• Are you losing traffic to Google’s new “Did you mean” change?

    by  • February 14, 2009 • Google • 20 Comments

    Like most people, I do tend to type quickly enough that I can occassionally transpose characters or make a small typo.  And since my Dell keyboard’s characters have almost completely worn off the keys, I sometimes end up shifting my typing left or right by a key.  But on the whole, I am an extremely accurate typist.

    And yes, I have always been a fan of Google’s “Did you mean” service where they will add an extra line above the search engine results, alerting me to the fact that I possibly mis-typed whatever it was I wrote.  I have even sometimes been lazy, and knowing I made a spelling mistake still hit enter, knowing Google was pretty likely to know exactly what it is I meant…. that is until recently…

    Now, when you do a search for something that Google thinks you mis-spelled, it includes the handy “Did you mean: keyword phrase” so you can click and get the correct results.  But now it also goes a step further and instead of giving you the results of whatever it is you entered into the search box, it now drops those results down, and inserts the top two search results listing for whatever Google thinks you must have actually meant, instead of what you typed.

    Here is an example screenshot below, using @netmeg‘s example of her username, that is returning the annoying 2 search results for nutmeg before showing any results for what was typed in – netmeg.


    Now, if you actually made a mistake with what you had searched on, say I had actually meant to type netmeg, it’s pretty convenient.  But multiple times today, I ended up on pages for what Google decided I must have meant, instead of what I actually entered into my search.  And if you know you spelled something right, and ignore the “Did you mean:” suggestion that is often given in that first two lines, it is pretty easy to hit one of the top two listings.  I did it multiple times this evening, when whatever I searched for and whatever Google wanted me to see were similar (common with mis-spellings).

    In multiple cases, I was searching for people’s names.  And most annoyingly, it even does it when I search for a specific person’s name in quotes, to get the most exact match.  And Google was batting zero, because not one of the suggestions was correct, what I had typed was correct and what I wanted.  But they were determined to lead me into one of their “chosen” corrections instead, by displaying those above what I had actually asked Google for.

    Thoroughly annoyed, I went off into the Google search preferences, but nada.  Then I checked toolbar settings, and one of the settings looked promising, but it was only to make suggestions for mis-typed domain names, not search queries.  Then @henkvaness suggested it was the “Query Suggestions” under the Google.com search preferences, but that only removed any search suggestions from appearing in the search box itself, nothing to do with eliminating the top two “did you mean” search results from appearing at the top of the search results.

    What I find amazing in the netmeg case is that there are over 5 million results for netmeg, so it isn’t as if I stumbled on a keyword that might only have five hundred, or even five thousand results.  If there were zero results for whatever I typed, feel free to give me something I might have meant instead.  But honestly, Google, can 5 million pages all really mean nutmeg and not netmeg?  (As a side note, when I searched for nutmeg to see what came up, it gave me three listings for nutmeg, then three listings below that for “nutmeg high”.  Hmmm….)

    But what if you were a company, especially one that might sound similar to a different company name, as often companies in specific industries are.  How happy would you be to learn that not only is Google suggesting an alternative spelling of your company name, since it thinks the potential customer typed it into the search box wrong, and then displayed ANOTHER company’s site first, before your own… EVEN when the customer styped your business name correctly.  Google is essentially sending your competititor traffic for free, all because of this new feature.

    Ironically, someone asked Matt Cutts about it this week at SMX West on the Ask the Search Engines Panel, and he said that if enough people are searching on something, it would get corrected pretty quickly.  However, I wish someone had asked about the auto-corrected results showing up before the results of what was actually searched for!

    If I had the option, I would love to turn this feature off, and then those who make plenty of typos could leave it turned on if they found it pretty handy.  But just how annoying do I find this feature?  I am so aggravated and annoyed enough that I just turned back on my Yahoo toolbar after months (years?) of having it disabled, this coming hot on the heels of the fact the new version of the Google Toolbar also removed my most-loved feature ever.  @netmeg will be pleased to know that while Yahoo suggests nutmeg, she is still appearing #1 in the search results at Yahoo.

    Anyone else having major issues from this?  Anyone having their company name being corrected with a competitor’s website showing up first?  Judging from my Twitter feed, others are just as annoyed.


    Jennifer Slegg is a longtime member of the SEO community and is an expert on social media, content marketing, Google AdSense and search engines.

    20 Responses to Are you losing traffic to Google’s new “Did you mean” change?

    1. February 14, 2009 at 4:04 am

      Yes, I have issues with the way Google handles it as well. I am NOT a typo, I am a human being!

    2. February 14, 2009 at 7:55 pm

      I had that problem with my business name adaid, when I was starting out. Now its all fine.

    3. elena
      February 16, 2009 at 10:36 am

      Yes, this feature is quite annoying and has impacted how I optimize various keywords for clients. Even little things like adding an apostrophe to a word makes a difference now.

    4. February 16, 2009 at 12:37 pm

      I think it is really concerning that Google ranks their suggestions higher. I also hate it when ompanies try to put in front of my eyes something that they think is good for me. @graywolf complained from personalized search few days ago and I think he is right that Google is taking it too far. You have good point also.
      One more thing I want to add. Google tries to fight spam but I think it actually helps the spammers with this behavior. We know that people intentionally buy misspelled domain names and just publish bunch of ads there. Now if those spammers manage to rank their domain higher in Google they will get more traffic. This can be disastrous especially for small businesses.

    5. May 8, 2009 at 3:29 pm

      I have noticed I get MORE traffic from this. My website is the #1 for my main 2 keywords and both words are commonly mistyped, by me and everyone else. I now see the mistyped keywords as sources of traffic in Google Analytics. I can understand being frustrated by this, but it does have advantages.

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