Product data feeds are really popular among affiliates because they can help produce thousands of product pages quickly and easily. Such pages can be used to drive highly targeted search engine traffic looking specifically for those products. But there is a big problem.
The problem with data feeds is the fact that a lot of affiliates use the same copies of feeds in the same exact ways. Most data feed affiliates put just the product names in HTML titles, so they all end up with a bunch of similar pages that have identical titles. And since the search engines give a lot of weight to the titles of HTML pages, those affiliates end up competing with each other for the same highly specific keywords.
Luckily, this problem has a quick and dirty solution. It’s worse than going over the feed by hand, but much better than doing nothing. What I get from affiliates is that manually modifying feed simply defeats the purpose. But being able to do it automatically can help one differentiate his site from other affiliates without losing the benefits of using data feeds.
There are two basic ways to automatically make your site a little bit different from other affiliates of the same merchant.
The first way is to add some keywords before and/or after the product name in the HTML title. For example, let’s say you pick a phrase “On Sale” to add after the product name. So instead of “Blue Widget #MN-3143” you have in the original data feed, you would now have “Blue Widget #MN-3143 On Sale” in the HTML title of that product page. You simply add that phrase to the titles of all products in the feed. That lets you specifically target people who would search for “blue widget on sale” or “mn-3143 on sale.”
You can also use some arbitrary keywords like “Cheap” or “Discounted” or “Quality” before the product name to have something like “Cheap Blue Widget #MN-3143.” The keywords you pick largely depend on the merchant’s product line.
Another variation of this technique is to randomize the keywords that are displayed before and after product names in the titles. You can use a sever-side technology of your choice to pick a random keyword out of some predefined list and append it to the name of a product to form the title for the page. Your scripts would pick a new keyword for each request for the product page. Of course, that would only work if you are using a database, and do not generate static HTML using Webmerge or a similar program. That way, even though you don’t control the exact keyword that is displayed for any particular page, with enough product pages you can cover a wider market of people searching with different modifiers. You should be able to cover different shopper types — the ones looking for bargains as well as the ones looking for quality.
The second way to make your site different from others is a bit more complex, but could yield much greater results. Instead of adding something to the product names, you can try changing the names on a large scale. As I said earlier, modifying feeds by hand would defeat the purpose of using them. But if you perform a find-and-replace operation on the whole file then you can get different content without spending much additional time.
The utility you might want to use for feed modification is called sed. You can search for that name using you favorite search engine. It’s sed — the stream editor. I’m going to skip much of the technical detail on how and why it does certain things in a certain way. Instead, I will concentrate on describing practical application of sed with product feeds.
At its core, sed takes input data, modifies it according to certain rules and outputs the result — all done line-by-line. It uses regular expressions and can perform extremely complex operations, by for now I just want to concentrate on simple replacements.
The good thing about sed is it can use an external file with multiple commands and execute them one after another for the entire input file (in our case, it’s a product feed). So you can replace as many words as you need. Also, once you define those commands, you can use them for many different feeds with different merchants.
Let’s go over a few examples that should illustrate the true power of this approach.
I’ll assume that the merchant we are working with sells widgets of various kinds. You looked over the feed and saw that the merchant has some porcelain widgets; red and blue, large and small. One of the synonyms for porcelain is ceramic, so first thing you would do is replace the word porcelain with ceramic in all product names and descriptions.
This can be done by adding the following commands to a sed script file before running it against the feed:
Those commands will replace your keywords while preserving capitalization. So that a title like “Big Blue Porcelain Widget” becomes “Big Blue Ceramic Widget.”
To make things more interesting, let’s assume that the feed already has some ceramic widgets aside from the porcelain ones. So you do not want to end up with just one kind. Instead, you want to switch them around. Remember, your goal is to be as different from the original feed as possible.
You can achieve that with the following set of commands:
In the example above, I used MYTEMPKEYWORD as a place-holder. That let us make sure that we are not losing the original keywords.
What happens there is:
all “porcelain” is changed to “MYTEMPKEYWORD’
all “ceramic” is changed to “porcelain”
all “MYTEMPKEYWORD” (which used to be the original porcelain) is changed to “ceramic”
and then the same thing should be done for all capitalized keywords.
You can use anything in place of MYTEMPKEYWORD as long as it does not already appear in the feed. You want to use some unique keyword.
Once you are done with those keywords, you can change something like “Metallic” to “Shiny Metal Finish” — assuming that makes sense for a given product line.
Adding that to a command file would give you:
s/Metallic/Shiny Metal Finish/g
s/metallic/shiny metal finish/g
That would also change “Blue Metallic Widget” to “Blue Metal-Looking Finish Widget.”
As I said earlier, you can add as many commands as you want for different words and phrases. And with enough such small changes, you will be able to reach traffic that is not already covered by your competing affiliates. While a few hundred affiliates with their data feed sites might be displayed for a keyword “blue porcelain widget” — there might be just a few (if any) covering “blue ceramic widget” for the same merchant.
Even something like
s/TV Set/Television Set/g
along with diagonal sizes and brand names might help you stand apart from the rest of the affiliates who use the same feed. Any change is better than having the same exact content as others.
I encourage you to download a copy of sed and check it out. Once you get a hang of it, you will be able to automate the whole process. And if you are already using scripts to refresh merchants’ feeds and rebuild sites automatically, then you can plug sed in the middle and modify feeds on the fly.
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