Spellings and Misspellings


When choosing a domain, would some of your visitors misspell it? Then buy the misspelling, too. And to save yourself the work of maintaining two websites, point both spellings to the same website.

Case history: A search engine’s owners wanted a new name, and they chose one of the words that represent having lots of things. They told their secretary to register it as a trademark. She did. The problem was that the owners, who had a strong academic background, had chosen “googol”. That’s the correct spelling, but the secretary didn’t know it and thought they meant “google”, and that’s what she registered. As a result of that one spelling mistake, the owners likely made billions of dollars. I hope she got a share of it. But most mistakes don’t wind up to be that fortunate.

A politician has a name that was misspelled in roughly a tenth of online newspaper articles about her. Two letters were swapped. It wasn’t not her fault. I’m sure both she and her staff had been polite, helpful, and consistently clear about the correct spelling. And she could say that if some journalists get it wrong that’s their problem. However, it’s a bellwether. Chances are, if a tenth of professional writers get it wrong, somewhere around a tenth of her voters get it wrong, too. And she’s probably grown up since childhood with people misspelling her name. She should have bought the misspelling along with the proper spelling and pointed both to the same website. That would have improved her public outreach and political office-holders and candidates need that.

The Internet is not able to figure out what a typist meant. While some websites do figure it out, the domain routing system does not try. Instead, if a misspelling has no domain for that misspelling, the visitor might be sent to a website with ads, chosen by an Internet service provider, not you. Or, worse, the misspelling might have been bought by someone who wants your traffic but who won’t forward the traffic to you, usually so they can sell ads.

How many mistakes you should buy depends on how much the additional traffic is worth to you. If yours is going to be one of the most popular websites and highly profitable, you’ll need a large stable of misspellings to catch the traffic meant for your site. If your site is meant for only a few visitors and everyone knows you, maybe you don’t need any misspellings, but even then you might need one or two.

Which misspellings? Your incoming mail might offer clues right on the envelopes. Linguists know about human practices, such as r-dropping in phonetic (mis)spellings.

If your desired spelling is highly unusual, because you’re challenging visitors to remember it, that’s more reason to buy misspellings. That places a limit on highly unusual names. Almost no one is going to remember the correct spelling for ihfifeuesfiebriezsrie_yriweyriewwyrciwyrszsyreyrzerieri8eziyrizerieiewriw-roowenuwe.com. That kind of name is good mainly for clicking on (like in ads) or for discouraging visitors (like if you’re trying to imitate the CIA but not very well). But a mild challenge that people succeed at helps them feel like they’re part of the in-crowd and welcome to return, and they’re more likely to come back soon, although that works less well if their reason for returning is rare and they forget your address.

Domains cost something, typically five to fifteen dollars a year each. Subdomains cost wehatever the domain owner cares to charge (sometimes nothing). Premium domain names, which are domain names someone bought and is willing to sell just because the domain itself is attractive, can reportedly cost between $69 and millions, often negotiable, although they should be renewable at standard (low) prices.

The best way to avoid premium prices is to snap up the desired spelling and all the worthwhile misspellings at the same time before anyone realizes what you’re doing. If your website traffic grows, buy more misspellings before anyone else wises up.

Research is a bad idea until the moment you’re ready to buy. People who buy names to resell at premium prices often choose them by looking at failed searches. So, if you use the Whois service and find a name is available, someone could notice that someone used the Whois and got a failure and grab the name for themself before you know what’s happening; and then it’s no longer available, unless, of course, you’re willing to part with a lot more of your treasury than you had in mind for your budget. The same is true of using your browser by typing the domain into it. If the domain gets nowhere, the domain name system somewhere on the Internet adds that to a list of failures and someone can buy that list, then buy selected names in that list for premium resale. If you’re in a big company and a bunch of people all do the research, the same failure turns up many times and premium buyers see gold in your company’s research and jack up the resale price accordingly. What to do? Dream up the names you’re considering. Yo9u can write them on paper or in a word processor. Make everyone who sees your list of dreams promise under penalty of never having chocolates again that they won’t research them. Do not research them yourself. Instead, choose your domain registrar or reseller. Agree to their terms (or choose someone else). Have your payment method ready, maybe a debit or credit card. Then, do your research and, when your research tells you what to buy, buy within minutes. Don’t take an hour. If you work for someone whose decision-making is painfully slow, and if your decision is among just a few names, buy them all and then let whomever decide which ones to keep. A year later, you don’t have to renew the others.

If a misspelling is already taken, see if it’s in substantive use or if it’s mainly for ads. (If it’s for ads, it’ll often claim to be for searches but with no search engine named.) Ifr it’s for ads, it’s likely a premium name. Many premium names don’t get bought. If the likely buyers (like you) don’t buy it, the owner will often abandon it, but won’t tell you. Instead, every 6–12 months or so, have your payment method ready, check Whois, and see if you can buy it from a registrar at a low nonpremium price.

While having one website be the destination for all the domains is a common solution, you might prefer to educate people about the misspelling. In that case, you could have a separate small website for the misspelling, where you educate about that, and then have a link or automatic delayed forwarding to the main website. But, while this is technically easy to do, it will often discourage and lose visitors who don’t want to be bothered with the extra step. A single website is a friendlier approach. Yahoo used to have a separate site for the error yaho.com (where visitors were informed of the correct spelling) but now that domain goes straight to the well-known home page.

Buying misspellings protects your investment and keeps the visitors who want to come to your website.