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  1. #1
    ABW Ambassador JoyUnltd's Avatar
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    AMs: Datafeed Garbage In | Garbage Out
    Popshops has eliminated the techie challenges to affiliates and made it possible to easily create elegant custom product pages. Many vendors do create categories that make it easy to find specific products—but there are those who throw hundreds, and some, thousands of products into a feed without categorizing them and think that they've done their job. Or those (I'm thinking of a tres cool gift vendor) who is very, very sloppy with their titles: they don't initial cap all of them, words are arbitrarily all lowercase--it looks like crap on a product page, like they don't care about their products. Or those who have thousands of items on their site but only include a couple hundred in their feed (I'm thinking of a gift basket site). Or those with tons of duplicate products that show up on an autofeed (a flower vendor).

    Can you imagine walking into a retail store and seeing signage this way? What would you think if you saw several signs for the same item in the same place? What would you think if you saw store signs that had poor grammar or Titles That were written Like this?

    I don't know who is responsible for datafeeds at a vendor, but the devil is in the details. You want your stuff to convert? Well, put your best foot forward and clean up your feeds. Write better titles and descriptions (native English writers, please), be consistent with initial caps in titles, get the keywords in...you know what has to be done. And my kudos to all those vendors who do this now...they understand what it means to their bottom line.
    Renée
    Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain. -Wizardress of Oz

  2. #2
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    Many merchants are drop-ship operations that simply import and regurgitate data that others provide (often with character-set substitution and other conversion issues added at each transfer point). Others are plagued by problems that are introduced by their technology solution providers (e.g., Yahoo) who garble their data during import & export. And some just lack the competence (and choose not to invest) to produce useful datafeeds. It costs very little to "dump data into a feed," but it might cost a lot more to implement a system to create an effective datafeed.

    I do think that Popshops provides a great benefit to merchants by making it easy to view their datafeeds in context adjacent to other competing merchants' products.

    Of course, there's a lot more involved in "datafeed work," as I'm currently learning with my in-house development project to create my "integrated datafeed/content management system." The problem of "normalizing" text is just one of many challenging hurdles.

  3. #3
    ABW Ambassador Caseyfern's Avatar
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    Thumbs down Data Feeds Teetering on the Edge of Unusable
    This is a topic that has been raising my blood pressure since I began as a publisher. Forgive me if I appear to be going ballistic - I very well could be. But let me be crystal clear: I am in no way blaming PopShops for this problem.

    I want to know what I do can fix this. I want to know how I can help merchants to fix this.

    When I go to a merchant site, I see high quality well sized JPEG images and accurate data. The data exist or it would not be on their own site... right?

    If their site has beautiful images and accurate data, what prevents the merchant from providing it to publishers?

    If the data arrives in via drop-ship operations, imported and regurgitated, does that mean the recipient of that regurgitated data has to settle for garbage text, huge chunks of repeated product and 'display' images the size of a postage stamp? Are the merchants' hands tied?

    It sickens me when I see thumbnail images come through from huge merchants in my niche. I want to represent them well on my sites. I cannot represent their products and company professionally if they give me garbage to work with.

    I've dealt with several outstanding AMs who have taken matters into their own hands. One went so far as to do the editing himself, as I understand it. The work paid off - the feeds contain clean, professional and highly usable data. This tells me that it can be done.

    So how do we fix this, establish standards, educate right down to the source?

  4. #4
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    Caseyfern wrote, regarding deficient datafeeds:
    > "I want to know what I do can fix this." <

    My solution has been to start building an in-house integrated datafeed/content management solution that will help me accelerate and replicate the work I do with datafeeds. It's taking much longer than I'd hoped, in part because the problems are so varied.

    The first issue is a collection of "absurd defects" in datafeeds: garbage characters, embedded HTML and non-affiliate hyperlinks, and other issues that seem to arise from "incompetent translation" of data. Some datafeeds garble product names (e.g. "Reebokr" or "Niketm" because the registered-trademark and trademark symbols are appended as text) and many others garble measurement data ("11 1/2 by 8 7/8 inches" becomes "111/2 by 87/8" or even "1112 by 878" -- and don't get me started on managing the quote symbols that may represent "inches" or might really be quote symbols).

    Next, there are "language, grammar, reference, and hype" issues, such as stripping out lengthy "free shipping" messages from product titles and descriptions, "keyword stuffing," and deleting embedded phrases like "click thumbnail to view larger image," "Free shipping with any $50 order," and "MerchantName provides the very best in OEM-compatible toner and ink cartridges for every need."

