A data feed consists of structured information, which is transferred from a server to a client in an automated way. The information that it contains depends on the specifications and the respective distribution partner. Product data for search engine services such as Google Shopping, or partners of affiliate programs are common.
This information is usually listed in table form and is marked with attributes for grouping so that distribution partners can automatically read and process the data. How the data is recorded and which attributes must be used can be found in the feed specifications. Common formats mainly include CSV and XML, but also TXT (plain text) or proprietary formats and APIs.
Data feeds make it much easier to transfer large amounts of data which can no longer be handled manually. Information is recorded in a specific format so that it can be used directly by the client without the need for additional resources. The main advantage of a data feed is its currentness. The retrieved data is taken from the current state of the database and does not contain information which is already obsolete or overwritten.
The currentness is ensured by structuring the information and uploading the data, which can also be done at regular intervals. Due to the format and the markup with attributes according to the rules of the specification, the server can import the data feed directly from the database so that the client can read it. The correctness of the feed in terms of format, content, and markup is therefore an important prerequisite for subsequent use by distribution partners.
To create a data feed, you must first choose a format that is supported. Next, you need to create a file with rows and columns (CSV) that represents the product portfolio according to the specifications of the feed. For XML formats, this is done analogously to XML syntax by creating information units. Most CMS and shop systems offer a products export function so that only the format template has to be adapted to the distribution partner. Once the feed is complete, it is passed to the client. In Google Shopping, for example, this is done by registering in the Google Merchant Center and uploading the feed.
Each feed should be checked after creation to avoid errors. Even just one mistake in the markup of a product can mean that the product will not be displayed by the distribution partner or perhaps the entire feed cannot be imported. After the feed has been successfully uploaded and if it is error-free, the products will be able to be displayed by the distribution partner. Distribution partners usually charge fees to show the products in the network, which are calculated based on the Click Through Rate or other billing models.
Each data feed must meet the distribution partner’s specifications to a certain degree. They usually publish guidelines that include the minimum requirements of a feed and make recommendations for optional content. The latter simplify the distribution partner’s processing of the feed and possibly raises their [Return On Investment|ROI]. Thus, a professionally created data feed with product images and all available information is often displayed more prominently than is the case with rudimentary feeds with only a few markups. The click rates and sales are correspondingly higher. It is also worthwhile to initially invest the time and labor since the feed can be used in the long term if it contains all available information and is complete.
Data feeds are used for the following types of distribution partners.
Data feeds can be used to generate more attention for your own product portfolio. Many users search for products using search engines, price comparison portals or apps. On the other hand, users can also be reached through affiliates or social media sites. Thus, data feeds can enormously increase reach, but this channel is often associated with costs. Data feeds are therefore an integral part of a multi-channel strategy which aims to reach users through as many channels as possible and to provide them with an option for interaction on the respective platform or device.
As the creator of the data feed you have to be aware of the fact that you will be transmitting large amounts of data to third parties. You need to be aware of how this data is used. The latter also applies for success monitoring. If data feeds do not contribute to sales, they are not worthwhile. Monitoring and scaling of the results are therefore recommendable. Therefore, generally only products which sell very well get included in the feed, i.e. top sellers. This is a question of budget and ROI. Do not neglect to continuously maintain and optimize the feed.