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Getting your products listed on shopping channels is no easy task. Merchants come to us on a daily basis looking for assistance and best practices on getting their products not only listed, but optimized for better sales performance. So we've rounded up the most important and often overlooked "insider" steps on generating a successful data feed.

1. Create Your Data Feed

Let’s start off with the basics—getting your feed to the desired channel. While there are multiple ways to get your products listed, not every option may fit into your ecommerce strategy.

Manually Create a Feed File

If you’re new to the e-commerce biz and have a minimal amount of product data that doesn’t change frequently, one option is to manually create a feed file using a program such as Excel. Be warned: If you have frequent inventory and pricing updates, you can run into major issues such as overselling on marketplaces, product-level errors, and even account suspension. You may also need to create a different file for each channel as not all of them require the same fields. Juggling and updating multiple files requires a lot of man hours so make sure you can dedicate the time to the file maintenance.

Integrate Directly with your Shopping Cart

A few major shopping cart platforms integrate directly with some channels such as Google Shopping. The downside? No option to filter out unwanted or even hidden products. It is basically a data dump of your product data from your platform to Google. Additionally, there are limited customization abilities, meaning that you won’t be able to make many tweaks to your data.

Another thing to note is that with most shopping cart platforms, there are no validation errors preventing "invalid" products from submitting to Google. What does this mean? You won’t get notified of errors or warnings until you actually submit your feed to Google, which may lead to having to submit the feed multiple times before your products are published correctly.

Use a Data Feed Automation Platform

If you are looking for a more automated process, you may want to go with a software platform that integrates with multiple shopping channels. This allows you the flexibility of customizing your product data to fit the needs of each channel. Besides intuitive optimization features, product data "CMS" software (like GoDataFeed) will ensure that the pricing and inventory sent to each channel will sync with your website. Data consistency will lead to less account errors and warnings, freeing up your time to focus on more productive aspects of your business.

2. Review the Feed Specifications of Each Channel

Before you even begin to sell on a channel, review the feed specifications. Feed specs will help you determine if you have all the required data to list your products.

Not only will the specs give you the required fields, they will help you focus in on recommended fields that can help with product listing optimization. If you are a Walmart or Amazon seller, maybe you want to take advantage of additional image fields so a shopper can get better product views. If you sell on Google, not all of the descriptive attributes are required for all products. For example, material is only required for products that vary by material. However, if your product doesn't vary by material but this attribute is still an important feature, you may still want to add it to the feed.

Besides reviewing the feed specs before you begin selling, you also need to stay on top of any feed specification updates announced by the channel. If not addressed, these updates may affect your listings. This year, Google announced major changes to their Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) requirements. The Google Merchant Help Center provides you with detailed information regarding GTINs and even tells you how to find them. Depending on where and what you sell, either the UPC, EAN, JAN or ISBN number will go in the GTIN field. Universal Product Codes (UPC) are primarily used in North America and are 12 digits in length.

While channels will most likely give you some time to adapt to new changes, it is better to get a head start to get extra search traction and avoid future errors.

3. Add Products for Each Channel

Not all products will sell well on every channel, so determining the best sales channels and relevant categories for your online store is an important part of the feed setup process. Some marketplaces, such as Houzz, for instance, may perform better for home and garden merchants while Newegg is geared toward electronics and office supplies.

Many channels also have restrictions on certain products. Both Google and Amazon have strict requirements on tobacco products and do not allow the sale of products such as cigars, chewing tobacco or electronic cigarettes, just to name a few. However, Amazon allows for the sale of hookahs while Google prohibits it. While you may be allowed to sell one product on one channel, another channel may prohibit it.

One thing to note is that some of your products may have manufacturer restrictions, meaning that the product manufacturer won’t allow reselling on specific channels.  eBay may place selling limits on accounts, certain categories or items until the seller establishes a positive selling history or you confirm specific information. Therefore, as a new seller, you may not automatically be able to list all of your products. If you have can only sell a certain amount of products, you have to decide which products are most valuable to sell on the channel and then find an efficient way to send those products.

If you are using a product listing platform, you can apply filters based on your product data to prevent selling certain products. In order to do this, you will need a way to determine which products to send. If you are using a shopping cart platform like Magento, you can easily add a custom attribute to your store indicating whether the product should sell on eBay.

4. Update Inventory and Price

While we briefly touched on this in Step 1, we will dive a little deeper into the topic. If your inventory is not frequently updated in marketplaces such as Amazon and Walmart, you can oversell products, which can leave you with penalties from the channel itself along with negative customer reviews; both of which can significantly impact sales. For those of you whose inventory changes often, frequent inventory updates to the channel are key.

This is why manually updating feeds can create time consuming issues.  For these merchants, we recommend submitting feeds multiple times a day.

Inaccurate prices are another major issue. If you are constantly changing prices, you want to make sure these changes are updated in your marketplaces to avoid pricing mismatches. Even if you don’t actually sell your products directly on Google, Google will throw your product an error if the price in the feed does not match the price on your site.

5. Make Listings Search-Friendly

Online competition is fierce. One way to get ahead is to make your listings search-friendly through the use of keywords, which vary based on what you are selling and should also take into account consumer search terminology. Another trick to keep in mind is to add the most relevant keywords towards the beginning of the title as those words carry more importance. For example, if you are selling a brand name product, you may want to add the brand to the beginning of the title, like 'Nike Red Sneakers.'

This logic also applies to the description field. When your product comes up in a Google search, only the beginning of the description will be displayed so including relevant attributes in the beginning is key. Beyond the most important attributes, the description should include all beneficial product details such as usage, benefits, material, special features, etc.  You want to give the customer enough information to make informed buying decisions.

Certain channels have restrictions on what you can add to a description. Google does not want you to include promotional text such as ‘free shipping’ or block capital letters.  As we mentioned in Step 2, always review feed specs to ensure you are following the channels recommendations and requirements.

6. Maintain Your Data Feed

Data feed maintenance is crucial. If you add your products and forget about them, you may miss major account or product errors that are preventing SKUs from listing. Google has a handy diagnostics tab where you can view both product and account wide errors. With each error message, they usually post a link to their Help Center with suggestions on how to solve the error. For marketplaces, you will receive a processing report outlining your errors. We recommend logging into your account at least once a week to check for errors or warnings.

These six steps are the very basics of creating and launching your product data feed campaigns. As mentioned above, focus on the data quality going in,  keep an eye on campaign performance, monitor and fix any errors quickly, and continue to optimize your titles and description for better search performance.