Guest Post – Joe Sousa
“From time to time, we have the good fortune of having a well respected, successful and knowledgeable individual provide a guest post for this blog. Today is one of those special days. Joe is a close friend of ours and his opinion as an affiliate is one we rely on significantly to ensure that we are doing our job and being great affiliate managers. I was watching Joe’s Twitter stream last week, https://twitter.com/drcool73, and read his struggle with a certain advertisers datafeed. We do quite a bit with datafeeds, so I reached out to Joe to ask him if he would be interested in sharing this story and his view on datafeeds for our readers, especially our My Affiliate Coach members. So here it is, a first hand account of working with a difficult datafeed. Thanks Joe!”
Why are you making it hard for your affiliates???
As an affiliate I build many different types of sites. Sometimes I will take one product and build a site around it, sometimes I will pick a handful of related products and create a site, and sometimes I want to put up thousands of similar products on a website. When I do a site for just a few products I will usually just do everything by hand but when I want thousands of products it would take forever by hand so I use a datafeed.
A datafeed is basically a database of products supplied by the merchant for the affiliates to use. Generally speaking the feed will contain the name of the product, a URL to use for your affiliate link that goes directly to the product, a link to an image, price, categories, and product numbers. Some feeds contain much more information like product descriptions, colors, keywords, and so on but for the most part I just like my feeds simple and will usually delete all the extra fields I don’t need.
I wanted to update a site I have had for years with a new datafeed since it contains a bunch of new products since I last updated the site a couple months ago. Before we go any further let me give you a bit of background on this merchant. I won’t say who they are but this seems to be a fairly common problem among merchants:
This particular merchant has an in-house affiliate program as well as being on three different affiliate networks. I generally prefer to use their in-house program because when you use their program on the networks the links take you to a page before you get to the actual page where you can buy and the conversion is quite a bit lower than the in-house program. So I usually use the feed from their in-house program.
But first let me tell you about the feed I can get from one of the networks. For the most part it is a good feed. There aren’t really any incomplete records and all the information is there. The problem is the categorization on that particular feed is terrible. The products I want are all of a certain category and in this feed they are spread out through 3 or 4 different categories and mixed in with a bunch of products I don’t want. Combine that with the lower conversion rate and it really makes me like the in-house feed.
I downloaded the feed from the in-house program and instantly saw many, many problems:
- 1) The feed should have around 130,000 items and this feed for some reason has over 290,000. Not a huge problem. I delete duplicates and I am down to right around 130,000. No idea why there is so many duplicates.
- 2) Out of those 130,000 items 84,265 of them are in great shape. All the info is there, they are categorized properly, and good to go. But that leaves 45,000 that are missing categories, missing prices, missing links, missing images, etc. They do all have an item number and a product name so that is a start.
- 3) There was really only one category of products I needed so just to see what happened I deleted all the records with missing info and everything that wasn’t the category I needed and was left with about 900 items. I checked the merchant site and saw there was 1270 products on their site in the category I needed so that meant that in the stuff I deleted there was probably around 370 items I needed to create information for. I could have just gone with those 900 items and called it good but that is over 25% of the products that would be missing and potentially 25% fewer commissions for me. GRRRRRRR!
- 4) I was able to do some cutting and pasting and cell merging and was able to create the image links and buy URLs for the products fairly easily. That maybe took 10-15 minutes or so once I figured out what was going on.
- 5) Then I needed sub-categories for all these products. They are all in one main category but there are over 30 sub-categories I needed for these products so it was pretty much a manual process. Luckily I am very familiar with these products so I was able to just look at the product name and know what sub-cat they went in. Just a lot of manual typing and stuff.
- 6) Now I just needed the price. For these products there are about 4 or 5 “standard” prices so once again I was able to do some filtering, cutting and pasting, and was able to get quite a few of the prices in fairly easily. But there were still about 150 or so products that had odd prices. So I needed to manually look up these products and get the prices so I could enter them into the database.
- 7) OK, it seems like the feed is ready to go. Many hours spent tweaking the feed but it seems good to go. So I plug the feed into the program I use for my datafeed sites and it spits everything out. But there is a problem. One sub-group of products isn’t showing any images. GRRRRR! Turns out those products have images in a different format than the rest of the products. And with the way they are formatted there is no easy way to do it. So it is manually cutting and pasting image URLs for about 80 products.
But now it is finally done! The site is up and running. There are a few images that aren’t working properly but not too many. I can just clean that up slowly over the next few days. I did, however, spend a bunch of time cleaning up the feed when I would have liked to use that time to improve my site in other ways, create some videos, do some redesigning of the pages, etc. to make more sales.
For the most part I have no problem tweaking a feed if that tweaking is done to distinguish it from other feeds. If I need to write custom descriptions, add in keyword fields, or something like that I am happy to do it because I know that will reap benefits. What I don’t like is to spend 8 hours getting a feed to the point where I can use it. The feeds should come ready to use. This should be the job of the affiliate manager. Most AMs are pretty good about getting decent banners and text links that work to their affiliates so why do so many skimp when it comes to datafeeds?
Affiliate managers should be able to help their affiliates and assist them in making sales. That is pretty much why they are there. That will take a different form for different merchants but the affiliate manager should be able to provide their affiliates the tools they need to succeed whether that is text links, banners, custom banners, videos, or datafeeds.
I have worked with dozens and dozens of affiliate managers over the years and there are only a handful I would really say do a good or great job. I don’t think most of them have had enough training or have enough knowledge of the industry to be of service to their affiliates. Affiliate manager isn’t just a job you can throw anyone into. They need to be taught how to do their job and know what they need to do to help their affiliate. Something “simple” like providing the affiliates the proper tools (like complete datafeeds that contain all the information) is one of the main ways they can help.
You can find more of Joe’s thoughts and opinion at https://www.whatdoesjoethink.com.
If you are looking for help with your datafeed, overall coaching and mentoring or complete outsourced affiliate management, please contact email@example.com.