How Tiny Differences In Words Affect Google Search Rankings

The topic of how tiny differences in words affect Google search rankings came up last week in the Google Search series posted on YouTube spearheaded by John Mueller, a search advocate based in Switzerland on the Google Search team.

Someone asked why tiny differences in synonyms might make a big difference in ranking positions in Google Search.

The question caught my attention because of the software being developed and released around identifying misinformation by companies like NewsGuard, or Basis Technologies -- which partnered with NOBL Media to stop ads from running on Russian propaganda sites or sites running misinformation about COVID -- and because of the technology developed by Seekr Technologies Founder Pat Condo that scores articles in search results.

The goal for Seekr is to provide access to reliable information for people searching for answers, as well as a place for brands to advertise products and services alongside trusted content. The engine will eventually support advertising, and a score for news and journalists, but it initially launched with what Condo calls the Seekr Score for news.

The example given by the person asking the question described a page that ranked for the keyword phrase “edit video” but did not rank the query “video editor.” There are different meanings with similar words.

Mueller said Google tries hard to understand elements like synonyms in a query, and that the results described can be completely normal. Google also tries to look at the full context of the query. When it comes to Synonyms, Google might assume that something is mostly a synonym, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely a synonym.

Mueller said that when looking at something like “edit video” versus “video editor,” the expectations from the user side are different. One wants to edit a video, while the other wants to download a video editor.

Roger Montti, owner at, explains the challenge in simpler terms.

“Google’s actual search results treats both keywords relatively the same and shows results for video editors, only some sites that rank in one search results don’t rank in the other, while some sites rank in both,” he wrote.

The difference in specific phrases point to the fact that "'edit video' is not a straight one-to-one synonym for 'video editor' even though Google shows somewhat similar results. And the reason they are different is because ‘edit video’ is vague and there’s a 'how to' component inherent in the search phrase (‘edit video’) that may be skewing the search results in favor of certain sites that rank for that phrase,” he wrote.

Montti felt that Mueller brought up an important point about synonyms and search phrases: that substituting a word for its synonym won’t work because the substitution will change the meaning of the search query based on the full context of a search query.

1 comment about "How Tiny Differences In Words Affect Google Search Rankings".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, March 21, 2022 at 7:01 p.m.

    What Google Mueller needs is to "try hard to understand" is the truth behind their actions and deeds. The most glaring is spam links ranked higher than common phrases and "vanity" keywords in Google Search. Every business has very common keywords associated with their brand. "Travel" to hotels and airlines for example. Yet the bad guys in many cases get ranked higher with their spam links.

     Worse, Google expects does not pay for much of the labor to remove the spam in Google Search Console and within the "Disavow" list. I have removed thousands of spam links from my brand but it impossible to keep up the bad guys.  If Google had any ethics, they would pay the publishers to remove the spam links instead of expected them to work for free.

     Laurie, ask this question of Mr. Mueller.  Would he work for free to remove spam links as presented by Google in their search console?

Next story loading loading..