Some use only selected products while others use simple showcase creators, price drops, "on sale" features, price comparisons, or niche sites where people look for very specific things. Some use datafeeds for multiple purposes and a few (often bigger) affiliates can use and leverage ALL information you provide. The more information you provide, the more affiliates can and will use your datafeed.
Provide information about the content, including what affiliates can expect to find in the columns/attributes. This becomes especially important for network feeds where the feed structure is fixed and you have to work with the given structure without the ability to add custom columns to it. Examples of this are datafeeds provided by Commission Junction, ShareASale and Darkblue.
BeFree provides the option for custom columns; Linkshare allows up to 10 custom columns.
Linkshare feeds actually have either no custom columns or 10 custom columns with no other option in between. Feeds that use one or all of the custom columns are the ones where "Attribute File" is specified as "yes" in the Linkshare Merchandiser participants list provided by Linkshare in Excel format. The Performics datafeed allows custom columns, too.
Network datafeeds without descriptive columns require even more documentation, because some networks completely neglect to mention what data, in what format, might be found in the feeds. Network feeds without descriptive columns include datafeeds provided by ShareASale, Linkshare and Kolimbo.
You will probably become subject to angry emails written by affiliates using language that becomes worse depending on the time the email was sent, indicating how much time the affiliate wasted before figuring out what the problem with your feed is.
Pick columns where the type of data the column was originally intended for by the network have the same format as the data you put there. For example, don't dump a character string in a column that was meant to hold dates or numbers or currency (some networks sadly allow that).
I waste a lot of my time doing the following:
We use provided category structures or hierarchies. I have to spend a lot of time with messed up category structures such as:
The list goes on and on!
It includes all things that make the "catalog" not "browseable" by a user.
A benefit of XML is the amount of data per "record" or product you can send. XML has something like a 2 GB limit.
This is different with delimited files. The maximum number of characters per "line" is usually limited by the software that is using the files. 4 KB, 8 KB (kilo bytes, 1 KB = 1024 bytes or characters which usually exclude the column separators), etc., but we rarely have an issue with that when we deal with product datafeeds.
A merchant can never send too much information! If a merchant sends so much information that I have a problem handling it, that's a good problem to have. :)
XML makes perfect sense for a web service (XML/SOAP/WSDL).
Tools that support the creation and/or use of web services are getting easier to use every day. You don't have to deal with the actual XML most of the time anymore.
The conversion to XML typically happens in the background automatically, without you, the developer, having to worry about it. XML as an underlying format for the communication between sender and receiver is as good as any, because the interface provides the data in a useful structure and format that you are familiar with in your particular programming environment.
A good analogy would be TCP/IP. You don't have to understand the structure of the traffic via TCP/IP if you do an FTP transfer. It's used by server and client in the background, automatically, without you having to worry about it.
I dedicate an entire article to XML and web services as data delivery format and platform for affiliate marketing, where and when it makes sense and beats classic delimited datafeeds. The Article is called: "XML Datafeeds and Webservices for Affiliates."
I have also sent emails to merchants who started an affiliate program and are thankful for every bit of information that helped them to get their program going. I like those the most since they are usually the ones who really listen and try as hard as they can to help you out. It works out to be a two-way street, since I can consequently do a better job promoting them and generate sales for them and commissions for me.
To see the results of my research and years of spending time on this topic, check out my compiled list of Affiliate Product Datafeeds Tools and Services.
Powerful Database Servers are the key for the work with large affiliate product datafeeds. If you are a developer, you might find my SQL Server and MySQL Server Resources useful to expand your understanding and knowledge of SQL and make you more effective in leveraging affiliate datafeeds, APIs and web services.
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©2006 Carsten Cumbrowski.
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