One of the main goals of many e-tailers is to increase exposure of their products to would-be customers. Comparison shopping engines (CSEs) have been the hub of merchants and consumers alike providing a single location where products can be listed. With conversion rate optimization becoming an increasingly sought-after service, it is important that merchants include their products in the best CSEs to make the most of their Internet marketing budget. Though there are several other strategies that should be employed in an addition to shopping feed management, taking advantage of the relatively low-cost, high-converting traffic from CSEs should be a no-brainer for e-tailers. Here’s why…

Comparison Shopping Engines (CSEs)

We talk a lot about Search Engine Optimization on the Best Rank blog, and most of our focus has been on the big three: Google, Yahoo! and Bing. However, these search engines have their own shopping engines. When you look for a product, like “climbing shoes”, you will find shopping results in each of the big three search engines. With so many people using search engines to look for products in the first place, it makes a lot of sense to start here. There are other sites that are devoted strictly to listing products including Amazon Marketplace, Shopping.com, ShopZilla, Nextag, Pricegrabber and Pronto (to name a few). The purpose of each of these shopping engines is to provide a single location for product listings to allow consumers to make comparisons against all available merchants. Though this may seem like something that some merchants would frown upon, the increased exposure and subsequent referrals often make up for the chance that a competitor may be more appealing.

Popular Comparison Shopping Engines

The Best Things in Life are Free…

In the group of free shopping engines, there is one outlier in the bunch and that is TheFind.com. TheFind defines itself as the “vertical search engine for shopping that puts every product, every store, every sale, coupon and discount, right at your fingertips.” For merchants submitting a feed to TheFind, they may be pleasantly surprised to discover that they utilize the same taxonomy as Google Shopping feeds which makes the feed uploading process a little simpler. Not surprisingly, in a comparison shopping study conducted by CPC Strategy, Google had vastly outperformed Bing and even TheFind not only in traffic, but revenue and conversion rate as well. In the study, over 4 million clicks were analyzed over the course of 82,000+ orders in such categories as apparel, electronics, home & garden, and sporting goods.

Here’s a sample of one of their charts in the study:

Traffic – Q1 2012

Top CSEs for Generating Traffic - Quarter 1 - 2012

Revenue – Q1 2012

Top CSEs for Generating Revenue - Quarter 1 - 2012

But Sometimes You Get What You Pay For

Though Google Shopping (Google Product Search) rounds off the top in revenue compared to the other CSEs, for overall traffic, a paid CSE (which happens to be the  world’s largest online retailer) went to: Amazon Product Ads.

Though the margin between Google and Amazon in the traffic generation race is pretty small (relatively speaking), when it comes to conversion rate, there are a few other paid CSEs that are at Google’s heels: Nextag, Pronto, PriceGrabber, and Shopping.com. These CSEs operate on a cost-per-click basis, so there is  a need for pay per click management when submitting data feeds to these shopping engines. Since this would incur an additional expense, it might be worthwhile to consider hiring a company specifically geared towards comparison shopping management to get the most of your CSE budget.

Conversions – Q4 2011 & Q1 2012

Top CSEs for Generating Conversions - Quarter 1 - 2012

Who’s on Top?

Young Boy Catches Fish in a Net by Hillebrand Steve, U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceThough the study also includes other comparisons including average CPC, cost-to-revenue, responsiveness rating, and availability of merchant tools, it’s still important to consider your ultimate goal of submitting your products to CSEs. If you’re more concerned with getting your name out there, then it would make sense to target the CSEs that are responsible for generating the most traffic (i.e. Amazon, Google, and Shopping.com). It is also important to point out that in some cases, you may find that some of the CSEs mentioned above also pull in data from other CSEs. Bing, TheFind, Nextag, Shopping.com, and ShopZilla contain Amazon Marketplace listings, for instance. However, in the end, despite the advantages of casting your net as far and wide as you can, is what you’re bringing in worthwhile?

Optimizing your budget and efforts, just as SEO involves optimizing your website for greater exposure on the web, is what conversion rate optimization is all about. Though Pronto.com and PriceGrabber.com may not fall under the top-5 traffic-generating CSEs, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be ignored. In the conversion rate chart above, they take third and fourth place just behind Google and Nextag.

This may be an important decision-making factor for some businesses who aren’t interested in driving traffic to their site, but instead just want to bring in more conversions. If your website has bandwidth restrictions, or if your hosting fees are based on bandwidth usage, then these candidates might be a good choice for you. Though there is no one-size-fits-all CSE, it seems that Google would be a good choice regardless of your budget.

Nothing is Set in Stone

Also like with an SEO campaign, it is important that you consider what your expectations and goals are before you start putting your hard-earned money toward comparison shopping engine optimization (CSEO). And just as organic SEO and PPC can be used simultaneously in an Internet marketing campaign, so too can paid and free CSEs. If your website is built on an ecommerce platform that provides an easy data feed submission to the CSE(s) of your choice, then you’re bound to save yourself a lot of time and frustration (thus, money). But that’s only half the battle.

In the past year, Google made some modifications to their guidelines, which has tripped up several merchants whose once-acceptable feeds became non-compliant once the changes were implemented. Staying on top of guideline updates is one hurdle to cross, but also knowing each CSE’s feed format is important for optimizing your shopping feed to its greatest potential. Add to that the recent addition of Google Product Listing Ads for AdWords and now that Bing is pulling in review data into paid ads from merchant rating giant Bizrate, and you could find more pull from Google and Bing’s paid advertisements in the next quarter. For these reasons, it’s important that you choose an ecommerce marketing strategy that best fits your business.

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