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Keyword Targeting in Google Shopping: Dream or Nightmare?

It’s the wish of nearly every e-commerce marketer. No, I’m not talking about figuring out a way to make mobile traffic convert. I mean bidding on specific keywords in Google Shopping.

Google Shopping is red-hot, with new retailers joining the party each day. And one of the first things newcomers notice when setting up their initial campaigns is the fact that you cannot bid on keywords in Google Shopping.

I’d wager that more than a few e-commerce marketers have been asked, “Can’t you just pay Google more to show our signature product to users searching for X.” Unlike traditional text ads, Google Shopping just doesn’t work this way. But what if it did?

On One Hand …

It’s tough to overstate just how transformative targeting keywords in Google Shopping would be. For many e-commerce pros, tying a keyword to a specific product sounds like a digital marketing nirvana — a holy grail, if you will.

The possibilities that such functionality would enable are manifold. Here are a few:

  • Retailers could launch trademark campaigns. With full keyword control, retailers could determine which products appear when a user searches for their website in Google. Right now, when someone inputs a retailer’s name into the Google search bar, Shopping ads almost never surface as a result.Retailers could captivate shoppers searching them by name with a handful products they can buy right from the SERP. For example, summer’s nearly here, so a department store might want its best-selling swimsuits to appear as Google Shopping results when users search for it.For retailers looking to bring visibility to a new product or promote inventory ahead of a season or holiday, this could be a hugely appealing way to reach shoppers.
  • At the category/brand level, marketers could better match the right products to purchase intent. It’s no secret that some queries are more indicative of purchase intent than others. Often, high-intent queries include variables such as size, color, or brand. By targeting keywords, retailers could pair their top sellers or hot items in each brand or product category with such search queries.The key here is control. Right now, when someone searches for “blue basketball shoes,” which is a seemingly strong query, there is no way to determine precisely which item from your catalog shows up in Google Shopping. With keyword bidding, you could control whether your best-selling (or highest margin, newest, etc.) corresponding item appears for that search.For example, it’s NBA Finals season. So you might want to serve up a pair of blue Curry 2s to that searcher looking for blue basketball kicks when the Warriors are playing. You could also use geo-targeting to adjust pairings based on local fan loyalties.
  • Retailers could capitalize on obscure, long tail keywords. This one could easily get addictive. Keyword control would create the tantalizing prospect of being the only vendor that appears for a query that the competition has overlooked or ignored.Retailers could bid on the exact model number of, say, an LED TV. While the bulk of shoppers will use more generic language, the retailers who nail the exact query favored by shoppers further down the funnel could see conversion rates soar — or even have the SERP all to themselves for less common products.You could go one step further, and mine your search query reports for more arcane queries that lead to sales, and then create keyword-product groupings for them.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. And the ability to put any one of theses strategies into practice might have e-commerce pros praising the Google Gods for their marketing munificence.

On the Other Hand …

But not so fast. Google’s algorithms currently decide what products match to which search queries in Google Shopping results. And they’re pretty darn good at it.

Putting keyword control in the hands of advertisers, a la text ads, would require a big tradeoff. Are you ready for it? Here’s what you’d be looking at:

  • For starters, this would be really. frickin. complicated. Keyword targeting means retailers would have to pick their desired keywords, and then match a specific product to that keyword — for every single keyword.That’s not too bad when you’ve got a dozen products, but when your catalog features thousands (or millions) of SKUs, which could be tied to just as many keywords, the calculus changes — and scalability declines in a major way.
  • … And that’s before you even set bids. Okay, you’ve locked yourself away from friends and family, gone months without fresh air or a shower, but you’ve finally matched each product in your catalog to a keyword. Great. NOW you have to set a bid for those thousands (or millions) of product-keyword combos.A bid in Google Shopping is not some trivial formality; optimal Google Shopping bids are the foundation of success. Setting the right ones, while also matching your products to keywords, would be a colossal undertaking.
  • … And that’s before things change. Which they will. Tomorrow. This scenario — already massively time-consuming — assumes your world is static. Items never sell out. Items never go on sale. New items are never introduced. Bids never need to change. Your competition never innovates. And new players never enter the market.Of course, this imaginary universe couldn’t be further from the reality of e-commerce, where marketers are locked in a constant battle to stay on top of their catalogs and their respective verticals.Even normal, routine changes would add another layer to a maddeningly complex AdWords structure, since every keyword-product pairing and its attendant bid would need to be readjusted to accommodate them.

Be Careful What You Wish For

On second thought, creating thousands of product-keyword pairings, assigning the right bid to them, and managing it all amid the fluctuations and obstacles that are par for the course in retail doesn’t sound quite like e-commerce Valhalla.

Sure, there could be some interesting benefits, but the challenges this would inevitably bring are, well, sort of frightening.

What do you think? Would you like to have keyword targeting in Google Shopping? Weigh in below in the comments section. 

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