Scoring BIG with Product Feeds

Big retailers have big product feeds. They also have major challenges developing, maintaining and optimizing those vital data sets.


To get more out of product feeds and to stay in the retail lead, online merchants of every size need to be armed with basic and advanced tips, know when it's time to get outside help and understand what to look for in an agency or ecommerce solution when that time comes.

First, what are product feeds and why are they valuable? These data-based files contain detailed product information that can be distributed to search engines, comparison shopping sites, and other networks and aggregators where consumers typically purchase online. The rewards can be immense, as product feeds benefit Internet retailers by increasing the opportunities they have for exposure among interested shoppers. Paid Search Account Manager at TopSpot Internet Marketing, Lara Garcia, explains that product feeds enable consumers to see multiple product listings in single searches, without limiting the number of times a store can appear in queries, as well.


Getting Started with Feeds


To get product data feeds into the search engines, companies take data directly from their product database, transfer it into a delimited file and then upload it to the network's platform/system. Although this approach seems easy, it is often ineffective for merchants. Each feed (search, comparison and affiliate networks) requires different criteria, category names and delivery systems, notes Ian Lurie, founder and CEO of Portent, Inc.

With all the discrepancy, what's the solution? Web Shop Manager's Founder and CEO, Dana Nevins, suggests, regardless of search engine, to provide the most complete and accurate product information (see sidebar). Merchants should also avoid:

- Listing out-of-stock products, which can cause feed removal, higher bid costs, ill will and paying out for useless clicks

- Using bait-pricing tactics, as this trick triggers consumer complaints and bounce backs, which send red flags to search engines

- Adding promotional jargon such as "Free Shipping," as this may ban the product from a listing

- Practicing keyword stuffing or other tactics that search engines perceive as unethical practices


The Evolving World of Product Feeds


Managing product feeds can quickly become a cumbersome digital project, and one that is growing since, according to Lurie, search engines are transitioning from pure search tools to full-on product aggregators that aim to provide users with more relevant information. This means keeping up with requirements, new features, optimal keywords and more can be too time consuming for one business.

"There is a lot of complexity in dealing with not only multiple search engines and multiple formats, but also frequent changes and updates made to the specifications," said Nevins.

Google's new product listing ads (PLAs) is one such example where ecommerce professionals need to focus their attention. (Get started and maximize the new feedfocused format at

Companies may also find it advantageous to hire an agency to manage product feeds.

"Because feeds are digital, they can change easily and frequently and should be based on competitive dynamics," said Veena Peña, adjunct professor of marketing at Houston Baptist University and consultant to the consumer goods industry. "As competing firms launch products, feeds should also be altered to best address competitive threats.

Dedicated agencies have the resources to spot opportunities and respond quickly." When shopping for an agency-partner, Lurie suggests finding one that:

1. Understands the importance of category word choice

2. Knows that product feeds are separate from a product database

3. Uses a person to optimize and examine each feed regularly and provide client feedback

4. Analyzes and reports key metrics, such as clicks from product feed listings, sales, conversion rates, bid costs and terms/category placement/impressions

5. Explains how work will be transferred when the client-agency relationship dissolves

6. Discusses its team's technical expertise concerning exporting data, updating feeds and automation Online merchants leveraging product data feeds should do their due diligence from the beginning through learning and implementing best practices and knowing when it's time to ask for help. This strong foundation will help retailers manage their campaigns more effective today and tomorrow.