What is a product feed?

To put it simply, a product feed – also known as a data feed or an xml feed – is a database of products sold in your store. It is usually saved as an XML or CSV file that contains all the basic information about your products. This information is presented in such a way that it can be easily integrated with marketing platforms, such as price comparison engines (e.g. Ceneo), search engines (e.g. Google Shopping service – Google PLA), or online shopping malls (e.g. Shopalike). The product data is directly transferred from a product feed to a platform of your choice, making it easy to find by potential customers.

Typically, a shopping platform provides owners of e-commerce businesses with a product feed in one format; most often it is the Ceneo format. If you want to start collaborating with the likes of Domodi and Google Shopping (PLA), or an unknown publisher or a niche platform, you have to translate your feed into a required format.

Sometimes, a platform or a proprietary engine of an e-store doesn’t provide a product feed. Then, you have to create one from scratch. This process is called implementation and consists in creating a feed through crawling of all the store’s data. How complex is the process of data crawling? It depends on any difficulties that arise from the way a store platform is built, such as the lack of a site map or breadcrumbs, or varying product page templates. An implementation usually takes between 2 and 5 days, depending on the complexity of a website.

 

Which publishers require a product feed?

There are many ways to use a product feed. We can distinguish several key marketing channels that use a product feed. The most popular include:

  1. Advertising on Google and other search engines;
  2. Advertising on Facebook and other social networks;
  3. Advertising in price comparison engines;
  4. Remarketing, display and mailing advertising;
  5. Advertising in affiliate networks.

These channels have a number of partners ranging from several to over a dozen. Each of these partners requires a product feed that is adjusted to its structure. This ensures optimal display of your products on the partner’s website. We can therefore say that there are hundreds of partners, but thousands of product feeds.

Of course, no advertiser will use all of them, but our experience shows that operations conducted even on a single market use as many as over a dozen formats. If we were to make a comparison based on the size of clients, the number of partners would be as follows:

  • A small advertiser: 1-3 partners;
  • A medium advertiser: 3-8 partners;
  • A big advertiser: 8-20 partners.

The question is: how do we manage all this if we invest in a chosen marketing channel and aim to use 100% of the options it offers? Without the right tools managing this process is beyond our reach. And if it’s our own IT department that is tasked with implementing dedicated solutions, the process may not be optimal and profitable.

 

Managing a product feed – what does it mean and why should you do it?

Easy and effective management

Often the partners we choose for the advertising operations using a product feed require – in addition to the right format – the following elements:

  • A different product database;
  • A different categorization of products;
  • A differently formulated CTA;
  • Additional fields describing a product;
  • A specified picture size.

We can’t introduce such changes directly on our store’s website, because we use it to communicate with our customers and lead them through a purchase process, providing them with specific information at various stages of shopping.

In such a case we have to modify the data made available to the partners whose platforms we use to advertise our products. Shopping systems, and even dedicated platforms, usually don’t enable data modification.

To illustrate the above-mentioned needs, let’s use an example of specific marketing channels.

Advertising in a price comparison engine:

The customer we reach typically prioritizes the price – they are usually looking for the cheapest product. Of course, a product feed doesn’t have any impact on the price policy of a given store. However, in such a case it’s a good idea to make our message more attractive via the product’s title, which is displayed in the marketing channel. It should emphasize the fact that the customer is going to receive bonuses that can somehow compensate for a higher price.

To do this, we can add the following information to the title:

  • Free delivery, delivery in a very short time, delivery to a pickup point;
  • Guarantee of product quality, emphasizing the trustworthiness of the store;
  • Indication of a bestselling product;
  • Information on low availability – last items in stock.

Advertising on Facebook:

The customer we reach typically doesn’t prioritize the price. The customers in this advertising channel value an interesting message, high quality of product pictures, short-term offers, or products that can be described as “cool”;

Here, we can do the following:

  • Adjust the pictures to Facebook’s requirements. For most types of advertisements the image should follow the 1.91:1 ratio (recommended size: 1200x628px) or the less popular 1:1 ratio (recommended size: 600x600px);
  • Add the following words to the product’s title: “For you”, “Recommended”;
  • Add the following words at the end of the product’s title: “Bestseller”, “Special offer”, “Check it out”;
  • Choose the products from the database that have many reviews and comments;
  • Choose the products that are the most popular, but whose availability is getting lower;
  • Only display the products more expensive than X.

