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Shopping Search Tactics

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Shopping search engines make it easy for people to research and buy products. They can also be a powerful and cost-effective customer acquisition channel for merchants.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, August 2-5, 2004, San Jose, CA.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members offers additional tips and strategies for maximizing the effectiveness of shopping search feeds, including the importance of doing cost analysis to make sure that an adequate ROI is being achieved through a shopping search campaign, how to take advantage of additional promotional opportunities through Shopping.com, and additional guidelines for preparing and monitoring your inventory on shopping search engines.Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Types of shopping search engines

"One of the benefits of shopping search engines is that they allow businesses to place their online stores in front of shoppers where they are already transacting," said Chris Bowler, Media Director and Search Practice Lead for iTraffic.

"Many shoppers might not know your brand," Bowler continued, "and it is unrealistic to think that people are always going to click on a keyword or banner ad. With shopping search engines, we see the potential for putting our products in front of consumers where they're already used to shopping - on their favorite shopping sites."

But shopping search engines are not a replacement for general search engines just yet, at least for the average consumer. "In a 2004 Forrester survey, approximately 18% of U.S. consumers mentioned shopping search in sites they visited to purchase products," said Laura Thieme, President and Founder of Bizresearch.

According to Bowler, there are three types of shopping search engines:

  • Commission based
  • Referral fees
  • No-charge model

"With a commission-based site," Bowler explained, "the whole transaction is completely done on the original site. You pay a commission for every sale from the site. An example of this model is Amazon.com."

"On the other hand, with a referral fee model," he continued, "shoppers may search and view products at the shopping engines, but ultimately, they clicking over to the client site to complete the transaction. Then there is the no-charge model - Froogle is an example of the no-charge model."

What all of these models have in common is product feed, in which merchants provide the shopping search engines with the product inventory available on their sites. These are typically flat files, following the exact template and specifications that are provided by each search engine. The templates are fairly unique, and the specifications cannot typically be interchanged. "You really have to work on each template, one-by-one, and that really is the best way to get the most accurate listings on that search engine possible," said Bowler.

Data feed optimization and advertising

On some shopping search engines, search engine advertising appears in the search results before the product-page data. Merchants should always evaluate the time, expense, and ROI for ad buying and optimization.

"Coordinating shopping with search is where search engine marketers come in," said Misty Locke, President of Range Online Media. "If you recently saw a drop in your listings with Yahoo Shopping, it is because Overture listings are now coming up before the shopping feed."

However, Yahoo is currently doing a lot of testing for improvement. "They are changing now," said Locke, "and it is coming through optimization. So start optimizing your Yahoo feed. Here you can optimize to do better in the shopping portals than a company spending more than you."

Preparing your feeds for shopping search engines

With 18 million visitors a month, Amazon offers merchants a very broad reach. "Amazon is complex because the process is all done through Amazon, and we are on a commission," Bowler explained. "We pay 50% of gross order value, including shipping. We adjust for returns. We don't pay for returns but we pay a flat fee if one occurs. And we pay a modest monthly fee."

"To set up Amazon, you have to review about 29 documents and submit back to Amazon," continued Bowler. "It takes two to four months to do all the set up that is required - all of your legalese, your privacy policies, etc. needs to be included in your storefront, policies on returns and credits. They need content and images from you to create your storefront, all of your shipping options, any taxable rules (per state). Then you have to set up the product feed - your images, swatches, pricing, tax codes, and available inventory."

Thieme also recommended having a user-friendly and search-friendly merchant site. "If your site has poor ROI, do not expect shopping search to improve your conversion rates," she said.

Related articles:

A Basket of Shopping Search Services
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/3285941

Shopping Search Fuels Online Sales
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/2214421

What's New in Shopping Search
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/3285871

Getting Started with Shopping Search
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/2161231

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Marketing Tactics with Shopping Search Engines discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

Shari Thurow is the Marketing Director at Grantastic Designs, Inc. and the author of the book Search Engine Visibility.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members offers additional tips and strategies for maximizing the effectiveness of shopping search feeds, including the importance of doing cost analysis to make sure that an adequate ROI is being achieved through a shopping search campaign, how to take advantage of additional promotional opportunities through Shopping.com, and additional guidelines for preparing and monitoring your inventory on shopping search engines.Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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