In simple terms a retailer can work with a comparison shopping engine simply by sending it a data feed outlining the details of their products. Feed specifications are determined by the comparison site but most include basic attributes such as model number, manufacturer part number, product title, description, URL and price. This, however, is where the simplicity ends and the challenge begins.
Price comparison feeds can involve a highly complex payment structure. By way of comparison, for paid search (PPC), the landscape is fairly simple — the ingredients are more or less identical regardless of which publisher you work with. Not so with CSEs. Besides the differences in data feed specifications, the pricing models frequently differ from publisher to publisher. Most CSEs operate on a cost-per-click model but, within this group, some sites may have an auction model while others may charge retailers a flat rate based on a product's category.
Others will work on a revenue sharing basis and a very few will operate on a free pricing model. If you are looking to expand beyond the UK, the landscape becomes even more complex as you move into multiple languages and currencies.
The challenge for retailers is to maintain and deliver quality product feeds to multiple sites on a consistent basis. For many the thought of managing a single feed can turn the stomach, let alone managing 10 to 20 internationally. The good news is that there are various tactics that you can implement to ensure that you optimise your feed to its full potential:
- Optimise product titles — Your product title should be descriptive and contain the key search terms customers are looking to use. However, do be careful not to spuriously include keywords or spam the titles. Work with comparison sites to understand the best practices for each CSE. Some CSEs say the most relevant noun should be the last word of your title. Many CSEs do not allow promotional language in the title (for example 'free shipping') and ALL CAPS is often a no-no. Keep in mind that product titles that are too long will be cut off.
- Categorise your data — Accurate taxonomy mapping is crucial. People can't buy products if they can't find them. Properly mapping your own product categorisation to match the CSE's own categories is a must, and will help you better analyse your performance as you try to understand which products are performing best.
- Focus on data quality — The better your data, the more able you will be to optimise your product selection. Start by sending your feed daily, which will ensure the CSE always has your most up-to-date catalogue on file. Inaccurate pricing data will also cause a ruckus with your consumer base. In Europe it is important to send prices in local currency and present listings in the local language to each site. Monitor feed delivery to ensure pricing, shipping, and tax information is up-to-date.
- Price filters — This is the first line of defence against inefficiency. Low cost items (say, under £5) are almost guaranteed to have a high cost of sales. It is generally wise to eliminate these items from your feed to help maintain good margins.
- Promotional text — This is a great tool for alerting customers to sales on your own site. Almost every site offers promotional text; take full advantage of these. Other CSEs may incorporate promotional data for a fee. Be careful of character limits in the promotional field as these can be as small as 30 characters.
- Understanding logo placement — Logos can be an effective way to bring attention to your brand when displayed with your product listing, but sometimes are not worth the extra 15-30% bump in the CPC rate. Start by taking advantage of the free logo placement being offered by some CSEs and then measure the performance boost associated with the placement before testing with CSEs that charge an additional fee.
- Bid strategy — When listing on a site that’s using an auction model, bidding can be a big cash drain. Do some homework and determine where you are coming up in general searches. Also look for where you are coming up for more specific searches so you can fine tune your bidding approach. Category level bidding can be very expensive. Some sites like Shopzilla have product level bidding that will allow for that more fine-tuned approach. Do careful analysis before making drastic changes to bids. If you aren't getting the traffic you desire, start by bidding a few pennies above the minimum. Again, SKU level performance data will help you make the most informed decisions.
Although managing CSEs can seem testing initially, the benefit of doing it well will undoubtedly be a huge difference to profit figures, especially in the current economic climate when consumers are increasingly turning to comparison sites. Deploying best practices, a sound data feed management solution and making the effort to understand how each CSE works cannot fail to strengthen your business's success through this channel.
Finally, it may seem obvious but don't rely on automation. It still takes a smart marketer to make decisions about which products to list and which ones not to list.• Steve Davis is president of the European arm of ecommerce and multi-channel solutions specialist GSI Commerce.