The Reason Google Ranks Singular and Plural Keywords Differently

singular plural keywordsIf you are performing SEO for your business, it is likely that you are tracking a wide range of keywords related to your products or services, including different variations of the same terms.

You may have noticed that Google seems to rank plural and singular versions of keywords differently, even though they are nearly identical. Why is that?

Google’s John Mueller recently addressed this question, so let’s take a look at what he has to say.

Behind Google’s Algorithm

Mueller started off his answer by stressing that every client site is different, and that while his answer is rather broad it can provide some meaning to the issue at hand:

“…We would see those queries as being different… And when we see them as being slightly different, then we might think that one or the other of these pages makes more sense to show.

So usually with singular and plural, we do recognize that they’re synonyms, more or less.

But we also recognize that maybe there’s something kind of unique to one of them or to the other one.

Such as, if you’re looking for a plural maybe you’re looking more for like a list or a comparison page or maybe a category page of different kinds of these items.

So that’s something where our systems try to take that into account and it can result in slightly different results being shown for one or the other.”


Real-Life Example

To further look into this, we examined Budzar Industries, Inc.’s keywords and noticed that they had some terms in different forms that were seeing the ranking difference in some instances:

keyword example

(Source: SERanking)

These two phrases above both are ranking for the same product page, have the same search volume, and have the same competition. And while they are close to ranking in the same position on Google, the two have seen a difference of up to 3 positions!

Examining Search Intent

As broad core updates have come and changed the way of search, in recent years BERT seems to be one of the biggest updates that helped fuel changes to search results based on user intent and what Google shows as results.

Mueller mentioned how a user could use plural terms in a search for a different intent, such as to compare products, see lists, and more, and BERT was created to help Google’s systems learn more about intent to provide for these searches:

“Even humans sometimes will be like ‘what’s your point?’ when we hear something. And pronouns have been very problematic historically, but BERT helps with this quite a bit. Context is improved because of the bi-directional nature of BERT.”

See for yourself an example of just how BERT and search intent go hand in hand with these before and after shots of search results:

search engine journal

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Sarah Blocksidge

About the Author

Sarah Blocksidge

Sarah is the Marketing Director at Sixth City Marketing and has been with the company since 2016. Her main role is to attract more B2B clients for the company. Over the years, she has been mentioned on HubSpot, Content Marketing Institute, Fast Company, Mashable, and many other notable sites.

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