SEO – is good grammar essential?

Let’s start the new year with a recap on an old question. Is good grammar an SEO ranking factor? Those who follow the forums will tell you that while the answer isn’t clear, it’s probably no.  However, it’s a no with many caveats and pot holes to bear in mind. Let’s start from the beginning.

Matt Cutts – Opening the Debate

Matt Cutts co-patented much of Google’s web spam software, including Google’s family filter. Until his self-imposed hiatus began in 2014, he was widely acknowledged as Google’s leading authority on all things search related. In this questions and answers video from 2011, Cutts states that he is unaware of any direct grammar algorithm. However, he goes on to say that there is a correlation between content with good grammar and a high rank in Google search.

This yes-no-maybe answer is perhaps forgivable when we consider that not every piece of content can be weighed against definitive grammar rules. Creoles, for example, throw a giant spanner in the works of any such grammar algorithm. Creoles are fluid and ever evolving languages, such as ‘Manglish’ (Malay-English), ‘Singlish’ (Singapore-English), and Swiss-German. No algorithm could keep up with the grammar variations within fledging languages.

John Mueller – The Bigger Picture

John Mueller is Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst. Since the departure of Matt Cutts, Mueller has arguably become Google’s de facto face of search. He streams regular Q&A hangouts from his base in Switzerland, shedding light on the big issues. When quizzed in a 2017 hangout on whether grammar has an effect on SEO, Mueller states “Not really. So, it is more a matter of how it is received from a user point of view.” He goes on to suggest there are too many languages for Google to competently sift the web for grammar usage. So why does the question keep coming back?

The answer is that grammar, spelling, and punctuation provide a universal means for searchers to find exactly what they are looking for. Consider the slight difference in spelling but huge difference in results when searching for ‘band music’ and ‘banned music’, or when searching how to say “bye” in French but accidentally typing “buy”. But those are just spellings. What about grammar itself? Does grammar actually have a direct link to rank in Google SERPs (Search Engine Results Page)?

SEO & Good Grammar

What seems to be the all-pervading message from Google is that content must be relevant. The only consideration on top of this most basic of stipulations is that poor grammar will not inspire confidence. Would you trust a banking website that claims “We is a real good banking for you”? Absolutely not. You would take your business elsewhere, and no doubt advise others to do the same. This vote of no confidence can impact web traffic. So, are there some more common grammar traps that even reputable sites get wrong? Yes, there are. Here’s five grammar traps to avoid:

  • Your brand is singular. Always follow it with is/has, not are/have. For example, “Brand X is…” and “Brand X has…”. Companies (especially with a name that ends in an ‘S’) will often incorrectly use ‘are’ and ‘have’, as in “Brand X are…” Stay vigilant against this simple error.
  • Write in the active, avoid the passive. I’ll explain. An active sentence is composed of an object that does a verb to a subject, as in ‘the writer composes the blog’. Passive sentences switch this around, creating the clumpy sounding ‘the blog is written by the writer’.
  • Beware your thens and thans. Social media users have been correcting the erroneous use of your/you’re for years now. Same with there/their/they’re. A modern mistake that has crept in is to say “more then anything”. Although the sound is th’n, the word is than.
  • Using “and I” when you really mean “and me”. Remember, take the other person out of the sentence to see which you should use. For example, removing Ben from “pass it to Ben and I” would become the incorrect “pass it to I”. Therefore “pass it to Ben and me” is correct.
  • Whether to use ‘which’ or ‘that’. Where extra info isn’t essential, use which. Where the extra info is vital, use that. For example, “meet me by the tree, which has no leaves” would suggest there is only one tree. In contrast, “meet me by the tree that has no leaves” suggests many trees, but only one has no leaves.

For witty and regular pop-shots at the history of phrases and the grammar governing them, take a look at the inkyfool blog, run by Mark Forsyth. Here you will learn why English singers sound American, how a dumb-bell you might find in a gym owes its name to church bells, and how Gotham City (yes, from Batman) is distantly related to goats that lived on a farm in Nottinghamshire over a thousand years ago.

Improve your grammar. Avoid unnecessary ranking issues.

Ben Atherton

Ben Atherton

Ben is a grammar guru with a passion for the written word. Upon graduating in 2008, he trekked across Europe and produced his first travel book. A career in SEO copywriting for the law, music, and food industries followed, before recently spending a year in the role of magazine editor for a national publication.

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