The product data feed is the foundation of every PPC-campaign on Google and other shopping channels. There are so many tools to optimize your data feeds and campaigns: How can a data feed tool improve your ROI? Which tools are out there? What should you take into account when evaluating different tools. Let’s address the issues and help you get the tool that is right for you.
How can a data feed tool improve your ROI?
Let’s first quickly refresh your memory on WHY you should use a data feed tool in the first place. A data feed tool enables you to achieve 3 things:
1. Meet the data feed requirements for every channel
Every shopping channel has its own requirements – different field names (ID or SKU), different file formats (csv or xml), different categories, etc. A data feed tool enables you to have the right feed for each channel.
2. Improve the data feeds
Your campaign results improve if you have better data in your feed: “Levi’s 501 jeans – blue, size 32” is a better title than “501”; Update Availability by refreshing your feed every day or add a custom label for products on Sale. Optimizing your data feed goes hand-in-hand with optimizing your campaigns.
3. Optimize Campaign performance
If you know which individual products are performing well and which are just burning your budget, you can take immediate action and remove unprofitable products. A data feed tool can track performance on product level and can perform miracles for your ROAS.
Which tools are out there?
Most shopping carts have a tool (either built-in or 3rd-party apps) that enables the merchant to export a feed to Google and a few other channels. These tools are usually free or very cheap and help the eRetailer to get his products onto certain channels.
There are 100+ data feed tools in the world that do more than that and offer various types of optimization. Most tools are local players – they have good but limited functionality and strong connections with the shopping channels in their home country. There is also a smaller number of large players that offer a complete functionality and have integrated with thousands of shopping channels in the US, Europe and South America.
A rough impression of the data feed tool market looks like this:
There are a lot more data feed tools, especially local players in each country, but the image above gives you an impression of how the market is structured and who the main players are in every segment.
How to Find the Best Data Feed Tool for You
These are the topics that you need to take into account when evaluating tools.
You better consider price right off the bat, since it is a major differentiator. You can save a lot of time if you start researching tools that are within the price range that you have in mind.
Take the following issues into account when considering the price range:
☑ Fit your Budget
The most expensive tools (the ones in the top right corner, like Channel Advisor) usually charge a minimum fee of at least $1,000/mo. If you cannot afford that, don’t spend time reviewing these tools. If you have no budget at all, only look at cheap or free tools.
Cheap tools have limited functionality; Expensive tools offer a lot. You need to understand which functionality you need (see section ‘Functionality’) and then figure out who will give you the best price for what you need.
☑ Cost savings
A good data feed tool will also save you money, because it shows you which products perform well and which products are wasting your budget (see section ‘Analytics’). If you consider the cost of a tool, also consider how much you will gain if your campaign RoI goes up by 20 or 50%.
☑ Modular Pricing
Pay only what you need. Paying for your number of products or for a few functionalities is usually more affordable than a fixed fee that includes more capacity and/or functionality than you need.
Ease of use is crucial. Every action should take less than a minute. We all know that you end up discarding any tool that is not easy to use. Take the following issues into account when reviewing Usability:
In a good tool, you find your way around with little or no instruction. Even if a tool offers a lot of functionality, it should be easy to navigate. If you must read a long manual first; forget it. If you need a 2-day training, something must be wrong.
Take a demo. A good tool should be able to show all features in 20-30 minutes. See for yourself and decide if it is intuitive enough for you.
☑ Support & Advice
Does the tool offer support on the phone or via Live Chat? If you are optimizing your feeds, you want How-to-advice instantly – not the next day.
There are so many things that you can do with a tool. Check what you need on the list below and then see who offers that at the best price.
☑ Connect your store
☑ Shopping Cart
Does the tool integrate with your e-commerce platform? Magento, Demandware, Shopify, etc.? Or does it accept any source feed in a csv / xml / txt / json format?
Is the tool able to download or generate variants.
☑ Merge feed
Can you merge data from various feeds into one source feed.
☑ Multiple downloads
Can the tool download your products several times per day.
Will you be able to schedule your downloads on the exact time that you wish.
Are you able to remove duplicate products from your feed.
Can the tool download multiple language versions of the same shop, like multi-store-view on Magento.
☑ Create data feeds for channels
☑ Preloaded Templates, with the feed specifications of each channel.
☑ Auto-Mapping, input fields are mapped automatically for each channel.
☑ Automatic Error Correction, if you do not meet any requirements.
☑ Map Your Own Fields, to the fields that are required by the channels.
