Why Does Google Rank Single & Plural Variations of Keywords Differently?

Search engine optimization isn’t an exact science. The field is constantly evolving, and Google is always tweaking algorithms on the back-end without fully informing the public as to what was changed. That means that what worked today, may not work tomorrow, but Google’s minimal updates ensure that search engine optimizers don’t find ways to hack the algorithm by knowing how to exploit its design. However, this also opens up plenty of questions about the ways in which Google ranks content, which is why they frequently have Hangout meetings where optimizers are able to ask Google insiders various questions about the ways in which content is ranked. One hangout with John Mueller recently occurred where an optimizer asked him why singular and plural versions of the same keyword rank differently. Let’s explore what John had to say about it below:

Why Are Single & Plural Keywords Ranked Differently?

This particular question concerned a keyword on an optimizer’s website. They had both a singular and plural variation of the keyword “shed” and “sheds” within a long-tail keyword. The optimizer found that while one page ranked for the singular version of the keyword, a blog was ranking for the plural version of the keyword. They were wondering why Google treats the two variations differently, as the terms are identical beyond that and they serve the same purpose informationally. John Mueller was happy to answer and I’ll paraphrase his response here:

John noted that while the two keywords are very similar, the plural version is distinct from the singular version, and the degree of similarity between the two depends on the particular term and its context within a long-tail keyword. He mentioned that generally, when one searches a plural variation of a keyword, they’re looking for something different than the singular inquiry, such as a comparison, a list, or a category page explaining the various items contained within the umbrella of the term.

What Can I Do To Alter My Rankings

After John explained the distinction and why Google treats each inquiry individually, he received a follow-up question asking how they could alter which page is ranking for a term in order to show a more relevant result.

John discussed that you essentially have two options here; You can either attempt to alter key elements on your page, such as the h-tags, and instances where you used the singular or plural version of your keyword and change it to the other version.

The other, perhaps more valuable option, is to acknowledge that this variation offers the better ranking potential, and use a call to action to point the user towards the page you want them to visit, rather than the one that is ranking. This way you don’t affect the SEO on the page that is already performing well, but you still have the opportunity to get users to the desired destination.

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