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Merchant Product Datafeeds / Data Feeds for Affiliates - 101 - Page 2/3

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Article by Carsten Cumbrowski, January 2006, August 26, 2006, and September 9, 2006.
This is an updated and greatly extended version of my original Scrap. Carsten, 9/9/2006

Table of Contents

3. Information to Include in the Datafeed / Content

Bold columns/attributes are considered "must have" or "required" by most affiliates. This does not make the others unimportant. If you have the information and can provide it, do it.

  • SKU/Product ID (unique)
  • Name of the Product
  • Description of the Product
  • Price of the Product (retail: price the customer has to pay)
  • Product URL (Affiliate Link)
  • URL to Product Detail Image
  • URL to Product Thumbnail Image
  • Regular Price or Retail Price/MSRP
  • Product Category
  • ISBN Number (books) - ISBN-13 (transition to ISBN13 will be in January 2007)
  • UPC (US Barcode) - UPC-A or UPC-E
  • International EAN / EAN-13
  • Manufacturer / Brand Name (separate columns if different)
  • Manufacturer Part Number
  • Color Properties delimited
  • Size Properties delimited
  • Keyword Suggestions
  • Artist (Music, Art)
  • Author (Books)
  • Publisher / Label / Studio (Books / Music / DVD)
  • Shipping Information (available options like ground/next day, restrictions)
  • Shipping Cost for a single unit (if flat across the country)
  • Availability
  • Related Items (this could be a list of SKUs in delimited format like "123|321|456.")
  • Flags like Best Seller, High Rating, Clearance, On Sale, etc.
  • Link to Product Category
  • Buy URL/Add to Basket URL
  • Brand/Manufacturer Logo (URL to image)

3.1 Comments on specific Content

SQL Server, best used with Datafeeds / Data Feeds. Resources.

SKU/Product ID

A unique ID for a product in the merchant catalog: either the internal product ID or SKU or UPC/EAN/ISBN number of the item (which is also unique). The manufacturer's part number can work as well in some cases. Most merchants already use some form of unique identifier for their products internally. Use it and don't hide it from your affiliates. Ask yourself why you have unique IDs in the first place and what you are using them for. Your answer is the same reason affiliates will use them.

If you have to generate unique product IDs for the affiliate datafeed only, consider the following: numeric IDs work the best, because they leverage the power of database software. Avoid letters if you can. Only use hyphens, dots or underscores if there is a practical benefit for doing so. Don't add them just "for looks."

MAKE SURE that there are no duplicate records with the same product ID in the datafeed.

If alternative categories are available for a product, use additional columns for the alternative categories. Additional categories are often special promotional categories like Clearance and On Sale. Or, for example, a category that can be a top category by itself can also be a subcategory. For example: Sport Shoes can be top category and you also can have Sport Shoes as a subcategory for Women's Shoes, Men's Shoes and Kids' Shoes. I will come back to categories and category hierarchies and alternatives to static hierarchies a bit later (Faceted Classification).

If a product has multiple size and color options, don't send a record for each possible combination unless you have a separate product detail page for each of them. Add the main SKU or Master SKU to the datafeed and provide available options (attributes) in separate columns. I will come back to the scenario where you might not have certain combinations available for the product, or you might have different prices for different combinations.

Description of the Product

Use a short description or a long description (or both in separate columns). Additional information and features may be included as separate fields, depending on how you have the data available yourself. Don't use HTML code unless it makes sense, and remember to keep it simple and don't use formatting such as font tags or colors, etc. Use tables only where absolutely necessary and assign a class to them (CSS) to give affiliates the ability to change the layout of the table without jumping through hoops. Div tags might be a better alternative to tables if you know how to use them. For everything else use bold, underlined, unsorted or sorted lists, and that's it.

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Product URL

Affiliate link (URL) to the product detail page includes the affiliate ID (or a placeholder for the affiliate ID), which either you replace with the affiliate ID (on the fly when an affiliate requests the feed) or the affiliate replaces. In the latter case make sure to provide easy to understand (not too technical) documentation for your affiliates or you will end up with affiliates that do not replace the placehholder with their affiliate ID and contact you with a message that "your tracking is not working."

You might want to provide the direct URL without affiliate ID as separate column. This especially makes sense if the affiliate link is a completely different URL than the direct URL and not only the direct URL with the affiliate ID as additional parameter.

