They’re everywhere. Just beneath the surface of your favorite online shops. Latent. Ready to emerge when called upon.

Product feeds.

There’s no mystery there, right? And yet, these ubiquitous data dynamos baffle ecommerce marketers on a daily basis.

So what are product feeds, really?

In their most basic form, product data feeds (aka product feeds or shopping feeds) are CSV, TXT or XML files containing product information. These are used by product marketing channels like Amazon, Google and Facebook to take in merchants’ product data for the purpose of displaying product listings.

Why are product feeds so important to ecommerce marketers?

do i need a product feed?

Product feeds are required to submit product data to shopping channels.

That’s how the majority of ecommerce campaigns employ product feeds; basically, just to get product data from one place to another. And that’s perfectly fine – technically, there’s nothing wrong with submitting basic (unoptimized) product data like that.

But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that there’s a deeper significance to your product feeds. You see, shopping channels and marketplaces use your product data as an indicator of your campaign quality. Some channels look at the data in your feed to draw conclusions as to whether or not to show your product for a particular search query.

Your product feed can drive the success... or failure of your ecommerce campaigns.

Power sellers use this to their advantage.

There are many benefits to having an optimized product feed. Here are a few of those benefits:

Better Quality Scores

Channels only have one thing to go on when their algorithms are deciding what listings to show shoppers: your product data.

What’s included in your product feed makes all the difference. Better, more complete product data wins every time.

Data Accuracy

Do your product listings match your store data? Is your inventory up-to-date? Are all product updates current? Let’s hope so.

Nothing spells campaign chaos like having old, inaccurate data on your product listings. Not only is it a bad shopper experience, but it can also cost you getting booted off some channels.

Flexible Product Data

Your store has an identity. Tone. Style. It’s why your customers love you.

But when you’re paying top dollar to marketing channels for impressions and clicks, you want to stick to the best practices that will get you the most conversions. Product feeds give you flexibility over your product data, allowing you to manipulate and enhance your store’s data in order to capitalize on every impression.

Who benefits from an automated product feed?

ecommerce product listing automation

One way or another, if you sell products online, you’re going to use product feeds.

Now, whether you manage product feeds manually or using your web store’s built-in product feed or using a product feed automation tool, that is the question.

As you’re reading this you’re probably thinking, Of course the guy at GoDataFeed is going to suggest that I use a product feed automation tool. Obviously. It’s what they do. Right?

Well… Not so fast.

You have three options to manage your multichannel product feeds and it’s important that you understand each before you make a decision:

  1. Manual product feeds using a spreadsheet
  2. Product feeds directly from your store using content API
  3. Automated product feeds using an app

Manual product feeds

This is exactly as it sounds. You manage product data using a spreadsheet that you update manually on Excel or Google Sheets or OpenOffice Calc, etc. Every time a change is made, you re-upload the file in CSV or TXT format to each channel.

This option should only be considered by sellers with very small catalogs and a lot of time to spare.

Content API product feeds

These require a direct connection between your web store host and the channel you want to sell on.

Shopify, Bigcommerce, 3dcart and Volusion all have some version of this available directly on their respective app stores. This option offers a quick way to connect to channels.

The downside of this option is the lack of customization and optimization – your data will go out as it exists in your store. This should only be considered by newer sellers who aren’t ready to make the leap into product feed optimization.

For more advanced sellers who want to create custom “optimized” titles and descriptions (as we’ll discuss in a minute) or map fields to custom or supplemental data, you’ll need a product feed management option with more oomph.

Enter the product feed automation solution.

Product feed automation

These tools might be overkill for some sellers... for most others, though, an automated feed can save them tons of time, boost their productivity and make their jobs a whole lot easier.

The trick to choosing a product feed automation tool is to opt for a “scalable” solution; that way you don’t overpay for features or allotments you don’t need.

So who benefits the most from an automated product feed? Let’s review.

