A former teacher, Matt now specializes in R&D for ecommerce business owners and helps guide merchants in understanding the importance of this digital-first world.
As a consumer, what’s one of the first things you do upon realizing you have a problem that will require you to make a purchase?
If you said something along the lines of “head to the internet,” you’re not alone: According to a 2016 study by Forrester, 71% of consumers start their path to purchase by conducting a web search.
What’s more, Forrester also found that consumers continue to use search engines throughout the buyer’s journey, as well. More specifically, 74% of consumers report using search engines to research and compare similar products offered by multiple brands (or to compare other factors between brands, such as pricing and shipping costs).
Now, while most consumers typically do this all via “general” search engines (e.g., Google’s main page), hundreds of millions of consumers around the world also head over to their favorite comparison shopping engine site to make their final purchasing decisions that much easier to make.
Needless to say, if you can get your product to stand out to these individuals when they’re preparing to make a decision, you stand a pretty good chance of gaining a new customer. On the other hand, if your products are nowhere to be found on these commerce-focused search engines, well...you don’t need us to tell you how that sentence ends.
At any rate, the point is that ecommerce retailers can generate a ton of extra business by making their products more visible and prevalent on these comparison shopping engines (CSEs). In this article, we’re going to dig into the key ways your brand can do just that.
But first, let’s back up a bit, and explain exactly what a comparison shopping engine is.
What are Comparison Shopping Engines?
Alright, so you might already have a pretty good idea of what comparison shopping engines are.
For the sake of clarity, though, let’s take a quick second to hammer it all out, shall we?
In the simplest of terms, comparison shopping engines are search engines that help consumers find products for sale.
Now, on the consumer’s side of things, this is pretty accurate:
- The individual navigates to a CSE’s website and conducts a product search
- A list of products from multiple brands is returned
- The individual clicks on one of the returned links, which brings them to the company’s product page
- The individual can then engage directly with the company to finalize the purchase
(On the retailer’s side, though, things are a bit more complicated than that. We’ll get to that in the next section.)
Basically, comparison shopping engines collect information on millions and millions of products from brands all over the world, then present this information to consumers looking to compare similar products in a variety of ways.
As shown in the example above, PriceGrabber—one of the most popular CSEs in the world—provides a number of different options for consumers looking to purchase an acoustic guitar. In turn, the consumer can get a broad idea of “what’s out there” (rather than what just one store has to offer), and can compare multiple acoustic guitars based on playability, durability, sound, and all other important factors.
It’s also worth noticing that these results come from ten different retailers, from Amazon and Walmart to Wayfair and Musician’s Friend. So, if our hypothetical musician were to know exactly what guitar they wanted to purchase, using a CSE would make it easy for them to compare prices for this specific item from multiple sources.
Overall, comparison shopping engines make it easy for consumers to find exactly what they’re looking for with relative ease.
So, like we said earlier, it’s quite simple:
If you haven’t made your products visible on at least a few different comparison shopping engines, you’re most likely missing out on a fair amount of business.
Now, the question becomes:
What do you need to do to generate this visibility?
5 Fundamental Steps for Getting the Most Out of Comparison Shopping Engines
Like we said earlier, while explaining comparison shopping engines from the consumer’s side is rather simple, doing so from the retailers side requires a much deeper discussion.
Luckily, that’s just the kind of thing we’re into.
In this section, we’re going to explain exactly how to get started with your CSE-related initiatives—and how to get the most out of these campaigns moving forward.
Know Which Comparison Shopping Engine Your Customers Use
A quick note before we dive in: CSEs don’t “pick up” products organically in the way that Google’s algorithms automatically index websites. Rather, companies enter paid partnerships with CSEs to get their products displayed within the CSE’s listings and search results.
That said, your first order of business will be to figure out which CSEs you want to do business with in the first place. The first step in doing that is to figure out which CSEs your customers use most frequently.
Just as there are a number of “regular” search engine services available today, there are also a pretty decent amount of comparison shopping engines around. And, like “regular” search engines, some are more popular than others in general, while others attract specific types of individuals—typically those looking for search results that are a bit more focused in some way.
For example, Google Shopping provides product listings in a wide variety of niches, and, of course, has a massive audience. WaNeLo, on the other hand, is much more niched-down, showcasing products that typically appeal to women in their 20s and 30s.
Taking this into consideration, it clearly would make more sense for a brand that sells, say, office equipment, to get their products listed Google Shopping than on WaNeLo. On the other hand, a small craft or clothing company may be able to generate a huge amount of qualified leads by optimizing their presence on the latter platform.
