Product feeds are the fuel that powers ecommerce. It’s how merchants deliver their wares to customer touchpoints like marketplaces, advertising platforms, and social channels.
Optimizing your product feed is the process of customizing your data for individual touchpoints in order to improve engagement with that touchpoint’s audience.
Google Shopping generates over 75% of retail search advertising spend and has become the most popular channel for ecommerce marketers. Nine out of 10 consumers price-check products on Amazon. Facebook reaches 59% of the world’s social media users. It’s the only social platform to reach more than half.
If you wanted to market your products on these three channels, you would need at least three different product feeds, each with a unique set of data requirements. So how do you optimize a single catalog for channels with vastly different specs and audience expectations?
Read on to learn the 9 best practices we follow in our product feed management and shopping campaigns to reduce feed errors and induce engagement.
1. Understand Shopper Intent
You can't optimize your product feed without thinking strategically about your customers. To identify opportunities that will create the best shopping experience, map out your customer's journey from initial search query to checkout. This will uncover all your opportunities to match product content with shopper intent.
People are most likely to purchase when they can quickly and easily find what they want to buy. Rich product content helps them make an informed decision, and they're less likely to get frustrated if they can complete their transaction in fewer steps.
When allocating resources, always prioritize your most valuable products. Focus on those that have the most significant impact on your bottom line. Always provide complete product data and identify and fix any critical issues for those products.
To identify which product optimization techniques are most beneficial for your target audience, run frequent experiments. For example, try adding color to your product titles and measure any change in your performance metrics — test different approaches to discover what drives results for your business.
Seek to differentiate your product listings and ads with product ratings, customer reviews, promotions, and local inventory ads. To set your listings apart from your competitors', use your product attributes to highlight your product’s benefits.
2. Build a Base
You can't optimize your product feed without first setting a solid foundation. Every channel has a strict set of base requirements.
Google Shopping, for example, requires that the following attributes be included:
- Product ID
- Image link
- Product category
- Manufacturer Part Number (MPN)
Keep in mind that this is only the bare minimum. You should strive to include more attributes when possible. Providing more information increases the likelihood that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, or any of the myriad of channels available to you via product feed, will show your ad for specific search queries.
Pay-per-click (PPC) shopping campaigns don't utilize keywords, so additional product attributes may increase your product ad’s quality scores, which are vital to getting more impressions and getting a higher return on ad spend (ROAS).
If possible, always include the following attributes in addition to the base required fields:
- Identifier Exists
- Global Trade Item Number (GTIN)
- Sale price
- Custom labels
3. Maintain Accuracy
It doesn't matter how much data you produce if it isn't accurate. To build trust with your audience, use the most up-to-date and complete product information you have.
Then, maintain up-to-date availability and pricing, including taxes and shipping. You can do this manually, but you're less likely to make errors or fall behind if you're using automated feed delivery, structured data markup, or Google's Content API.
Customers won't be happy if they don't see the product pricing or availability they expect. Product mismatches will also be a disappointment and lead to an increase in returns.
Product feed optimization requires always including the most detailed product type values and product categories that are at least two to three levels deep. Then, arrange for your product type to begin with a broad group and end with a more specific one. Avoid using synonyms, promotional text, or search query terms. Only categorize products by type.
For example, you could use the following product category structure:
Women's Apparel > Clothing > Loungewear > Pants > Sweatpants
In your product data, you should include a unique product title and ID for each product. Using the same ID will preserve the items' historical data. Through a unique title, you can showcase the item details and attributes to help your customers find what they're searching for.
4. Test Title Formats
Now that you've optimized your feed with additional product attributes, you can try other product feed optimization tactics.
It's a good idea to test a variety of product title structures to discover what your target audience responds to best. Most industry experts suggest you include the following details in every product title, when applicable:
- Model number
- Brand name
Here are some title formats we test for engagement and conversion optimization:
Home & garden title format examples:
- Bath towels: Brand + Line/Pattern + Material + Product Type + Quantity, Color
- Bedding: Brand + Line/Pattern + Thread Count + Material + Size + Product Type, Color
- Tableware: Brand + Pattern + Product Type, Amount
Electronics title format examples:
- Brand + Model Number + Size + Product Type + Screen Side (If needed) + (Color/Pack/Size)
- Brand + Model Number + Product Type + (Color/Pack Size)
- Brand + Model Number + PC Type + (Processor Speed + MB of Ram + Hard Drive Size + Optical Drive)
Apparel title format examples:
- Brand + Use Case/Sport + Occasion + Product Type + Gender
- Brand + Keyword 1 + Material + Occasion + Product Type
- Brand + Gender + Style + Product Type
Jewelry title format examples:
- Brand + Product Category + Gender + Metal Type + Shape + Material + Product Type
- Metal Type + Product Type + Pattern + Occasion + Size
- Brand + Size + Product Type + Metal Type + Keyword + Product Type 2 + Usage + Guarantee + Size
Sports & outdoors title format examples:
- Brand + Age Group + Finish + Product Type
- Sport + Product Type + Age Group + Brand + Keyword + Product Feature + Gender + Color, Size
If you're in a niche industry, you may choose to add more or less information. What is important is to continually test until you pinpoint which format your audience likes best.
