In part 1 of my interview with Become.com‘s Jon Glick, senior director for product search, he answered questions about using Become.com and Become.com’s SERPs (define). This week, Glick answers questions about preparing shopping search feeds.
ST: How does one become a merchant for Become.com? And what are the benefits?
JG: We have an open signup process available to any merchant who has an interest in listing on our site. Merchants can contact us by visiting www.become.com/merchant or sending an email to merchant[at]become.com. Just include contact information in the email, and our account management team should get back to you within one business day.
As for why merchants should list with Become.com, we allow the merchants to display pictures, prices, [and] promotions along with title [and] descriptions in a comparative format to the consumer. Because customers can do their product research directly on Become.com, we are available to provide merchants with more qualified leads than a simple classified listing or other comparison shopping service would provide. Additionally, there are no setup fees or long-term commitments.
ST: Explain the Become.com merchant review process. Does a Become.com editor review a submitted shopping feed and send it to the Become.com database if accepted? Is guidance provided to a merchant should his feed have some problems?
JG: We provide all merchants with our data feed specifications, which list the required fields they need to provide to us in order to be listed in our service. Once a merchant has submitted their feed, we have automated and manual checks that review each feed for accuracy. If there are any problems, our account management team will contact the merchant.
Through the merchant center interface, we also provide merchants with the number of items in their feed and the percentage that have successfully processed. This way, both the merchant and our account managers can identify and correct any feed issues quickly.
ST: Does a feeder’s robots.txt file need to allow for one’s images folder to be spiderable?
JG: We assume that if a merchant has supplied the URL for their image, they’d like us to retrieve it for display to shoppers on our site. The BecomeBot crawler that’s used for our algorithmic crawl is separate and does, of course, respect the robots.txt protocol.
ST: Do products need to have a price featured on the Web page to be listed in Become.com? (Some stores have a list price, and people must contact them so a sale price can be negotiated.)
JG: Yes, price is a required field in data feeds submitted to Become.com. Merchants can supply a message in the Notes section of their data feed indicating the price is negotiable.
ST: Can Become.com discern between a list price and a sale price?
JG: We store two product prices: the price the store sells it for and the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. In all cases, we want to show the actual price at which someone can buy the product, regardless of whether it’s classified by the merchant as a list price or a sale price. When we process data feeds, we look for the actual selling price, independent of how it’s described.
ST: Is there a minimum and maximum amount of products you can send in a Become.com shopping feed?
JG: There are currently no minimums or maximums. Some specialty manufacturers send us a few dozen SKUs, while large retailers can send well over a million. We just ask that each SKU in the feed represent a unique item available for order from the merchant.
ST: When do shopping feeds expire and need to be resubmitted? How often can a merchant update shopping information? Can a merchant resend as often as he likes?
JG: There’s no set expiration date for data feeds. Some merchants have products and prices that are the same for a season, others change daily.
If we notice a large number of expired items in a data feed, we’ll typically contact the merchant about updating their feed. [W]e don’t want users getting a bad experience or merchants paying for traffic that’s unlikely to convert to sales.
Merchants can resubmit feeds at any time. We rebuild our product index nightly from the most recent submissions. Additionally, merchants can change their CPC bid prices in near real time, using our merchant center tools.
ST: Can a nonprofit site have items featured on Become.com? If so, how should a nonprofit organization contact you? Do you offer special paid inclusion rates for nonprofits?
JG: At present, Become.com doesn’t differentiate between merchants that are part of nonprofit organizations and for-profit merchants. Nonprofits can use the standard signup process on Become.com.
ST: What is the typical waiting period for acceptance of the Become.com shopping feed?
JG: We typically process new merchant applications within one business day. Setup to seeing products live on the site can be as quick as 48 hours.
ST: Are Become.com feeds trackable? Can one measure their effectiveness in a Web analytics software program (such as WebTrends, ClickTracks, HitBox, or Urchin)?
JG: We allow merchants to include tracking codes into the feeds that identify leads from Become.com. Additionally, merchants can log into the Become.com merchant center and view the reporting dashboard, which provides campaign metrics, such as click, CPC, [and] cost.
ST: Is the ranking system based on page/site popularity and the amount of content in the Become.com feed?
JG: For our Sponsored Matches (a.k.a. the shopping results), position is determined by a combination of three factors. In order of decreasing importance, they are keyword relevancy to the user’s search; popularity (as judged by both the information in our organic crawl and by the CTR on that product in Become.com’s shopping results); and CPC bid price.
ST: Would adding product reviews as a feature increase relevancy (such as those found in actual shopping search engines)?
JG: Become.com is looking for great product information to show our users. Typically, pages that are merely transactional don’t rank as highly as those that provide additional, useful information, such as full product specs [and] reviews. There are some commerce sites out there that have great, unique information; Amazon and Zappos come to mind.
It’s important the review content be truly unique, not just taken from another source, such as a publicly available RSS or Amazon feed. Sites that grab these widely available data and try to pass themselves off as review sites tread into spam territory.
ST: What are the most common mistakes that can be avoided you see feeders make?
JG: Some are the most simple. First, make sure your feeds are updated in a timely fashion. Dead links create a bad experience for users and are basically wasted money for the merchant.
Second, follow the feed spec rules, particularly in regard to categorization. Most sites do not support categories like “Specials” and “Sale Items.” Other feeds don’t provide categories at all, which creates another set of problems.
Third, include as much information to identify the product as possible. If you’re selling a book, include the ISBN number. Likewise, include a UPC, manufacturer model number, etc. whenever they’re available (Become.com supports all these in the data feed).
Finally, make sure to provide tax and shipping information so users can see the total price. This ensures you get the most qualified leads and ups conversion rates. Become.com allows merchants to provide tax and shipping information on a SKU-by-SKU basis right in the data feeds or to use the merchant center to create tax and shipping schedules.
ST: Can you offer any tips or guidelines for optimizing a Become.com feed or a product page on a site?
JG: The best way to optimize a feed for Become.com is to make sure you conform to the feed specs and all your information is accurate. Many feeds contain errors that cause some products not to be included in listings.
Next, understand most price comparison engines determine relevancy by the brand, model, title, and description. Make sure to include all the relevant keywords in both the title and the product description. Become.com also allows for bidding on a category and SKU level. Track performance and optimize the position for your products in the results to get the best ROI [return on investment].
Finally, make sure to include promotions, such as rebates, free shipping, [and] coupons, to differentiate your site from the competition. The Become.com account management team is happy to work with each merchant to improve the quality and performance of their feed. Our philosophy is to work with merchants to help them achieve the best results, both in… financial performance and… providing the most complete information for the shoppers on Become.com. We believe in an open policy as opposed to a secret sauce.
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