Regular Price or Retail Price/MSRP

This column might have the same value as "price" for some or all products, if the product is not on sale and/or you don't have products on sale at all and/or no MSRP is available. MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) might be useful to provide as a separate column, if you have the MSRP for most of your products - a regular price and a sales price. I know several merchants who do this. If you have products that go on sale or clearance with a reduced price, provide this information to your affiliates via the datafeed. It is a promotional sales tool not only for you, but also for your affiliates -- unless you don't want to sell your price reduced items :). Don't use the argument that the price changes frequently.

If you are concerned about affiliates showing items on sale after a sale ends, you have multiple ways to prevent and combat it.

Prevention: Add a column for the sale's end date. If you can, because there are no competitive reasons not to, provide the sale's start date if you know that a product will be on sale on a specific date and know the sale price. Some affiliates can work this into their marketing planning and increase exposure and traffic to your offers.

If possible get datafeed access information, such as: which affiliate accesses the datafeed when (how often), how (if you offer multiple delivery options) and in which format (if you provide the datafeed in more than one format).

Combat issues: Check affiliate sites that use your feed (this is where knowing where to look for datafeed access information comes in handy). Separate tracking and statistics for affiliate product detail links might help or referral data in the Website log of your Webserver.

If you see something you don't like, contact the affiliate. For repeat offenders block access to the feed if you can. In severe cases terminate the relationship. Adding guidelines to your affiliate resource pages or terms and conditions might be a good idea, too.

Product Category

For example, "Jewelry" could be the product category; if an item is in a subcategory send it delimited by ">" or any other unique delimiter that will never be part of a category name, for example:
"Jewelry>Rings>Engagement Rings."

If you utilize matrix-like, faceted or dynamic drill-down navigation (Faceted Classification) without having pre-defined paths or hierarchy offered by products like Endeca Guided Navigation, Dieselpoint Faceted Navigation or Fast ESP Dynamic Drill-down, great!

I love the navigation based on Faceted Classification. The resulting dramatic increase in conversion proves it is the right approach, and the way to do it.

You should provide all relevant attributes in separate columns via your datafeed.

But not everybody is that advanced yet. Also, the price tag for a professional solution that leverages this method of content delivery, filtering and refinement is beyond the means of the average affiliate - and many merchants as well.

If you have the money to afford the solutions mentioned above, you should have the money and resources needed to generate for your affiliate product datafeed an artificial hierarchy based on the common paths taken by users on your site.

Navigation based on Faceted Classification and XML Feeds excel and show their real power in cases where you have products with multiple possible values for a single attribute.

In this case the delimited format shows one of its biggest weaknesses, which can only be worked around to a limited extent by having multiple values for an attribute in one "Field" separated by a third delimiter (not the same as used for columns and rows).

To provide information about the availability or the lack of specific combinations of values for two or more attributes, delimited values for each attribute involved must be ordered, and nonexistent attribute values for another attribute value must be specified via a value that indicates that it does not "exist."

Example: Product A is available in three sizes: S, M and L and the colors: white and black. All but one of the six combinations is available; L/black. "-" indicates that the combination does not exist and a comma is used to separate the values.

The values for Size and Color in the datafeed
Size: S,S,M,M,L,L
Color: white,black,white,black,white,-

If you never have combinations of more than two attributes to worry about, the missing value pair for the two attributes could be dropped. I used it in the example because you would need it for combinations of three attributes.

No problem if you have a different price for each value pair. Simply add another column for the prices, structured the same as the other attributes. Like this (0.00 indicates "not available", you could use something like -1 to make it more obvious): Price: 5.00,5.00,7.00,7.00,10.00,0.00

As you can see, this method has its limitations and becomes impractical for large number of attributes and/or values.


Available, ships within 24 hours, back order, temporarily out of stock, etc. Don't add products to the feed that are permanently out of stock; add only what you have or what you can get.


Add to Basket URL that automatically adds the item to the shopping cart.

This eliminates one more step for the user to purchase the product and at the same time eliminates one more step where the user might decide to "bail out" and leave the sales funnel.

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Note: Datafeeds or Data Feeds are the same thing. Both spellings are being used in the industry (including the the grammatically wrong version). If you search for additional resources to the topic at forums or search engines, make sure that you use the singular and plural version (feed/feeds) in addition to the two different spellings. Search for "Datafeeds", "Datafeed", "Data Feeds" and "Data Feed" plus your additional keywords to get the best results.

©2006 Carsten Cumbrowski.
Replication of this Content in full or in part without written permission by the author is prohibited.

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