In their most basic form, product feeds are CSV, TXT, or XML files containing the product information that is used by marketplaces, shopping engines, and social commerce channels to display product listings.

And while most campaigns employ product feeds simply to move product data from one place to another, power sellers use product feeds as a competitive advantage.

How power sellers use product feeds

Believe it or not, a product feed can drive the success or failure of an ecommerce campaign.

Data dumps might seem like a quick solution to get products published on channels, but in most cases, they just lead to missed opportunities — and wasted ad spend.

Shopping channels and marketplaces use product data as an indicator of campaign quality. Channels look at the data in a product feed to draw conclusions and determine whether or not to show products to potential shoppers.

Power sellers use optimized product feeds to outmaneuver competing products for impressions, clicks, and sales. Here are 3 ways you can use product feed optimization to improve performance:

1. To improve ad rank and 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.

2. To ensure data accuracy and integrity

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.

3. To create flexible ecommerce content

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.

Product feed management and automation

ecommerce product listing automation

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

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

As you’re reading this you’re probably thinking, Of course 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

1. 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.

2. Content API feeds

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

Store-in-a-box solutions like Shopify and BigCommerce usually build content API feed options to popular channels like Google and Facebook. This option offers a quick, no frills way to connect your store's product data to channels.

The downside of this option is the lack of customization, optimization, and automation. Your data will be published on Google and Facebook (and any other channel with a native content API feed) exactly as it exists in your store (see also: data dump). For that reason, this option should be used only by newer sellers who aren’t ready to take on product feed optimization.

For more advanced sellers who want to "optimize" their product feeds to meet their marketing goals on each channel, there is a better option.

Enter the product feed automation solution.

3. Automated product feeds

Before we explain what an automated product feed solution is, let's first define what Product Feed Optimization is.

Product feed optimization is the process of modifying and enriching product attributes in data feeds for the purpose of improving KPIs on ecommerce marketing channels. Product feed optimization has been shown to improve impressions, impression share, click-through rate, quality scores, cost per click, cost per acquisition, and conversion rates.

A few simple examples of common product feed optimization tactics:

  • Insert keywords into product titles and/or descriptions
  • Append additional values like size, gender, color, material into product titles and/or descriptions
  • Repurposing existing catalog attributes for use in missing channel fields
  • Removing disallowed text such as promotions and ALL CAPS
  • Cleaning up symbols or messy HTML

Product feed automation tools like GoDataFeed make it easy to optimize product feeds. Here's why:

  • Smart templates pre-map attributes for you
  • Customizable mapping lets you decide what attributes go where
  • In-app guides give you channel best practices for each attribute
  • The categorization tool auto-suggests taxonomy
  • You can create dynamic rules that automatically set feed values based on conditions
  • Feed scheduling maintains data accuracy
  • The validation tool checks your data for compliance
  • Error alerts let you know when SKUs need attention

For some merchants, these tactics and tools might be overkill.

For everyone else, an automated product feed solution is the best way to manage product feeds at scale. Our users, for example, rank time savings, improved performance, and reduced labor costs as the top 3 reasons they use GoDataFeed.

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.

Is product feed automation for you?

Now that we’ve established what product feed optimization and automation are, let’s look at who benefits from the use of product feed management tools like GoDataFeed. 

Merchants with many 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 whose catalogs 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 multiple channels

This might be the most practical use for product feed automation. 

When you design your online store, you format your product pages and the data housed within them in a way that aligns with your brand. Your product titles, descriptions, bullet points, images, etc., are all put together in a way that fits your website’s style, tone, and aesthetic. Few sellers design their online stores thinking, “I need to make sure my product pages fit Google’s requirements.” Or Amazon’s. Or Facebook’s.  

The fact is, your product data rarely comes out of the box “optimized” for marketing on any other channel besides your online store. Unfortunately, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Walmart, Pinterest, and all other ecommerce marketing channels will only accept product feeds that are formatted to match their required fields.

What’s worse, their requirements are all different.

So how do you optimize for each channel while maintaining your store’s brand identity? 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. Fun fact: product feed automation tools are sometimes 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…

It’s time to optimize 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

It’s time to optimize if… 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 delights human shoppers and channel algorithms

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. Maximize data quality in required fields

The first step is to lock down your required fields. These vary from channel to channel, but assuming you are starting with Google as most merchants do, here’s a quick checklist.

Basic required attributes

  • ID
  • Availability
  • Price
  • Condition
  • Multipack
  • Is_Bundle
  • Age_Group
  • Gender
  • Size
  • Item_Group_ID
  • Shipping
  • Tax

Semi-customizable required attributes

  • Color
  • Material
  • Pattern
  • Brand
  • GTIN
  • MPN (if GTIN not available)

Customizable required attributes

  • Title
  • Description
  • Image_Link

Non-customizable attributes

Most attributes in this group reference data that doesn't change. Attributes like condition and gender have static values that won't ever need to be modified or improved.

"Optimization" in these cases it’s more about ensuring the field is being used and appropriate values are entered.

Semi-customizable attributes

In other cases, "optimization" refers more to standardization. 

For brand-identifying attributes like brand, GTIN, and MPN, you’ll want to use values that will be recognized and accepted by the channel. These are considered semi-customizable because the supported values can vary.

For example, GTIN allows the following values and formats:

  • UPC
  • EAN
  • JAN
  • ISBN
  • ITF-14

For subjective attributes like material, pattern, and color you’ll want to match your shoppers' preferred terms.

Let’s look at standardized color attribute examples:

ecommerce product data optimization color
Google Shopping color filters

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

Are your products designed with exotic colors like light salmon and dark tangerine and desert sand and lavender blush? That’s OK. The solution here is to replace your product’s unique color values with the related standard color.

Here are a few examples:

  • For light salmon, use pink
  • For desert sand, use brown
  • For tangerine, use orange

Use standard colors in the product titles too. Product descriptions, however, should provide the added detail of the unique color. We also recommend submitting a high-quality color swatch as an additional_image to give shoppers a more accurate feel for your actual color. 

For helping channels index your products and display them properly when shoppers filter for color, use common colors.

Customizable attributes

These are the attributes that allow you to get creative and gain a real advantage over your competitors’ listings.

These attributes are what most people think of when they think of “product feed optimization” and “product listing optimization.”

Title: Create an optimized template for your product categories

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.

Keyword-rich product title example

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: Give shoppers the information they need to make a buying decision

Most marketing channels don’t let you use keyword targeting in shopping campaigns the way you might target on text ad campaigns. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use keyword research 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.

  • Use keywords in your description text
  • Also include synonyms for those keywords so as to not keyword-spam
  • Provide use cases for your products
  • Include sizing and dimensions
  • Include material and/or design information

2. Provide as many optional fields as you can

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 your product listings will be. 

It’s as simple as that.

Here’s the checklist we use internally to ensure our product feeds are filled to the brim with product data that is useful to shoppers and channel algorithms:

  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. 

Let’s get started

Now that you have a strong foundational knowledge of product feeds, it’s time to get started.

Whether you’re managing feeds manually, through your web store’s content API, or through a product feed automation platform, 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.

Use the information on this blog post to guide your strategy or reach out to our product feed experts for more information.