I am not going to describe what a product feed (or a data-feed) is. There is a lot of information out there about how to use one to build sites. Instead, I want to talk about how you can actually make more sales with data-feed sites.
The program that I manage offers a product feed, and I get a chance to see a sad picture of many good affiliates wasting their potential.
Here is my advice from the affiliate manager's perspective.
Whenever you join (or think bout joining) a program, you need to look for two things:
- Temporary or permanent opportunities
- Flaws of a merchant
Here is an example of an opportunity that was created by an outside factor.
Recently, we got removed from the Yahoo index because of a penalty. I have no idea when (or if) we will get included back in, but I do know that it makes one decision much easier for our affiliates.
Judging by the numerous posts on various SEO-related message boards, it looks like Google and Yahoo use very different algorithms to rank pages. So for any given site, you have a choice to make. You can optimize for Yahoo, for Google, or for both.
Since Yahoo and Google use different algorithms, it is going to be hard to optimize the same set of pages for both of those engines at the same time, unless you employ heavy cloaking. And the way I see it, for an affiliate, it is better to appear high on one search engine than to appear low on both of them in an attempt to optimize for different algorithms at the same time.
Imagine that you are one of our affiliates. Given the information I just told you, shouldn't you concentrate on Yahoo for that data-feed site that is being used to promote our products?
Why spend (at least) half of your time and resources on optimizing for Google when you know that we are nowhere to be found in Yahoo?
You have to have an extremely well linked and optimized site to get ahead of the merchant for the exact product-name search terms. The merchant is your biggest obstacle when it comes to the search engine traffic. So if there is a route that lets you get around that obstacle - take it!
Most of our well-performing affiliates did just that. Either intentionally or unintentionally, they ended up making much more money by appearing high in Yahoo results, while not being ranked high in Google.
So on a practical side of things, here is what you should do.
For your existing merchants, check if they are removed from the index in any of the major search engines, and if they are, then start reading and implementing SEO tips for that particular engine.
And if you are thinking about joining a program and can't decide between several merchants, then check if any of them is not in the index of either Yahoo or Google. If you find a merchant like that - drop everything else you are doing and jump on that program.
As far as theory goes, this was just a simple, but specific example of what you should look for to make your efforts pay off. There are many different opportunities to get ahead in existing programs with data-feed sites; you just have to look for them.
Now, let's talk about flaws of merchants and how you can exploit them to make more money and help consumers at the same time.
I will give another specific example, but you should be able to apply this concept to many different programs.
Our site has one huge structural flaw: we only list products by product-oriented categories.
In other words, there is no way to navigate our site by a specific occasion or by the purchasing intent of a visitor.
You can follow a path like:
widgets -> wooden widgets -> red wooden widgets
This setup works fine for some type of shoppers, but is a complete turn-off for others.
And the problem is that most affiliates simply mirror the catalog structure of a merchant according to their feed.
But if you structured your site to list widgets as:
- widgets for birthdays
- widgets for girlfriends
- widgets for those who are over 50
- the Independence Day widgets
then you would attract different type of shoppers. You would no longer compete with the merchant, but instead you would complement them.
A visitor who is looking for a gift for his 50-something friend and has no idea that a red wooden widget would be perfect, will not travel down the path laid out by our catalog. So if he gets to our home page, we simply lose a sale. And if your data-feed-based site follows the same structure - you lose a sale as well.
Also, since the visitor does not know that he really wants a red wooden widget, he we not use those keywords while searching for a present on the search engines.
But if you attracted that visitor to your site, presented him with ideas for older friends' birthday gifts and guided him to that specific widget's page - then we would make a sale, you would make a commission, and the visitor (turned customer) would get his present with much less searching around. Everyone wins.
Such approach takes more work than simply cloning the merchant's site with a feed, but affiliates who actually do something to complement merchant instead competing with them make a lot more money. After all, if you create a copy of a merchant's site - you are not only competing with the merchant, you are also competing with all of their affiliates that use the same feed in the same way.
Konstantin Goudkov manages an affiliate program with a merchant that carries 2500+ gifts and collectibles. All items in the product feed are mapped to categories.
You can find more information about the program at: http://www.genericgifts.com/affiliate_program.jsp