CSE Beginner's Guide

Learn the basics of comparison shopping engines, then Contact Us to learn more.

What are comparison shopping engines?

Comparison Shopping Engines, or CSEs, are websites that give consumers the ability to compare various aspects of retailers that carry a particular product that they user is interested in. Generally, a user will go to a comparison shopping engine to search for a product. After searching for the product they’re interested in, they’ll see search results based on their query. Here, the user will be able to compare various aspects of stores that carry the product, such as price, return policy, various shipping options, etc.

Every time a listing is clicked by the user, that retail store is charged a cost-per-click fee. There are some CSEs that are free to list your products; there are also some CSEs that run on a CPA model instead of a CPC. However, most CSEs in the industry are run off a CPC basis.

How can I grow my business through CSEs?

Short answer: list your products and begin driving users with the intent to buy, to your website

Long answer: carefully pinpoint the items in your product catalog that you think would perform well on CSEs. When I say perform well, I’m talking about which items you think will be able to list on CSEs that would warrant a good conversion rate and a profitable ROI. If you have a product in your catalog that has a price point much higher than your competition, it won’t perform well on CSEs. If you list an item that has an expensive shipping price (think 100 lb dumbbells), you might choose to filter them out of your data feed. If your business doesn’t offer free shipping, free return shipping, or a return policy, you’re out of luck also.

The concept to running a CSE campaign successfully is similar to running an SEM campaign. If in order to break even selling products online means you must have an ROI of 3:1, a CSE campaign will be successful if your revenue is at least a third of your spend. Here’s an example: if you’re selling a product with a total fixed cost of $100 for $150, and the average cost per click for this product on a CSE is $0.50, your conversion rate must be at least 1.0% to breakeven on the sale.

Combine this strategy over thousands of products across a portfolio of CSEs throughout the year. Not only will a well-optimized CSE campaign drive revenue for your website, it’s also a great medium to introduce your business to new potential customers.

What are the various CSEs I can run my product catalog on?

There is a long list of CSEs to run your product catalog on. How many you run on depends on your budget, your knowledge of each CSE, and your bandwidth. Here is a list of some of the primary CSEs that drive the most traffic:

Google Product Search – submitting your data feed for product listings in Google is highly recommended. There are so many reasons why launching a product feed with Google is so attractive. When someone does a search on Google for a product, Google often lists product listings high up on the SERP, often with product images and prices associated closest to the user’s search query. Google Product Search listings also give you various new advertising opportunities through listing products in conjunction with your paid ads. This is just the tip of the iceberg. That said, has anyone mentioned to you that listing your feed with Google is absolutely free? Because it’s free to list, lots of folks are taking advantage of listing their products.

Building a well-optimized Google Product Search feed is easier said than done. If you want to have your products listed on the first page, certain strategies must be put in place to not only build and list your product catalog, but to optimize it for what users are searching for.

Bing Shopping – following in Google Product Search’s footsteps is Bing Shopping. Up until the summer of 2010, Bing ran their product search platform via MSN Shopping and MSN Cashback. Now, Bing has launched a similar service to Google Product Search where it is now free to list products. Typically, Bing Shopping sees a percentage of traffic that Google Product Search drives, but because it’s free to list your product catalog, it’s still worth the focus and effort.

Shopping.com – Shopping.com is a CPC-based comparison shopping engine that started in 1998. Shopping.com has reach across the United States and Canada, as well as various countries in Europe. The company was acquired by eBay in 2005. As of 2010, Shopping.com remains one of the high trafficked CSEs on the web with historically good conversion rates in relation to other CSEs.

Nextag – Nextag was founded in the late 90s as well. It originally started as a service where buyers and sellers would negotiate on electronic goods, but later the business model was altered to become a price comparison service. Nextag’s reach expands across the United States and Canada, as well as parts of Europe, Australia, and Japan. Like Shopping.com, Nextag is run on a CPC based pricing model.

Shopzilla/Bizrate – Shopzilla is another major CSE player, boasting a world-wide user base of over 80 million people with offices in the United States, France, Germany, and the UK. Like other CSEs, Shopzilla is a cost-per-click pricing engine. Shopzilla runs alongside their business review rating website, BizRate.com.

Amazon Product Ads – Everyone knows Amazon. However, did you know that Amazon runs an advertising program where you can show your products on certain pages of Amazon.com? While Amazon Product Ads are run on a CPC-based pricing model, most retailers have found great success in the high conversion rates that Amazon provides, making Amazon Product Ads a great way to bring awareness to your site and the products that you sell.

Other CSEs – Several years ago, I saw a list of over 100 unique comparison shopping engines. While there are a lot of niche shopping engines out there, the CSEs listed above will bring you a large majority of traffic that the CSE industry can offer. Some other larger engines outside of the ones listed above are PriceGrabber, Become.com, Pronto, Shop.com, TheFind, SortPrice, and Smarter.com.

How are CSEs managed?

With the amount of CSEs out there on the web, you might find that your products perform very well on some CSEs while they have a harder time on others. That said, every CSE is different. CSEs like to boast a unique business proposition that sets them apart from other CSEs: unique pricing model, best relevancy, most social, most user-friendly, etc. Some CSEs are free, some charge. When managing a portfolio of CSE accounts for one website, it can become very time-consuming and confusing trying to sort out large blocks of product data across 10+ comparison shopping engines. Each engine has their own way of considering your account optimized.

Because your store has a unique product catalog, a unique brand, and other factors that make it different from your competition, it’s safe to say the way to approach your CSE programs isn’t similar to your competition. There is no such thing as a cookie-cutter CSE program.

How do I get started?

Achieving success through comparison shopping engines is easier said than done. Because you’re juggling your product catalog over a portfolio of 10+ websites, it takes an experienced individual to not just get your products listed, but to get your product listings optimized well. At the end of the day, you want your CSEs to bring you more business profitably.

A company may choose to direct a key person to learn about CSEs. This is actually how I got into the CSE industry. However, because CSE marketing is only appropriate for internet retailers, it isn’t a subject that’s talked about too often. In other words, you won’t find a lot of guidance on how to run a CSE campaign on the web like you can find for SEO and SEM. It’s a niche skill only possessed by marketers who have worked with mid-to-large e-commerce companies. If you’re looking to hire someone full time to manage your CSEs with CSE experience, good luck. It’s a tough skill set to find. Most savvy web retailer marketers know a little bit about CSEs, but being able to run a CSE program to its fullest potential with little industry know-how is tough to do.

Many companies interested in a comparison shopping engine program would benefit greatly from seeking advice from experts rather than incurring the costs of trying to teach themselves. People recently introduced to CSEs are at a disadvantage when they try to compete against other websites; while CSEs can be a very profitable marketing channel, I’ve seen several over-looked mistakes lead to thousands of dollars wasted.

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