Sep 19, 2011

Guest Post: Google's Mayuresh Saoji Shares Product Search Feed Changes

Guest Post from Mayuresh Saoji, Senior Product Manager, Google

Mayuresh Saoji  As of September 22, 2011 Google will begin gradually enforcing the new Product Search feed spec requirements announced earlier (link). Beginning Sept. 22, Google will being dropping items that do not meet the new spec requirements. In some cases, Google may even completely suspend accounts that don't meet the new requirements from Google Product Search. We’re guest-blogging here to make sure that ChannelAdvisor’s retailers are well aware of the changes, and can act in time to avoid items from being dropped or accounts from being suspended from Google Product Search, as well as to provide you with tools available from Google to help you prepare. 

New tools to help you prepare
  • First, use the new Test Data Feed feature in Google Merchant Center (under “Data Feeds”) to test whether your updated feed complies with the new requirements. You will be able to download a full error report and resolve any issues prior to submitting your actual live feed. Rest assured, your test feed won’t appear on Google Product Search.
  • For additional guidance, you can now view our new video tutorials:
  • We are revamping the "Data Quality" tab in Google Merchant Center to enable you to quickly view the most critical data quality errors, and learn how to fix them (coming soon).
Understanding the new requirements

We’ve received a few questions about specific attributes and have addressed these below. It’s a lot to read, but should save you time in the long run. Also, before you cancel vacation for your IT staff, please note that many of the requirements only apply to certain countries and categories.
  • Google Product Category (aka GPC): This attribute ensures that your products appear in the right category (you wouldn’t want that Harry Potter DVD showing up under “Books”) and that we apply the correct set of enforcement rules for a given category.
    • GPC is only required for feeds targeting the US, UK, Germany, France or Japan
    • You don’t necessarily have to send us this attribute. It is only required for items that belong to one of the following seven categories:

1. Apparel & Accessories > Clothing

2. Apparel & Accessories > Shoes

3. Apparel & Accessories

4. Media > Books

5. Media > DVDs & Movies

6. Media > Music

7. Software > Video Game Software

    • For items falling under these categories, you must include one of these seven values appropriately for each item.
    • More granular categorization is always preferred, but don’t stress out about this. If you can follow the level of categorization above, then you’ve satisfied our requirements.
  • Images: We made image_link required for all products. Images are especially important for product in the “Apparel & Accessories” category, where shoppers love to see the different variations of a product.
    • Required worldwide (except Japan)
    • For products that fall under “Apparel & Accessories” (and all corresponding sub-categories), we require unique images for products that differ by the variant attribute ‘color’, or ‘pattern’, or ‘material.’ No one likes seeing a black sweater when they click on the red one.
    • We recommend sending separate images for variant products in other categories as well, but these are only required for “Apparel & Accessories.”
  • Apparel/ Variants: Variety is the spice of life, and we’re working to create a richer shopping experience for apparel & accessories that come in multiple colors, patterns, sizes, etc.
    • Apparel variants are only required for feeds targeting the US. For feeds targeting other countries, the attributes are recommended and may be required in the future.
    • Variant-level information is required only for products in the “'Apparel & Accessories' category, and all related subcategories
    • You only need to send us data for variant attributes if your product varies by that specific attribute. So, if your shirts are all made of cotton, there’s no need to send the “Material” attribute. However, if your shirts were available in three colors and three sizes, you would send us nine separate line items, varying by color and size.
    • There is no penalty for not sending variant level data for other categories
    • If you include variants, you also need to ensure that you send an “item_group_id” to connect those variants and that these group of variants share the same common title. More on this below.
  • Item_Group_ID: We use this attribute to cluster together all the variants you send us for a given item. Sort of like Crazy Glue for variants.
    • This attribute is required only for variant Apparel products in the US.
    • If you have a “Parent SKU” shared by all variants of a product, you can provide that as the value for 'item group id'.
    • If you send us an item_group_id attribute, we will automatically look for variant attributes. Conversely, if you did send us Item_group_id, you should ensure you send us at least one variant attribute.
  • Size: This is an important Variant attribute for “Apparel & Accessories.”
    • Size is only required for feeds targeting the US.
    • Separate your products into different line items in the feed (each line will have a different “size” attribute, and maybe even vary by other attributes)
    • There’s no need to send separate images for separate sizes (unless the appearance of the item changes because of the size)
Please refer back to our detailed Product Feed Specification and Help Center for more information. We hope these tips will help you be more fully prepared to make the most of Google Product Search as we head into the most important selling season of the year for online retailers. 