☑ Add Missing Fields
☑ Combine, multiple input fields into one output field.
☑ Edit/Adjust Input Values, replace, remove, pre & suffix, etc.
☑ Re-calculate, numerical values.
☑ Regular Expressions
☑ Exclude Products, from your channel feeds.
☑ Add Categories, map your product types to the categories of each channel.
☑ Merge Variants, into a ‘parents-only’ feed.
☑ Custom Feeds, create a feed according to your own specs.
☑ Copy Feeds, from one channel to another.
☑ Picture Picker, select the right image for each product.
☑ Marketplace Orders Sync, your orders between your shop and marketplaces.
4. Which channels are supported
There are thousands of shopping channels in the world: Search, Comparison Shopping, Marketplaces, Affiliate Networks, etc. Make a list with the channels you would like to be on (in which country) and check if the data feed tool of your choice offers them.
5. Performance Analytics
Knowing the performance of every individual product on each channel is paramount to running a successful PPC-campaign on any channel. Most channels are unable to provide you with this data and if they do, it is scattered in different places and not-actionable.
Some data feed tools offer Analytics and enable you to identify your best-sellers and remove unprofitable products from your data feeds. Merchants usually save a lot of money or better yet: the RoI-increase of their campaigns pays for the cost of the tool multiple times. What to check when reviewing analytics functionality:
☑ Product level statistics
Analytics per channel or per category is not sufficient.
☑ Cost data
You need CPC, CPA. Cost and ROAS for each product on each channel to improve your ROI.
☑ Remove unprofitable products with a single click
☑ Bid Management
What is the extra cost for this functionality & can you use it for selected channels.
6. Online Marketing Agencies
Some data feed tools offer additional functionalities for agencies that are managing feeds for various customers.
☑ Agency pricing
To add as many (large & small) customers as you need.
So each customer can see his own feeds.
☑ Usage data
To charge your customers for your feed services.
To connect shops without having credentials.
7. Managed Service vs DiY
Data feed providers like Channel Intelligence or Fusepump offer a managed service: you do not have the ability to optimize your own feeds; they do it all for you. Most data feed tools offer a Saas (web based service) that enables you to do it all in-house.
The trend in the last few years is geared towards Do-It-Yourself: the campaign manager should manage the campaigns and the data feeds at the same time and there are enough tools that will enable him to do just that. With an intuitive tool, data feed management is no longer difficult or technical.
There are many ways to assess the quality of a tool. Here are several ingredients that make or break the quality of a tool.
☑ 24/7 monitoring
☑ Live support
☑ Instant notifications for failed Downloads, Processing and Uploads
☑ Feed specifications pre-loaded for all channels
☑ Review feeds before uploading
☑ Password protected source feeds
☑ Encrypted output feeds
☑ Custom Channels
☑ Fast downloads
9. Contract & Terms
Many SaaS tools do not offer a contract or a minimum term. You can sign up and cancel any time – no strings attached. That is often not the way to go for Enterprise customers, but for most others it is very convenient. Check what works for you:
☑ Contract or Terms & Conditions or both
☑ Minimum Term
☑ Installation cost
Various tools have different IT-needs. A simple SaaS service has no impact on your IT-department whereas complex tools may require a complete system integration, keeping your IT guys booked for weeks. Keep the following elements in mind when you select a tool and see what your organization can handle:
Subscription service – hosted and operated in the cloud.
Extensions, apps or other software to get your data feed tool started.
With your existing systems.
☑ Tracking software
To be installed.
Summary & Recommendations
After reviewing dozens of data feed tools, we have a few general conclusions and recommendations for you.
There are a lot of tools out there with attractive pricing and very limited functionality and/or ease-of-use. Start your quest by defining what you need and what you can afford:
- SMBs / Advertisers with a small budget have a lot of choice: free, cheap and local tools that offer basic optimization to help you meet the requirements of each channel.
- Large retailers have fewer tools to choose from, but there are several user-friendly SaaS tools with good functionality and an affordable price.
- Enterprise-retailers are often already with large players like ChannelAdvisor or Marin. These are the Ferraris both in functionality and price, but there good alternatives with a better price.
To us, the sweet spot lies in the part where the tools for Large and Enterprise overlap: Tools like DataFeedWatch offer almost the same functionality as the Enterprise tools, but have an easier interface and a much better price. Retailers and Agencies with a big need for data feed optimization, but without the need (and the budget) for a Ferrari, are best served in this segment.