    Then, there is "normalization," such as intelligently converting ALL UPPER CASE and Mixed case product names into "title case," without screwing up acronyms.

    As many affiliates have mentioned, another huge headache arises from merchant categories. Even when merchants give proper consideration and fair editorial effort to the issue of assigning product categories, there is no standard taxonomy and thus every affiliate must find ways to transmogrify the merchant's categories into a taxonomy that works for the affiliate.

    Don't forget about "in-stock" and "out-of-stock" issues. Some merchants (like calendars.com) list all products as "in stock," including products that are on "pre-order" status and thus are not really in stock. Other merchants fail to update their datafeeds -- or update their datafeeds but continue to include products that are out-of-stock and discontinued. Even if an item is in stock, the price may have changed.

    Some datafeeds contain explicit "time references" that make no sense, such as a costume merchant whose datafeed (today) refers to an item "expected in late May" or another merchant whose product descriptions include expired offers like "Free shipping through June 15" or "Order before July 8 and receive a free bonus cartridge."

    One problem I'm encountering are merchants who list clothing items that are only available in one or a few sizes (for example, "Lee denim blue jeans, boot cut" which turn out to be available only in sizes 28 and 34, or "Nike Air Jordan Max" shoes which are only available in pink or purple, sizes 8 and 7EE only). The "opposite problem" (and no less troublesome) is a merchant who lists every size and color as a separate SKU in the datafeed, thereby bloating the datafeed with 20 or more identical items (often with identical pictures and product descriptions).

    Then there are broken-image issues (which are often a clue about "out of stock" items).

    There are many issues that are "unique to a merchant," such as the omission of image URLs for some or all products in a datafeed, or the inclusion of references to "image not available" thumbnails.

    And of course, let's not forget the merchants who generously include incredibly long product descriptions, starting with 40 or 50 words of standard language and then the specific individual product description:
    ""MerchantName.com provides the very best in OEM-compatible toner and ink cartridges for every home or business need. We offer toner and inkjet cartridges for HP, Lexmark, Canon, Dell, Brother, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, LaserJet, and Fizzywig printers, including inkjet printers, laser printers, thermal transfer printers, LED printers, solid-dye ink printers, color film printers, multifunction printers, fax machines, copiers, and more. Canon T79 79 1400 inkjet cartridge, light cyan. Free shipping for all orders over $75. Now through August 10, buy three Brother inkjet cartridges and receive one additional cartridge for free."
    Some ABW members have already developed systems to "process datafeeds," and others (like me) are still working on systems that will work for us. Without significant automation, this process is truly impossible, for affiliates managing more than one narrow-niche site.
    Last edited by markwelch; August 26th, 2008 at 08:00 PM.

  5. #5
    ABW Ambassador JoyUnltd's Avatar
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    Oops: I realize that I shouldn't have started this thread here, which isn't about PopShops (which has attained sainthood in my book), but about vendor feed issues. Perhaps a moderator will be kind enough to put this thread in the proper forum?
    Quote Originally Posted by markwelch
    ...It costs very little to "dump data into a feed," but it might cost a lot more to implement a system to create an effective datafeed.
    Mark, thank you for all the info. I was aware about some of the issues, but not all. Nonetheless, cleaner feeds make for better conversions. No affiliate can remain in business without automating. I cherry pick items and PopShops allows me to do this effortlessly. Before, I actually would go in and alter text, correct grammar, etc. It was a losing battle. There was no way to keep up. But it is done—there are vendors who obviously allocate a budget for their feeds.

    Quote Originally Posted by Caseyfern
    I want to know what I do can fix this. I want to know how I can help merchants to fix this.
    I bet start a business. Take a particularly lousy feed, clean it up. Rinse & repeat hundreds of times, perfect your methods, reduce massage time. Maybe contact WorldWideBrands and JV with them. Begin with smaller feeds. Who knows? You could change the world. Then I'll add you to my list of affiliate saints.
    Renée
    Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain. -Wizardress of Oz

  6. #6
    Affiliate Manager PaulS's Avatar
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    Part of the problem is the system of converting the site data into a useable Data Feed. We tried a few systems in order to generate the feed so that it would be automatically updated in SAS (and therefore PopShops) in a timely manner.

    Unfortunately, none of them worked... mostly because of the field to field mapping that seemed non-existent.

    I had to manually go in and insert the different source URLs for the thumbnail and the main image (the system only grabbed one), the short description (the system simply truncated the long description, leaving hanging sentences), the subcategories and completely ignored the Keyword search field, which is very helpful for many affiliates.

