Apparently, the first e-commerce transaction in history took place in the 80s, when a very modern British old lady decided to order her groceries using Video Text. Although the first secure online transaction, via a proper website, was in 1994. The purchased item was a CD by Sting. Since then, online shopping has grown to become a common event in our daily lives.
As a retail store owner, your website isn’t just a static page that informs of your location and contact number anymore. Chances are it also contains a built-in online store. Or maybe you are starting to consider to add one, to offer your products on the Internet. In that case, you will have to become familiar with some new terms, like “keywords”, “SEO”, or “product feed”.
Product feeds are the keystone around which your online selling efforts revolve. Any store with an online presence should be using them.
This post will help you understand what a product feed is, and how to use it to grow your business.
First steps: What is a product feed?
A product feed, also known as a catalog, price file, price list, or item list, is a text file that contains structured and relevant information about your products. It's basically a list of all your products including “attributes”. The product attributes should be very describing and include everything a customer could be interested in knowing about the product.
This is why product feeds add so much value to your online business. If you have a quality product feed, containing the right terms and keywords, potential customers will find your products when they really need them. It is the best, most targeted advertising strategy one could ask for. We may use different platforms, but we all use search engines when we need to buy something: You are offering customers what they need when they need it, because they’re searching for it.
What are attributes, and how do they work?
As we have explained, the basic element of product feeds are attributes. The attributes’ names are added one by one to the first row of the spreadsheet. Then, one has to fill in the rest with descriptive information about each product that we want to promote.
The number and specific names of attributes will be different depending on the platform you submit the product list. Some common attributes are the product’s “id number”, as well as its “title”, “description”, and “price”. But there could be many, many more. Every e-commerce platform has its own rules, so be sure to check their FAQs and guidelines to create a feed that works.
Check Google Merchant Center’s help on data feeds, as an example.
Some attributes have set values while others can be filled in using any information, any text you need. For example, one of the basic attributes required for Google’s Merchant Centre is the “condition” of the item, and it only allows three values: “new”, “refurbished” and “used”. Any other text or synonyms describing the condition of the item won’t be accepted.
What can you do if your feed doesn't have the exact attribute names and the correct values for the platform you want to use? Feedeo makes this very easy and intuitive. Using its mapping feature, you can match your feed's information with the required fields of every platform.
How to create a product feed.
To create your product feed, you have three options:
- Create one from scratch. It isn't the best idea, but if you are just starting and your store is a small one, it can do. Just create an XML file that contains all the information about your products as indicated in the platform's guidelines.
The main problems with this system are: it takes a lot of time, the file you create is static and won't update automatically, and it's difficult to scale it up as your catalogue grows.
- Use some automatized system from your e-commerce platform. The most popular platforms to create online stores allow you to export product feeds automatically, from your site to a file. It will be a static file, though, so it won't update itself either. Using this system will save you loads of time, so use it if you offer a wide range of products.
- Hire a developer. The best option if you can afford it. Hire a developer and explain to them what you want, to create a custom product feed. What you really want is a feed that will fetch the products daily and upload them to a server, so they are available at a specific URL.
What are the options to export a product feed?
The most common file formats for product feeds are text (.txt) and XML (.xml), but Feedeo also supports .csv files and others. If this is the first time you create a product feed, it is recommended to use a .txt file, since it requires less technical knowledge.
You can export your product data feed into any of these formats. If you are using Shopify or Tictail as the e-commerce platforms for your site, Feedeo can fetch the information directly from the backend.
How to submit and update your feed, and why Feedeo simplifies it.
Feeds contain all sorts of information: the products you offer, which are available, which are out of stock, which are on sale, if you have any special offers running... This is why they need to be updated often.
As we explained earlier, unless you hire a developer, your list will probably be a static file exported from your e-commerce platform. This means you will have to remember to update your feed manually on the platforms you're using. If you don't, the information on search engines won't match the reality of your online shop.
Feedeo offers an inbuilt schedule that will fetch your product's information daily or weekly, as you wish. Here's how:
Remember that URL we mentioned before, where your data feed will be stored? Feedeo will check it as often as specified and update your feed on all the e-commerce platforms you're using.
Create one custom feed that updates automatically + Use Feedeo to submit it to several platforms and keep it updated on all of them = One feed to rule them all.
Click here to access Feedeo's feed specification.
Some advice and best practices.
Now that you understand the basics of what is a product feed, we would like to share with you some of the best tips and tricks to create well-performing product feeds, from our own experience.
- Make the most out of your images submitting several points of view and sizes.
You should add at least two photos for each product: a thumbnail and a full-size image in good quality. The size will depend on each platform, but 160x160 is a pretty safe bet for thumbnail size.
Most platforms demand just one picture per product, but if you'd like to show multiple points of view it is possible to include them just in case. Name the attributes to remember what each image is for: Main POV (Point of View), Left POV, Right POV... Each one should have their own thumbnail and full-size versions.
- Links are crucial, so make sure they are working and lead to the correct product. Here is a tip so you don't waste much time doing this: check the bounce rates of your pages for hints. If they increase suddenly on a specific URL... you can guess what's happening, right?
- Here is a tip from our developers: The way your site is built can affect the product feeds. For example, if one product is featured on several categories your product feed will be a bit messy. That's because the same id number will have to appear on several different categories. In this particular case, to avoid it, you should choose the best fitting category for the product. Just one. Or you can feature it on two categories, but making sure the id numbers are unique for the product each time. This is one of the common mistakes that can cause problems in platforms for feed management.
- When setting the descriptions and product names, keep the first part relevant and use keywords. Think as your customer: why do they need this product? what problem does it solve? what would they type into a search engine? Think like your target customers and write the answers down as inspiration. The most relevant information about the product should go first since many search engines only show the first characters of descriptions and titles. What makes your product special? Is it the quality, the price, a special offer? Put that first so your product stands out among the others while customers are scrolling down. And remember that accurately describing titles are the best! No one wants to feel deceived.
- Finally, some advice on attributes. First of all, the more the merrier. It's better to include too many attributes than too few; it's easier to select what attributes to use than to make them up afterwards. And about specific attributes, titles should describe the product; descriptions should not contain any weird HTML encodings; prices needs to be the exact same as the ones visible on the products' landing pages (if not, that product will fail on pretty much all channels). Finally, what really makes a difference is to categorize the products correctly and as thoroughly as possible. Use category, sub category, sub category 2 and be even more precise than that if you can. That will make the products very easy to search. If you are advertising on Google Shopping, use the Google product category taxonomy.
Also, follow these tips to maintain your feed's quality over time:
- In case you wonder how often to update your feed, we usually recommend setting Feedeo's schedule to refresh daily at 2:00 AM.
- Follow each e-commerce platform for policy changes. The rules and regulations of each channel can change over time and make your feed useless. If you are using Feedeo you don't need to worry about this, though. We have it covered.
- Work on your website and feed actively to keep a coherent online presence. For example: if a product is trendy and you want to create an offer, do so and make sure there is an attribute in your feed to tell customers the product is on sale.
We hope this was helpful! If you still have some more doubts, feel free to send us a message. We'll be glad to help.