Shop On! 

Blog Post by Mayuresh Saoji, Senior Product Manager, Google Product Search

 

Jun 24, 2011

Google Changes Webinar Q+A follow-up...

Before Internet Retailer, on June 9th, we held a webinar about google changes including Panda, Google Product Search (GPS) changes and the impact on CSEs.   After 70mins we still had ~10 questions in queue and promised to answer those.  Here are the answers to those questions.  

If you missed the original webinar, you can listen to a recorded version of it here from our webinars page (http://www.channeladvisor.com/webinars/) or follow this link to go directly to the webinar.


Q1: On Google for the term 'clearvite apex',  we show up in organic search, page 1 in the top 5 results.  Yet we do not show up in google shopping until page 2.  How do the results from shopping differ from the organic search.  What can be done so that shopping results are more consistent with the “everything” organic search? 

A1: The two algorithms are not the same as you've seen.  Pagerank looks at the content (URL, page, etc.) and the inbound links.  GPS uses the content and then factors such as sales rank (CTR as proxy), etc.  Without knowing more, it's hard to say, but usually our GPS experts can analyze a feed file and find a whole host of things that can be improved on the content side to improve your rankings which drives more sales which increases your sales rank, etc. 

 

Q2: Can you please tell me if I have this link right. I am having a problem accessing it. http://www.google.com/products/seller?zmi=cdrackem.com 

A2: Weird, usually that shortcut works.  We tried using the longer form and got there here: 

http://www.google.com/products/seller?cmi=2586711006707712&zmi=cdrackem.com&sa=X&ei=PZn_TcmrN6jj0QGmhdWaAw&ved=0CBsQwQY 

The longer form instructions:

  1. Go to a google SERP and click on 'rated' for those that have merchant ratings.
  2. Edit the URL to be your URL instead of the one you clicked on. 

Q3: Also have you ever heard of "influencing keywords". I am using an SEO company called XXXX that specializes in 'influencing keywords'. I fear at this time they be doing me harm rather than good. How can I find that out? 

A: As we said on the webinar, any SEO firm that claims to have a silver bullet that 'guarantees' you some kind of SEO results, should probably be avoided.  If they are out there buying links for you, that is very very dangerous and has resulted in overstock and jcp being in google's high profile penalty box.  Panda/Farmer was specifically targeted at content farmers and this 'influencing keywords' sounds like someone maybe going out there and writing bogus content to try and fool google to increase your rank.  It's our belief that the risk is not worth the reward on these types of schemes, but of course it's up to each retailer to go through that calculation. 

Q4: I was wondering if there was any way to get more information on how Product Display Ads / Auto Targets work within Google.We are trying to figure out what criteria Google uses to display the products.  Sometimes the products are not even relevant to the search term. For instance, if you search for “Raw Protein” the product Wobenzym will show in the Product Ads section on the top right, but our competitor’s Raw protein product shows. 

A: Google does not publish or discuss their matching algorithm for Google Product Listing Ads. It is supposed to automatically match user intention with products, but we have seen, as you have, that is not always accurate. We suspect that this is part of the reason that we are currently seeing fewer product listing ads in Google search results as Google works to refine their matching algorithms.

Q5: I was suspended from Amazon Marketplace (I was 100% not guilty-it was an Amazon internal issue).  Am I still able to sell on Amazon using Amazon Product Ads?  I ask because this was suggested as a way to sell on Amazon (without having a Sellers account)?

