One Picture is Worth a Dozen Text Ads

by Wiz

Here’s a hypothetical situation: a B2B website sells physical products. You know: aircraft fasteners, pressure valves, anything “physical”. People purchase product online, and it’s shipped to the customer.

In our scenario, the company is advertising via paid search. The campaign is doing well – when someone searches for something in the product line, there’s the company’s ad. People are clicking the ad, and the company is making sales. So far, so good.

B2B Company #2 is selling similar product online, but it isn’t doing paid search. Yet every time someone searches for something in its product line, the company’s product is right there in the search results – including a photo of the product, a brief description, and the price. One click and the searcher is taken right to the product page. And depending on the search engine, that click is free.

So what’s Company #2’s secret? It has incorporated a product feed.

A Different Kind of Feed

A product feed is essentially a database of product information. This database contains any number of details about each product the company sells, including brand names, UPC/bar codes, descriptions, shipping costs, etc. Depending on the type of product, it can also contain such data as size (like tires, for instance), color, etc. This database of information is then submitted to a search engine through a special interface. The search engine takes this data and, when appropriate, places it in online search results pages.

Product feeds have been around for a while in B2C ecommerce. Price-conscious purchasers, aided by the speed and convenience of their mobile devices, are increasingly searching online – not only for researching solutions, but also for price comparisons and deals. Product feeds offer a one-click access to all the specific information about the desired product. Pair it with a well-designed web store, and the purchase can be made within 3 clicks of the initial search.

My own research – admittedly very unscientific – leads me to believe that B2B ecommerce is still lagging behind its B2C counterpart in this area. Just yesterday I was searching online for tires for a Cessna 172RG aircraft. Among the paid advertising were two text ads from major online tire suppliers. Yet when I look at the product search results on the same page, their listings are nowhere to be seen. What a lost opportunity.

While they can be a boon for ecommerce, product feeds are not without their own unique set of challenges:

  • The database is populated by querying the site’s online shopping cart. Shopping cart data is often supplied by the product manufacturers, and is written in language that makes perfect sense to the seller. But it’s not very buyer-friendly;
  • Shopping cart information is often built with the web page in mind. Therefore when this data is taken away from the context of the web page, and displayed on its own, it often becomes meaningless;
  • Shopping carts were not designed with product feeds in mind. Therefore they often cannot easily output data in a form recognized by the search engine;
  • Each search engine has its own unique data requirements. The database has to essentially be reconfigured for each one.

As ecommerce store owners know, these product feed challenges are significant but not insurmountable. They’ll also tell you that the payoff is worth it. Indeed, in today’s mobile search environment, having a functioning product feed is no longer a luxury but a necessity – even in the B2B space.

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