Google Forcing American Spelling on British Public

Back in May 2009 Matt Cutts head of Google’s Webspam team talked about Spellmeleon.

Finally, there’s an even more aggressive feature (internal Google code name: “Spellmeleon”) for when we really think the user messed up. In that case, we’ll include a couple results for the corrected query first, then results for the user’s original query. Take the query [ipodd] for example. Our algorithms strongly suggest that the user meant to type “ipod” so we’ll include those search results first.

At the time I commented that “Spellmeleon needs to be more aware of British English spelling when on”.

Fast forward 8 months and it’s been reported by Starstruck who runs Search Engine Optimisation that Google have actually made things a lot worse for the British.

A search on Google UK for search engine optimisation now shows the results for the American spelling with the comment:

Showing results for search engine optimization. Search instead for search engine optimisation

The same thing happens for conversion optimisation and conversion rate optimisation

You can click through and see the results for the proper British spelling, but the amount of people that will do so is minuscule.

Cultural Imperialism

I’d always found the “Did you mean: search optimization” to be annoying, now having those results forced upon me is adding injury to insult – to remix a metaphor.

And it is an injury. I want to talk to British companies and British businesses. By using the local spelling of the phrase I am self selecting the market I wish to speak to and write for. Google have not only made it harder for me to attract local business, but made it harder for British business to find information and service providers that can best meet their needs.

The forcing of an American spelling by Google in the UK results is nothing less than cultural imperialism. I wish the British Government would take a leaf out of France’s and insist that the English language is respected and protected.

No Flipping Poxy Results

Comparing the URLs between the American spelling and the British version there are a few new parameters. Adding the variable &nfpr=1 (or as I now call it, “No Flipping Poxy Results”) to the search string seems to clear away the instance on the American spelling and just show the prefered results – albeit still with that “Did you mean: …”

11 thoughts on “Google Forcing American Spelling on British Public

  1. It also must mean that if we use British spelling on a web page, it won’t show up in results when someone uses the US version. I thought that Google showed both so is this a change?

    It’s ironic that we Brits were speaking English first. LOL

  2. Many thanks for your comment Stazjia – Looking at the results some British companies that ranked highly for their (and their customers’) preferred phrase are now on the second page.

    Hopefully this is just a test, otherwise it might be time to write to our MPs to try and keep some sort of cultural identity in the British version of the English language!

  3. Wouldn’t it be more constructive if you island-dwellers just gave up the ridiculous extra i in aluminium, accepted the fact that collective-words are singular rather than plural (as in “the jury is”), and dropped all those obsolete and useless extra u’s from simple words like “color”…instead of writing whining, futile editorials? Cultural imperialism? Oh please…

  4. At the same time do you want to homogenise the States and remove all colloquialisms? Why don’t you go the whole hog and accept Chinese as the mother tongue? Cultural differences make this world a more interesting place.

  5. I love the ‘did you mean’ feature in Google because my spelling is terrible. However, what about all the poor folks in the UK who sell ‘castOrs’ or ‘coloUr printing’? Forcing the American spelling on users has a terible effect on their SEO. Especially when Google automatically changes the listings when you go past page1.

    Surely this can’t be a long term plan for Google.

  6. Never mind, “Fuck you, Google, you arrogant twats” is spelled the same on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Seriously though, it’s only a matter of time until the meddling idiot designers who come up with these ‘features’ put enough users off using their site that a serious competitor will emerge. Google is all form over function these days, and that’s exactly what stiffled other search engines that were big in their time, such as infoseek and (neither of whom have a meaningful web presence now). Google is only the most widely-used search engine right now because it is……as soon as something better comes along, you can be sure that people will begin using that instead.

  7. Well, if I’m looking to recruit and the CV indicates native British citizen, I establish if there are mitigating circumstances for misuse of American spellings in the body of the document. If not then they go into the ‘cannot spell’ category and are processed accordingly.

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