Posted on June 18, 2024 in Technology

Advertising Items By Keyword Alone

Google has been tweaking their behemoth set of rules for SEO recently, and as a result, a number of websites and items are winding up further down in the search results. It seems like when someone has the game figured out, Google adds a new rule, and everyone has to start over a couple of steps further back from the finish line.

Can you actually beat the SEO? That doesn’t stop third party resellers and vendors from trying!

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You know what this is. You see it on discount websites like Temu, and you see it in Google results for Amazon listings. It’s an attempt to game the SEO system by putting all of the words that could possibly apply to an item without being a lie (which would be considered spam) into the title rather than tags or the description of the item.

And why shouldn’t they? A handful of factors encourage this behavior, all of them driven by the modern state of the web.

First: The average consumer is seeing so many ads while they’re online that they are ignoring a majority of them whether that’s what they intend to do or not. Similarly, most products sold as generics don’t have the time or money to invest in branding in the hopes it makes the product more appealing to the consumer if they’re going to be ignored anyway. Better to play checkers if they won’t win at chess, and skip branding for a more direct approach.

Second: A simple equation implied by search. More keywords = more better! Now, with sentiment analysis, AI reinterpretation of sentences, and a bunch of other tools, this is not the most appealing listing to show on the front page of Google. But it used to be, and it still triggers the search results algorithm to push it to the top on websites like Alibaba and Etsy, who – as individual websites with fewer resources than Google – are far more predictable to vendors. There was a time when doing this made a business look shady, or desperate to make sales. It still does, if it’s on some random website nobody’s heard of, but when Amazon, Etsy, Alibaba, etc. have all done the heavy lifting of building trust with the customer, the customer is more comfortable taking risks on strangely-worded listings. If they don’t like it, they can return it, after all.

Third: The customer may see the product while scrolling, and they may not be invested in their shopping journey. If other generic or third-party products are not showing off their best features, the one that’s putting it’s color, size, intended use, and any quantifiers like lumen count or thickness will catch the eye of someone who doesn’t want to spend any time comparing things. This is especially true for sites like Temu or Shein, which sell individual items for dirt-cheap prices. There is no expectation of quality, so it doesn’t matter if the title is ugly.

Brand Name Doesn’t Matter Online

What does matter, once the consumer is looking at these things? How is this SEO stuff evolving into the online shopping environment? The ratings matter more than anything. In a grocery store, customers pick what they know, but online and especially for minor purchases, they look for ratings instead. If a customer is looking for a MagLite brand flashlight, that’s what they’ll type into the search bar. If they decide they don’t like the pricing, they’ll more than likely just look up the phrase “heavy duty flashlight” and then shop from the list Amazon creates for them. They’ll be ready to consider unbranded items because their first pick is out. Brand becomes much less important, and the number of stars by the item’s name become the tiebreaker.

Amazon has trained this response into their customers. Strange names and brands are a given for lower prices on the site. If you’ve searched for something sort of basic recently, you’ll also probably figure out that a number of Amazon “brands” are just the same factory shipping things out under ten or twenty different names. Searching for, say, a black T-shirt gets you key-smash all-caps brand names like KLIEGOU, JMIERR, and LOLONG mixed in with Hanes and Champion brands. This happens to a lot of clothing items, and electronics like phone chargers or ear buds, and it’s yet another SEO trick: lots of listings matching the search results makes it so that one shadow company gets multiple spots on the front page without paying for an advertisement at the top!

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Is there a way to fix this? Amazon’s multi-listing company issue is, in theory, possible to fight on Amazon’s side – they know where the packages come from, in theory they’d be able to identify which companies are ‘sister’ companies and which ones are unique to the factory. The rest? Iffy! If SEO starts rewarding more coherent phrasing for titles, the customer has to suffer through item listings titled like articles. If SEO rewards brevity (which it seems to already, but if it rewards it more) companies that would be able to legitimately give a detailed item name, run number, dimensional measurements, RPM, Lumens, etc. would be punished for it, while the companies playing games with keywords would simply stuff them into the description, or tags, or wherever Amazon would expect them to put it. Ultimately, the issue is not worth the pain of fixing it.