"We (the British and Americans) are two countries separated by a common language."
There is a patina of friendly competition that spans the north Atlantic, and misunderstandings can be humorous and worthy of retelling many times over a whiskey. As an American replied when asked, by an Englishman, 'why he pronounced words in such a curious way', he said 'perhaps we went to different schools'.
Well, different schools it may be, but language is changing on both sides of the Atlantic, and anyone with a website that wants to take advantage of two of the biggest markets in online business, should know exactly when search engines find it important.
It was Noah Webster who changed many words to their present form. Slowly he Americanized spelling. He chose s over c in words like defense; he changed the re to er in words like center; changed traveler to traveler, and although at first he kept the u in words like color or favor, he changed them in later editions of his dictionary.
So what are the ramifications of for SEO.
Let us take as an example www.opexhosting.com .
OPEX are a provider of call center solutions in the UK, so on the face of it would use key phrases like call center, or contact center, with the 'er' ending as they are spelled in the UK.
It is not, however, quite that simple.
A tool that says it provides results depending on what market you are aiming at is the yahoo search marketing keyword tool (Overture).
If I type in 'call center' in the section designed to exhibit UK results, I find that the UK spelling does not come up at all in the singular spelling of the word. It seems that the UK spelling of 'call center' has dropped from the radar entirely.
Are we getting confused about spelling in old blighty? It wouldn't be the first time. We might drive 60 miles, but then run 100 meters, a hot day can be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but it is cold at sub zero degrees centigrade, cars are filled in Litres, but a car that does 50 miles to the gallon is doing its bit to save the planet.
Not giving in I went back to my trusty keyword tool and tried again with 'catalog', and it came back with results spelled 'catalog'.
Smelling a rat I popped across to the overture bid tool, and found that the bids were exactly the same for the US and UK spellings. It seems that yahoo search marketing (or what used to be overture) bundles US and UK spellings in the same pot. I was not going to get any meaningful data here.
I then took a look at the keyword suggestion tool at wordtracker.com which finally gave me some recognisable results. Using its own database of searched for terms, It told me that 570 people per day were searching for call center (US) and 92 were looking for a call center (UK). So UK English is, most probably, still being used in England.
But how do search engines react to the different spellings?
Google does take notice. If we type 'Contact center' into Google we get different results to 'contact center', as we do for 'color' and 'color', so Google does not just bundle the results into one big lump.
How do the results differ? Well for a start in the US version of Google, which seems to get from 70% to 80% of Google traffic even in the UK, 'call center' gets 947,000,000 results, and 'call center' gets 157,000,000, which is a very similar ratio to the wordtracker results at around 6 to 1 US to UK spellings.
If we look at google.co.uk results are, of course, biased more towards UK results, including spelling. But with many UK websites reporting only 25% to 30% of Google traffic coming from the UK version its search engine, we find ourselves in a quandary.
If we do a search on 'call centers', in Google's US version, using the English spelling, the number two slot is a website that does not have the UK version of the word in it.
If you are an American or an English site, with any keywords that require different spellings for each side of the pond, and you want to either capture the other market or even, in the case of UK sites, be sure of covering all angles in your own market, best optimize for both.
So how do we do that.
One way is to maintain a .co.uk (or .com.au etc) and a .com site. This risks tripping over Google's 'duplicate content' algorithm made popular in the jagger update, and marketing efforts, like link building, would have to be for two separate sites.
Another possibility is to use both UK and US spelling in the same site content. But how does this look in a site that is trying to tell its visitors that they are an eloquent business proposition. Well, it is possible to put alternative spellings into things like meta tags and image alts. It's perfectly legal, although Noah Webster might turn in his grave.