Options for Using Affiliate Product Data Feeds as an Affiliate Publisher

Somebody contacted me recently with some very specific questions about affiliate product data feeds.

“I have an Affiliate company with 1 other person and right now we have a little over 1000 SEO-based sites. We want to add product data from different Affiliate NW’s, particularly CJ, ShareASale and Pepperjam. We’re looking for a tool/application that will allow us to perform ‘Keyword Product Searches’ from these various Affiliate NW’s.

We want to store the product results in our database as we already have an infrastructure for basically everything, with the exception of adding these additional NW’s.I could take the time and write this code myself (I’m a Classic ASP developer) but we’d rather buy a tool, or pay a consultant to customize an existing tool, write something from scratch, etc.

The requirements are pretty basic although I would formally document them if/when needed: query the available APIs (starting with CJ’s Product Search API) and perform some straightforward logic processing (i.e. add new products if not in our DB, update for price changes/out of stock, etc)”

The question is very specific already, but I decided to generalize my answer a little bit to show also other options that this person might not considered yet, because he didn’t know that the options exist. I also address the advantages of the options that I do not recommend for this particular case, but which are relevant for other cases, where I would make a very different recommendation.

I hope that my response will also be useful for other folks with similar issues and questions.

I will not highlight or promote any particular service or network out there. Some were mentioned in the original question, which I did not remove. Another exception is also my notes for one case-scenario, where I don’t know of many examples myself, which is sad.

If you know about others, please feel free to tell me about them in the comments section of this post after the main article.

Here is my original response to the person via email.

There are multiple options. You can find examples and more info’s for each of those options here.
…. And also the subsequent pages it refers to of course.

Option 1 (not recommended)

This one works not very well for SEO though, at least not without some programming on your end. Third party providers (under “Affiliate Product Data feeds Tools and Services”) offer widgets and JS code snippets that return product search results for specified keywords.

Option 2 (recommended)

However, most of those providers also offer APIs (sometimes free, sometimes for a fee) to pull data from their huge and normalized data bases. You would have to write the API call and the rendering of the results yourself. Sample source code is also sometimes provided by those services.

For SEO purposes would this be the option to go.

I talked to some of them and they said that they also offer custom feeds to clients who are willing to pay for them. Just contact them. This would be the best option, if you have the resources to maintain your own product database server to feed data to your web sites. You must already have one, because I don’t think that you maintain your 1000+ websites all by hand vs. a centralized DB driven content management system. 🙂

Option 3 (recommended only if the limitations are not a problem)

Several affiliate networks provide access to product data of their Advertisers via web services APIs. However, you are often limited to only be able to search products for an individual merchant and not across the products of all your merchant partners. This could defeat the purpose if this feature is what you need for your Website.

Like for option 3. Programming on your part is required. I saw some networks providing “widgets” that render real HTML results, but none of those tools convinced me yet. Those are still in “beta” IMO.

Option 4 (not recommended, unless you have resources to spare)

Trust me when I say that you do not want to go with this one, unless you have the necessary one-time (and ongoing) resources available to do it. The lack of standards and the poor quality and errors in the available feeds are just a nightmare and the reason for the third party providers from options 1 and 2 to exist.

You can download the individual data feeds provided by advertisers yourself, normalize them and dump into your own product database. Then you can use those product data on your websites as you see fit.

This option gives you the most control and flexibility regarding the available product data. However, this flexibility comes at a cost that is in many cases to high for what it’s worth, but it does make sense for some folks.

Keep in mind that this option requires more than a one-time implementation. Feeds break, new feeds should be checked first (by hand), before plugged-into your system. There are some out of the box tools and scripts available that can help you with this task though.

Affiliate Product Data Feeds

Now some notes to elaborate the options and explain where the three options that I did not recommend for this particular publisher, would make sense for another publisher with different needs and premises.

Notes:

When I say that it is required to program stuff yourself, I don’t mean that YOU have to do it yourself literally, of course. As with many things in affiliate marketing, as an affiliate marketing who works on his own, outsourcing is important and almost impossible to avoid at some point, because nobody is good at everything and the idea of compensating the lack of skills with spending more time to get okay results (if that), becomes more and more unrealistic and unreasonable as your business matures and suddenly time will be the one resource that you will be on short supply on all the time.

I spent the time to collect resources and services to outsourcing. Sorry, but here went the “but how?”, “where?”, “who?” excuses for not doing it. hehe

Now some notes to the options that I did not recommend for the specific case from the email that I got, which could certainly become the right and recommended options for somebody else.

Option 1 is something that I would recommend to affiliate publishers that are looking for an easy way to get product data on to their websites or blogs and do not worry much about the lack of SEO (search engine optimization) benefits.

