Navigating the Emerging Shopping Search Field

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For direct marketers and retailers, perhaps one of the most interesting vertical subsets of search marketing is shopping search. This segment features dozens of search services focused squarely on shopping, matching online retailers with consumers who have a specific interest in buying their products or services.

Though still comparatively early, the value of the shopping search vertical is being recognized, and not only by marketers. In the past year or so, eBay acquired Shopping.com for about $620 million, Shopzilla agreed to be acquired by E.W. Scripps for $525 million and PriceGrabber announced that it was selling for $485 million.

Even with this consolidation, the shopping search category breeds innovation and new players regularly. Some of the largest and most popular shopping search providers are:

Yahoo Shopping

Froogle

MSN Shopping

NexTag

PriceGrabber

Shopping.com

Shopzilla

mySimon

Along with others, each of these has its own set of specifications, requirements and guidelines for merchants who want to be included in their respective search results. For online merchants, this means that the immediate challenge is to keep track of each engine and its requirements and features as they vary from engine to engine.

Regardless of approach, there are some basic tricks that can help merchants and marketers get the most out of shopping search:

Completeness. Merchants should be prepared to provide online product images, shipping information, tax information, product weight and inventory/availability. Also, they should look for non-standard opportunities, such as the ability to include bold typeface or logos, as each of these tactics can help products stand out online in comparison-based environments.

If possible, merchants should address all recommended and required fields for each shopping engine, dozens of factors that they can get from each engine directly or from an independent search marketing company.

Product price. Merchants need to pay close attention to price and ensure that all products are actually available before posting on any site. Shopping search sites are action- and purchase-oriented. The obligation thus falls to merchants to be especially careful about competitor pricing, benefit statements (i.e., free shipping, buy online and return at the local store) and the effect that a direct-comparison environment can have on brand perception.

It is also worth noting that in some cases, a lower price can help achieve higher ranking in direct-comparison situations.

Return on advertising spend management. Merchants should actively manage cost-per-click efforts by keeping in mind the ROAS for the three core elements of campaign, category and product.

As with any other category of search marketing, testing of the ad copy, the position and the level of overall product inclusion (or exclusion) is a must to ensure the most efficient returns from shopping search.

Last but not least, many shopping search engines have feedback mechanisms to monitor user ratings surrounding their experiences with all participating online merchants. User ratings do matter, as only one bad day can take weeks or months to salvage.

With shopping search, like all other forms of marketing, it is critical for merchants to remember that a positive on-site buying experience is every bit as important as mastering any process designed to get consumers to the point of purchase.

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