Feeding Frenzy, Part 1

The portals are in investment feeding frenzy mode. Yahoo’s acquiring Overture, which had previously acquired FAST and AltaVista; while Google’s acquired search personalization startup Kaltix, Applied Semantics, even Blogger.

But the feeding frenzy I’m talking about is the one likely to impact search marketers. Increasingly, the major portals accept product and page data feeds, including those beyond XML paid inclusion. If you sell products online and don’t use these feeds, you may be missing opportunities.

Tapping the power of product and page feeds in a manner that delivers acceptable ROI isn’t trivial. Your internal and/or search agency teams must have an understanding not only of the technical specifications of each feed that’s to be developed and managed, but also how feed management will be executed to assure the right blend of ROI, spending level and profitability. Each traffic vendor that accepts feeds has slightly different specifications. Some accept images, pricing, inventory product descriptions, keywords, and a variety of other information for the feed.

Below, the basics for some of the most important feed-driven opportunities. Due to space limitations, the following is an overview of the major aspects of specific feeds for each engine. I’ll cover the feed specifications; how to generate feeds for individual engines, as well as specific search engine nuances in a later column.

Google: Google accepts free feeds to Froogle, its shopping engine which is technically still in beta. Froogle feeds are tab delimited. Submitting a feed gets no guarantee of rank or even traffic. But the price is right.

Yahoo Shopping: Yahoo may be willing to include your products in Yahoo’s Shopping area, based on its own crawl for free, or you can take advantage of Yahoo Product Submit. Yahoo does not seem to give internal products (those in Yahoo stores), or paid search feeds preferential treatment (higher position). However, all indications are that we will see some major changes at Yahoo Shopping within its comparison shopping service. Recently, it launched SmartSort described as a personalized sorting system for results. If you have a Yahoo Store, it is easy to get your products included in the shopping area. A simple opt-in is all it takes.

AOL Shopping: AOL has a shopping area accessible within the AOL community and to those who shop from AOL.com. CPCs (cost-per-click) are based on industry category and negotiated with the AOL sales team. Feeds can be adjusted for seasonality or other factors.

MSN Shopping: MSN has an internal shopping comparison engine where tax and shipping policies are displayed along with your logo. Search results display based on relevance. As with many of the feeds, data can be updated daily. MSN has a holistic relationship with its advertisers, so feed pricing is dependant on an overall package.

Shopping.com: (Formerly DealTime) Shopping.com determined its future lies in form and function. It’s a hub where shoppers can start a search for any product. Feeds can regularly be updated. Shopping.com runs a paid placement auction where you can specify the CPC you’re willing to pay (subject to minimums).

MySimon: One of the early shopping bots. Now, MySimon accepts data feeds from thousands of merchants. CPCs are based on category.

Pricegrabber: PriceGrabber accepts feeds in a variety of formats as do most other providers, but also will build a store with its Storefronts program. It’s an alternative to the Yahoo Stores or Amazon Services.

Nextag: Like Shopping.com, Nextag runs a paid placement system to determine the default position for advertisers in the search results.

BizRate: You have to hand it to BizRate. It really gets merchants to sign up for its ratings service. Many a time, I’ve checked out of a store and been asked to rate my experience. The data are, of course, valuable to marketers. It got BizRate’s brand out there for free. No, wait… merchants pay to send traffic to BizRate! Beyond merchant surveys, BizRate accepts merchant feeds in a paid placement environment.

Amazon Services: Amazon is moving towards a mall model. Merchants of all kinds can submit feeds and build stores. One of the best descriptions of the service comes from a job posting: “Amazon Services provides retailers a turnkey, outsourced e-commerce solution that incorporates Amazon.com’s widely recognized shopping features and technology, while still allowing retailers to entirely control the look and feel of their Web sites.” Sounds tempting.

In a future column, I’ll compare the data feed specifications for the above players. I’ll also reveal how smart marketers use feeds to drive revenue, customer acquisition and profits.

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