Singular vs. Plural: What Search Queries Can Tell You About Your Customers

“Remember: Y’all is singular. All y’all is plural. All y’all’s is plural possessive.” – Kinky Friedman

In display or social advertising, the marketer can reach customers with different offers  based on demographics or behavioral signals. This is not so in search where one only has the query searched as the fundamental mode of segmentation. This is rather limited as many different types of customers often search with a similar query.

For instance: someone searching with the term “shoes” might be a bargain hunter or a high value customer.

Hence, for the most part we can only create different offers, landing page experiences based on obvious search pattern differences, or a comparison-centric landing page for someone typing “discount shoes” vs. a brand-centric page for someone typing “Ugg boots”.

However, there are some subtle variances in search patterns that a savvy search marketer can leverage. I am going to share one of these with you today – singular vs. plural searches.

Customers searching with singular term are more often closer to a conversion than a customer searching with a plural term.* I hypothesize that this is because someone searching for a product in plural is both earlier in the sales funnel as well as likely to bargain hunt. There are a couple of analyses I use to back up my hypothesis.

First, when I looked at keyword performance data of over 40k keywords across several product lines, I found that the revenue per click of the plural search terms was significantly lower than their singular analogs.

In the above chart, we find that about 47% of spend goes to the singular terms, but they contribute to over 60% of revenue. The key reason for this is that the RPC (return per click) on these keywords is about 80% higher than the plural terms.

So should we write plural terms off? Not so fast! As mentioned before, searchers on plural terms are earlier in the sales funnel, and plural word searches are often. To back this claim, let’s do an attribution analysis of sales funnels. We use the following methodology.

Consider the following hypothetical sales funnel:

In the first calculation, only keywords that are involved in the final step (last click) of the sales funnel are given conversion credit. Hence, the keyword mortgages does not get any credit.

In the second calculation, all keywords involved in the sales funnel share the conversion credit i.e. its an equal click attribution. Considering the total of all sales funnels the keyword is involved in, when a keyword has more multi-conversion credits (the latter calculation) than final stage credits (the former calculation) it is a contributor.

If the situation is reversed, it is a beneficiary. Next we quantify this assist effect as:


Thus if a keyword is assisting then last is less than equal or ∆ Rev <0 and vice versa. When applying this methodology to an advertiser in the mortgage vertical we see the following pattern:

Plural Contributor ∆ Rev Singular Benefactor ∆ Rev
mortgage rates


mortgage rate










home equity loan rates


home equity loan rate


mortgage calculations


mortgage calculation


home improvement loans


home improvement loan


mortgage companies


mortgage company


second mortgages


second mortgage


poor credit home loans


poor credit home loan


In all these cases, the singular keywords are benefactors i.e. on average they occur at the end of the funnel compared to their plural analogs.

Takeaways For The Marketer

  • Consumers earlier in the sales funnel often search for products in the plural. The ad copy and landing page experience must reflect this mindset.
  • Plural keywords will often seem less profitable than their singular analogs. However, when viewed from a multi-click perspective, they are more often than not driving demand to other keywords in the assisted funnel. Hence, use attribution technology to understand the full picture.
  • Finally, while it may seem tempting to only have singular keywords for a small campaign, one should have both singular and plural versions of the keywords. As the first graph showed, in any search campaign of scale  plural keywords drive substantial percentage overall demand.

Thus, it is not a question of having plural keywords but of having the right bidding strategy and technology that aims to maximize a campaigns profitability while keeping volume needs in consideration.

That’s all y’all !

*Editors Note: Typo / Statement clarified per user comments since originally published erroneously.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Enterprise SEM


About The Author: is Director, Business Analytics at Adobe. He leads a global team that manages the performance of over $2 BN dollars of ad spend on search, social and display media at Adobe.

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  • CAS

    So which is it singular or plural? You state “Customers searching with singular term are more often closer to a conversion than a customer searching for a singular term” … so are customers searching with plural closer to conversion or are customers searching for singular closer to conversion? Typo :-)

  • Christine Kim

    Does the author really manage a $2 Billion dollar ad account?  Seems high?About The Author: Siddharth Shah is Director, Business Analytics at Adobe. He leads a global team that manages the performance of over ***$2 BN dollars***  of ad spend on search, social and display media at Adobe. See more articles by Siddharth Shah

  • Sid Shah

    CAS: Yes it is a typo. Singular term searchers are on average closer to conversion than plural searchers.

    Christine: Yes, we do manage over $ 2 BN dollars on online ad spend on behalf of over 250 advertisers globally via the AdLens platform. Shameless plug :

  • smichaelgriffin

    Sooo…singular nouns indicate greater purchase intent and thus their exact match could justify a higher CPC bid. Amirite?

  • Dr. Siddharth Shah

    @smichaelgriffin It could indicate a greater intent on AVERAGE. Its best to look at the data with revenue metrics accounting for attribution and make the decision. 

  • Richard Razo

    I understand the main point to this article but am lost in the math explanation… can anyone dummify this for me. I’m not a marketer but a designer.

  • Chris Gutknecht

    Hi Sid,

    can you specify which other industries you included when you talk about “about several product lines”? Your keyword results sample is rather homogeneous. In other words, have you verified these findings across other industries, e.g. clothing (“silk tie(s)”), consumer electronics (“digital camera(s)”, or other areas (“smart grid meter(s)”)?


  • Nick Stamoulis

    I think the industry you operate in might have a strong effect on whether singular or plural works better. For instance, I don’t think anyone really searches looking for “women’s shoe.

  • James Svoboda

    Nice is correct that the industry and specific product will play a role in which term is better.  I have 2 clients in different product based verticals… Clothing Hangers and Work Gloves.  Both of these are heavily weighted towards the plural as the consumer is usually not looking to find just 1 hanger or 1 glove.  In addition to that, the singular of these can often have a different meaning to the searcher.

    All that being said, I’ve long held the believe that what Siddharth’s saying should hold true. I just happen to have 2 significant campaigns in verticals that go against the grain on this one.

  • Dr. Siddharth Shah

    Nick and Chris: What you say is very true. It is influenced a lot by industry, vertical and product. My analysis has been skewed to the finance vertical and some retail but your comments inpsired me to look at some more data. I looked up products sold or spoken about in pairs like “socks” , “gloves” etc and what I found was the singular versions had a very similar and sometimes better RPC . However, the bulk of the volume goes to plurals as people search on the plural versions. Interesting…

    I would love to hear about your findings.

  • Ravi Shankar

    Getting it for read.. 

    Thankz for nice post.

  • Peter

    Can anyone give an example of an E-commerce website who already has implemented this insight: offering different landingpages for singular and plural keywords?

  • Peter

    Can anyone give an example of an E-commerce website who already has implemented this insight: offering different landingpages for singular and plural keywords?


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