John Mueller of Google recently addressed a query regarding the differing ranking of web pages for singular and plural versions of keywords. The inquiry stemmed from a publisher whose client's website experienced divergent rankings for "garden shed Sydney" and "garden sheds Sydney." Surprisingly, the category page ranked for the plural version, while a blog post claimed the top spot for the singular version.
Mueller's clarification: Mueller prefaced his response by emphasizing that his explanation applied generally and was not specific to the client's site. He proceeded to shed light on why Google's algorithm often assigns different rankings tosingular and plural keyword variants, even though they are essentially synonyms.
How Google Assigns Rankings for Keywords
According to Mueller, Google perceives these queries as subtly distinct, allowing the algorithm to decide which page is more suitable for display. While singular and plural forms are recognized as synonyms to some extent, Google also acknowledges that each may have unique characteristics.
For example, a plural query might signify a user's preference for a list, a comparison page, or a category page featuring different variations of the items in question. Therefore, Google's systems factor in these distinctions, leading to potentially different search results.
The Significance of User Expectations
Mueller's insights highlight that user expectations are pivotal in determining search results. Depending on whether users use a keyword's singular or plural form, they may anticipate varying types of content, such as product lists or service comparisons.
In the case of the client in question, the category page aligns better with thesearch intent for the plural keyword, as it fulfills the inherent expectation of a list of multiple products.
Learning to Optimize Keywords on Google
Mueller acknowledged the challenge of optimizing pages to rank for either the singular or plural version of a keyword phrase. Attempting to force a page swap without negatively affecting the existing ranking can be tricky and requiresunderstanding Google’s ranking methods.
In such situations, subtle adjustments may be the most effective course of action, including refining the phrasing, ensuring proper internal linking, and carefully choosing words. However, it's crucial to remember that even though these queries may appear very similar, users might treat them as distinct and expect different results.
Mueller also suggested seeking input from others to determine whether a change is warranted or if the current setup is acceptable. Additionally, he recommended adding a call to action on the currently ranking page to direct users to the other relevant page.
Optimize Keywords by Following Search Engine Signals
Following search engine signals will allow search engine results pages to decide which page should rank for a specific search intent. The case where the category page ranked for the plural version and a blog post for the singular version isn’t a problem; it mirrors the differing search intents associated with singular and plural forms.
Attempting to "fix" this situation may lead to unintended consequences, as optimizing a page for something it's not ideally suited for could result in a loss of rankings for one of thekeyword versions. The correlation between singular and plural keyword variants and different types of web pages (general versus specific) has been observed in the industry but isn't widely discussed.
John Mueller's clarification reinforces what some in the search marketing field had noticed insearch results, underlining the importance of understanding and aligning with user search intent.