Data feeds are an integral part of marketing an ecommerce site. A data feed is nothing more than a list of your products, along with certain product details, in a structured format. The details included in the file depend on your site needs and the requirements of the partner to whom you’re submitting your data. The same is true of the data structure – some partners may want a tab-delimited text file (where there’s a tab character between each piece of data), while others may require XML.
Data feeds are used in a number of ways. Internally you may wish to use datafeeds to share product information across multiple systems or different websites. External to your company, you can use data feeds to share product information with comparison shopping engines, affiliate programs, and online marketplaces.
Where Can You Market Using Your Data Feed?
1. Comparison Shopping Engines – I discussed comparison shopping engines in my last post, but for convenience I’ll describe them again here. These are sites such as PriceGrabber.com or Nextag.com where consumers can search or browse for specific products and then compare prices (including shipping and sales tax) as well as reviews of different stores that sell those products.
2. Affiliate Programs – An affiliate program is where you provide product data, creative banners, or both to other marketers, who then advertise your store in exchange for a commission on given sales. This is called a Pay-Per-Sale affiliate program because the affiliate earns their commission whenever a sale is made at your store. (There are also Pay-Per-Click and Pay-Per-Lead programs, but these are much less common for e-commerce stores than Pay-Per-Sale.) Some merchants run their own affiliate program, but many use networks such as ShareASale or Commission Junction.
3. Online Marketplaces – The best-known example of an online marketplace is Amazon, where third-party retailers can advertise AND sell their products directly on Amazon’s website. Amazon handles the transaction, collects the money from the customer, takes a commission, and then pays you the balance. Traffic is not sent to your online store in this method. Other larger retailers have begun exploring marketplaces, including Wal-Mart and Sears. The other popular pure-play Internet online marketplace is Shop.com.
Best Practices for Product Data Feeds
There are several things to focus on getting right when marketing your products by a data feed.
1. Product Descriptions: The most important, assuming you’re hand-writing your own product descriptions is to not use your optimized product copy anywhere other than your own site. Keep some canned copy in a separate field in your store’s database for use in distributing to other websites. That way Google doesn’t have a chance of indexing their pages higher than yours for your optimized descriptions.
2. Keywords: Add any major search terms in your product name, including the brand, if possible. Different websites use different fields when searching, but all of them allow searching on the product name.
3. Product Identifiers: Include major product identifiers so that your product gets grouped with the same product from other sites. This includes, if available, the manufacturer/brand, the manufacturer part number, and the UPC (or EAN or similar international codes). Google Product Feed now requires at least two of these three fields. Also make sure they are right! Wrong UPC codes can cause extreme problems on Amazon, in particular.
4. Categorization: Categorize your products as best you can on each shopping engine. This drives more traffic from shoppers who are browsing, rather than searching for a specific product.
5. Keep it Fresh: At a minimum, update your feeds every 30 days or whenever you add or remove products. If you track online inventory, update it as often as is convenient, and don’t include out-of-stock products unless you accept backorders. That way you don’t pay click fees for products you can’t sell.
6. Track Your Links: Tag your links for each channel so that your analytics packages can tell you what shopping engines and which products are doing the best job of converting clicks into sales. Feed management software such as our FeedExact tool will provide you with this data without the need to manually tag your own links.