Realising Google's keyword gender bias must for SEO: study

September 09, 2020 - United States Of America

When consumers search for ‘jeans’ or ‘pajamas’ on Google, the first page of its search results almost exclusively shows pages targeting women, according to a new analysis by search and content optimisation platform Searchmetrics. Online fashion retailers need to pay greater attention to this kind of gender bias in which Google automatically decides the gender intent of certain keywords.

The study, which analysed the search results for 10,000 fashion-related search terms on Google, found that even when the search terms did not include a stated gender (using words such as men’s, boy’s, women’s, woman’s etc), around 20 per cent produced first page results that were identified as being gendered.

Thirteen per cent were categorised as being female-gendered by Google, while 3 per cent were male-gendered. The remaining 4 per cent produced a mix of search results, some targeting men and some targeting women, according to a press release from Searchmetrics.

Deeper analysis by Searchmetrics reveals that adding certain words to longer tail search terms changes the gender of the search results that Google displays. One example is ‘belt’, which transitions from mixed-gender to female-only when you add ‘cute’, ‘trendy’ or ‘waist’, and male-only when you add words like ‘cool’ or ‘best’.

Colours and materials have a similar effect; adding the word ‘gold’ makes ‘belt’ female, while adding ‘leather’ can make the search results Google displays primarily male.

The research from Searchmetrics suggests that online fashion retailers should review the top keywords they are targeting and check if Google has a gender bias for those terms. They should take this into consideration when building their search engine optimization (SEO) and content strategy, said Karl Kleinschmidt, SEO manager at Searchmetrics.

“For a search like ‘jeans’ which Google’s sees primarily as a female search term, you would find it harder to get on Google’s first page with pages targeting men – it would be a high-risk strategy to try it. But if you did manage to get your men’s jeans page to rank on page one for ‘jeans’, you would get lots of traffic because any man that is searching would be highly likely to click on your website,” Kleinschmidt added.

The search volume for ‘men’s jeans’ is about 73% of the search volume of ‘jeans’ suggesting that when men search for ‘jeans’ and see search results only targeting women, they revise their search query and try again.

Searchmetrics said some major retail sites are taking note of the growth of gendered keywords and building their sites without gender-neutral pages.