Datafeeds 101

Datafeeds are key to success now a days when it comes to Online Marketing.  You cannot be in Google Base without them, Affiliates use them, Comparison Engines become easier and even Amazon makes life simple when you can list your products via a simple datafeed.  The thing though is that many Merchants don’t realize how to properly use, set up or promote their feeds.  They typically get scared when they hear terms like datafeed and think it is a techy thing so they try to ignore it as best as they can or push it aside.  The thing is that datafeeds are nothing more than a spreadsheet you can send out to different vendors or upload to help gain more exposure in the channels you are currently in.  If you have a shop or ecommerce store you actually probably already have one built and just need to export it to an engine, to Google or to your Affiliate Network and partners.

I’ve been having a ton of datafeed questions come at me lately so I figured I would write a post to cover a few topics that seem to keep coming up.

1.  What is a datafeed.

2.  What things are important in a feed.

3.  Duplicate content penalizations and what you can do to prevent them.

4.  Where should I use my datafeed.

5.  What tools are available to make my life simpler (Yup I love using proper English in posts lol).

1.  What is a datafeed?

A datafeed is nothing more than a spreadsheet that contains all of your store product information in columns and rows.  The columns represent attributes like product color, condition, name, product url, thumbnail image url, image url, price, etc…  The rows are the products and items in your actual store.  There is nothing actually confusing or hard to do with a feed.  To export one from your shopping cart all you have to do is look at the datafeed specifications for the vendor you are looking at using and find which fields in your shopping cart or website database those are.  Then just export and save it in a spreadsheet or in the format the vendor or partner needs.

If for some reason you cannot export your database (I haven’t actually seen a cart that cannot do this) then you can just as easily create one by hand.  Remember though that the more products you have the longer it will take to create by hand so start with the ones you want to push most and work your way to a complete datafeed.

2.  What things are important in a feed.

Many of the fields in your datafeed are important but not all of them are necessary for every vendor.  The ones that I think are most important are as follows (Please check the naming structure of the vendor you are using as they might change a little bit depending on the vendor).

Name – The name of your product

Short Description – This is a short description of the product.  I like to keep it around 250 to 400 characters.

Long Description  – This is a more detailed description of your product.

Thumbnail url – This is the link to where your thumbnail images are hosted for your product.

Image url – This is the link to where you larger images or regular sized product image is.

UPC Code – This is one of the most commonly left out attributes.  Merchant’s, it is an absolute pain to enter these into your site but when you start moving into the comparison engines and comparison Affiliate sites, more and more of them require these and use it as part of their product matching algorithm.  If you aren’t entering it into your database when you add products, you need to revisit your products and database and start entering them.  Affiliates and CSEs both use these for their database driven sites and Amazon is now requiring UPC codes to list new products.  These are seriously important and you will see a nice boost in traffic from entering them and making it available to your partners, as long as you are using the vendors and the channel correctly.  MPN or European IDs work as well but UPCs are what are more common and should be used.  If you don’t have the time to enter them yourself you may want to outsource or hire a temp. to come in and do the data entry.

Price – The actual price of the product on your site.

Retail Price – If you sell below retail this will allow certain vendors and partners to show the discount the person will save by shopping with you instead of the people who sell at retail prices.

Quantity – This is great for Amazon and third party shopping carts since it tells them when you are out of product so you don’t have to constantly update the vendors.  Not necessary but one column that I am finding more and more helpful, especially with larger feeds and maintenance.

3.  Duplicate content penalizations and what you can do to prevent them.

One thing that some of the more SEO educated Merchants and Affiliates worry about is a duplicate content penalty for SEO because they are using Merchant provided duplicate product descriptions and images on their sites or giving their own descriptions out to Affiliates and Engines so they may get penalized.  Although this is a valid concern it shouldn’t be a deal breaker for you.

Yes you will be using and giving away your content and yes it will be duplicate on many sites but here is the thing about duplicate datafeed content and the Search Engines.

1.  You are not being penalized, the Search Engines try to figure out who owns the content originally and it is part of their organic algorithm.  If the sites you are sending to have more authority than your site you may or may not get penalized but the risk you are taking is that the SEs may credit the other site for the content and you may drop a little bit or watch them rise up in the SERPs because they have more authority but this isn’t a huge penalty and I wouldn’t be that concerned.  I’ll go over some ways to get around this in a minute.

2.  It is not 100% duplicate content except on the actual product pages.  Although you have the same description on your site as other sites since you fed your content to them, you technically are only duplicate on the product page and even then if they have a different layout, text links for navigation and a footer or header with words it isn’t 100% duplicate.

On product mix pages and comparison pages you’ll more than likely be combined with other vendors that have the same product and because all of you are feeding in your descriptions and prices you’ll see that they are all live on the same page and site.  Because they are all live and on the same page it makes the page technically different than your own and the SEs may not consider duplicate since the overall content is different than your site and unique to the query that pulled the result with the multiple products, images and descriptions on that page.

What we need to remember is that Duplicate content is about the exact same layout and the exact same words in the exact same places.  That is what will get your sites to stop showing or really pick one site over another.  With that said even though your sites are different, you run the chance of the duplicate wording favoring more authoritative sites more commonly over newer sites with less authority.   At the same time, the more feeds and merchant content on the page and the more the navigation varies the safer you are, at least in my opinion.  So what can you do to protect yourself from feeding your feed and content into a more authoritative site or from having to compete with older sites when you are receiving a feed?