Advertising in Google Product Listing Ads:

Adjusting the ads to the search results is the key to effective sales on Google. It’s also a good idea to emphasize a special price and showcase the quality of our descriptions.

To do this, we should include the right modifications in the feed:

  • Map the categories from our store with the structure of categories specified by Google;
  • Add a custom_label that will include information about a bestseller or a special offer;
  • Provide an GTIN code as e.g. EAN;
  • Indicate the products that are unique (produced in small batches, usually hand-made) via the right Google tag.

Remarketing advertising:

A customer has already visited our store and is familiar with a given product, but hasn’t finalized the purchase. Remarketing systems will reach them with a product they were interested in or a complementary product. It is crucial to show the customer one more time the most important advantages of our product.

To this end, we should:

  • Include a discount price in the product feed;
  • Display the information about the available number of items in stock;
  • Have the correct categorization and description of the products so that the remarketing system can show the customer a complementary product.

These are only several examples of the solutions our clients use on a daily basis. Many more changes can be made in a product feed. Any modifications can be easily introduced in a systemic way.

Optimization and analytics are always of key importance

Now that we have a product feed adjusted to a chosen partner and we’ve modified the data accordingly, our operations should translate into a higher conversion rate, leading to a lower cost per click, action or sale.

What more can we do?

Analytics are crucial for every e-commerce business. Testing, verifying and comparing results, as well as implementing fixes, are the daily activities of every entrepreneur running an online store.

Most clients use the Google Analytics tools for the purposes of online analytics. However, without detailed tagging of the traffic we generate through different partners, this tool doesn’t allow us to draw valuable conclusions and assess the effectiveness of the channels we use. The feedink system enables integration with Google Analytics and comparison engine systems. Data collected this way allows us to set the right rules of displaying or excluding products (read on for more on this subject).

Dynamic tagging can help us easily determine the unique tags for all our products. We recommend that you use the Google Analytics tags in the following way:

  • ?utm_source={partner_name}
  • ?utm_medium=feed
  • ?utm_term={product_title}
  • ?utm_content={product_id}
  • ?utm_campaign={campaign_name}

Each product in the provided feed will contain unique tagging corresponding to its attributes, e.g. http://estore.com/product-132/?utm_source=criteo&utm_medium=feed&utm_term=Women Jacket&utm_content=132&utm_campaign=remarketing

This way, we are going to get highly accurate data for analysis in the Google Analytics tool, which will surely allow us to better optimize our advertising campaigns.

Data from Google Analytics can also be used to automatically optimize our product feed. We’ve chosen the most interesting examples of such use and presented them below.

Let’s assume that we’ve implemented specific data from Google Analytics into our product database. This data includes information about the views of a product page and sales from the previous two weeks for a specific traffic source.

Thanks to this data we can establish the following rules:

  • Choose 100 best-selling products and and give them a “bestseller” label;
  • If a given product has generated 100 views and hasn’t been purchased even once, you can exclude it from your product feed so that the information about it will not be provided to the partner who is associated with this source of traffic;
  • Create a product feed with 10 best-selling products in each category and set a higher rate for these products in your partner’s system.

Correct configuration of the e-commerce module in Google Analytics, proper tagging of traffic sources, and creation of optimization rules will allow you to use the potential that comes from managing product feeds.

Of course, the world of analytics does not end with Google Analytics. We can track the sales of our products through external monitoring systems, such as DoubleClick, HasOffers or other tools available on the market.

Monitoring product sales is possible thanks to the addition of a so-called redirect, which precedes a product link. Carrying out such an operation in the feedink.com system is very simple and allows you to change or remove the added redirect at any time without having to contact the partner you provided with your product feed. It’s worth noting that the feedink system does not collect or share any sales data, nor does it have direct access to it.

Why manage a product feed?

Managing a product feed allows you to generate a file that is adjusted to a chosen partner. This way, you can easily optimize sales.

By managing an entire database within one system, you save time and internal resources, and get a chance to achieve the best possible results in your marketing operations.

