One of the biggest errors many sellers make when trying to launch an affiliate program is not providing enough data.
Sellers assume that all they need to do is provide a few banner ads to place on affiliate sites and they will be good to go. But this isn’t always the case. Many affiliate marketers are moving beyond banner ads to include product linking to drive traffic.
In order to link products, affiliates are starting to require sellers to have a list of all their products that will receive links; this is known as a data feed.
If you’re a seller who needs a data feed but you’ve never put one together before, here are a few things you should know.
- What Are Product Data Feeds?
- Who Will Use My Data Feed?
- How to Optimize Your Data Feed
- Final Thoughts
What Are Product Data Feeds?
Data feeds are visualizations of all of your products – usually in a spreadsheet format where each row represents a single product, and each column represents one characteristic of that product (like product name, landing page, price, image, URL, etc.)
Data feeds are sent to affiliates to communicate all the information your product listings will contain. Each affiliate network will have different requirements about fields to include and formats to provide.
Once formatted to the right requirements, the affiliate network converts the data into tracking links which are then placed on affiliate sites (like Google Shopping or Amazon).
These links will tell shoppers about the relevance of your products. If they’re searching for a product similar to yours, for example, your product will also pop up in their search results, giving you a greater reach.
That’s why the amount of information you include in your data feed is so essential: The more details you give, the better your products can be linked in searches.
Who Will Use My Data Feed?
There are a few places where you can send your data feed to have the most impact. The four main channels that use data feeds include:
- Comparison Shopping Engines –These are sites like PriceGrabber or Nextag where consumers can search for specific products and then compare prices and reviews of different stores that sell those products.
- Affiliate Programs – You will typically provide product data or advertising banners to affiliate sites, 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. Some merchants run their own affiliate program, but many use networks such as ShareASale or Commission Junction.
- Online Marketplaces – Amazon is probably the best example, though there are plenty other online marketplaces like Wal-Mart and Sears where third-party retailers can advertise AND sell their products from one location. Traffic is not necessarily sent to your online store directly, but tracking links can be used in search results for related products.
Again, most will have their own rules for formatting your data feed, so you may need to make several versions depending on what channels you send it to and follow each specific guideline very carefully.
How to Optimize Your Data Feed
There are several factors that go into having a “good” data feed, including things like URL links, product descriptions, and images.
More often than not, merchants will link to their homepage instead of a product page, which won’t help with conversions. You also want to double check that all links in your data feed work and aren’t redirected to the wrong product or to a 404 page.
2. Use more than one product image
If the affiliate network has fields for large, small, and thumbnail images, be sure to include those images in your feed. If you only use one image and it’s too small for a user to see, they will be less likely to click the link.
3. Keep prices up to date
This includes when products go on sale or if there are other discounts or promotions going on. It’s harder for an affiliate to promote products with inaccurate pricing. It’s important to keep track of any changes to your products on a regular basis to make sure your feed is optimized, especially if products go out of stock or are put on back order.
4. Provide good product descriptions
Your affiliate marketers shouldn’t have to write your descriptions for you, and they shouldn’t have to go digging around your site to find them. A good data feed will have nicely formatted descriptions of each product. As a general rule, it’s good to write your own descriptions and not rely on the manufacturers description so that Google can properly index your page (and not accidentally mark it as plagiarized).
5. Remove any duplicate products
Your data feed will most likely be in a spreadsheet format, which should make it easy to search and find any duplicate items. This is an important step, especially if you are importing or exporting product information on a regular basis, as duplicate items will add to the size of your data feed, making it difficult for affiliates to manipulate the data when necessary.
6. Use unique product IDs
Many affiliates rely on unique product IDs to track products from one data feed to another, especially if products are very similar in style or come from the same manufacturer. If there are no unique IDs provided, affiliates won’t be able to add value to or extract value from those products.
7. Include major keywords
Your data feed should include any major search terms, keywords, or keyphrases that a customer would use to find your product. Different websites will use different fields when searching, but all of them allow for searching based on keywords or product names. You should also include any additional product identifiers like manufacturer information, part numbers, or UPCs if applicable.
8. Organize your product titles left-to-right
Your product titles for affiliate links will be different than for SEO optimization. Google identifies terms as more relevant based on a left-to-right readability, meaning that the first keywords in your product title are the most important. When you’re setting your product titles, list more important descriptors first, followed by modifying terms.
The most efficient strategy is to label your products by brand, gender, product, color, and size.
Search results for “Blue Patagonia jacket” on Google Shopping, for example, will filter by “Patagonia” (the brand) first, and then gender (women’s) with color being next to last.
Creating a data feed doesn’t have to be rocket science. In fact, a data feed is nothing more than a spreadsheet containing all your product information. The key is to organize that information so that your affiliates can use it to create the right links for the right channels.
Make sure that all of your product information is up to date and as accurate as possible, don’t forget to include things like images, product descriptions, and to organize your titles by important keywords.
And make sure you send the right file format to the right affiliate. The less work your affiliates have to do, the more likely you will be to get listed in the right places with minimal hassle on your end.
Author: Bogdan Chertes
Bogdan has helped dozens of ecommerce businesses grow sales and acquire more customers by using data driven PPC marketing strategies.
At Adfix, he leads a team of top class PPC and Social Media experts that help clients maximize ROI from their campaigns.