Shopping / Product feed optimization

by ian on October 18, 2010

Shopping feeds are one of the least sexy, most-neglected parts of internet marketing. But they can really, really pay off. They’re a pain to optimize, too. But they are worth it. Just remember this image of a single day’s sales on a site. The ‘base’ row is from Google Product Search:


If you are selling any kind of product online, it makes sense to build a product feed. If you only have 1 or 2 products, you can input the product feed by hand – read this article to get pointers on how to optimize, though. If you have hundreds or thousands of products, this module will help you learn to manage it all without going completely loopy.

What Product Search Is

Google and Bing both have separate search tools where you can search for products by keyword and get pricing, store names, etc. all in a nice list. There are dozens of niche comparison/shopping engines, too.

I’m going to focus on Google in this module. I’ll add Bing later, when they aren’t changing it every other week. If you want to submit a feed to Bing, go fill out this form, and if they deem you worthy, they’ll send you information.

All of these product search tools grab their data by:

  • Crawling sites normally and grabbing pricing, etc.. I don’t know how much product data they get this way, but they try.
  • Loading product ‘feeds’ that the site owners provide. If you want control, and want to optimize your shopping results, this is what you need, and it’s what we’re going to focus on in this module.

You can always search product data by using Google Shopping. But sometimes the search engines will add product search results to the standard search results, too. Which explains…

…Why You Should Care About Product Search

An optimized product feed can get you to the top of the search results the same way image optimization can: Through universal search. Look at this search result for ‘tennis balls’:


Some little Yahoo! store got the #1 ranking out of 14 million competing pages, because they were number 1 for the product search result. Not bad.

An optimized product feed can put you at the top of the search results for phrases that have clear commercial intent – phrases that will, more often than not, result in a sale. Product feeds are particularly powerful when you’re optimizing for long tail terms, which are also high-conversion, low-competition.

How To Prepare A Feed

The simplest product feed is a spreadsheet. Dump your products to an Excel file, edit ‘em, then upload the file to the search engine, and you’re good to go.

Your e-commerce software should have an export feature. That feature lets you save a CSV (comma separated values) listing of all of your products. Save that, open it in Excel or Google Spreadsheets, and you’re ready to start editing.

Your store may also have an automatic Google Shopping feed. This is OK, but it’s not optimized. If you’re really serious about optimizing your feed, get used to working with it in Excel, or look for a cart system that lets you edit the shopping feed data separately.

You can get the specific formatting instructions right from Google. The best place to start is here. If you want me to add a module on formatting a feed, let me know via the Q&A.

Product Feed Optimization

Once your spreadsheet is set up, it’s time to optimize. It’s tempting to just dump the data into Google and hope for the best, but you’re missing a huge opportunity. Most online stores will generate a shopping feed (or a CSV file) that aren’t optimal. For example, they’ll use all categories and subcategories for the product category name: If I have a product that’s in shoes::dress shoes::black, the store will actually make that the category.

But people don’t look for ‘shoes::dress shoes::black’. They’ll search for ‘black dress shoes’. So you’ll never get found.

See, product search is very literal. If you sell ‘shoes’ but put them in a category called ‘footwear’ on your site and in your feed, you’ll never get a top product search result for ‘shoes’.

So your product feed edits should center around search phrases with commercial intent. Here’s how I do it:

  1. Open your humungous spreadsheet. Let out a sigh. Get it out of the way now. OK, nicely done.
  2. Sort the spreadsheet by product category, department, or whatever you call it on your site. Examples of categories are ‘shoes’, ‘day planners’, ‘books’ or ‘fiction’. Whatever you call them, sort by those.
  3. Search each category using Google’s External Adwords Keywords Tool. While the Google keyword tool isn’t any great shakes these days, it’s a good place to start.
  4. Also search for categories in Google Product Search. See if they exist, and whether they have a good collection of products in them. That’s another good hint that a category is worth pursuing.
  5. Find the least-competitive, most-searched version of your category name.
  6. In your spreadsheet, replace all instances of the original category name with the one you found in the keyword search. Repeat for every category.
  7. Next, look at your product names. Do you include the target key phrase in the name? For example, if you sell Pocky, all related products should include the word Pocky. So ‘Glico 2 oz box’ becomes ‘Glico Pocky: 2 oz box’. Edit all names accordingly.
  8. If you’re really a glutton for punishment, edit all of your product descriptions so that the essential information is in the first 10-15 words. Most product search tools will truncate the description, so details must come first.
  9. If the search engine has custom attributes such as size, color, style, etc. fill those in, too. If you’re the only person selling bright green canvas socks, those custom attributes are your ticket to a top position.

That’s it. Once you’re done, save the spreadsheet and upload it. After a few days, do a few searches on relevant keywords and see how you’re doing. I check weekly when I can, and make little adjustments here and there.

Product Feed Don’ts

Do not:

  1. Use your pre-made cart’s direct-to-search engine submission tool. Again: That will dump unoptimized product information into the search engines’ product search tools. You need to optimize first.
  2. Attempt to spam by packing keywords into descriptions. It’s just not worth it. The product description isn’t that great a signal for ranking in product search, and you’ll end up with descriptions that sound stupid. That, in turn, will mean no one buys your product.
  3. Put ‘CLICK HERE TO BUY!’ or ‘BEST PRICES EVER’ in your product information. Most of us know cheeseball when we see it. Stick to the details.
  4. Change pricing in the feed to try to get folks to click through, then show a higher price on your site. That’s illegal.

Feed Services

There are several feed services out there that’ll take your products and submit them for you. SingleFeed is my favorite. They cost, but they also provide tools to make editing easier. Plus, they do all the work of keeping abreast of new standards, changes (like the ones Bing seems to make so often) and the like. And, they’ll submit your feed to many of the comparison engines out there, too. Those engines don’t generate tons of traffic, but it’s high-converting traffic.

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