The Siren Song of “Gift” Keywords

Every holiday season, unsuspecting small business owners using pay per click advertising are wooed by a tempting but villainous influence. Her tempting song is difficult to resist: “Your product would make a great gift! You should bid on ‘gift idea’ keywords! Surely sales will come to you in droves and make you rich beyond your wildest dreams!”

The siren song of “gift” keywords has lured thousands of businesses large and small to their PPC demise as each realizes, too late, that their precious marketing budget has been squandered.

To combat the Gift Idea Siren, you must understand a few fundamental factors found in successful pay per click campaigns:

  1. A high degree of relevance between the keywords and products offered
  2. Avoiding unnecessary competition

As we’ll see, bidding on the general “gift ideas for ________” or “unique Christmas gift ideas” doesn’t satisfy either of those criteria:

High relevance between the keywords and products offered

In any PPC campaign, the most profitable keywords are the ones that relate directly to your product or service. There exists a hierarchy of keyword relevance, indicating the likelihood of someone to buy from you. There are lots of ways to categorize keywords in this way. Here’s a basic breakdown:

  1. Brand keywords – variations of your brand name and the name of your products. These searches are the most likely to lead to a sale.
  2. Product Category keywords – used in comparison shopping or bargain hunting. The customer knows most of the alternatives and has a pretty good idea of what features they want, they just need to find a product that meets the criteria. These searches often lead to sales, but generally at a higher cost than brand terms. Customers aren’t as ready to pull the trigger on a purchase and competition is usually higher for these keywords.
  3. Informational keywords – lots of “problem” and “solution” keywords (“broken xbox 360”, for example). The customer knows what she needs to get solved, but is looking for options and needs to get educated. Purchases can come from these keywords, but considerable testing of bids, ad copy and landing pages is required to target these keywords profitably.

So where does “Christmas gift ideas” fall in these three categories? Firmly in #3. In fact, so many advertisers are desperate to capture the seasonal holiday traffic from these keywords that competition can be much higher than normal informational keywords. That ties directly into the next factor…

Avoid unnecessary competition

Reaping sales from your brand keywords is easy because your competition has all but lost the battle by the time a customer searches for your name specifically. Clicks on your trademarked terms should be very inexpensive for you, but more expensive for your competitors, further increasing your advantage in this group.

It is important that you have a strong presence for product type/category keywords, as these often lead to follow-up searches on your brand name in addition to the sales that can come directly from these searches. You will generally be competing only with your direct industry competitors, so you have a fair chance to win sales here.

Informational keywords are open to competition from a much wider pool of advertisers and can often be too expensive to be a profitable component of a pay per click campaign. In the case of “broken xbox 360”, consider all of the potential motives for that search:

  • Find free instructions on how to fix a broken Xbox 360
  • Buy a guide on how to fix an Xbox 360
  • Find a place to repair the Xbox
  • Find warranty information
  • Buy a new Xbox 360
  • Buy a broken Xbox 360 to fix up

Even with a fairly specific search like “broken xbox 360” we managed to find ads for six different potential motives.

I’m not saying that you should never include information-centered keywords of any kind in your campaign, but you have to at least do your homework on them. Find out what other companies are bidding on these terms and check the Google Keyword Tool to get a rough idea of how much you should expect to bid before committing your precious marketing dollars to them.

Opting to bid on a keyword like “Christmas gift ideas” is tantamount to flying straight into a maelstrom of reckless competition. A search of that keyword displays ads for jewelery, pajamas, gift guides from various distributors, gift baskets, credit card offers, steaks, computers, and department stores.

A quick check of the Google Keyword Tool reveals that you should expect to pay between $1-3 for each click on that and other similar keywords. For most small businesses that’s a hefty click price for someone in the early stages of choosing a gift. Do yourself a favor and steer clear!



Great Post. I can see where that could be a big money trap. Is there any way to use PPC to get that Holiday traffic that you would recommend? What about something more specific like “gift ideas for business owners” or “gift ideas for WOW players” maybe looking at the long tail of “gift ideas” would generate a lower CPC and higher conversions. What do you think?



Great question. Using your two long-tail examples, something like “gift ideas for WOW players” could work because the search is so narrowly qualified by “WOW players”. It’s a very defined group and much easier to match products with the search intent. Your other example, “gift ideas for business owners” is still pretty broad considering how many business owners are out there, and how many types of businesses are encompassed by that group. Even though the second example here is a bit more broad, I would feel comfortable at least testing it. Who knows, maybe the product would be a huge hit with a wide variety of business owners.