Spelling costs companies millions… probably

Spelling costs companies millions… probably

Is bad spelling getting in the way of your business? There may be a downside to cheaper employees…

By Chris Lee Ramsden

Leading UK gadget advice company,, took the drastic step of registering incorrect spellings of its brand domain after it discovered how much traffic the company’s flagship website was losing. An astonishing number of people couldn’t spell gadget. In fact, according to the company’s statistics, 28 percent of 18-21-year-olds left out the ‘d.’ 21-30-year-olds fared a little better with only 15 percent misspellings. And, the over 30s managed to get it right 97 percent of the time.

Crispin Thomas, the advice line’s founder, calculated the damage to his business. “Even though search engines have a default alert which asks online users if they meant to spell a word in a particular way, we were finding a huge drop off amongst the younger users… to the tune of BPS 150,000 (about DKK 1,275,000).”

Registering misspelled versions of ( solved the problem, so even the most dyslexic teenagers could enjoy advice about which gadget to buy – and a gasping UK economy could draw breath again. Or so the story would end, happily ever after.

Of course, the Gadget Helpline is not alone. And spelling errors on the other end? Maybe just as costly.

Online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe, who runs a stable of consumer webshops, has experienced something similar. In his business, a spelling mistake on one of his websites – or in an email campaign to prospects and customers – can cut his revenues in half. How did he arrive at this figure? When he corrected a spelling mistake on one of his landing pages, sales doubled over night.

Credibility at stake

According to William Dutton of the Oxford Internet Institute, it’s a credibility issue. “When a consumer might be wary of spam or phishing efforts,” he says, “a misspelled word could be a killer issue.”

With so much revenue at stake, business leaders are keen to find out why spelling is so bad in the UK. Charles Duncombe has no doubt where the blame lies. All too familiar with poorly spelled job applications from school leavers, he believes the standard of education in the UK is simply too low. “Some people even use text speak in their cover letter,” he says.

His concerns are echoed by CBI head of education James Fothergill who cites recent research claiming 42 percent of UK employers are dissatisfied with the literacy skills of the school and college leavers. “The government must make the improvement of basic literacy and numeracy skills of all school and college leavers a top priority,” he says.

However, perhaps the problem is not so easily solved. Psychological studies over the last half a century have shown that people’s literacy improves with age. Any professional writer will tell you that good writing takes a lot of focus, experience and hard work. And the Gadget Helpline’s statistics bear this out: only three percent of over-30s misspelled gadget.

Real cost of cheaper employees

With more companies taking on younger, less-experienced staff in the aftermath of the financial crisis, it’s not surprising that standards have fallen. Very few 20-year-olds can match a seasoned professional writer for accuracy, consistency or control of voice. But they are much cheaper to hire.

Perhaps the real issue is the cost of taking on inexperienced writers. In the short term they are cheaper; but in the long term it looks as though UK companies are losing millions. Perhaps schools should be better at teaching basic statistics for business, so business leaders are better able to carry out a basic cost analysis? And, perhaps the UK needs a study that shows conclusively how important good grammar and spelling are to business revenue. If jobs depend on good writing skills, schools and colleges will respond.

After all, that’s their business.



One Response to “Spelling costs companies millions… probably”

  1. Dan Nicollet says:

    This is absolutely true. I would add the following though:
    Our company develops error-tolerant search engines for online stores and web sites. Our engines correct spelling mistakes and typos whether they are contained in user queries or in the online content itself. Doing this, we have seen revenues of clients who used non-error-tolerant search before grow exponentially as well. The harmful impact of misspellings is therefore not only about perceptions only. At a time where so much content has made search the main way of travelling across the web misspelling can just keep people away from content, products and services, simply completely away.
    Managing Dir.