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SES: Compare This, Shopper!

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One in three online users visit a comparison shopping engine during the holidays, and Internet entrepreneurs should understand how they differ from conventional search engines. Our Chris Richardson took in the discussion of these services at SES Chicago.

SES: Compare This, Shopper!
SES: Compare This, Shopper!

The comparison engine is a different animal than the general purpose search we know and love at a variety of sites. Comparison shopping engines aim to accomplish what would take a human visitor multiple trips to a number of websites to complete..

Speaker Brian Smith said users of these engines are gold for retailers, and they should be highly targeted since they are ready to make a holiday purchase.

He cited Shopzilla as the largest of the various options that exist: Shopping.com, Yahoo! Shopping, PriceGrabber, CNET Shopper, Nextag, and others. They work on a PPC basis, and all of their listings are sponsored.

Free options exist, notably Google Base and Ask.com’s recently-launched Pronto. To get listed with these services, a retailer will have to create a data feed, and send it to those engines.

These data feeds should contain several fields of information for each record in the feed. Those fields could include name, description, price, link, image, URL, product type, category, gender, age range, size, color, and more as appropriate.

As visitors to those free engines search, matches to content in one’s feeds will bring those items to the searcher’s attention.

Crafting these feeds can be a labor intensive process, but an organized retailer probably has this information stored in a database and can export it to a spreadsheet quite readily. Understanding the requirements of the engines before submitting the feed will save a lot of headaches, so grab their feed specs and learn them thoroughly.

Jake Berry recommended retailers start with high-margin areas, since these will give some flexibility during the comparison engine learning process.

The campaign will need to be managed actively, across campaign, category, and product. Those who do this well usually have taken some time to understand pricing, price changes, and bidding well.

Be sure to give those engines what they want in the feed. Fill in the recommended feed data, and try to provide as much information as possible. Being seen as authoritative helps with perception of a site’s brand through the prism of the comparison engine.

When Smith returned to the podium later in the session, he gave some feed optimization tips. HTML and dollar signs cannot be part of a feed; they will be rejected by the engines. Tracking information can be placed in the URLs.

For payment options, the retailer should list all the valid ones for his site. If Google Checkout is among those choices, Smith said a quantity must be included in the feed, otherwise it may be rejected.

Brian Mark, who our readers may recognize as a WebProWorld moderator, spoke about the difficulties associated with shopping search. An unwary retailer could be caught up in any of these.

As more competitors enter the comparison engine arena, costs per click also increase, to the delight of the shopping engine’s operators. Mark said the data from these engines is tough to track, and analytic tools have not caught up to the demands they impose.

It’s a matter of sorting out the clicks from the sales, Mark said, and the clicks can pile up quickly. Track as much as possible, but be aware the figures from an analytics solution may not match the true impact from comparison shopping.


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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

SES: Compare This, Shopper!
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