How British and American spelling affects the SEO of Australian companies

Do Australians spell more like Brits or Yanks? And why does this matter to your SEO? In this guest post, Matthew Bakmaz explains how to better target your customers through spelling.

In one of his career’s most memorable moments, Arnold Schwarzenegger assuaged the fears of a room full of medically astute kindergarten students concerned about his headache by telling them “It’s not a tumor”.matthew-bakmaz-insights-analyst-at-connexity

While this may have been true for detective John Kimble, it appears that it is not the case for Australians today.

Using Hitwise data, we have found that Australians are more likely to use the term ‘tumor’ than they are to use the term ‘tumour’ in their search behaviour.

This has some key implications for SEM strategy and the emphasis placed on certain keywords.

While it would remain sensible for an Australian health information site to continue to use the spelling ‘tumour’ in its official content, there are potential opportunities around PPC, use of keywords in meta tags, links to American sites or sharing of American content.

This prompted us to look at some more common words that have British vs American spellings.


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Overall, it is comforting to see that Australians are using the British spelling more often but for particular keywords the gap between the two variations is smaller than expected.

The incorrect versions of the keywords ‘Color’, ‘Flavor’ and ‘Neighbor’ are used about one third of the time, highlighting the need to be aware of these variations if they are related to the usual search terms you are targeting.

The higher share of ‘humor’ and ‘apologize’ appear to be more related to brands and pop culture rather than everyday usage, with searches for ‘College Humor’ and ‘Too Late to Apologize lyrics’  being the dominant variations.

‘License’ is also a highly used term that does have a legitimate use in British English; however, looking at its top variations, it appears to be related to the incorrect usage (E.g. ‘Fishing License’, ‘Forklift License’, ‘Divers License’).

Many brands are already well aware of the importance of targeting misspelled keywords. Although it is relatively common for all variations of branded terms to be targeted, it is also vital to be targeting generic keywords that are misspelled.

For example, the keyword ‘accommodation’ is the largest search driver to the Destinations and Accommodation industry (more important than ‘hotel/hotels’).

It drives 10 times as much traffic as ‘accomodation’, 971 times as much as ‘acommodation’ and 3,825 times as much as ‘acomodation’.

What we can also see from these search variations is that even though ‘accommodation’ is already a highly competitive term from a PPC perspective (Paid Rate of 83%), the incorrect variations have even higher Paid Rates, indicating that Paid Search is the preferred method of driving traffic from these terms.


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Using the Audience View platform, we can isolate the audiences who have used the British spelling of words vs the American spelling of words.

Understanding the types of people that are using different spellings of words can be valuable in the subtle variations that can be used in the ad text and landing pages.

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Compared with the audience of UK spellers, the US spellers were 1.35 times more likely to be aged 18-24 and 1.18x more likely to be male.

They were also more likely to be in the MOSAIC audiences associated with young professionals and students (Groups C and I). The fact that younger audiences are more likely to use the American spellings of words can be a useful tool for configuring your PPC campaigns.

For example, if Flight Centre saw that younger male audiences were more likely to search ‘Flight Center’, then the ad text and landing page could be altered to direct them to offers more suited to them.

What could be the reason for younger audiences using American spelling? Is the education system failing? Is US pop culture so pervasive that it has started to blend into Australia’s? Or have a generation of native Microsoft Office suite users finally been ground down and given up on changing the auto-corrections made every time they type ‘organise’ in a Word document or email?

Using Audience View to see what sites US Spellers are more likely to visit than UK Spellers, some interesting trends emerge.

Firstly, US Spellers are less likely to be getting their news from Australian websites than UK Spellers, with News.com.au (0.79 times as likely), SMH (0.9 times as likely) and ABC (0.74 times as likely) all under-indexed.

This indicates that exposure to news from international sources could be contributing to their preference for American spelling.

The second is that the US Spellers are over-indexed for most social sites except for Facebook.

The US Spellers are more likely to be found on YouTube (1.34 times more likely), Reddit (1.42 times more likely), Twitter (1.37 times more likely) and Instagram (1.18 times more likely).

Compared with Facebook, these sites are less likely to be about a user’s personal network and more likely to involve consuming content from around the world, leading to an increased amount of exposure to American spelling.

Finally, the US Spellers are over-indexed for gaming sites such as Twitch (1.71 times more likely), Steam Community (1.86 times more likely) and Game FAQs (1.75 times more likely).

The rise of online gaming has led to people interacting with other gamers around the world and this is where the US Spellers are also getting exposed to the American spelling of words.

Matthew Bakmaz is an insights analyst at Hitwise


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