The point is, you need to know that the audience you intend on targeting actually uses the CSE you’re considering using. Otherwise, there’s no point in listing your products there at all, right?
But, it’s also worth considering how and why your audience uses a specific CSE, as well.
Going back to the above example, it also wouldn’t make sense for an office supply store to list their products on WaNeLo, as the people using WaNeLo aren’t looking for office supplies at the current moment. In this case, even if the company were to generate visibility here, it wouldn’t have a positive impact on their bottom line at all.
To figure out which CSEs your customers use, you’ll first want to take a look at the data you already have on them. By taking everything you know about your customers into consideration—from their demographic data to how they act throughout their buyer’s journey—you can start building an idea of which CSEs they’re most likely to use to find the products you offer.
Of course, you could also take out all the guesswork and just ask your customers which CSEs they use, right? When surveying your customers in this regard, you’ll want generate information regarding:
- The sites or resources they use to make purchasing decisions
- The information they look for when doing pre-purchase research
- Important factors that impact their buying decision
Ideally, this will allow you to learn which CSEs your customers use, straight out. At the very least, though, you should be able to use this info to discern which platform they—and others just like them—are likely to use.
Once you know which potential CSEs you’ll be focusing on, you’ll need to narrow your search down a bit further...
Know Which Comparison Shopping Engine is Right for Your Company
Now, the other area to consider when choosing a CSE to work with is how doing so will impact your business, overall.
As we alluded to earlier, each platform is unique in a variety of ways—be it the audience they target, the products they list, or the information they include in their listings. These differences can be pros or cons, depending on what you’re looking for from a CSE.
So, for each platform, you’ll want to consider factors like:
- Your potential reach (specifically related to qualified leads)
- The amount of competition you’ll face
- The cost of listing your products (and using the CSE)
You’ll also want to consider how each platform presents your products to potential customers, and how they connect customers to your site. After all, this can impact your prospect’s decision to click over to your site—which is the whole point of listing your products in the first place.
Take Google Shopping, for example. Here’s how listings appear initially:
And here’s how a single listing appears once the consumer clicks on it:
From there, the customer can then click “Visit site,” and finalize their purchase.
Now, here’s how similar products are listed on Shopzilla:
Here, clicking “More” simply brings to you the product page on the merchant’s website—without an additional step needing to be made.
Clearly, Google Shopping is a bit more robust in terms of product information—but Shopzilla prompts users to click-through to the brand’s website immediately (rather than after a “preliminary” clickthrough, as Google does). One’s not necessarily “better” than the other; it’s simply a matter of which your company prefers.
Going back to competition and cost, it’s also important that you ask the following questions about your CSE of choice:
- Can we make our products stand out on this platform?
- Can we afford to make our products stand out on this platform?
Generally speaking, you’ll probably have your fair share of competition no matter what comparison shopping engine you use.
And, to be brutally honest, in some cases, it may be near impossible for your small retail business to gain visibility against companies like Amazon and Walmart on these platforms.
But, as we’ll explain in the next sections, you certainly can “outplay” your more immediate competitors by optimizing your product listings and your bidding strategies. The point of bringing this up here is that you need to be sure that you’ll be able to use a specific CSE effectively and profitably before you start using it.
No doubt, there will be inherent costs to listing your products, both monetary and resource-wise. But, if you find the right platform, it’ll easily be worth the investment.
Optimize Your Product Listings
(Note: Since each CSE is unique in a variety of ways, we can’t exactly provide platform-specific tips and tricks for each website in this or the following sections. Still, we’ll provide a general overview of how to navigate each of these stages.)
Once you determine which CSE(s) to focus on, and have registered for a business account on these sites, your first major step will be to upload your product feed. Basically, this is a file (typically a spreadsheet) containing any and all information you’d like to present for each one of your products.
Product feeds can contain a plethora of information—and that’s a good thing. Really, the more fleshed-out your product feed, the more visibility you stand to gain.
This is actually for two reasons:
First of all, most CSEs give each product listing in their database a quality score of some kind, similar to how Google ranks organic search results. While bidding does play a role in where your product gets listed for a given search query (which we’ll get to in the next section), if you don’t provide enough (or clear enough) information within your listings, the CSE’s algorithms might not be able to pick them up at all.
Secondly, you’ll need to ensure your product feeds provide enough information for your human audience, as well. Basically, if your product listing doesn’t provide the information your prospective customers are looking for, it doesn’t matter if it’s the very first result they see—they’re probably not going to engage much further with your brand.
