In part one of my interview with Become.com's founder and CEO, Michael Yang, Yang answered questions about the shopping search engine's new interface created to enhance the online shopping experience. In part two, Yang gave some great guidelines for preparing a shopping search feed. Part three addresses optimization tips and techniques and common mistakes to avoid.
ST: What are the three biggest mistakes merchants make when preparing a data feed for a shopping engine?
MY: The first mistake some retailers make is not following the data feed requirements and adhering to the policies of a particular shopping engine. Many engines don't allow HTML in a title or description. If merchants don't follow these requirements, it may cause individual products or the entire feed to fail. Second: using the same titles for fields as are listed in the data feed specification document. If your partner asks for a product price, give him a field called Product Price that lists the price you sell the product for on your site. Don't provide both a Retail Price and Sale Price column and leave it up to the partner to determine which maps to the product price. Finally, don't be afraid to ask questions of your partner. It is far better to optimize and resolve concerns in the initial building process than it is to wait until after the feed has been uploaded and failed due to misunderstanding. It is amazing how few retailers ask for help in this regard. We're more than happy to help our merchants optimize their feeds for a better experience.
ST: Explain the differences between Become.com and other shopping search sites, such as Shopping.com and Shopzilla.com. What are the main benefits of using Become.com compared to those of using other shopping sites?
MY: Become.com has unique features for comparison shopping that are not available on most mainstream shopping sites. For example, our Nearby Stores feature helps customers find not only the best price but local stores to buy [from,] if that's their preference. And we just launched our Coloring Box feature that easily lets you sort products by specific color. But the real differentiator is our exclusive Research feature. By crawling over 4 billion pages of product information and using our AIR technology and Search Zoom to find the best content, we help users find useful buying guides, reviews, manufacturer data, and blog buzz to figure out which products meet their needs. Become.com is a place where people can start their shopping search and not just compare prices. Users utilizing our Web research before going to merchants provide highly qualified traffic, as they have the knowledge that they need to be ready to buy.
ST: I have to admit I was very impressed with Become.com's response to search engine spam and how quickly the offending pages were removed. If a merchant or online shopper finds a fishy Web page in your SERPs, how should they report it to keep the high quality of Become.com's index?
MY: Users encounter much less spam on Become.com than on general search engines like Yahoo and Google. Plus, we make it easy to report spam. Users can go to the bottom of any SERP to the "Rate This Page" feature. After they provide a 1-5 star rating, they can also leave feedback to let us know about any spam result that they may have found. The reason we have successfully reduced spam is that our AIR [algorithm] is extremely resistant to many of the spam techniques that afflict the other engines. We look at context when valuing links. Consequently, trading lots of unrelated links or joining a large link farm doesn't benefit ranking. AIR also evaluates outlinks, so that sites that link to known spam are de-ranked. That way, a user reporting even one spam site can bring down an entire interlinked spam network.
ST: How does Become.com decide which part of the description to use and truncate for the search results? What other guidelines can you give merchants for preparing their pages' appearance in your SERPs?
MY: To give users the best possible descriptions in our Research results, we analyze each Web page for core text. Specifically, this allows us to identify the most important sections of each page. In real time, we then extract portions of this core text and use key sections in our descriptions.
For appearance purposes in our Research results, there are no special techniques we recommend to merchants. For ranking purposes, however, it is extremely important that helpful shopping information (reviews, guides, etc.) be present in addition to basic sales information.
ST: What are your reporting capabilities? Can you offer any tips and guidelines for tracking success in your shopping engine?
MY: Our basic reporting capabilities include click, costs, and the number of successfully catalogued products on our site. We just upgraded our reporting capabilities last month to include an automated signup process for new retailers and expanded reporting for all our retailers. Two key advantages that we have over much of the competition are that we allow retailers to bid on individual products for better placement on our product search engine. We have coupled this with reporting on an individual product's clicks and costs. Merchants can use these new features to optimize their campaigns by identifying and promoting their high-performance products.
ST: Are you ready for the holidays? Any predictions on Become's activity?
MY: We feel extremely good about our preparation for the upcoming holidays. Our research service is more comprehensive than ever (with over 4 billion pages), and our shopping service now includes over 20 million products from 5,000 merchants.
We also have fully implemented a shopping news service (for product announcements, recalls, and safety info), a product-focused spell checker (that does a great job of catching incorrect brands and model numbers), a new local store finder service, and helpful dynamic suggestions that update with every user keystroke. Our Search Zoom feature is also extremely valuable for finding great buying guides, product reviews, discussion forums, and product details.
Overall, we have seen tremendous growth (over 35 percent per month in each of the past several months), and we expect significant and continued growth throughout the holiday shopping season. We expect Q4 to be our best ever. We believe our innovative technology and friendly consumer features will help make Become.com the first place consumers go to for their product research and comparison shopping. We're ready!
ST: Thank you, Michael, for a great interview!
I haven't gushed about an interface in a long time. Even if your site isn't a shopping search engine, I encourage you to look at Become.com's new interface. Its new technology, updated SERPs, and overall look and feel might give you ideas for improving your own site.
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Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.
March 19, 2014