Merchants:

You should create two versions of your database.  One version will have image names made for SEO and your custom written descriptions for the SEO of your site.  The other version should have number names images or whatever is not on your site and you should write separate short and long descriptions for the vendors and Affiliates to use.  You can also just feed in your supplier supplied descriptions as well since they will not be appearing on your site.  This will not only help to calm your worries about being penalized or losing positions to Affiliates and other Vendors using your content, but will also allow you to edit your feed with specials and deals and keep your goal prices on your site.  You can better compete on Amazon with the better prices and with your other vendors that have on site checkout, but remember that if you use this feed for Affiliates and CSEs without an onsite checkout you have to keep the numbers on your site to keep their traffic happy as well so that they don’t see one price on one site then hit yours and find out you are actually a lot more expensive.

Affiliates and Vendors:

You guys have it easiest and hardest.  You are getting the same content and possibly in the same exact layout as every other Affiliate in your niche.  What you need to do is find a way to make it unique for your sites.  Here is what I recommend doing to keep your site unique and your content and rankings growing.

  • Host the images on your server and name them with your own naming system and SEO strategy.
  • Rewrite all descriptions and store them in your database.  This makes your content about 100% unique.
  • Find vendors that aren’t as well known or aren’t heavily promoted to keep random descriptions for products that are still relevant on your site and the content and product mix even more unique.

4.  Where should I use my datafeed.

This is kind of an obvious answer but many people will create their datafeeds and then say now what?  The answer is use it everywhere it makes sense and where you can turn a profit.

Use it to feed Google Base.  It is free and can drive revenue easily.   Use it for the Comparison Engines because that is what most of them require to list products, especially to list large amounts of products.  Use it to update and do mass listings in sites like Amazon or other ecommerce sites.  Basically look through your vendors and see if they accept feeds.  Then just add the products you want to add to those sites and start submitting your feed.

5.  What tools are available to make my life simpler (Yup I love using proper English in posts lol).

This is kind of a tricky question.  You should first figure out what your goals are and then start submitting and partnering with different tools.

I prefer to use tools like GoDatafeed and other feed aggregators because they not only make submitting feeds to the different channels easy to do, but they have analytics tools in them so you can also tell how you are doing.  Besides using the datafeed submission tools like GoDatafeed you should also ask your channel partners what they want and use to promote you.

Affiliates for example use PopShops, GoldenCan and other tools that rely on feeds.  By providing your feed to these vendors, some cost money, you have not only given your Affiliate partners another way to promote you but you also gain exposure to the Vendors user base if they advertise who they have as a Merchant partner and who has the products that the publishers or partners query for enabling you to have an even larger reach into that particular channel.

Datafeeds are an extremely large part of Online Marketing and if you don’t have one yet you need to really look into creating one.  Once you see the difference it makes in your online channels and how many new Vendors and Partnerships you can have because you have a datafeed you will thank me.

If you found this article helpful, please feel free to leave a comment below or tweet it by clicking the green tweet or retweet button at the top of this post.  Thank you again for reading my blog.

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3 thoughts on “Datafeeds 101”

  1. Two things here I need to say – first – Great job Adam, excellent information for Merchants and Affiliates (as usual)!
    I set up my templates for datafeeds to use

    for descriptions and also do customizations using regex. The only issues I have seen in this is that some merchants will put out a completely generic description that can’t be fixed and make any sense.

    Google knows what affiliates are, they understand the relationship between merchants, networks and affiliates. When you add “nofollow” to links going to the network, it only reflects badly on the affiliates and since about this time last year, PopShops has been adding “nofollow” to all affiliate to network links. There isn’t a way to get that out and yes, I have an account there that should allow me to control it. They removed that feature when the business changed hands.

    Oh, and a problem with uploading and renaming the images – some merchants change inventory so frequently, you can be serving images of discontinued products without a hint. With thousands of images in a feed I will use whatever they issue so long as it isn’t a “Camera Raw” type image for a “Thumbnail” that is too huge for web consumption. And there’s more of those out there than you would think. It is a problem.
    Thank you!
    Nancy

    1. Hi Nancy,

      Great to hear from you! Thank you for the detailed comment.

      I agree with you on all of the above. When I do use images on static pages that I know will be out of style, I try to make a note of the date of the post or page and say that they may not be available. If possible I also let the visitor know that they can probably find similar options by clicking through the image links. I also only do this with specific merchants that I know have relevant product categories that they’ll redirect the pages into and that I think will be in business for a very long time.

      It’s tricky and not the best user experience, but it could be a possible solution if your product mix needs to be static and you cannot continue to change or uptdate your pages because you have thousands of them.

      Thank you again for the comment!

      Adam

      (Quick side note, I thought this comment was on a different post and meant it for a different one.)

  2. With all the different specs for each feed, I can’t imagine doing this manually. Back when I worked with an ecommerce store that had over 10,000 products I researched and encouraged them to use GoDataFeed. Unfortunately, they were a Yahoo store and weren’t hosting their own images so they would have had to move the image hosting to get it to work.

    With GoDataFeed, merchants and affiliates can create unique descriptions for every single feed which I believe will set them apart and get them the search listings when everyone else is using the description the manufacturer provides.

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