About Traffic and Offer Visibility on Comparison Shopping Engines

Feeds are a valuable channel for many merchants, but one that is often misunderstood.

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Visibility Strategies

Many engines give some indication of why certain merchants appear at the top of search results pages, category pages, or product pages. No engine is completely transparent, however, so you never know exactly what factors are used in their display algorithms. It is best to do whatever possible to address all potential factors that could be used by an engine. Here is a list, in no particular order,  of factors that should be considered when attempting to impact the visibility of your CSE offers:

  • Popularity Historical Traffic Data -   Many engines have such a factor in their display algorithms, both for category/browse pages and search results.  The idea here is that the offers that have received large amounts of traffic in the recent weeks/months or even longer are likely to be valuable to consumers. In addition, they are valuable to the CSEs themselves because traffic on such offers has already generated revenue for the engine, and is therefore likely to do so again if presented to a consumer. This concept of momentum favors long time, consistent CSE advertisers and therefore works against newcomers. It can be a very powerful part of an engine's algorithm, particularly on pages where no user query has been run, but is also the toughest to influence.
    • With the exception of repeatedly clicking on your own offers, which is expensive and probably won't work anyway, there is no way to directly influence this factor. It can only be influenced indirectly by maximizing other factors with the hope that those will draw traffic to your offers, slowly increasing this popularity aspect. However, you should do everything you possibly can to protect whatever popularity you already have.
    • One way to do this is to keep existing offers live whenever possible.
    • Removing offers from a feed is an important part of controlling profitability, but unless you absolutely have to, you should think twice before allowing your entire feed to go dark. This means keeping your account funded and keeping key offers in your feed. If you allow these key offers to be removed from an engine, it may be difficult to re-establish the visibility on that engine.
    • In addition, do not change the unique identifier for an offer in your feed. Even if all other details of an offer in your feed are the same, a new unique identifier is likely to be interpreted by the CSE's system as a new offer, which means no historical traffic data will be associated with it. This is something to keep in mind when changing feed layouts, feed providers, e-commerce systems, etc.
    • No matter what other changes you make to your business, make sure the unique identifiers you send to CSEs remain consistent or risk your current placement and the traffic that accompanies it.
  • Store Rating/Featured Store Status -   Most of the major CSEs have their own  survey system  that allows consumers to review merchants. These survey results are displayed next to the merchant name for other consumers to see. The overall quantity and quality of these survey results are often part of CSE display algorithms. This is particularly true when one or more merchants have achieved a rating level that qualifies them for the trusted or featured store classification on that CSE. See each  provider page  for more information on these programs.
  • Title/Description Relevance -   Just like on regular search engines, CSEs are motivated to deliver relevant results when a query is run to ensure the user has a good experience and therefore comes back to the site. When a query is run, most engines will extract from their database all products and sort them initially by relevance. Relevance is, of course, a relative term and can vary from one engine to the next. Generally, strive to describe each product clearly and completely, including the brand, color, and any other relevant adjectives and ending with the noun that is the actual product. Some of our  provider pages  have further details and there are some  basic dos and don'ts  when it comes to CSE titles and descriptions. In addition, integrating keywords proven to drive traffic and revenue are a significant opportunity for many merchants. Use data from your paid search campaigns or natural search data if you have it and use business rules to splice any missing keywords into your titles and descriptions.
  • Feed Completeness -   Some CSEs will look at the extent to which your feed data covers the available fields and use this as part of their display algorithm. For example, if shipping information is included at the offer level or if stock information is present. It is recommended that you provide as much information as possible, not only because that is what engines want, but also because the more information conveyed to the consumer before you pay their click, the more likely your visitors will be to convert into customers. In addition, be sure the data is accurate and updated regularly, and use clear images so users are clicking through just to get a better look and not because they are interested in buying.
  • Merchant UI Completeness -   This correlates to the prior point in that CSEs want as much information as possible to be displayed to the consumer so they don't have to dig around for it. Due to this, entering and updating your store information, shipping options and customer service details can have a direct impact on display on some engines.
  • Bid -   Not all engines support bidding at the product or category level, but those that do generally integrate the bid level into their algorithm. It is not always as strong of a factor as you might expect when individual listings are returned, but it definitely play a significant role on product pages, where multiple retailers are advertising their offers on the same product.
  • Price -   Price is not the only factor in offer ranking on CSEs, even on product pages, but it is a component and is available as a secondary sort on the product pages of most sites. For obvious reasons, price is important and does need to be competitive, especially when competitors are selling the exact same item.
  • Categorization -   Categorization is key for optimal visibility, particularly on pages when no query has been run and in instances when a very general query has been run. In order for your offer to appear on the first page of a category browse page, it has to be assigned to the category. When general queries are run, some sites not only offer but require consumers to select a category to view because the total number of results on the query was very large. In addition to visibility, incorrect categorization can have a negative impact on your conversion rate.
  • Page Matching -   For offers of product types that are in cataloged categories, such as electronics and computers, correct page matching is critical for visibility. If your offer does not match to the established page for that product, it is likely to receive very little traffic. As mentioned previously, the bid, price and survey score of each merchant helps dictate their rank on product pages, but if the offer isn't matched to that page, all of those elements become predominantly useless. Product page matching is driven by brand and MPN data, or sometimes UPC data, so it is critical that you are sending not necessarily the correct part number and brand data, but the data that the engine expects for that product. Unfortunately, they are not always the same thing. For more information on matching, please see  CSE Product Page Matching  .
  • Use of Other Features (Logo / Promotional Text) -   Most major CSEs charge for display of a merchant logo. NexTag does the same with their marketing message. Since these carry an additional CPC, they are often treated like an increased bid and therefore can impact rank.
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