Every e-commerce business, big and small, knows that a shopping platform is of key importance, but…

Growing needs

Every e-commerce business stores its product database on a selected shopping platform. It doesn’t matter if it’s a SaaS-type system or a self-hosted service, or even software written to match the requirements of a given store. We always manage our products from the level of a shopping platform. Here, we establish the price policy, discounts and special offers, and ensure the quality of our products’ descriptions and the images that accompany them. We also finalize orders, update availability information, etc. Our store is the place where we take the customer who reached our website through an entire purchase process, providing him or her with the right information at every step of the purchase.

The question we should ask ourselves is this: does the shopping platform we use give us the right options to manage our product also outside the store? As we’ve established earlier, every marketing channel has its own rules. This is quite obvious, because we reach our customers at different stages of their interest in a given product, and sometimes we have to rouse that interest ourselves. Platforms available on the market do not focus on this aspect, because their role is different. This is why the field for product management in external marketing channels is designed for other types of systems. It’s similar with other services: in the panel of a shopping platform we won’t find the tools for brand or competition monitoring. Supporting our platform with systems enabling specific actions will always be necessary if our goal is to achieve good sales.

The above examples show that the operation of an online store is based on two elements: internal and external.

  • Internal (in-house) element: E-commerce platform – the majority of operations conducted on the store’s website;
  • External (outside) elements: tools supporting sales – product feeds, monitoring, communities, remarketing, mailing, advertising in partners’ platforms, etc.

Opening an online store

To better illustrate the needs that arise when we manage our store “on the outside”, we’re going to use a fictional example of a newly established online store selling shoes – let’s call it shoesit.com.

Our adventure always begins with choosing a shopping platform. Although there is a variety of such platforms available on the market, we typically start with something simple. We choose a SaaS-type platform: all it take is a few clicks and our store is basically good to go. We integrate a payment system, add products and – theoretically – are ready to start “sales”. It turns out very soon that no-one visits our website, and no traffic means no sales.

We invest in SEO, content marketing, and Google and Facebook ads. We get first views, but our potential customers aren’t buying anything. We change our price policy, introduce discounts and special offers. We encourage those visiting to sign up to our newsletter. They haven’t bought anything, but it’s worth it to at least keep their contact information. We try to invest in comparison engines, implement a remarketing tool and marketing automation. Our sales are slowly growing, and so is our appetite for more.

Unfortunately, due to our marketing expenses, the margin of sold products has gone down. We start optimizing our operations based on the data from Google Analytics. It turns out that most effective advertisements are based on product-related message, but we cannot manage it from our platform. That’s why we are forced to waste time on direct communication with each partner. We check out other available store solutions and consider migration, but these solutions don’t support product management at external partners’ platforms either.

We consider creating our own tool, but we don’t know how to go about it, what’s the cost and how long it will take. What’s more, we don’t know if the investment will prove profitable. With time we start needing additional tools. At the same time we realize that we can’t do everything on our own. This is the right moment to start looking for dedicated systems.

Reaction time is crucial

The increasing e-commerce needs and the growing number of marketing channels and partners means that our reaction time is much less effective. We can’t meet the requirements of every partner regarding product data they need from us if we don’t have a tool to help us easily manage our database. Without the technological solutions, implementing a partnership with another entity is taking longer, and sometimes starting a collaboration becomes impossible due to the partner’s requirements. Eventually it turns out that we could have done and earned more, and worked more effectively, had we had the option to manage our product feed in an advanced manner.

The product is essential

If your goal is a continued rise in sales and optimization of current operations, it will be necessary to support your online store with external tools. From the very start you must focus on product management, because the product will be at the center of your marketing operations. By concentrating on the product, we are going to build a brand and achieve optimum sales. Of course other actions are necessary as well, but it’s the product that will always be the most important in the eyes of our customer, and we should keep that in mind from the get-go.

Internet is like a huge supermarket – the customer won’t notice you and your products if they are not described in detail

How to take care of our products

There are plenty of attributes we can use to describe our product, but the title, description and product picture play the most important role both on the website and in the product advertisements. The pricing policy is also important, but it results from factors that are often beyond our control, so let’s focus on the things that we can manage almost without any restrictions.

