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As performance marketing matures, merchants and affiliates are seeking the most efficient ways to drive traffic, conversion rates and profitability.Yet product feed technology is not well understood and there is a growing list of potential online marketing applications that require feeds in different formats 

With more e-commerce sites than ever before, it is vital that any product promoted online via a third party website can be found quickly and easily. The consumer wants the information they are looking for to be delivered in one simple, clean hit. To achieve this, a merchant can build a product data feed for a specific online marketing application, comprising product information such as product attributes, promotional text, pricing and availability. 

However, product data feeds must often be supplied and structured in different formats for different third-party online marketing applications. Applying a product feed across multiple channels (e.g. affiliates, PPC search, email marketing) and potentially hundreds or thousands of third-party sites increases complexity by an order of magnitude. 

In the past, merchants have also struggled to ensure pricing and availability information included within the feed accurately reflects their inventory on a daily basis. In addition, the product data feed can become unwieldy if it contains too many combinations of different products. All too often, it was left to the affiliate to extract product information in the format required to convert it into consumer-facing content. The result was inaccurate product information resulting in a poor consumer experience that can be damaging to the merchant’s brand. 

Data feed technology has therefore evolved, with advanced data extraction, feed creation tools and platforms being developed. This has enabled merchants, affiliates and other agencies to use product level data across a wide range of online applications to drive up conversion rates and incremental revenue.

Getting tooled up – the power of the data feed

Next-generation data feed solutions allow feeds to be generated and deployed quickly and at low cost by extracting the ‘front end’ product-related HTML code from the website, with no requirement for any ‘back end’ data – or expertise on the part of the merchant. By harvesting elements such as pricing, availability and product attributes directly from the merchant’s website, it is possible to ensure that the extracted data feed is comprehensive and accurate. A merchant can then deliver this to its network affiliates, third-parties or into web based applications, such as advertising widgets. In fact, all of the product elements can be delivered into content that their online audience may be engaged with. 

At the same time, affiliates also need feed creation and management tools to quickly and accurately convert information carried within a merchant’s product feed into consumer-facing content. They also require controls for ensuring consistency in ad/brand messaging, and to present special offers or engaging content relevant to their target audience.

Interactive and engaging content is critical in the conversion of the online consumer. Ad and widget creation tools, for example, can allow affiliates to generate dynamic adverts that go beyond the simple ‘banner advertising’ concept and enable consumers to interact with products via the banner. Furthermore, Facebook Commerce (f-commerce) and social media widgets also provide an effective way of engaging customers with brand-relevant, fun and potentially viral media. 

Delivering mutual benefit

The complex nature of affiliate marketing can certainly bamboozle all but the most tech-savvy. There needs to be investment of time and resource from both merchants and affiliates to make it work long term. 

Product data feeds that are accurate, well structured and rich in information simplify the affiliate proposition by making distribution of the product feed much easier. When feeds are combined with ‘easy to use’ deployment tools that enable the customisation of feeds and the production of dynamic advertising units, they provide a platform for powering the best online product marketing performance.

Lee Cash

Published 3 August, 2011 by Lee Cash

Lee Cash is Co-Founder at FusePump Limited and a contributor to Econsultancy.

4 more posts from this author

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Nicholas Flood

Nicholas Flood, Senior Product Manager, whatcar.com at Haymarket Consumer Media

I've also found http://jitterbit.com/ to be very useful at taking in multiple feeds and then spitting them out in the required format. Of course you need to go through the pain of setting up the solution and developing exactly what you require.

almost 5 years ago

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Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital Marketing at Lost My Name

Firstly, you need to update the 2nd link which seems to not work

@Nicholas that's a great suggestion, thanks

my main frustration as an affiliate has been taking in various formats into a format I need. Sometimes the data is missing, sometimes it is not quite the right format and other times the mapping is just not worth the effort.

It certainly helps when merchants plug into a network's data feed tool but again with so many different networks you end up with a similar situation... if only there was some form of standard.... fusepump certainly helps merchants create data feeds quickly and helps conform but my feeling is it is far too fragmented with a mixture of merchant direct feeds, network feeds and hybrid feeds like those of fusepump

almost 5 years ago

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Richard Gilfillan, Digital Marketing Analyst at Musto

What a coincidence, currently setting up an XML feed and did not realise it could be as complicated as it is. Just hope the conversion rate is worth the effort.

almost 5 years ago

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Angry Affiliate

I run a mobile contract comparison (affiliate) site and am frequently frustrated by the lack of consistancy in feed content and format from the various merchants. This has caused so much frustration that I've been driven to use a 3rd party feed which combines that of multiple merchants in a usable format,of course this is at the expense of comission - around 15% less than the direct feeds provide.I can't speak for other industries, but certainly the mobile network industry need to club together to come up with a single, yet flexible format to help their affliates perform better. Moan over..

almost 5 years ago

Lee Cash

Lee Cash, Senior Business Development Manager at Qubit

By far the most common request we get from affiliates is to "standardise" and aggregate feeds. I put the word standardise in quote marks as I'm not actually aware of any standards to work to here. FusePump co-wrote some guidelines for the IAB Affiliate Marketing Council on product feed guidelines for retail and we're about to produce some for mobile. However, it's difficult to propose a "standard" for all feeds as we are also conscious that we want to allow retailers to communicate all their USPs and product attributes via their feeds. To provide for both standards and creativity, we would end up with extremely long attribute lists with many attributes barely populated for a lot of retailers.

Depesh correctly points out that there is often a lot of mapping work involved in working with feeds, particularly if you are working across multiple networks (or networks who do not provide any of the category mapping pre-populated). Again, no single category mapping exists, and this is generally restricted to retail categories where it exists. I'd love to hear suggestions as to which source could be used as a standard categorisation, to include all sectors.

I agree that the easiest sector to standardise is mobile as the product offerings of the various providers are very similar. FusePump already work with Orange and O2 and with the imminent work on feed guidelines for mobile we will seek to engage with the other major providers too. Watch this space as we may be able to provide this aggregated feed for mobile in the near future.

almost 5 years ago

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Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital Marketing at Lost My Name

"...co-wrote some guidelines for the IAB Affiliate Marketing Council" - I think therein lies the problem, in that the uptake of 'guidelines' rarely get adopted by everyone and 'guideline' in itself is a margin within which to operate. To standardise needs more than a guideline. How we'd ever reach that for data I don't know whether that's possible

So what's the best we can do? Having a look at jitterbit it looks to offer the kind of mapping where I could take feeds in various formats and various data points into my own custom mapping. It would require a lot of initial effort to setup and then the ongoing maintenance as merchants are added/change but I can't see past something like this for the immediate future...

Another good example is Easy Content Units which does a great job of aggregating products and again it may be that this is the simpler method for most affiliates, trading a percentage of commission for an off the shelf technology to get your affiliate site up and running with maximum merchants for minimal effort...

almost 5 years ago

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Jeff Federman, Webmaster at Telmar Group Inc.

Thanks for the blog. I have found this very useful as am setting up an XML feed and didn't ever thought that it could be so much complicated. http://www.telmar.com

almost 3 years ago

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