Comparison Shopping Site Analytics and Optimization

Two experts weigh in on how to interpret shopping site data and optimize feeds.
Comparison shopping engines (CSE) are a valuable sales channel for e-tailers, but as is the case with any marketing plan, you have to track performance and continually adjust your campaign accordingly to get the most out of the effort.

Michael Lambert, CEO of MerchantAdvantage, a company that provides CSE feed management and analytics, recently outlined approaches to successful CSE statistical analysis for those wondering how to interpret the data these sites provide.

Lambert discussed what level of tracking detail is necessary to help e-tailers with marketing decisions and why it's necessary and showed how some performance-tracking data can be misinterpreted, and therefore, cause marketers to make poor choices about their campaigns.

Before getting into the details of analysis, however, he offered the following tips for listing at and analysis of CSEs:
  • Optimize content by providing as many product attributes as possible — most CSEs don't require much information, but by filling out all the data fields available, you increase your click-to-purchase ratios and return-on-ad spending.

  • Optimize product inventory by removing high-cost per-click items with low or no sales, but do not remove items with low or no-cost per click, and he emphasizes this, regardless of sales performance.

  • Reporting tools should cover clicks and purchases — not just clicks — and e-tailers should prioritize their analysis by focusing first on high-click costs on products with low sales within a specific channel and then on any products or categories with low sales within a channel. Sellers should also test new products within a channel and watch their performance.

Too Much Of A Good Thing?
To illustrate how some performance-tracking mechanisms don't always provide positive outcomes, Lambert first explained how CSEs work to track consumers. Perhaps a consumer is in the market for an indoor bike trainer. He heads to a CSE, mulls the options the site provides, and clicks the one he feels best suits him. The site shoots the Lance Armstrong-wanna be to a redirect page, which is the first point of tracking. From there, he lands at the product page, where he (hopefully) puts the product in his shopping cart and checks out. Finally, he ends up at the thank you or invoice page, which is the most important tracking point of all. After all, marketing is all about sales.

Lambert then pointed out that some performance-monitoring systems insert a tracking point between the redirect page and the product page, which he believes to be risky. While not likely, there could be an Internet-connection failure or computer glitch at that point, which could prevent the consumer from reaching the product page. He said there's no reason to introduce another point of failure and that you'll otherwise glean enough data to make informed marketing decisions.

The Devil's In The Details
Lambert emphasized that it's important to strike a balance between too much information and not enough, so that marketers can make informed decisions about how best to present their products to consumers. Ideally, when evaluating data about CSEs, you'll want to know which CSE the consumer came from, the product code, the approximate cost-per- click and the keywords for which the consumer searched.

The MerchantAdvantage chief also recommends that e-tailers review the click-through path of the consumer: If while searching for his trainer, the biker also bought a helmet, it's important to know that the click for the trainer led to the sale of the helmet. Otherwise, the tracking is misleading.

In regard to evaluating the statistics, ratios are best for evaluating performance. A reasonable click-to-purchase ratio, Lambert said, is key. Marketers need to know where each click came from and the approximate cost-per-click. To make sure your statistics aren't tainted, Lambert said it's important to keep product information updated. Most CSEs grab product information from product sites, so merchants need to be vigilant about keeping prices and information accurate.

He also said that marketing high-performing products through CSEs and not including your slow-moving products is tempting, but to be wary: Striking the right balance of products sent to CSEs — without losing critical mass — is important.

Tips for Optimizing Feeds
And, if you're wondering how to optimize your CSE feeds, Leigh Vosler, of SierraTradingPost, recently outlined 22 tips at the July merchandising conference in San Diego. Some key advice from Vosler includes the following: watch and budget for the Q4 CPC price increase that occurs on nearly all engines, request the product categories from each of the shopping engines and take the time to map your products to the CSE categories for quicker and better data matching and remember that return-on-ad-spending is not important if you are bidding too low to be found on the engine in the first place.

Alan Rimm-Kaufman of Rimm-Kaufman Group, a search marketing agency located in Charlottesville, Va., also participated in the panel and posted the entire list at his blog here.

Sally Marek Curran is a regular contributor to

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