A5: Amazon is extremely efficient at never letting suspended sellers back on the site. While I've never seen this exact situation, my guess is they would not allow it.  Your best bet would be to partner with a reseller or a completely different entity with completely different information (everything - IPs, bank accounts, names, addresses, EIN, SSN, etc.) and work with them to run product ads.

Q6: Have you found that Google adwords ads are more or less effective this year (as op to last year)?  Is Bing or economy doing any damage to Google adwords?

A6: Over on eBay strategies we release SSS and search details. Here's a link to the May results.  As you can see y/y search has slowed, and conversion rates are up, costs are up, etc.  Between google and bing, we don't see a change in that google has > 66% market share, so the whole space is a little soft right now, most likely due to the economy.

Q7:  I tried the Google link you posted at the webinar (to ck Web Site reviews) but link did not work?  Is this link correct: google.com/products/seller?zmi=xxx.com A: See Q2 for more directions.

Q8: If selling via ebay, amazon and your own web site would be the top 3 venues to sell on - what would you consider to be no 4? 

A8: We have an unusual view of the world in that we view the web site as an enabler for even more channels.  So I would say once you have your web site active, you should consider search.  We publish an annual report on the influence across all of e-commerce for the major channels.  For 2010: 

  • Paid Search - 44%
  • Marketplaces (largely eBay and Amazon) - 27%
  • CSE - 10%
  • Direct - 9%
  • Mobile - 6%
  • Social - 4% 

Search is the largest and in your question you don't mention it which is why we suggest search and CSE as the next channels because they represent 53% of e-commerce.  Of course this is a rule of thumb and some situations don't work well in those channels and we'd recommend something else.  That being said, if eBay and Amazon are working well, then usually retailers can make the jump quickly to search and CSE - they are just different and require a different set of knowledge.

 

That's it - if you have any other questions, sound off in comments.

 

Nov 10, 2010

CSE Holiday Rates for 2010

Tis the season… For ecommerce retailers, this means huge boosts to conversions and revenue. For advertisers on CSEs, this typically means rate increases. In Holiday Seasons past, these rate increases have generally been 25% across all categories starting at the beginning of November and ending as last mid-January. However, last year, we saw a different trend. For some CSEs, the rate increases did not apply to all categories and for the categories that did have increases, they varied from 5 – 25%. There were some CSEs in 2009 who chose not to raise rates all!


For 2010, we find NexTag and PriceGrabber raising rates across all categories by 25%. This applies to all traffic you have received since November 1. Their rate increase will last into January of 2011. Shopping.com and Shopzilla rate increases will vary between 0 and 30% based on category. This is the first I remember any category rate increase being more than 25%. Amazon Product Ads and Become.com will not be increasing rates for the holidays.


For a more complete list of which CSEs are making rate changes, what the increases will be, when the rate increases will begin and end, and rate cards for category-by-category rate increases, see our 2010 Comparison Shopping Holiday Rate Changes page in the ChannelAdvisor Strategy and Support Center.

Sep 25, 2010

ChannelAdvisor @ Shop.org - booth 507

A bunch of ChannelAdvisors are heading down to Dallas for this year's shop.org annual summit.  We'll be in booth 507 if you want to see our search, cse, marketplaces and rich media in action.  Also, I'm speaking at the "40+ Things You Can Do to Make More Money Next Week" session taking place Tuesday, September 28 from 3:15 to 4:15.  This is going to be a fast-fire session with some great strategies that you can implement before Holiday 2010. I look forward to meeting everyone in the Great State of Texas!

Aug 17, 2010

ChannelAdvisor acknowledged as top Comparison Shopping Engine software vendor to the IR500!

Today, August 17th, we announced that ChannelAdvisor has been recognized by Internet Retailer magazine as the top CSE vendor.  We also scored well in search and Rich Media.  Unfortunately, IR doesn't have a marketplaces category (Amazon / eBay ) as we would have dominated that one as well.

Thanks to all of our customers for helping us achieve the number one slot.  Your feedback has enabled us to implement advanced features unavailable in other solutions, catapulting us to the top.

