Search Considerations for Synonyms and Plural Keywords

January 21, 2010

When working out your search strategy, its important to understand how the search engines manages synonyms, to make sure you’re targeting the right keywords and stand out in the rankings.

About 70 percent of all searches across all languages on its search platform, are impacted by synonyms, according to Google.

While the search engine is doing an increasingly good job at understanding the intent of a search and handle it appropriately, ultimately its a decision made by the algorithm, and out of control of marketers. As explained by Google:

You won’t necessarily always see the word “photos” bolded for “pictures”, only when our algorithms think it is useful and important to bold.

The above statement is important to consider for both SEO and PPC, as it will directly impact your click-through rate, and ultimately site traffic. It doesn’t have to be as complex as a synonym, as there’s the basic issue of plural and singular words.

For example, when performing the search “photos of sweden” , the singular “photo” isn’t being bolded in the search listings. So while is achieving a good ranking (number 3, manipulated for clarity), it doesn’t maximise the opportunity of pulling in visitors. In comparison, it’s lower ranking competitor (number 4) stands out with the term “photos” in bold.

From my humble human perspective, I would argue that in this case it would make sense to bold both plural and singular versions of the word. The only way around this for is to rewrite the title tag  to include both singular and plural (unless it wants to loose out on traffic for the singular form). This is basically asking for keyword stuffing, which is of course a sub optimal solution.

From a PPC perspective, you’ve got two options to manage synonyms and plurals – go long tail to cover all possible variations, or use broad match and rely on Google to help you out. While I wouldn’t recommend either as a template strategy as it depends on objectives and capabilities, in general including broad match in the keyword mix will make sure you capture new searches and variations.

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