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  1. #1
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    I posted this in reply to a question on another thread, but thought it would be useful here.

    From what I've seen, the things that vary the most (across all merchants and networks, not just CJ) are:

    1) Categories. Nobody does it the same way, even within a single network. Some have no category information. Some have one level of categories. Some have 2-6 levels of categories. They're almost all stored differently.

    2) Prices. Most feeds have two or three price fields (usually Price, Retail Price, and Sale Price). Very few merchants use them consistently. I would expect the list price in the "Retail Price" field, the merchant's regular price in the "Price" field, and a special sale price in the "Sale Price" field. Either most merchants don't get this, or I'm expecting the wrong thing. Most merchants put their price in the "Retail Price" field and leave the others blank. I check all three fields and get the lowest price.

    3) File format. Some networks use CSV. Some use pipe-delimiited. Some have headers. Some don't. Some enclose some or all fields in quotes. Some put multiple mechants in one file. Some put a single merchant per file. Some use the same filename each time. Some use different filenames each time. Some compress the files with Zip. Some with Gzip. Some don't compress the files.

    4) Stock Indicators. Most merchants only send in-stock items. Some have a "Y"/"N" flag. Some use "Yes"/"No". Some use "In Stock" or "Out of Stock". Some put how many days to ship. Some put an ETA for out of stock items.

    5) Descriptions. I surprisingly large number don't include description. There are usually two description fields (for short/long descriptions). Which one gets used is pretty random.

    6) Product Names. Some merchants have absolutely awful product names. Some are lower case. Sometimes they put the product names in the short description field instead. Sometimes the product name is so vague that it isn't helpful.

    7) Skus/Product Numbers. Some merchants don't have unique Sku's/Product Numbers, which can really throw a kink in things.

    8) Images. The sizes of images vary tremendouslly. Most are thumbnails, but some are full size images. Two separate fields would be helpful, but none of the networks allow for that.

    9) HTML in Descriptions. Sometimes merchants will include HTML including links (without affiliate codes) and images with relative URL's (which show up as broken).

    If you code things right, you can handle all variations with a single program by defining parameters for each merchant and/or network. That has some big advantages.

    Michael Coley
    Amazing-Bargains.com

    [This message was edited by MichaelColey on November 30, 2003 at 08:31 AM.]

  2. #2
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    As a follow-up, here are my suggestions to merchants for each of my points above:

    1) Categories. Make sure to provide a rich category detail in your datafeeds. The more the better. If you have a single category field, use something like "Electronics>Home Video>DVD Players>Single Disc" in the field. If you have "Primary Category" and "Secondary Categories", use something like "Electronics" for Primary and the full "Electronics>Home Video>DVD Players>Single Disc" for "Secondary Categories".

    2) Prices. Use the list price in the "Retail Price" field and your current or sale price in the "Price" field. If you have a third field, put your normal price in the "Price" field and any sale price in the "Sale Price" field.

    3) File Format. I don't really have a preference here, although I do prefer a compressed file. One tip, though: Process the file in a temporary location, then MOVE it. I don't know how many times I've picked up partial files because they were being generated in the FTP directory.

    4) Stock Indicators. Don't include out of stock items unless you really have a need for specific affiliates.

    5) Descriptions. Include both if you have two different sizes. Populate the most appropriate field (NOT BOTH) if you have just one.

    6) Product Names. Use a complete product name that can be used clearly in a sentence. Use mixed case, if appropriate.

    7) Skus/Product Numbers. Use unique, short product numbers.

    8) Images. Use thumbnails, not full images. Press your network to add a field for full images.

    9) HTML in Descriptions. Make sure not to include links, talk about other things on the page (like "See sizing chart below"), or use relative links in images.

    Michael Coley
    Amazing-Bargains.com

  3. #3
    Affiliate/AM Moonlighter dflsports's Avatar
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    Nice list. I agree on all points. I have found that many merchants offering feeds do not have a clue about their feeds. But so far a good number of merchants I promote have been great in adding categories or descriptions and other items if they did not with their original feeds. So many folks just get the data and complain that it stinks. I have found that after a nice (do not start out typing "Your feed stinks, you need to do XYZ...) and simple email explaining how they could improve their feed, they follow my suggestions. I'd say 3 out of 4 merhants I make a request to, have done exactly what I suggest. Most all say "I'll see if I can get my programmers to do that" and a few days later, new fields. I'm not a hard core programmer but most of the Aff Managers are not either and I bet most of their programmers give them the least amount of data needed in order to get the job one faster? Buy them a clue and hope it pays off!

  4. #4
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    I've had fairly good success in getting merchants to update their feeds, too. I don't think I've seen 75%, but probably somewhere around 50% that I've contacted have updated their feeds for me.