-Scot

Aug 16, 2010

Google Rumored to be Acquiring Like.com

Like_logoTechCrunch is reporting that Google is the late stages of acquiring visual search engine Like.com. The company also owns several other properties that utilize  its image search technology, including Style By Jacquie and the fashion profiling site Covet.com. Originally developed for facial recognition purposes under the moniker Riya, the search technology has also been applied to user generated photos, not just product/celeb images.

If this is indeed to be, there are certainly merchants out there wondering what will happen to these existing sites and the traffic/revenue that originates from them. Like.com is a significant AdWords advertiser and has become a large referrer of traffic to some merchants in the shoes, apparel and accessory categories. Like also acts as a publisher of Shopping.com, Shopzilla, and PriceGrabber offer content, so merchants not sending a direct feed into Like.com may still receiving benefit from their properties.

It seems likely that Google's true target here is not any of these sites but the underlying technology, which generally does a very good job of returning similar product images by color, shape, pattern, etc. It doesn’t seem likely that Google would maintain these sites long term in parallel to Google Product Search. For one, it’s a conflict of interest since AdWords is a main acquisition channel for Like.com, but also Google generally thinks way bigger than that.

Integration of Like.com’s visual system into Google's existing search experience, both for product search and otherwise, could result in a very attractive option for users, especially in instances where words are not nearly as representative of the query subject as an image (this is exactly why Like.com focuses on clothes, shoes and accessories and not laptops or TVs).  Giving users not only more ways to search but options that allow clearer communication of what is sought is definitely a win for Google. In addition, expanding the already overhauled image search to build a stronger response to Bing’s “Visual Search,” which is frankly more of a visual browse experience, is probably seen internally as a plus.

If this sort of integration is the long term goal, the product search integration is the logical first step since that is the technology’s primary use right now. Such a feature could mean an increase in stickiness for the already popular Google Product Search. However, there isn’t a lot of certainty outside of Like.com as to how many of their users choose visual search over the trusty old text box. Similarly, there is little clarity as to what the conversion rate of users who choose visual search over text based search looks like. When it comes to clothes and shoes, different brands and models can look very similar, so using an image to find that exact item seems a lot less effective than a text based search. Really only when users don’t know exactly what they are looking for and want to be guided to aesthetically similar items does an image search seem extremely valuable. That sounds like a less qualified shopper. Then again, as long as Google Product Search traffic remains free, does it really matter how qualified the user is?

There is also the possibility that this is intended to augment the already live Google Goggles app on the android platform, which allows for searches based on user photos. Though media products seem to already work fine in Goggles, other types of products have not yet been a focus. Both the technology and the existing product catalog could act as an accelerator to expanding the scope of the Goggles application, acting, at least in the short term, like a RedLaser for clothes, shoes and accessories.

Speculation aside, it seems safe to assume that Google wants to use this software to expand what they are already good at: helping users find things, and either serving ads during that experience, or driving Google usage/loyalty so they can continue to serve even more ads during other points in the Google experience.

Jul 15, 2010

Kelkoo Enters US Market

Kelkoo formally announced today its entrance into the already crowded US comparison shopping market via Kelkoo.com, a domain previously used  to provide navigation to country specific Kelkoo sites within Europe. The new site, which is currently in beta, starts with a simple search box, as opposed to their long-established geography-specific sites which are heavier on content and merchandising. I assume this will change with time as they work to develop an engaging experience for the US market.

Though the US market for comparison shopping is certainly an attractive expansion target, Kelkoo faces some challenges in their attempt to become a significant player. The most significant is that they will be starting from scratch in terms of consumer acquisition, and without the benefit of the brand strength that surely assisted them in earlier movements into new countries within Europe. They also lack direct merchant relationships, illustrated by their current offer content which appears to be sourced via several publisher programs including Shopping.com and PriceGrabber. As they mentioned, their already geographically diverse platform should make it relatively easy for them to on-board new merchants once relationships are established, but content such as merchant ratings and product ratings will take time to reach the critical mass necessary for them to offer a unique experience.

