects your brand – misspellings shoot you in the foot
As a marketing or communications manager, you may have invested significant dollars in overhauling your website or moving to a new CMS. But these kind of ‘hygiene’ issues shoot you in the foot. Our tools help you avoid making spelling mistakes on websites.
What’s wrong? Why CMSs don’t work for spell checking
We all use word processors to create content. These come with in-built spell checkers. Marketers use CMSs (Content Management Systems) to publish content online. These have page level spell checkers. So why does CMS spell check not work for marketing teams?
There are a few reasons:
- Page level only – Volume of pages: It’s unrealistic to expect people to systematically check spelling at the page level. On web estates that exceed 200-300 pages, often across multiple domains, checking pages one by one is not realistic.
- Enforcement and visibility: Enforcing a spelling policy in the CMS is hard. Each publisher/writer needs to take care to observe the autocorrected spelling suggestions. Most CMSs do not provide an ability to run a single click report across your entire web site.
- Checking content that is not the final served page: Many CMSs dynamically create pages based on multiple parts and templates. Templates and other components will often insert content dynamically. What the user sees is not what you see in the CMS. Snippits in WordPress are a good example. So spellchecking directly in the CMS is not the same as checking the copy the reader will actually see in their browser.
- Missing Approved Brand Dictionaries. Your typical CMS also does not come with centralised sets of approved dictionaries. For instance in a legal setting ‘judgment’ is correct. Yet using a standard British English dictionary will flag this as an issue. Ignoring this globally for all authors is critical.
How do you solve it?
You need an automated solution designed around ease of use and able to scan thousands of pages if needs be. You need something more than your current CMS.
For our analysis we used VisibleThread Clarity Grader to find the spelling issues cited here. There are a few other enterprise level tools out there that can also help.
As you evaluate your tooling options, look to see the following characteristics:
- Let’s you analyse hundreds/thousands of pages either using a crawl or using specific URLs
- Supports approved dictionaries
- Allows you analyse certain parts of the site or multiple sites
- Supports a centralised control dictionary so you don’t get false positives all the time
- Allows you globally ignore known brand terms and approved language that will not be in the default language dictionary
- Allows you easily generate 1-click reports that pinpoint spelling issues across all pages. Reports that you can hand to copy editors.
- Can run against the actual published content.
- Works regardless of what CMS you use or even if you don’t have a CMS.
- Spelling mistakes damage your credibility online.
- Most sites have serious issues. Our mini-survey of some major corporate brands surfaced a multitude of serious spelling issues. Issues that will damage brand trust and customer engagement.
- CMSs typically have page level spell check, but this does not work when auditing/monitoring large web estates.
- You can use automated language checkers like VisibleThread Clarity Grader, but definitely use a solution that will provide proper flexibility around custom dictionaries etc.
I hope this post was helpful. Do you have any good examples of embarrassing misspellings online?
Let us know in the comments.