Plurals and Misspellings in Keyword Targeting

Marjory Meechan - September 14, 2007

Alternate spellings of words sometimes yield different results in search engine results pages. So, when keyword targeting your pages, how should you handle plurals and misspellings? What should you target? Do a search on “plural vs. singular keywords” and you will find conflicting advice. Some say: “Target the plural because it contains the singular”. Others say: “Target the singular because it’s less competitive”. In fact, deciding which strategy to choose is a complex issue and depends on both the keyword and who is searching for it.

First, which form should be keyword targeted can depend on the word. In most cases, a plural keyword has a different meaning than a singular keyword (although the difference is often slight). In general, the singular refers to the abstract while the plural is used for the more concrete meaning – “The dog is man’s best friend” as opposed to “Dogs are nice”.

Beyond this, plural keywords can also have different ranges of meanings than their singular counterparts. For example, the word “shade” can be a window treatment in both the singular and the plural but can also be a pair of sunglasses in the plural. Another problem is that one form of a word could be more common in one field than another. Unless you are going to rank number one, ranking for a keyword more common to another area may be no use at all. For example, if you are a curtain seller and a search for “shades” only displays sites that sell sunglasses in the top three, a searcher may click away before they even find you further down the list.

All this aside, if both forms of the word are equally searched and equally relevant for describing your page, then you may want to target both singular and plural. What’s the best way to do it? Well, the answer to that is actually pretty simple.

Choose one version as the primary form. If your site is a commerce site, the plural is probably better. If information is your focus, the singular can be best. Or, better yet, try a search for both with the major search engines and see which result-set looks like a better match for the theme/focus of your site. Highly competitive keywords are likely to show the most difference in plural vs. singular keywords so if you have a small site with less overall weight and trust with the search engines, choosing the less competitive version may be in your best interest. Once you’ve decided which form is best as the “primary” version, place that form in the title tag text of the page. Then, use both the singular and the plural versions of the word on the page and in the description and keyword meta tags. Using one form as a primary keyword and the other as a secondary is a perfectly acceptable way to handle the situation.

As for misspellings, if they are very common, you might try to target them in a minor way if there is some rational reason for including them on the page without making the content look absurd. Otherwise, always go for the correct spelling because if a searcher types in the wrong spelling, the search engines will ask if the searcher meant to type in the correct spelling as in this example:

Keyword Misspelling Example

How about alternate spellings? Like Harbour Cruise and Harbor Cruise? Again, only one keyword can be primary and the “correct” spelling (the one the search engines think is correct) is the way to go. If you want to know which one the search engines like, just type it into the search query box. A correct spelling will not prompt a “Did you mean” response.

Sometimes both spellings are correct but even in those cases, the search results can be slightly different and since both spellings are technically correct, the search engines won’t prompt for the alternate. Which one to focus on depends on your target market. Spell it whatever way most of your customers are likely to spell it. In any case, both versions will appear in both sets of results so as long as the page is relevant to the theme represented by that keyphrase, there shouldn’t be a problem.

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