    Michael Coley
    Amazing-Bargains.com

  5. #5
    ABW Ambassador FFoc's Avatar
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    for feed consistancy across a network, look to Shareasale -- their csv feeds are consistent and include both full-size and thumbnail image urls.

    The only issues I have with them are that the categories lack depth and the csv files are generated on-the-fly in the account interface -- which isn't a bad thing in it's own right, but makes it difficult, at best, to automate.

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  6. #6
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    Although I agree with most of the points raised here, I'd prefer that the feed fields NOT be standardized, based on the philosophy that I'd prefer the content to be complete rather than moved down to some common denominator.

    For example, category and subcategory is too limitting -- if a datafeed has 6 levels of nesting, I want all 6. If the merchant database has a field called "Horsepower", or "Carats" or "Venue" or "UV Rating", I'd like that in the datafeed, in its own column (not embedded in the description or hacked in as a category).

    Certainly standardizing some column names would be helpful, but there are other things I think are more importing.

    My list:

    (1) Complete information. Feeds that lack category information are very difficult to do anything with. I think only 4 of the Shareasale feeds have category information, the rest of them have no categories, with make site navigation very awkward. In every case, the merchant site itself has categories, so it's a matter of getting the merchants to provide the data to Shareasale (the "Category" field in the feed refers to the SAS-supplied Merchant category, not the product category).

    (2) Valid Feeds: A surprising number of feeds can't be imported without some tweaking, either because of embedded line feeds or improperly escaped pipes or quotes. This is just lame.

    (3) Working image links. How somebody can release a feed pointing to a site (like yahoostores) that automatically changes the links is beyond me. It almost guarantees that the affiliate site is going to show broken images.

    I agree with many of the other suggestions, but again, not the idea that all feeds should be standardized, if that meant losing any information at all. The more data provided, the richer our sites can be.

    Tac

  7. #7
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    i am a merchant looking to set-up an affiliate program and am trying to understand how I would go about setting up a datafeed for my affiliates? I haven't picked a network or anything yet and was considering running it in-house to start with so I want to make sure I offer a datafeed. Is this something that affiliates will download from the affiliate admin section?

  8. #8
    ABW Veteran Student Heyder's Avatar
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    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> Is this something that affiliates will download from the affiliate admin section? <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

    You can offer it any way you want. This mostly depends on your needs for security. Most I've seen have either a link in the affilaite account section or send you a unique link daily. I've also seen some with unique ftp accounts for each affiliate with access. If you are not concerned about who gets the feed then just a link in your affiliate section should work fine.

  9. #9
    ABW Ambassador buy_online's Avatar
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    First, I agree with what Heyder said. You need to decide how they will be delivered first. If you do it via FTP or email (for example), you will be able to limit who gets it.

    Will it need to be delivered with affiliate specific coding built into it, or will the affiliate insert their code after downloading? There are many examples where it is fine to deliver a feed without the affiliate ID built-in, and may be easier to do so. If the feed has the ID built-in, you basically have to build a feed for each affiliate as they log in (there are apps to do this, but it is just more overhead).

    Feel free to offer the feed outside of the networks, many dozens of feeds are available that way right now, and means a wider audience for the feed.

    Does your feed contain pricing or product information that requires frequent updating (e.g. daily)? If so, email is a good way to ensure it's delivery (assuming the datafeed file isn't very big).

    Hope this helps.

    Fred

    [edited to fix Heyder's name spelled wrong by me - duh...]

  10. #10
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    i'm not sure if this is the right place to post this but I will give it a try.. I have a question about re-directs and was hoping to get some help as I am still in the development stage of our program. The other day an affiliate told me that merchants need to set-up re-directs so if an item/direct product link goes out of stock, the visitor will automatically be re-directed to a similar product or the category. I think this is great but have no idea how to do that.. Is that something that has to be done on my server and do I have to set-up redirects for every item?

  11. #11
    Full Member Sophist's Avatar
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    Good thread. Certianly a topic worth discussing.

    However.

    The problem I am running into is simply keeping order and remembering what needs to be done to each datafeed whenever I update.

    Does anyone have a set of personal standards they use for keeping track of everything? I simply write the steps I take in each feed, it feels like there is a better way.

    I have 9 feeds on the go and each one has been customized so I could work with it.
    <b><a href="http://5startravelgroup.com" rel="nofollow">5 Star Travel Group</a> - Luxury Travel Memberships</b>
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  12. #12
    Resident Genius and Staunch Capitalist Leader's Avatar
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    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>The problem I am running into is simply keeping order and remembering what needs to be done to each datafeed whenever I update.

    Does anyone have a set of personal standards they use for keeping track of everything? I simply write the steps I take in each feed, it feels like there is a better way.
    <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

    If I wrote things down, I'd spend more time looking for where in the heck I wrote them than on anything else! I've got a Rolodex for my passwords, but those cards aren't big enough for much else (and if I *do* put something else in the Rollie anyway, I usually forget that that's where I put it).