  • The title on our store’s website should contain keywords describing the product in detail, i.e. words the customer will use to find our product online; the title should not contain unnecessary promotional text that will only distort the message we want to put across on our website.
  • Product description cannot be too long. It’s better to present the product data in the form of a table or bullet points than to write a sprawling essay, which might theoretically bring us better SEO results, but will translate into a lower conversion rate.
  • The customer “buys” with their eyes, so the picture accompanying the product is of key importance. In some industries a product picture will play a larger role, and a smaller in others, but there will always be the following interdependence: better pictures equal better conversion rate. When we’re online, we cannot “feel” a product, so a picture is the only way we can present its real quality.

Does this interdependence always work? If we are presenting a product on our own website, we can assume that the answer is yes. In the case of external partners, the situation is completely different, so we should approach each marketing channel individually by modifying the data accordingly.

My products, my partners – ShopAlike as an example

Every partner with whom we start collaborating on our marketing operations needs different data, categorization and structure. In each channel we will find customers who prioritize the prize or don’t, or look for a particular item or only interested in a category of products, but still hesitant to make a purchase.

Partners require that we provide qualitative data, because they want their users to see them a source of good content. If we want to advertise a product on our partners’ platforms, we must meet their requirements.

As an example, let’s take a look at the ShopAlike comparison engine and products from the “Fashion” category.

A user of a comparison engine comes with established purchase preferences. For instance, they want to buy summer shoes. ShopAlike provides amazing categorization of products, allowing its users to filter the parameters they find most useful. In the case of summer shoes, the filtering process can be the following: women’s shoes, summer shoes, sandals, size 37, white, within a price range of PLN 300-400. There are many more parameters available, and they vary depending on the product category.

The data we provide to ShopAlike must therefore contain all the necessary attributes, because without it the customer will not find our product on the comparison engine’s website.

Simply providing these attributes is not enough. ShopAlike requires that we provide the attributes in an appropriate format, matching the product feed specification. We must therefore make the price available in the XX.YY format (separated by a full stop, without currency), inform of the dominant color of the product, its target gender, size, material or a specific product category.

Providing such data may be difficult or impossible if we do not have it directly in our database. Often, however, it turns out that we can define attributes such as gender based on the category from our store, and modify the price by removing the currency or changing the separator. As for an X category in our store, we could map it onto a category required by the comparison engine. The described activities are quite simple if we have an appropriate system to manage our product data. By loading the data that we have, we can modify its values on the basis of established rules and provide the comparison engine with a product feed that will increase sales in our online store.

 

The more accurate the data, the better the results

E-commerce owners usually realize that their products lack a detailed description and categorization when they start collaborating with a comparison engine, an online shopping mall or any other channel.

Every publisher operating on the basis of a product feed has conducted research, and continues to do so, regarding the things that engage the users, keep them on the website and encourage them to make a purchase. The layout of price comparison websites or online platforms that bring together various e-commerce brands is not random. The main purpose of these websites is to generate sales, so it’s crucial that they are easy to navigate and encourage a customer to make a purchase. Every website allows the user to easily find a product with certain features, functionalities and price.

Remember that the user’s final decision is based on the product data. The products you offer are compared with the same or similar products offered by other online stores. The store that presents all the information a user needs to make a purchase wins.

 

Case studies / Reviews / Examples of clients’ gains

Many companies start their product feed-based operation using price comparison engines or Google PLA. One of our clients contacted us three years ago to create a product feed, because they wanted to test new advertising options. Although the client has an extensive IT department, the request to create a product feed had a much lower priority than other tasks.

Initially, the client used one feed in the PLA format. In time, after seeing the return on investment, they decided to implement several new formats. Currently, the client maintains twenty product feed formats, and the foundation of their online strategy consists in operation based on product feed.

The examples of many companies show that maintaining one or even over a dozen feeds is more cost-effective than involving an internal IT department. In addition, when outsourcing feed-related tasks, the communication processes within the company are not disrupted when the priorities of the different departments overlap. The most important advantage, however, is that the client gains independence and saves time. The feedink system allows you to modify the product feed almost continuously, because the feed is updated three times a day by default. Without the update the feed still works, but only displays the data from the last update, which means that it does not perform all of its tasks.