I have received a flurry of emails in regard to comments I made about personally working with over 200 comparison shopping engine/consumer shopping engine/shopping destination sites ("CSEs"), knowing of over 200 shoppping destination site channels, and how online merchants can make money using CSEs. I even have had people ask to purchase my list of CSEs so that they can test, test, and test again many CSEs to find the right channels that work best for them.
I have always said that only having the option to properly optimize, feed, and analyze marketing performance on only 5, 10, or even 25 CSE channels is limiting, because you never know what channel will convert best for you = lead to sales!
So instead of selling that list, let me give what I hope is helpful advice to building a long-term strategy to successful CSE marketing. And if you really want to know more about the many possible CSEs that you can work with, please contact us at MerchantAdvantage and maybe we can help. We can’t give away our whole list but we’d be happy to point you in some good directions.
Some of the following advice you may know, some information may be new to you. Regardless, this strategic approach has helped over 1,200+ storefronts we work with who collectively have had many of the same queries about effective, money-making, CSE marketing.
I first gave the following advice on February 24, 2009 on Ecommerce Merchants Trade Association's("ECMTA") Forum Discussion regarding CSE marketing. You can find extensive advice and comments from merchants regarding the below information that will be helpful to you too on the ECMTA discussion board.
I hope the advice below is useful and easy to follow.
4 Stages to Successful Comparison Shopping Engine Marketing
Stage 1: "Honest" Evaluation/Analysis of Your Webstore
BEFORE you ever market using CSEs, or any other marketing effort, to drive traffic to your Webstore, ask this one simple question:
Q: Would you buy from you if you came to your WebStore site?
- have you checked your competition and does your site match up?
- are you price competitive?
- do you have reviews?
- do you use social media to stay connected to your customers?
- do you change things up now and again by offering specials, holiday specials, free shipping sometimes?
- do you have a newsletter to remind existing customers how special THEY are and what specials you have to offer them?
- do you have loyalty programs?
- are your graphics and pictures engaging or are they generic? Does it matter?
- is your site navigation good?
- do you offer several payment methods? People like options and, while you may not like paying the fees associated with Google Check Out or PayPal, your customers might feel more secure to use those methods.
Many of our clients say they get CSE traffic but the traffic doesn't convert and they are frustrated. Well, there may be two main reasons for this:
- your site is poorly designed and "scares people away" and does not look and act as professional as your competitors' Webstore "looks" and "acts"; in other words, would you buy from you or would you buy from your competitors' Webstore?
- the CSE you are using attracts customers that "price compare" more than they shop, which is a bummer, but it happens. This is something that you can only monitor on a daily basis with a proper analytics tool, MerchantAdvantage uses its own built in Chanalytics tool to help its clients.
- you might be working with the wrong CSE....try others and test, analyze, test, analyze until you find the right CSEs that have a higher conversion ratio for you.
Stage 2: Forget - FOR NOW - PPC/Commission Based/Pay-Per-Action Models: Start With FREE CSEs
This is a no brainer. Feed to all CSEs that charge you nothing (not even commissions) because:
- they are Free and any lead that leads to a sale, even if it is 1 sale a month, makes you money
- posting your product catalog up on these free CSEs is good for organic, general SEO search
- IT COSTS YOU NOTHING....but a little time...and MerchantAdvantage can solve that issue for you
- Free CSEs, I know of, include:
- Google Product Search
- Microsoft Live Search
- ShopWiki.com (they probably have already spidered your site, but they prefer a direct feed to be able to list you better)
- LivePriceList.com (new)
- ...and 3 other free ones through MerchantAdvantage - I am not being coy by not naming them because we have some special relationships for our clients only.
So that's 9 free CSEs I know of...who am I missing, I am sure there are more.
Stage 3: Consider Pay-Per-Action and Commission Based CSEs
Again a bit of no brainer from the cost side of things, as an online merchant only pays when a sale is made. However, it is a little more complicated to feed to this type of CSEs, but, once you do, it is worth it and the set up costs to work with most of them is almost nothing.
Even Amazon is making it cost effective to work with them easily, although they still have to approve you listing with them. For only $39.99 a month an online merchant can list their product catalog with Amazon - but don't forget that you still pay commissions, so monitor your margins carefully.
Pay-Per-Action CSE: Ever think about MyCoupons.com? Feed for free and only pay $3 per sale regardless of the item? Not bad if your margin is anything over $3. And other coupon sites act in a similar manner and, yes, MerchantAdvantage will feed to any of them for you. This is just one example and there are other sites that use a Pay-Per-Action model.
