I received an interesting question the other day from a student in a class that I am teaching on SEO. He's in the process of optimizing a landing page for the keywords "waterproof jacket" (singular) and "waterproof jackets" (plural), he is noticing that each keyword produces different organic search results across multiple search engines. His question is whether he should optimize his landing page for both of these keywords or just one of them? As you might suspect, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question (even though the actual waterproof jacket might come that way).

My student's site has a high ranking for "waterproof jacket," but ranks much lower for "waterproof jackets." Obviously, any of us would prefer to get a high ranking for both keywords with the exact same landing page, because it is half the work to create and maintain, but Google and the other search engines are clearly telling us that the single landing page approach won't work here.

Google's New Search Based Keyword Tool

Image by Tamar Weinberg via Flickr

We can all understand that some words that appear to be singular and plural ("cosmetic" vs. "cosmetics," for example) are actually very different words and what people are looking for might be vastly different. But it is relatively new to see search engines changing up search results on a large scale for common singular and plural differences. We are seeing a lot more of it in recent years, however, so it's time to think through what might be going on.

Although many SEO experts disagree, I always advise that people start a landing page by choosing a primary keyword and optimizing around that. It's entirely possible that you'll get high rankings with multiple keywords for that same page, but you need to start with the most important keyword, because at some point (like the one in our example), you might need to make a choice.

The moment you see that the search results for two related keywords are different, even for something as minor as singular and plural, it is an indication that it is harder to rank highly for both words with the same page. That doesn't mean you should abandon your efforts, but you might want to take a look at what the differences are in the search results to discern any pattern between the types of pages shown. If you start mucking with your landing page to try to raise the rankings of your lower keyword, you might be successful, or you might lower the ranking of the successful one. Every change is fraught with some risk.

You should also consider the search volume and conversion rate for each keyword. Could it be that the one that is ranking higher is not the one making you the most money? If so, then modifying the shared landing page might be less risky because the potential reward is greater.

The biggest question is, "As you look at the search results for each variation, what do you see as the differences in the kinds of sites that come up for each?" Sometimes, I've seen that singular queries bring back commerce sites ("buy waterproof jacket") while plural bring back overview sites ("what kinds of waterproof jackets are there?"). If that is the case, it might be tough for you to rank for both queries with the same page, because Google has figured out that the two keywords are looking for different kinds of information.

In looking at the particular example of waterproof jackets, I don't see that kind of pattern jumping out at me, but perhaps something more subtle is going on. You remember that Google and the other search engines are always playing with different search results to better serve searchers--last week I asked if Google was experimenting with ranking search results based on conversion rates. For all we know, that is what is going on here. Some sites convert better with the singular keyword and some with the plural.

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November 22, 2010





Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include ClickZ Live, RKG Summit, Ticket Summit, Webdagene, the CiTE conference, and the Forrester Marketing Conference.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.






Comments(12)

What you observe in Google's algorithm may well be typical user behavior. When you are ready to buy a specific product, you typically want one of it, as in “digital camera”, whereas in the discovery phase you are looking for all kinds of “digital cameras”.

Needless to say that this is a small SEO challenge in English, and things get much worse with languages that have more than two numbers and declension, resulting in many more word forms.

Am still wondering if there is any guidance on going for one vs. the other (singular vs. plural)? We look at search volume but the data that comes back often times makes no sense. Feedback from peers suggests that singular is always better but you seem to challenge that. Thx.

Hi Lisa,

No matter what choice you have in life, I doubt that one of them is ALWAYS better than the other. Singular is better if you have can get more conversions (volume times conversion rate) than you can get from plural. I doubt it is the same for every product in every case, but it might be a moot point. If you are ranking for the one that is less profitable, you might not have so much control as to add a ranking for the "good" one.

That's a good point, Klaus. And in most Asiatic languages, where there is no concept of singular and plural, thi spost was a complete waste of time. :-)

Hi SEOBOT,

That robotic approach certainly does fit your moniker. I think we all would agree that you can optimize a single landing page for singular and plural forms using the approach you suggest (or a similar one), but the question is whether that will actually succeed in getting your page ranked for the keywords.

Increasingly, we're finding that Google and other search engines are showing different kinds of pages in response to singular vs. plural keywords, so that kind of cosmetic optimization in many cases won't do the trick, unfortunately.

Hi Mike

Another factor of course is the number of results returned for each version of the keyphrase. Here in Google.UK.all I get 5,150,000 results for the singular, and 1,280,000 results for the plural - my logic would suggest that a given site might expect to do better optimising for the plural version than the singular (although it sounds like your student had the opposite experience)??

Thought provoking article though - will have to keep an eye on it in the future !!

Thanks
John

It's horses for courses and like most things there is no right or wrong answer.

It depends on the type of website and the objective/purpose of the page and the keyword(s) associated with that type of page.

On an ecommerce site and product page a singular ref to the product is both accurate and relevant if a searcher entered a specific product term as in the term 'waterproof jacket' or an even more specific phrase eg 'berghaus waterproof jacket'.

On category type pages with listings of jackets then the content would necessarily focus on the plural and match plural search terms.

On non-ecommerce/informational sites the use of both versions may be more appropriate together with synonyms and other semantically realted terms. Google is pretty good at recognising themes within a page and indexing accordingly and if themed effectively return them when the page matches a related term.

Isn't it obvious that singular and plural would produce different results? They are totally different after all. There can be a huge difference in commercial intent between the two. Maybe this is more important for newbies but seasoned pros will always look at singular and plural as two different entities.

Usually it's easy to optimise for both, you just optimise for the plural and you've optimised for the singular as well! Jackets still has the word jacket in it?

It might be obvious, but those results actually were the same for almost all searches not too long ago, and they are the same for some queries even now.

I always use both plural and singular terms when listing my websites. This is a very interesting article for others on this site to read though. Not everyone does it!

Great article. I have a site that is on position #4 for a particular plural keyword, however the site is on page #3 for the singular keyword. SERP varies for singular & plural terms.

What I did was I research for the 'search count' of the keywords and prioritized the most number of searches.

I like your article Mike. I too thought it was obvious that plurals and singualr texts would have different results. We have actually built a range of tools which will give 100% accurate readings on what terms are valuable - either plural or singular! It is easy to optimise both but I would recomment doing this, if possible, on different pages - and then only if your competitor is doing the same!

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Singular and Plural Keywords Are Not Always the Same for SEO