Despite these challenges, with their years of experience in comparison shopping and new market penetration to lean on, I expect them to make some waves in the future. We welcome them to the US market and wish them luck!

Jul 11, 2010

Google Announces New Requirements around Unique Identifier Data

Google announced Friday that unique identifier content (MPN, Brand, GTIN/UPC/EAN or ISBN) will become required for electronics, books, and media products in the US in "late August." Many products of this type already have a product page created, so if your feed doesn't contain a unique identifier that is allowing Google to match your offer to that page, you're already missing out on exposure for that item.

As noted in the announcement, this content can generally be found on the product page itself. If you don't have this information the Google product page is a good place to look, though this is not exactly a scalable approach if you send a lot of products in these categories. The manufacturer/supplier of the products may have the data so if you aren't getting it be sure to ask.

One recommendation here is to not assume that your data is correct, nor to assume the same of Google's data. The only thing that matters is that the data you are sending matches the data associated with Google's product page, which may or may not be what you are expecting it to be. This especially becomes problematic for products where there are different versions or editions.

It would be nice if Google would roll out some sort of matching report that indicates which items are matching to a page as well as a link to the page itself and perhaps some other data about the item. This would make it easier for merchants to determine which data points aren't correlating to Google's product database so they can take action to correct the content in their feeds. Merchants should check for matching on top products anyway but such a report would accelerate the process.

Jun 29, 2010

Google Using CSE's Content Against Them?

I can see how CSE's would be pleased when they first saw Google aggregating their merchant reviews and displaying them on Google Product Search. It justified their place in the shopping ecosystem as a relevant source for information about the trustworthiness of online retailers. It also acted and still acts as a motivating factor for merchants to use those CSE's survey systems to collect more consumer reviews for display not only on the CSE sites, but on Google Product Search pages.

I'm not quite sure, though, if they will be equally pleased about Google's "seller rating extensions" announcement which states those same aggregated merchant ratings shown on Product Search pages will be automatically integrated into merchant's AdWords ads. Yes, it is an even stronger reason for merchants to embrace the CSE rating systems (which they should). But if you've ever run more than a handful of product oriented queries on Google, you know that CSEs are major AdWords advertisers.

This news seems like a plus for retailers who have more than 4 stars and at least 30 ratings (these are the requirements for display of this feature). Their ads will stand out more versus those without ratings, potentially resulting in a higher click through rate. Google also may give a quality boost to highly-rated merchant's ads. And from a consumers perspective, Google is effectively calling out these merchants as trustworthy, meaning customers are not only more likely to click, but probably more likely to buy. Since CSEs aren't merchants themselves and don't have ratings, this could work against them in the AdWords game, driving more interest to "trusted" retailers directly and away from other advertisers.

Though the impact surely remains to be seen, the content facilitated and stored by CSEs is being used to highlight their own AdWords competitors. Then again, that competition is also their customer base.

A few other thoughts on this:

  • Why not charge extra? I guess Google expects the CTR increase to net out into increased spend overall, or maybe just yield a better experience that will grow/retain query volume.
  • Why not include ratings in the one box? Seems like it would make even more sense than the AdWords placement.
  • Why is the user experience a dead end? Click on where it says the merchant is rated and the user is taken to the ratings, but the only way out is to click back or search again.

Jun 28, 2010

Google Adds Variant Navigation to Product Search Pages

We recently noticed that for some products, Google has inserted a dropdown menu that allows users to switch more easily among product variants. The product pages for the individual variant items still exist and appear in search results, so this is really just a linking of existing related content. For example if you search for "canon powershot sd1300" you should see product pages for all five color variants but if you click into any one of those, you'll see a menu set to the color on which you clicked.

This seems to be a moderately useful function for this product type but the real question is how will this extend out to apparel, shoes, accessories, etc. where color and size variants can reach into the dozens or even hundreds. Product pages don't exist in those categories at this point but it seems likely Google will eventually move in that direction for those product types in the interest of improving the user experience and making it more like what a consumer would see on a retailer's website.

Google Product Search Variant Naviagation