Merchants with More SKUs

If you have a dozen products, product feed automation probably isn’t necessary. The more products you have, though, the more need you’ll have for a tool that makes handling all that data simpler.

Merchants with Catalogs that Change or Fluctuate

A common mistake product feed automation naysayers make is assuming data is static. It’s not. Prices change, inventory changes, colors are discontinued, sizes shift. If your product data changes even a little bit, a product feed automation tool can save tons of time. Not to mention the headaches you’ll avoid by not submitting incorrect data.

Merchants who Want to Sell on More Channels

This might be the most practical use of product feeds. The fact is, your product data is not “optimized” for Google. Or Amazon. Or any channel. It’s optimized for your store. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Walmart, Pinterest… they don’t care. They want the data optimized specifically to their specs. Here’s the catch: Each of their specs are unique to each channel.

So how do you optimize for each while not destroying the optimizations you’ve made for your own store? If you guessed product feed automation, you’re catching on

A product feed automation tool is the single best option to manage your product catalog laterally to multiple channels. In fact, product feed automation tools are also often referred to as multichannel feed tools.

When should you optimize your product feed?

Some power sellers understood really early on that optimized product data was their golden ticket. You can identify these by their expensive yachts. For the rest of us, now -- like right now, stop reading and go optimize your product feed -- is the best time.

Other good times to optimize product feeds…

If your campaigns are struggling:

We mentioned this before. Your product feeds are the single most important source of information to channels. It’s where their algorithms figure out whether to show your products -- or not. If your campaigns are not doing as well as you’d like, it’s product feed optimization time.

Search Engine Land ran an experiment on product feed optimization. What they found was both alarming and encouraging. By simply running rule-based title updates through their feeds they were able to increase impressions by 2,000% and CTR by 88%.

optimized product data
Source: Search Engine Land

Source: Search Engine Land

You’re expanding to new channels:

A new channel can be a great incentive to dive into your product data. A fresh start. Get in there, identify gaps in your product content, enhance titles, spruce up descriptions, add bullet points, enhance relevance with use cases, add images. Use this new channel as a gateway to better product data practices. Then apply what you’ve done to previous channels and see how much better you’ll do.

Warning: Always make changes carefully. If your existing channels are performing well enough, apply spot changes rather than bulk changes. Monitor performance of new data carefully before committing to new practices. And ALWAYS back up previously used data in case you need to revert back to former listings.

How to Create a Product Feed that Wows Shoppers (and Channels)

People talk about “product listing optimization” like it’s some magic wand that might fix all your campaign problems. It’s not magic, but the results can be magical.

Imagine you spend a few minutes reformatting your product title structure, a few minutes concatenating data fields into one really juicy product description, and another few minutes getting the rest of your fields just right (i.e., color, brand, etc.). And then, like magic, you start seeing double, triple, quadruple the number of impressions and clicks.

It sounds like hyperbole, but it’s a common occurrence. No bid, no budget, no magic wand can do for your campaigns what a solid product feed optimization strategy can do.

1. Capitalize on Required Fields

The first step is to lock down your required fields. These vary from channel to channel, but assuming you are (like most other sellers) starting with Google, here’s a quick checklist.

  • ID
  • Title
  • Description
  • Image_Link
  • Availability
  • Price
  • Brand
  • GTIN
  • MPN (if GTIN not available)
  • Condition
  • Multipack
  • Is_Bundle
  • Age_Group
  • Color
  • Gender
  • Material
  • Pattern
  • Size
  • Item_Group_ID
  • Shipping
  • Tax

Of this list, there’s not a lot of room for “optimization” as most of these will carry static/unchangeable data. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the effort to push the few optimizable fields into rock star status.

Title: Create a Template

product data optimization ecommerce listing titles

Of all the things you can do to improve your product feed’s performance, optimizing the title might be the most effective use of your time. It can be done fairly quickly and has the potential to drastically improve results.

We recommend concatenating your product title from multiple key attributes. By doing so, you increase your titles’ relevance for a variety of searches -- and improve your chances of matching search queries.