Commissions Based CSE: Yes, some commissions are high -- 15-22% with Amazon (and setting up with them can be expensive and timely so maybe Amazon should be in Stage 4) - but others are very reasonable - 10% with Go Daddy Marketplace; 10-15% with Shop.com's marketplace; 10-15% with Underbid.com; and Yahoo! Shopping is introducing a method to work with them on a Pay-Per-Action basis.
Stage 4: The Big Leagues: Pay-Per-Click ("PPC") CSEs
I am unsure wheather I should call this the "Big Leagues", but I do so because this group of CSEs is comprised of well known and larger CSEs. I have found that when managed properly on a daily basis (yes, there is work involved) and an online merchant has a good idea which of these larger CSEs actually "convert" for them then these CSEs can be real winners. But....they require monitoring and ongoing updates primarily because so many of your competitors are probably working with them too.
Part I of Stage 4: Test "Niche PPC CSEs"
Ever heard of Cooking.com? How about HGTV.com (home and Garden Television Network)? HGTV Pro? How about MachineTools.com, GolfPricer.com, GourmetFoodMall.com, Alice.com, FindGift.com, ToolCrib.com, Zipidee.com, NowOnSale.com, RoomsByUs.com, and ShopandPrice.com?
These are all niche CSEs that focus on specific products and are not massive CSEs that purport to sell everything. One of our clients, CallawayGolf.com, does very, very well listing products on GolfPricer.com. This fact alone should be a hint to you that you should be working with niche CSEs too.
So, if you have a product catalog that might fit into a niche CSE, test that channel and see if you receive higher conversions.
Part II of Stage 4: The PPC CSE "Players"
We know who they are - Yahoo Shopping!, Shopzilla, PriceGrabber, NexTag, Pronto, Smarter, Become, etc...see here if you want to see more CSEs - and many of our clients simply have had a hard time converting trafiic from these CSEs to sales, even when they have tried hard over many months.
My simple answer is....BREATHE, relax and reassess.
These larger CSEs can and do work for many online merchants but they take work BECAUSE EVERYONE OF YOUR COMPETITORS IS PROBABLY USING THEM TOO!!! Got it? :-)
When using these larger CSEs you must always "fiddle" with your feeds and optimize it every day, or almost every day, to ensure that you are using the many features that these larger CSEs offer to you.
These features include: SKU level bidding mechanisms, marketing language update fields, seasonal feeds vs. regular feeds, reviews, ratings, and many other "bells and whistles" that your competitors are probably using to both list their products higher on these CSEs and be rated higher in customer satisfaction.
For instance did you know about the many options you have to work with PriceGrabber beyond just a PPC model to increase your return on ad spend "(ROAS")? I wrote about it here on eTaildTail, check it out, and it still applies today.
I also started an educational series with CSE participation to show how any online merchant can work most efficiently with CSEs to increase their return on ad spend ("ROAS"). That series is called: Insider Edition: The Experts' Guide to Channel Marketing and it is free.
So, the CSE marketplace is more sophisticated and working with larger CSEs requires time and nurturing precisely because they offer so many ways to help you get noticed and earn trust with potential customers. If you don't take advantage of these features you are destined to just have people click through to your site to check on price, maybe search for a little bit, and then leave.
So at this point....are you confused? :-) Don't be. My advice...
Follow stages 1, 2, and 3 above ... which you can do on your own, or call us at MerchantAdvantage to help; we have created a very cost-effective, Web-based, marketing tool to make it all very easy for you to work with and analyze the performance of any CSE marketing campaign. We also have a vast Resource Knowledge center of how best to work with CSEs and support staff to help you on a daily basis.
MerchantAdvantage even provides biweekly Webinars on how to market using CSEs and private Webinars with the CSEs themselves, who give you valuable inside "tips and tricks" on how increase sales and conversions using their CSE.
REMEMBER: A CSE has no interest seeing you spend money without conversions because then you will stop using them. They are here to help and MerchantAdvantage has a direct line!
Oh yes, and we do have some fun too...knowing over 200 CSEs personally requires a sense of humor. :-)
Finally, and this is just my advice, when you reach Stage 4, outlined above, as many of you have already. Stop! and..
Go back and make sure you have completed Stages 1, 2, and 3 thoroughly first, because, when you reach Stage 4 you will then be prepared. It will then be easier, more fun, and you will be much more knowledgeable on how to leverage PPC CSE "Players" to increase Return on Ad Spend ("ROAS") effectively.
And for those of you in the crowd that are A.D.D. , please don't skip from Stage 3 to Stage 4 Part II, instead follow the order I outlined above. If you do, I know you will increase sales and conversions and soon be CSE marketing gurus, who will be giving me and MerchantAdvantage advice.