Dec 25 2013

Hebrew Spelling Makes a Difference for SEO

Let’s talk about the holidays for a bit. No, I’m not thinking about the one happening today; I’m thinking about Hanukkah. Or Chanukah. Or Chanukkah. Or perhaps even Khaneke.

When we celebrated Hanukkah a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that all of these ways of spelling the holiday are valid, but some spellings may be more search engine-friendly than others. So, I decided to use Google and Bing to search for each spelling, as well as “[holiday name] Los Angeles”—the sort of search a person would use to find local Hanukkah events—to see how the results differed, if at all.

The two tables below show the number of results and the top five results for each Hanukkah-related search, ignoring special sections like news or photos. I also performed the searches without being logged in to Google or Bing. Finally, I didn’t include results for “Khaneke” since most of them were for cities in Pakistan instead of the Jewish holiday. Sorry, Yiddishists.

Search Results for Various Spellings of “Hanukkah” (December 25, 2013)
Search Engine Search Term Number of Results Top Results
Google Hanukkah 9.9 million  Wikipedia, History.com, Chabad, About.com, Jewfaq.org
Chanukah 2.5 million  Chabad, Wikipedia, Jewfaq.org, Jewishvirtuallibrary.org, Aish
Chanukkah 7.7 million [1]  Jewfaq.org, Wikipedia, Dummies.com, About.com, Mechon-Mamre.org
Bing Hanukkah 21.6 million Wikipedia, About.com, Los Angeles Times,[2] History.com, Chabad
Chanukah 5.5 million Wikipedia, Chabad, Holidays.net, Jewishvirtuallibrary.org, Jewfaq.org
Chanukkah 22.7 million [3] Wikipedia, Jewfaq.org, Chabad, Amazon,[4] History.com

[1] Google asked, “Did you mean: ‘Hanukkah’?”
[2] People living in other cities would presumably see slightly different results.
[3] Bing informed me that it was “including results for ‘Hanukkah’.”
[4] The link is for a CD titled “A Child’s Hanukkah: Music.”

Search Results for Various Spellings of “Hanukkah Los Angeles” (December 25, 2013)
Search Engine Search Term Number of Results Top Results
Google Hanukkah Los Angeles 2.3 million  About.com, Los Angeles Daily News, Farmers Market, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, NBC 4 Southern California
Chanukah Los Angeles 430,000 About.com, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, CBS Los Angeles, Los Angeles Daily News, Farmers Market
Chanukkah Los Angeles 6.6 million [1] Pico Shul, Jessicagottlieb.com, Jessicagottlieb.com, Temple of the Arts, Picorob.com
Bing Hanukkah Los Angeles 15.1 million About.com, CBS Los Angeles, Jewish Journal, Yahoo! Voices, About.com, Huffington Post
Chanukah Los Angeles 10.7 million About.com, Jewish Journal, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Chabad
Chanukkah Los Angeles 203 million [2] About.com, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Huffington Post, Jewish Journal, Jewish Journal

[1] Google asked, “Did you mean: ‘Hanukkah Los Angeles’?”
[2] Bing informed me that it was “including results for ‘Hanukkah Los Angeles’.”

The tables show that the search results for various spellings of Hanukkah are fairly stable, although results for “Chanukkah” (the least common spelling) show a bit more variation. However, the search results vary more after adding the name of a city. Again, the results for “Chanukkah” show the most variation, especially on Google; unlike Bing, Google doesn’t automatically add results for the more common spelling of “Hanukkah.” At the same time, however, the “Chanuukah” results on Bing were still somewhat different even after Bing included results for “Hanukkah.”

These tables show that people maintaining Jewish websites need to pay close attention to how they spell Hebrew and Yiddish words—and, equally importantly, how their intended audience will spell them. Search engines may reach omniscience in the near future, but for now, they don’t realize that Hanukkah, Chanukah, and Chanukkah are the same holiday.

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