Here are some commonly used templates by product category:

  • For Apparel: Brand + Gender + Product Type + Attributes (e.g., color, material, size)
  • For Books: Title + Type + Format (e.g., paperback, eBook) + Author
  • For Electronics: Brand + Attributes + Product Type + Model
  • For Hard Goods: Brand + Product Type + Attributes (e.g., size, quantity, weight)
  • For Seasonal: Occasion + Product Type + Attributes

Descriptions: Get Creative

Most channels don’t let you use keyword targeting in ecommerce/shopping campaigns the way you might target on text ad campaigns. But that doesn’t mean you can use research keyword to fine-tune campaigns. You just have to be sneaky creative about it; use them in your product descriptions.

Expand your keyword list by thinking up ways your shoppers might search for your products.

  • Include synonyms for keywords already on your list
  • Apply colloquialisms for the areas you sell in
  • Use phrases to represent use cases for your products

Colors: Standardize

ecommerce product data optimization color

Google, like most shopping channels, has a limited list of color selection options. That’s why, when optimizing your product’s color field, you always want to stick to “common” colors.

Even if your products are designed to feature exotic colors like azure and bisque and burlywood and coral, list the common cousins of your actual color.

Azure? Go with blue. Coral? Go with orange. Salmon? Go with pink.

You can still use more creative color descriptions in the product title and description -- and even include a high-quality color swatch as an additional_image -- to give shoppers are more accurate feel for your product’s color. But for the sake of helping channels index your products and display them properly when shoppers filter for color, use common colors.

2. Complete Your Feed with Optional Fields

Don’t settle for data “as is” and definitely don’t settle for just the required fields. If you, like everyone else, are submitting the bare minimum, what’s going to persuade the channel’s algorithm to move your listings into prime position?

The more information you provide, the better. Here’s a simple formula to work from: More data = better product feeds. It’s as simple as that.

Here’s the checklist (Google) we use internally to ensure our product feeds are filled to the brim with product data that’s useful to shoppers -- and bots.