    We finally gave up and now do the entire feed, over 7,000 products, manually in order to make sure that the data is as clean as possible.

    It's a LOT of work, but - I agree - it's a very valuable investment in make the datafeed useful.

    It seems to make sense, on the surface, to have things automated in order to keep everything current, but - in the end - the automated systems simply don't do the datafeed justice... at least what I've found so far.

    Paul

  7. #7
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    Paul is correct, it isn't as easy as affiliates think to create a "perfect" or near perfect datafeed. Automation isn't always the answer. I am working with a new merchant that doesn't understand at all what a datafeed is, and I will be manually fixing it, or even creating it, from whatever data they can give me. Most programs I manage I need to massage the datafeed before it is loaded to Shareasale and then affiliates massage it some more.

    Popshops is great, but even with a perfect feed, affiliates should be making changes on their end to make the data displayed on their sites different than what is shown on every other affiliate site that is using the same data. Which is one of the many great features of Popshops you have the ability to do that.

    Educating merchants about datafeeds and their use in 3rd party tools is one of the biggest parts of my ongoing consulting. Only one of my merchants is able to produce their feed totally without being modified manually.
    Deborah Carney
    TeamLoxly.com BookGoodies.com ABCsPlus.com

  8. #8
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    FYI, I've updated my list of "text substitution" suggestions and posted it on my web site. See the discussion thread "Identifying 'problematic' text strings in datafeeds" at http://forum.abestweb.com/showthread.php?t=107591


    I've posted an updated list of text substitutions for datafeeds (this is my current list of suggestions to my developer): http://www.markwelch.com/subst006.xls
    Last edited by markwelch; August 27th, 2008 at 12:27 PM. Reason: Removed non-working html link

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by markwelch
    FYI, I've updated my list of "text substitution" suggestions and posted it on my web site. See the discussion thread "Identifying 'problematic' text strings in datafeeds" at http://forum.abestweb.com/showthread.php?t=107591


    I've posted an updated list of text substitutions for datafeeds (this is my current list of suggestions to my developer).

    http://www.markwelch.com/subst006.htm

    http://www.markwelch.com/subst006.xls
    Mark your links are generating file not found errors.
    Deborah Carney
    TeamLoxly.com BookGoodies.com ABCsPlus.com

  10. #10
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    Bizarre - the .htm version is on my server but won't load for some reason. I am able to download and view the .xls (Microsoft Excel 2000 format) file. I've edited my post to remove the .htm version link.

    Also: following up on JoyUnltd's earlier suggestion, could a moderator please move this thread to the "Data Feeds" forum ?
    Last edited by markwelch; August 27th, 2008 at 12:41 PM.

  11. #11
    Outsourced Program Manager Angel Djambazov's Avatar
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    Forum moved as per Mark and Casey's request. Thank you everyone for the PopShops love, interesting topic of discussion.

    Angel
    Angel Djambazov
    Managing Edtior ReveNews
    OPM for Keen Shoes and Graphicly.com

  12. #12
    ABW Ambassador JoyUnltd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by loxly
    Popshops is great, but even with a perfect feed, affiliates should be making changes on their end to make the data displayed on their sites different than what is shown on every other affiliate site that is using the same data. Which is one of the many great features of Popshops you have the ability to do that.
    Affiliates can easily make text changes in PopShop. Click the "Customize" tab and view your items. Double click anywhere in the heading & the text and you can easily edit. Yes, you're right, affiliates do need to customize their pages/item choices—some of us do, but sometimes you need to grab an entire category's content. There aren't easy answers and as Loxly brought up, small business owners don't even have a clue to begin with. I can see this as a great topic to be included in a small biz owners seminar or as the makings of a truly valuable ebook for the industry. There could be a companion book for affiliates about implementing and customizing feeds. Some of which should be common sense...but you know what happens after too many late night coding sessions.
    Last edited by JoyUnltd; September 1st, 2008 at 03:52 PM. Reason: clarification.
    Renée
    Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain. -Wizardress of Oz

  13. #13
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    Does Popshops include the promotional links data feed from CJ? Is the data feed cleaner than the way CJ provides it? We used the promotional link data feed from CJ last week and realized that the deals/coupon codes were not properly showing in the name/description column. We have to manually copy/paste the html link for each item and use to publish it on the website.

    I am wondering if popshops or any other 3rd party tool provider has solved these issues.

    Raj

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