In the Age of Dying CSEs, Feed Management is More Important Than Ever

Over the past year, there’s been a clear change in the scope of product feed usage as the CSE landscape has shifted and Product Listing Ads have continued to evolve. When Merkle moved into feed-based marketing there were more than ten major active CSEs and PLAs were just getting off the ground. Feed management was viewed as synonymous to CSE management because that was the main use case for a product feed.

Fast forward to Q1 of 2016 and only two major traditional CSEs see meaningful volume, while PLAs have come to make up 70% of our retailer clients’ non-brand click traffic on Google. At the same time, Google continues to show increasing favoritism to the PLA format, with the elimination of right-rail text ads and frequent tests for expansion

Yes, CSEs have consolidated significantly. However, with the continual strong growth of PLAs and marketplaces, and sustained success in affiliate programs and display remarketing, the definition of feed management has morphed. Rather than just a way to run CSEs, feed management has become an essential strategic element integral to success across many digital platforms.

Analyst Oversight Critical Component to Succeeding with Feeds

Many retailers and agencies think about a feed as a set-it-and-forget-it file that requires initial set-up, but not much attention thereafter. However, our analysts have proven time and time again that active management and collaboration on all feed-based marketing is essential to maximizing efficient revenue for that channel.

We at Merkle are huge proponents of using the power of technology to manage marketing programs at scale, while also relying on the intuition and creativity of human analysts. The analyst piece is critical to ensure that automated processes and their outputs are used in meaningful ways that are tailored to each retailer’s unique needs.

For example, Google’s Dynamic Remarketing ads automatically populate with products a user viewed previously, with Google filling in the blanks with whatever products they deem relevant. Across a feed of tens of thousands of products, letting Google decide which products are best to show any given customer is undoubtedly not an ideal solution.

Through careful performance analysis and consideration of one client’s objectives, our team grew Google dynamic remarketing orders 136% by flagging a recommended set of products in the feed for Google to use to fill in those dynamic ad product gaps.

In another example, we identified opportunities to build on two of our mature client programs by launching feed-based CPC programs on Houzz and Polyvore. By jumping on these social shopping opportunities early, we were able to add 41% and 156% percent in incremental comparison shopping revenue in a time when many CSE programs were starting to decline.

This success was a result of our understanding of what products from our clients’ catalogs made sense on each platform, coupled with bidding and filtering recommendations provided by our proprietary tools.

For Google Shopping Campaigns, some of the feed management pieces that can substantially improve performance include title and image testing, maximizing the use of ad extensions, providing clean, informative product attributes, and using the feed to smartly segment products for bidding purposes.

Having feeds and paid search managed under one roof has proven particularly beneficial for our client set. In addition to working together on Shopping campaign strategies, we can swiftly implement changes to the feed and immediately assess the impact of those updates.

The data speaks for itself, with PLA share of non-brand sales 10 percentage points higher for clients that move feed management to Merkle.

As a whole, the performance we’ve seen highlights the breadth of important feed-based initiatives and the significant impact that effective management of those initiatives can have across a retailer’s digital marketing program. In order to perform well in the feeds realm, retailers must stay on top of the changing landscape and question best practices for even the most established programs.

If there’s one thing we know in digital marketing, it’s that the only constant is change. Having a clean, accurate, and complete data feed will set marketers up to capitalize on feed-based opportunities, regardless of how they change in the months and years to come.

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