  1. Additional_Image – Add the URL of another image of your product. This is an opportunity to actually show your product in use or from another angle. Up to 10 images can be included.
  2. Mobile – Add a mobile-friendly landing page if you have one that differs from a desktop version. This ensures maximum exposure to mobile users.
  3. Availability_Date – If your product is available for preorder, you can use this field to show customers when it will be ready for delivery.
  4. Expiration_Date – Use this field if your product will only be available for a limited time so you don’t receive orders pass the expiration date.
  5. Sale_Price – This field is available if you want to offer your product at a discount.
  6. Sale_Price_Effective_Date – Schedule when the sale price goes into effect and when it expires.
  7. Unit_Pricing_Measure – This may be a required field depending on the laws and regulations in your country. Otherwise, it’s an optional field that you can use to tell customers about the dimensions of your product.
  8. Unit_Pricing_Base_Measure – Again this may be required by law, but it’s also a helpful field if you’re selling your product by unit size (e.g. $1.00/100ml).
  9. Installment – This is only available for companies in Brazil and Mexico that want to offer payment plans.
  10. Loyalty_Points – For companies with a loyalty program, you can display how many points they’ll earn for their purchase.
  11. Google_Product_Category – This is required for Apparel & Accessories, Media, and Software. However, you can use this field to tell Google under which category your product falls.
  12. Product_Type – This is a similar field to the last one, except you define which category pertains to your product.
  13. Energy_Efficiency_Class ­– This is only an option for companies in the EU and CH that want to provide their product’s energy class label. It may be required by local laws and regulations, though.
  14. Min_Energy_Efficiency_Class – Again, this field is only available in the EU and CH for companies that want to include their product’s minimum energy value. It may be required by local laws and regulations.
  15. Max Energy Efficiency Class – This is another field that is only an option for companies in the EU and CH that want to include their product’s maximum energy value. It could be required by local laws and regulations.
  16. Age_Group – This field is required for all Apparel items targeting customers in Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US and any products with assigned age groups. Otherwise, it’s an option for any company that wants to specify their product’s intended demographic.
  17. Size_Type – Use this field to include size characteristics like plus-size, regular, petite, maternity, etc. This is only an option for Apparel.
  18. Size_System – This field is also only available for Apparel. You can use it to specify the country of the size system you used for your product.
  19. Ads_Redirect – Use this field to include the tracking parameters for your AdWords account and better understand the traffic to your company’s landing page.
  20. Excluded_Destination – This setting allows you to exclude products from specific types of advertising campaigns you’re using.
  21. Included_Destination – Use this field to specify which products you want included in a specific advertising campaign.
  22. Custom_Label – You can use this field to assign labels to any products to better organize your reporting and bidding in Shopping Campaigns.
  23. Shipping_Label – You can utilize this field to assign labels to products to help specify the shipping costs in your Merchant Center account settings.
  24. Shipping_Length – This field is required in your account shipping settings for carrier-calculated rates, but any company can utilize it if the length of the product will affect the cost of shipping.
  25. Shipping_Width – This field is also a requirement in your account shipping settings for all carrier-calculated shipping rates. However, it’s always an option if the width of your product will affect your shipping costs.
  26. Shipping_Height – Again, this field is a requirement for carrier-calculated rates. Otherwise, it’s optional if you want to specify how much a product costs by height.
  27. Max_Handling_Time – This field is only an option in the U.S. It’s an opportunity to describe the longest amount of time that will pass between when an order is placed and when it is shipped.
  28. Minimum_Handling_Time – This field is also only an option in the U.S. You can use it to specify the shortest amount of time that will elapse between an order being placed and the product being shipped.
  29. Tax_Category – Use this field to categorize your product by the tax rules that apply to it. This is a good option for any product where custom tax rates apply at the account level.

3. Update and Submit Your Product Feed Daily

Data accuracy is a full-time job. You can’t afford to present shoppers with inaccurate availability, incorrect values or broken links. Worse yet, if it happens enough, channels might take action to penalize you for it.

Your product feed should always reflect any and all data changes in your store and in your inventory. The solution? Update and submit your product feed daily.

The easiest and most effective way to do this is to use a product feed automation platform. GoDataFeed, for example, analyzes your product data and submits a delta file with updates to data multiple times per day to ensure your product listings stay up-to-date.

Of course you can do this manually as well. It’s a much more tedious process but it can -- and must -- be done. The point is, regardless of how you achieve it, your data needs to be accurate. Always.

Let’s get started

Now that you have a strong foundation on product feeds, it’s time to get started. Whether you’re managing feeds manually, through your webstore’s content API or through a product feed automation platform like GoDataFeed, there’s no way around it. You need a product feed if you want to get your products into channels like Google, Amazon and Facebook.

“Our team optimizes shopping feeds at a granular level – using GoDataFeed – honing every data point that helps determine performance.”
“GoDataFeed's low cost solution provides a single point of integration to optimize, automate and track product feeds.”
“GoDataFeed makes it easy for merchants to market their products on comparison shopping engines and marketplaces.”
“We love GoDataFeed and use it all the time.  It is really simple to integrate GoDataFeed into your website.”
“A multi-pronged marketing endeavor probably seems daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Companies like GoDataFeed exist to help simplify the process.”
“Companies like GoDataFeed provide solutions for managing multiple data feeds. They also automatically upload your feed daily, or even more frequently.”
“Data feed tools automate the process and will undoubtedly save you some energy to tackle larger tasks at hand. Personally, I’ve had good experiences with GoDataFeed.”
“Look at more advanced data feed management tools like GoDataFeed [for] the heavy lifting to get your feed in the right format.”
“GoDataFeed is considered by many to be 'king of the castle' when it comes to data feed tools. It’s integrated with many CSEs in addition to Google Shopping.”