There has been some attention lately to Google’s use of synonyms and related searches. Google posted about it on their official blog. One change is they are bolding not just plurals in the results, but also terms that mean the same thing.
In short, it is wise to recognize that there are many ways to express the same concept. Google is attempting to be less literal and yet continue to deliver relevant results. While one searcher may use “sofa” and another uses “couch”, both might be interested in a shopping results from the same furniture store.
This may be good on a couple of levels. First, it could get closer to the searcher’s intent without regard to the size of their vocabulary.
Secondly, it frees up SEO copywriters to write like humans. That remark is, of course, hyperbole. Good writers long ago (in Internet years) abandoned the concept that if using a target phrase once is good, using it ten times on the same page must be better. However, anything that helps us resist that temptation is an excellent innovation.
While thinking about this, I did a few searches to see how far Google is going to make associations. While you can uncover hints from seeing the terms that are bolded on a SERP, I wanted to cast the net a little wider and looked at “related searches”. There is a caveat here. Related searches are by nature broader conceptually than synonyms. but I’m still amused by what was returned when I searched for “uniform”.
I can understand the terms that modify (school, military, sports). I’m impressed that they recognize brands (Dickies, Cintas). But considering “unicorn” and “unicycle” as related is a stretch. And I’m disappointed that “unibrow” didn’t make the cut.
Interestingly, when searching for the plural “uniforms”, you see no unicycles. And I’m certain you’ll never see unicorns!