Those 3rd party providers often offer additional stuff, beyond product data, such as coupons and promotional offers available from your active merchant partners.

Option 4 is the option that I choose several years back, because there was no other option available. If I would have to make the decision again, I’d go with the extended version of Option 2 and pay a monthly fee to the 3rd party tools providers to give me access to a single, normalized and clean product feed for all my merchant partners who offer a product data feed.

Since those 3rd party providers are already doing what would be the most time consuming and on-going support requiring part of the whole thing, I’d rather pay them a monthly fee that I don’t have to do this dirty work myself.

The possible shortcomings are that the provider might not include columns that are special and something that I would really need or that they don’t have a particular advertiser included in their system yet. However, if you are a paying customer and your request is reasonable, making sense to the 3rd party provider etc, chances are good that this shortcoming will be eliminated by the provider, may be even free of charge, worst case, you have to cover the cost to implement what you need.

Option 3 has limitations, but the advantage that you are not required to store any (or only little, if you are doing some caching for performance reasons) product data on your own servers. You basically request information on-demand, when the user loads one of your web pages where you want to show this product information.

Another advantage is that the information are much more likely to be current than what you would have in your database, if you pull entire product feeds.

You cannot pull feeds all the time, because of the time and resources it takes to load and process them. A web service call to the source provides information as current and up-to-date as you are able to get.

More up-to-date could only be a web service call provided by the merchant himself (outside the affiliate network), but most advertisers do not have that. Exceptions that I know about are advertisers with an in-house affiliate program, like the Amazon.com or eBay.com affiliate programs.

Cheers!

Carsten Cumbrowski

Other affiliate and internet marketing resources in general that go beyond product data feeds can be found at my website Cumbrowski.com as well, resources like tools/services, books, podcasts, blogs, videos etc. to subjects SEO, SEM, eMail Marketing, Web Analytics, Copywriting, Domaining, Public Relations, Outsourcing, Legal Issues, Web Development, Industry Events, Database Development / Administration and much more. Access to the resources is free, no sign-up or membership is required.

About Carsten Cumbrowski

Internet Marketer, Entrepreneur and Blogger. To learn more about me and what I am doing, visit my website and check out the “about” section.

Twitter: ccumbrowski

4 Responses to Options for Using Affiliate Product Data Feeds as an Affiliate Publisher

  1. Tony says:

    Hi, Carsten … as always really excellent and valuable commentary. I presently clean all my data feeds myself and as you say it is a pain even though it can be done quite efficiently with some practice.
    Is there a chance you could provide details for the 3rd parties who offer clean feeds for a fee?

    Best regards from South Africa

    Tony

  2. Hi Tony,

    Yeah, at one point in time are you able to handle everything that could possible go wrong with anything related to the delivery/pull of the feeds, their format, structure and content.

    At the end of the day are you looking at a complicated, tremendous resources sucking something, where you might even get afraid of a little bit yourself, more of the possibility that it could become a sentient being one day, for which you'd have to pay social security and workman's comp to avoid getting into legal troubles hehe.

    Regarding the providers….

    Most of them should be able to offer something.. It always depends on your needs.. and how much you are willing to pay for it (duh).

    I would talk to DataFeedFile, FeedShare and GoldenCan first, because I had some short and some times longer discussions with those. Non of them excluded the option, some even had something in beta to play around with. It's been a while since I last time looked at them in detail, so I'd give all of them the same chance 🙂

    I am not sure about PopShops, because it does not seem to fit their business model, but you never know. Angel would be the right person to ask in this case.

  3. Pat Grady says:

    Great article, but the "recommended" and "not recommended" parts are something I think you need to address further. As someone who uses all 4 methods, I gotta say, experience has taught me to use the right tool for the right job – hanging "do not use" labels on something, is very different than discussing when and where it may fit well, or not.

    I own a set of torx tools, in the very infrequent cases where I do need and use them, they are highly recommended!

    Further, if your aim as a site devloper is to offer something better and different than competing sites, your "recommend"'d option #2 may be an ill fitted solution.

    Besides this objection, I loved your article. And I can understand that skipping the recommended / not labels and writing more about situations that fit would require a book to be written here, which wouldn't serve your audience well either.

  4. Hi Pat,

    I was trying to make the recommendations for different scenarios and on a "type of project" level. That my generalization might not be the absolute best choice for everybody should also be clear.. that's the problem with generalizations. However, they should provide some ideas and specifics to think about for somebody who has no idea about the subject at all. It's providing some general directions.

    As you said, covering every case and situation is impossible, because the details are different in every case.

    p.s. I talked with Angel and the Owner of PopShops. They also offer normalized feeds. There are some out of the box solutions, but as I already suggested, contact them to work out the specifics. 🙂