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

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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

4. General Notes and Comments

Content is King

The more, the better. Not all affiliates use datafeeds the same way. The more information provided by the merchant, the more affiliates can and will benefit from it - it's as simple as that.

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.

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Documentation is King too

Documentation is always king when it is about technical things like product datafeeds, which are essentially a data interface between merchant and affiliate. You can also call it API standing for Application Programming Interface if data are delivered in real-time in response to affiliate data requests. The best examples of APIs are web services. If you have interfaces to your vendors for other purposes already, ask your IT department about the importance of good documentation. They should actually write the first documentation for you (technical specifications). You should provide additional documentation for non-technical affiliates. Practical examples are always good, use screen shots for illustration of more complicated examples. Providing sample source codes (in as many programming languages as you can get your hands on) to automate datafeed downloads will help you to have more and more affiliates automate the download. Affiliates also appreciate links to resources on the web.

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.

Misuse of Standard Columns in Network Feeds

If you have to use standard columns of a network feed for something else, fine, but you have to document it (that's true for all network feeds including CJ, BeFree, Linkshare, ShareASale, Performics, and others).

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).

Initialize Values

If you use a column/attribute of a standard network feed, always send data and do not leave it empty for products where you don't have the information. For example, if you provide a "sale price" send at least "0" or the "regular price" for products that are not on sale; don't leave the column empty. The technical term for this is to "initialize" the columns/attributes used.

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


I can live with feeds that don't have enough information. I simply don't use them. I can fill some gaps myself if I believe it's worthwhile to do so. What I cannot live with are errors in the file structure or garbage in the content. Maybe a scraper site can use that junk, but affiliates who design sites for users with the goal of providing value to their website visitors can't make gold out of it. They risk driving off customers who never come back. No thanks.

I waste a lot of my time doing the following:

  • Fixing datafeed structures (pre-processing); and
  • Technically and often even "logically" validating the content of each column.

We use provided category structures or hierarchies. I have to spend a lot of time with messed up category structures such as:

  • thousands of products assigned to a single subcategory
  • Category with a subcategory where both have the same name
  • Subcategory with another single subcategory only, but no products
  • Categories with hundreds of subcategories

The list goes on and on!

It includes all things that make the "catalog" not "browseable" by a user.

5. XML vs. Text Feed

XML files are much bigger and still not always as easy to process (especially if the XML format is proprietary and you don't get the XML schema sent with the XML data file).

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."

Datafeed Scripts by Cusimano Scripts

6. About this Article

This article is a summary of various emails I have sent to merchants and networks. Some of the emails were to complain about issues with the feed, while others were to make recommendations. I made considerable additions and changes months later, after receiving a lot of positive feedback from merchants, smaller affiliate networks and affiliates alike when I put the first version of this article online.

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.

7. Resources, Third Party Datafeed Integration & Publishing Tools and Services

I am always on the lookout for useful third party services and developer tools that provide products or services to make it easier and faster to utilize affiliate datafeeds.

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.

Also visit the Affiliate Datafeeds Resource Page of my Affiliate Marketing Resource Site, my Web Development, APIs and Webservices Resource Page.

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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Merchant Product Datafeeds for Affiliates - 101 Page 2/3 Articles Index XML Datafeeds and Webservices for Affiliates

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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