Google’s John Mueller discussed why Google showed different results for singular and plural versions of an identical phrase. Many SEO experts suggest adding synonyms to content such as plural and singular versions of a search phrase being targeted. John Mueller clarifies why it may be wiser to select singular or plural before concentrating on that.

Question related to singular and plural keyword phrases

In a recent Google Hangout, a person asked what were the reasons for totally different rankings for keywords in singular and plural. There are some instances where the plural version ranks in top five while the singular isn’t even in the top 100. John Mueller stated that there should be a similarity in search intent for both versions. It isn’t essential that Google would show the same search results for singular and plural versions of a targeted keyword.

Google can also view them as totally different elements and may consider a totally different intent from the user’s side. So, you cannot assume that Google will always regard singular and plural words as complete synonyms and show the same result for both versions. From a website owner’s perspective, it can be wise to focus on what users may be looking for different and if your site is relevant for people who are searching for a singular version of a word in contrast to those who are looking for the plural version.

Why will Google display different results?

User intents implicit in search queries can differ between singular/plurals and synonyms across different topics. Therefore, it isn’t possible to conclude that a singular keyword has this meaning while plural keywords mean that. There are dissimilarities between singular and plural keyword variations. However, the reasons why they are dissimilar will differ for each niche, topic, and variation.

How singular and plural keywords might differ?

There are some searches where are user intent differences between singular and plural versions. For instance, there are specific forum related searches in which Google promotes a page which prescribes a forum which is actually not a forum in singular version searches. However, the plural version of the same search will direct you to the forums in the search results. But this doesn’t happen for all forum based searches. The differences are caused by user intent signals, as signified by the click-through rate’s data and predicted click-through rate data.

How can you determine user intent?

Here is a specific example. The search terms are Chocolate and Chocolates.

Singular Phrase: Chocolate

When you search for Chocolate, Google shows a Wikipedia result on the top of the page. This signifies that top user intent for the specific search phrase is informative. It also indicates that for majority of users looking for the singular phrase, chocolate, they are searching for information related to chocolates. The Wikipedia page is not likely getting a top ranking due to having most links, or because of optimal anchor text ratios. It is ranking since it fulfills the queries of most users who have been looking for the particular search phrase.

This is the major reason why that data-driven studies on search results which intend to show perfect anchor text, keyword distributions or inbound link patterns are inaccurate. User intent factor overrules all these factors, making them unusable to understand the way Google ranks web pages. You cannot clearly understand why a specific web page ranks for a search query without focusing on user intent. It can help you find a reason why a site didn’t rank well or lost rankings and also for keyword research & planning and content marketing.

Plural Phrase: Chocolates

Google mostly shows commercial web pages for the plural version of the keyword phrase, chocolates. This signifies that most people who search for chocolates are pleased with the search results that show commercial web pages on top. This is the reason why Google shows the Wikipedia page, but with a low ranking.

About Synonyms

SEO experts strongly advise site users from filling a web page with synonyms. This is an old way of keyword spamming. It is naive and not linked with the idea of understanding why Google ranks a page from the user intent context. Bing and Google do utilize synonyms to create highly accurate search results. But as you can find out from the discourse on singular and plural variations, user intent plays a major role in deciding whether to opt for one word or some other.

In case you want to be accurate in selecting keywords, you will have to understand user intent for each keyword phrase which you aim to rank for before building content in sync with user intent.


Ritu from PageTraffic is a qualified Google Ads Professional and Content Head at PageTraffic. She has been the spear head for many successful Search Marketing Campaigns and currently oversees Content Marketing operations of PageTraffic in India.