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Why are my keywords ranking in plural but not singular?

Google Search

Why are my keywords ranking in plural but not singular?

For quite some time now, Google has applied some degree of intuition in what it returns for search queries, meaning it looks beyond the exact words we search for. As early as 2008, Search Engine Land had noted that Google was searching for synonyms, such as returning results for ‘jog’ in a search for ‘run’.

However, that doesn’t mean that ‘run’ and ‘jog’ searches return the exact same results, and sometimes even the smallest of changes can make big differences in what Google comes up with.

Search Engine Journal reports that Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, was recently asked a question by a publisher about why their clients might be ranking for the singular forms of keywords but not the plural, or vice versa. The publisher said they had noticed differences when analysing geographical searches for ‘garden shed’ and ‘garden sheds’.

Mueller explained that while Google usually recognises singular and plural forms of a word as synonyms, there may be times when “there’s something kind of unique to one of them”. In these cases, Google will recognise the singular and plural forms as two different queries and return different results.

Mueller suggested that plural searches may indicate that the searcher was looking for a list or comparison site. An example (not cited by Mueller, but one I’ve thought of) might be the nuances between a search for ‘university Liverpool’ and ‘universities Liverpool’. Somebody searching for the former is likely to be looking for the University of Liverpool, so results may be weighted in its favour. For the latter, the searcher is probably looking to find out how many universities are in Liverpool and what they are called, so they might see more about Liverpool John Moores, Liverpool Hope and, in nearby Ormskirk, Edge Hill University.

When it comes to what to do if you find yourself ranking for plural but not a singular, Mueller admitted the situation is “a bit tricky”, but suggested making subtle tweaks to the page(s) in question. However, he also urged webmasters to consider whether they really need to rank for both forms, or whether their page is more suitable for the plural than the singular.

At Engage Web, we believe it’s no use ranking for a keyword nobody is searching for, or one your site cannot deliver on. For advice on keywords and how to improve your Google rankings, please give us a call or fill in our contact form.

John Murray

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