5. Choose the Right Primary Image
Online shopping is a visual experience. Even before they realize it, shoppers will judge your product ads based on the images they see. Images that disrupt the flow of the search results page will naturally draw the shopper’s eye. But that doesn’t mean they will get the click. To do both, the image (and the ad as a whole) also needs to meet the shopper’s expectations.
To make sure your images are optimized, always:
- Make sure the product variants match the picture (i.e., material, size, color, etc.)
- Use high-quality pictures (that are optimized for mobile users)
- Test product images vs. lifestyle images to see what performs best on a particular channel
- Watch for text over the picture (sales copy, watermarks, MPNs)
It is imperative that your primary images are chosen and formatted with the channel’s audience in mind. Images that don’t meet a channel’s aesthetic or style, however, can still be used as secondary images.
6. Include GTINs
GTIN is one of the most vital feed attributes to consider when building listings. If your product has a GTIN, use it. If it doesn’t, consider getting one. Google, for example, won’t publish your listings if a known GTIN is missing. Google may still approve your product without a GTIN, but it will set it as a lower priority than products that do.
Using GTINs in your product feed makes your listings eligible for Google's shopping comparison feature. The more Google knows about your listing, the more data it can access to measure relevance and determine whether to show your products for a search query.
GTIN is a single attribute, but it carries a lot of information. Google (and other channels too) can cross-reference a GTIN against all the indexed data for that number, thus adding valuable product details and serving your ads in more relevant ways.
If your products don’t already have GTINs assigned, you can create one through GS1.
7. Use Custom Labels
Including custom labels on your product listings isn't required, but it's recommended. Labels can make building and segmenting your product ad campaigns much more efficient.
Using custom labels, you can segment product groups by specific attributes that lay outside existing categories and product types.
For example, many merchants choose to utilize tiers when pricing products ($29.99 and below, $30.00 to $49.99, and so on). Do this, and then you can segment your product groups based on price. Then you're able to adjust your budgets and bids to products with a higher average order value. Custom labels are also helpful when including negative keywords for shopping campaigns.
Segmenting your products in this way is possible at nearly every attribute level, creating endless opportunities. Other ways advertisers segment campaigns are by "Spring/Summer Collection," "Best Sellers/Worst Sellers," and more.
8. Leverage a Product Feed Platform
Ensuring that your product feed is accurate and optimized is a full-time job.
There are three ways to manage your product feeds and it’s important to understand each before diving into your product data:
- Manual product feeds using a spreadsheet
- Product feeds directly from your store using content API
- Automated product feeds using an app
Unless your store is very small, manual product feeds should be eliminated right off the bat. Manual data entry processes almost inevitably lead to feed errors. Besides, managing more than a few dozen SKUs manually will soon become a data nightmare.
Content APIs are an easier approach than manual data feeds, but with content APIs, you lose the ability to fully customize and optimize feeds. Pumping product data directly from your ecommerce platform to your sales and marketing channels leads to monolithic data dumps.
That’s why at a certain point, successful sellers opt for a product feed management tool.
For starters, product feed platforms combine the automation of content APIs with the customization options of manual feeds.
Feed platforms also simplify the integration process from your catalog to your sales channels. This is especially useful when you sell on multiple channels.
Then there’s the compliance component. Some feed platforms continually check your feeds for errors and give you instant feedback on how to fix the problem.
Product feed platforms serve as dynamic data management systems for incoming catalog data and outbound channel feeds. With a feed platform, you can control what products go where and how you present them by implementing a few IFTTT rules. Customizing and optimizing channel feeds, which used to take hours of meticulous data entry, takes a few seconds and the push of a button.
Start Optimizing Your Product Feeds Today
Having robust, optimized product feeds is crucial to the success of your ecommerce business. Product feed optimization will help you crush your campaign goals.
Channel requirements, but pay special attention to audience expectations. The product data you present on each channel should reflect what those shoppers are searching for. Every channel is a new opportunity to optimize product data in a way that resonates with that audience.
GoDataFeed is a product data management software that streamlines how retailers manage, optimize and publish products across the Web. The platform is fully integrated with over 200 channels so retailers can spend less time formatting and enhancing product data, and more time selling.
Bryan Falla is a digital marketer with roots in journalism and creative writing. Over the past decade, he's helped hundreds of online retailers develop and launch ecommerce marketing strategies. When he isn't educating retailers on ecommerce, he's out exploring South Florida and stalking local breweries. If data is important to you, why not read more about starting to use an Ecommerce ERP?