Let’s say you want to start advertising products on social media or perhaps you want to start listing on a new marketplace. How do you go from the “idea” stage to a live product listing or an ad? No matter where you want to list or advertise products (whether it’s Facebook, Amazon, Google, or any other channel), you’ll need to know the ins and outs of product feed management. That’s why we’re here today.
This is your complete, super simple introduction to how you might gather product information to create a feed and how you can distribute that feed to your target channels. Let’s start with an overview.
Product feed integration and distribution in short
Your product feed might technically be a bunch of product information, but it means a lot more than that. A feed includes information that has been tailored to a specific channel and sometimes with specific goals in mind (like targeting). That means, your product feed is a key tool in marketing and selling products anywhere online.
There are three basic steps involved when preparing your feed:
- First, you’ll pull product information from numerous sources such as a PIM or spreadsheet. This step is known as data integration. This is how you create a feed (and also keep it up to date).
- Second, you’ll need to tailor and optimize that raw product information specifically for each individual channel. For example, because Facebook will have different requirements (and a completely different audience) than Amazon, you should prepare each feed for success on each specific channel. We won’t cover general data cleansing in this article, so read more here.
- Third, it’s time to distribute those product feeds to your target channels like Facebook or Google. This is also known as "syndication” or “export”, but it’s all the same.
*Once this is done, you’ll move to that channel to start managing how your products appear online (for example, through the *Google Merchant Center* or Facebook Business Manager).*
Agency or in-house?
Many businesses outsource this entire process to an agency. Agencies can take care of a lot of the heavy lifting. They should know the ins and outs of the various channels and feed management tools, so, if you’re not able to manage your feeds directly, an agency may be useful.
However, agencies do also add a blocker. Now, when you want to expand or make changes for campaigns — whether large or small — there will be a waiting period of days to weeks. For businesses who want to stay agile and have control over performance, there are highly user-friendly solutions like Productsup available. Productsup users get to take advantage of our built-in channel-ready templates and numerous rules and tools that make it incredibly easy to manage product feeds.
Learning exactly how feed integration and distribution work may help make this decision easier, so we recommend reading on!
Options when compiling a product feed
In general, there are two ways to look at product data integration and feed creation.
The most basic way to compile a data feed is to manually create a product list using a spreadsheet application such as Excel or Google Spreadsheet. You can use data from your shop system, PIM system, or other feed-based channels such as Google Shopping in order to populate these files.
If you have a very small inventory, you may also be able to create a feed directly within your target channel. For example, if you have less than 100 products to list on Google Shopping, these products could be entered into a feed directly in the Google Merchant Center.
Software and direct connections
A more convenient way to compile a feed involves using pre-set integrations that can pull data from another system (like a PIM or shop system) and push it directly to a feed management software. This means, for example, data from your PIM can go straight into the designated platform, where you will do bulk data editing and manage distribution to channels with automation and extra tools.
On top of this, website crawlers might be an additional option for those who are missing product information and using advanced feed management solutions such as Productsup. Site crawlers are able to pull product content from an online shop to fill in missing attributes.
Options for how to distribute your feed to target channels
Whether you call it “distributing,” syndicating,” “exporting,” or even “uploading” data, it’s all the same. You’re sending a product data feed to a target channel. The exact options will vary by channel, however there are some methods that will generally be supported. Let’s take a closer look at the options.
Key methods to distribute data feeds to target channels:
- (Ongoing) Manual feed upload
- Direct connections like Facebook Marketing API or Google Content API
- Scheduled feed fetch
- Automated distribution through feed management solutions
Manual feed upload
Whether you’re using Google, Facebook, or almost any other channel, chances are high that you will have the option to manually upload your feed. In this case, the feed is sent as needed and will require some kind of human interaction to oversee and manage the process.
This is generally only useful for test purposes. However, if your product feed contains less than 50 items or if it doesn’t change very often, you may consider manual upload to be a good, simple method.
Scheduled feed fetch
For most medium and large businesses, manual upload won’t be possible (plus, it’s far from ideal). Instead, there will need to be some kind of automation. One step up from manual upload is scheduled fetch. This means, the target channel will pull the product feed on a set schedule. This is often on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis and won’t require human interaction on a regular basis.
The how, where, and what details will vary by channel; however, let’s try an example, using Facebook. Consider a business that keeps their product data on an external server and updates the information every day at midnight. So, when and how should they distribute that updated information to Facebook? In this scenario, someone from the business’s marketing team can go into the Facebook Product Catalog Manager and set a scheduled fetch for 1 AM. That means, every day at 1 AM, Facebook will pull the product data automatically.
Direct connections and APIs
For more automation, you may choose to leverage an API connection. This can be preferable to a simple scheduled fetch because it includes additional options and capabilities. This is especially helpful for products that are moving at a high velocity or that undergo regular price fluctuations or promotions. Let’s consider Google for an example.
A business connects their product data to the Google Merchant Center using the Google Content API. Now, if there are changes to any product data, it will immediately relay this to Google. This means no guessing or worrying about information being inaccurate. Plus, if any errors occur, the user will get a notification. Not every channel will offer an API, but many of the larger sites will. Be sure to check your specific channels as each will be completely unique.
Common benefits of using an API for exports:
- Error notifications in case of problematic data or products
- Easier ad and campaign management, i.e. channels may offer automated ad pacing, more precise targeting or bidding when using an API
- Product data that is always up-to-date
There is, however, one major drawback when using an API in-house: it’s difficult to implement. Finding, understanding, and successfully using an API for every given channel requires an IT team with specific knowledge and experience. Yes, each and every channel must be individually implemented and managed. There are, however, solutions out there that make this easy. Which leads us to the last method…
Feed management solutions with pre-set channel connections
Finally, if a business is using a data feed management solution, like Productsup, feed distribution will likely take place through the related platform. As described by Forrester, PIDS (Product Information Distribution Services) are solutions specifically for distributing product information to other channels. So, a solution like Productsup is designed to make such tasks easy.
Here’s how feed integration and distribution work with Productsup
With Productsup, just about everything can be automated. Our users can pull data from all kinds of sources. PIM, PCM, shop systems, spreadsheets — you name it. This reduces the burden on IT and gives you the agility and control needed to adapt to the changing ecommerce space quickly.
Productsup also use APIs and scheduled feed exports to ensure that product information is delivered to the target channel at a predefined time. Plus, this ensures that information is always up-to-date and complete.
Businesses can schedule a specific time, and we’ll always export the data at that time — along with performing any other predefined tasks.
This updated post was originally published on April 9, 2019.