Google, the world’s largest search engine, is constantly developing to ensure that web users obtain relevant search results pertaining to their inquiries. As a result, Google is now implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning into its core algorithm to instantaneously process and learn from given search queries.
Generally speaking, Google is trying to understand the user intent associated with keywords. For this reason, singular and plural keywords are often ranked differently. This practice is mind-boggling to many SEOs who advise placing both singular and plural keywords in content. However, Google’s John Mueller has explained why it’s better to pick a singular or plural keyword and focus solely on it.
Why do singular and plural keywords rank differently?
Recently, Mueller took to Hangouts to discuss the role of user intent in ranking singular and plural versions of keywords on Google. Someone in the session asked the following question:
What are reasons for completely different positions for keywords in singular and plural? We have some examples where the plural ranks in top five and the singular isn’t in the top 100.
Mueller shortly responded with a general explanation of Google’s intention of ranking keywords differently based on grammar rather than semantics.
The search intent should be very similar. So depending on what is happening there we might be seeing these as something a little different.
So just because one is singular and one is plural doesn’t mean that we would show the same search results for those kinds of queries.
It’s very possible that we see these as completely different elements and maybe even as completely different intent from the user side.
So that’s something were (sic) I wouldn’t necessarily assume that Google will always treat singular and plural words as complete synonyms and… show exactly the same search results for those two versions.
As a site owner, it might be worth thinking about what users might be searching differently and if my site’s really the most relevant one for people who are searching for singular version of this word versus those searching for the plural version.
What does this mean?
There is unambiguous truth to Mueller’s explanation. He simply expressed that Google’s search algorithm likely sees singular and plural keywords differently than humans would. For people, there doesn’t appear to be a difference in singular and plural keywords. After all, they’re the same keyword. However, Google may be seeing a clear difference than what most people realize.
In the broadest sense, the user intents relating to search queries can be different across countless possible topics and niches. Therefore, it’s impossible to conceptualize that singular keywords mean this and plural keywords means that, and so on.
To add more clarity, let’s call upon a typical example that relates to this central topic. If you were to search the keyword, “teddy bear” in your search engine, your first search result will likely be Wikipedia entry that defines the object. However, if you search for, “teddy bears”, hundreds of eCommerce options will pop up, giving you the option to purchase a teddy bear. Consequently, the Wikipedia entry will rank far less in this query.
As Mueller, said, “It’s very possible that we see these as completely different elements and maybe even as completely different intent from the user side.”
Google could interpret that the singular form of a teddy bear is simply informational, while the plural form indicates the user intent to make a purchase.
Which form should I use?
As Mueller specified, it’s important to just focus on using the grammatical form of a keyword that relates to your niche. Needlessly spamming your website of singular and plural keywords is an unsophisticated and fruitless means of trying to increase your web ranking. Frankly, it won’t work and you will only waste your time. Therefore, choose a singular or a plural keyword and stick with it. It’s Google’s job to discern between singular and plural keywords, not yours.