    My solution for feeds doesn't require any writing-down of things.

    If it's not a CJ-standardized feed, I usually just don't touch it! I don't have the patience or inclination to deal with zillions of offbeat private variations. If a merchant's at CJ, I use the CJ feed and that's that. It fits the templates I've made, has the field names and info as I expect, and basically just runs nice (unless the merchant puts gobbledygook in, but the screwy ones would be screwy outside CJ, too.)

    Only a VERY, VERY, VERY promising merchant will entice me to run some quirky piece of junk, er, "outside feed," that won't fit in any of the templates I already have.

    For the *few* non-CJ feeds I have, I just remember (in my head) what's different about them, or make a template to match their quirks (so I don't have to think about their quirks anymore), or jog my memory by taking a look at how the feed's set up. Nothing's written down.

    One other thing--if it's not a CJ feed, I ALWAYS look to make sure my ID is in there!! I have had the horror of having lots of traffic, no sales...and then finding out it's because all the sales went to INSERTIDHERE. After that happened a couple of times, I just made it a "best practice" to check ALL feeds for my ID before running them!


    If I miss something about a feed and WebMerge starts throwing errors, it prompts two things.

    One: CUSSING toward the infernal jokers who decided to be "cute" with their field names instead of using the CJ ones.

    Two: Instant review with the question "is this merchant really worth it???" in mind.

    ONLY if #2 is passed, do I go onto the next step--making it run.
    There is no knowledge that is not power. ~Hemingway

  13. #13
    ABW Ambassador buy_online's Avatar
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    Good points, I love your view of things Leader !

    I use a spreadsheet for passwords and logins (162 so far - not all datafeeds).

    I use another spreadsheet for datafeeds, but it is hard to remember to update. And you should see the number of fields used for each one - one for when to update, how large, what site(s) are the feed on, speacial stuff, notes...blah...blah.

    Perhaps we should design some sort of organizer for datafeeds - that might sell?!

    Fred

  14. #14
    ABW Ambassador Nature Boy's Avatar
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    I set up macros thru excel to automate all of my tweaking to a feed. Originally, I had a spreadsheet with step by step instructions on what to do, then figuared out I could use the macros to run everything in a fraction of the time.

    The major problem with this... merchants who change things around in the feed. I tend to put those merchants low on the priority list.
    Scott
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  15. #15
    ABW Ambassador buy_online's Avatar
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    Macros are wonderful for excel, it's super important to be able to automate a lot of tasks.

    I would love to know how many are tweaking the feed they get prior to publishing. And how many of those tweakers use WebMerge vs. php and perl et. al. I know Leader understands what I am talking about when I say "tweak."

    Fred

  16. #16
    ABW Ambassador
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    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> I've got a Rolodex for my passwords ~Leader <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>Try Ai Roboform. You will not regret it I couldn't live without it.

    Dirk Gardner

  17. #17
    ABW Ambassador Greg Rice's Avatar
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    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Nature Boy:
    The major problem with this... merchants who change things around in the feed. I tend to put those merchants low on the priority list. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

    This frosts me to no end. I too have a string of feeds for merchants that are painful to update. Just went though this with Superstore Electronics. I have them on 3 or 4 sites and their latest update changed nearly everything, Product ID, categories, product names, descriptions. With this feed, there is no unique identifier to update the feed, it's either use the entire old one or recode. Right now, it seems my choice is either recode those sites (and hope they don't change it again) or give up on it and replace this merchant. Although I asked many times, I've yet to have one merchant answer as to why the data changes so much.
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  18. #18
    Resident Genius and Staunch Capitalist Leader's Avatar
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    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Dirk Gardner:
    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR> I've got a Rolodex for my passwords ~Leader <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>Try Ai Roboform. You will not regret it I couldn't live without it.

    Dirk Gardner <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

    The PWs I have in the Rolodex are mainly the ones for the Dreamweaver FTP. (I don't have to enter those particular PWs often, of course--only if something dumps.) Doesn't Roboform only handle passwords that get entered into websites?
    There is no knowledge that is not power. ~Hemingway

  19. #19
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    I just struck my first crazy "feed". It is a tab delimited .txt file on a web page and saving it collects the HTML headers and footers. Next hurdle is that some of the rows have a space instead of a tab, so out comes the Excel concatenate command. Then convert text to columns, save as .xls and then it is finally usable.

    Another clean feed comes with no explanation of what to make of the columns, e.g. is there any benefit in using the retail price or SKU, or is there a good reason the price is shown with three decimal places, etc.

    It should be fairly easy for some affiliate managers to float an RFC of a data set with a standard hierarchy with as many levels as necessary, and merchants can choose whether to use it or not. After all, if a non-tech affiliate can be up and running instead of being scared off, it means more potential sales.
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