(It’s also worth mentioning that the CSE’s algorithms typically note when a specific listing is generating attention, and will boost its quality score accordingly, So, the more you get actual people to engage with your listing, the higher you’ll potentially be able to rank.)
Now, while each CSE allows you to provide a variety of information (and some require specific information, while making other info optional), typically the following is always required:
- Product title
- Product category
- Product description
- Product price
- Product image(s)
- Product page URL
- Dimensions and weight measurements
- Unique attributes per product type (e.g., size, color, material, etc. for clothing)
We’ve dove deep into best practices for filling out product feeds in the past, so we’ll be brief, here:
Basically, you need to keep three things in mind when fleshing out your product pages:
- Be informative, not promotional
- Be specific with the information you provide
- Provide the information in a way that your audience will appreciate
By “information,” we’re talking both text-based and photo-based, here.
In terms of your copy, your focus should be on your product specs, use cases, and benefits. Most CSEs don’t provide all that much room for expository writing—and it’s not the time or place for it, anyway. So, load up your product feeds with as much information on your products as possible, and let the data do the talking.
Also, be sure to use your targeted high-value keywords within your title, as well as your description for each of your product listings. While you don’t want to stuff keywords into these spaces, you definitely want to make clear what your product actually is as efficiently as possible.
For example, ComfortMarket.com includes the actual item number right up front in this product listing:
(Quick note: In some cases, additional information isn’t listed on the CSE’s results page—but you should at least have this info listed on your actual on-site product page.)
As far as product photography goes, well...we’ve also tackled that on our blog in the past, so again we’ll be brief.
You’ll of course want to use your best, highest-quality photo for a specific product as the main photo, and include as many supplemental pictures as the CSE will allow. Ensure that you include photos from multiple angles and levels of zoom, and also include a mix of studio and lifestyle shots, as well.
For example, ComfortMarket includes this photo of the above night stands, as well:
Whether focusing on the text or the images you use within your listings, the goal is to get the listing as a whole to stand out to your target audience—and to get them to take the next step in their journey with your brand.
Optimize Your Visibility Through Strategic Bidding
Earlier, we touched on the fact that “bidding” is involved in the process of getting your product listings ranked on CSE’s search results.
If you understand how PPC works, you know how this goes. Here’s a quick overview of how it works:
- You create a product listing, and set a bid per-click for said listing
- When a consumer uses a relevant search term, your listing enters a bid against similar listings
- Each product listing is presented to the customer in an order based on the companies’ bids, as well as factors such as the product listing’s quality score and the seller’s reputation
- When a consumer clicks on your listing, you pay the agreed-upon amount
(As a quick note, the reason we talked about feed optimization before we talked about bidding because you can keep your cost-per-click down by optimizing your feed in the first place. If you can rank higher for a high-value search term without breaking the bank, why wouldn’t you want to do it?)
Anyway, as we mentioned earlier, we can’t dig too far into specific advice on how to bid on the various CSEs you might use—but we can give some general advice to those brand new to the pay-per-click structure:
Firstly, you want to focus your bid spend on the products that have performed the best and provide the highest profit margin for your business. The first benefit here is obvious: the more people that see your awesome, valuable product, the more sales you’re likely to make. Along with this, since your product has a high conversion rate, this means fewer consumers are navigating away from your site after clicking through to it—meaning you’ll be wasting less ad spend in the long run.
Conversely, you want to decrease (or even zero out) your bids on low-profit, low-performing products. While it might be tempting to dump more ad spend into these items, the hard truth is that no amount of promotion can sell a poor product.
(Or, more accurately, business you might generate won’t be worth the price you’d pay to do so.)
In any event, you’re better off decreasing your bids on these products, and investing the money you save into the higher-performing ones.
(For a deeper dive into how to approach PPC, check out our Guide to Google Shopping.)
In some cases, you can add a little “bonus” information to your listings in the form of promotional information. For example, if you have a limited-time offer going on a specific item, you can include the details in your listing:
While not related to bidding, exactly, we mention this detail here because most CSEs require an additional payment when including promotional or sales-related information in your listings. Again, though: The best course of action is to only pay more when promoting products that are worth the extra ad spend.
Of course, once you set your initial bid, you’ll just be getting started...
Managing and Optimizing Your Campaigns Over Time
So, you’ve done it:
- You’ve found the comparison shopping engine(s) that will likely provide the most value to your business
- You’ve created robust product listings for each of your products (or the ones you plan on promoting)
- You’ve set up your bidding and ad spend strategies
But, as with all other things marketing, you can’t just “set it and forget it,” here. Rather, you need to keep a close eye on your CSE-related initiatives on an almost constant basis moving forward.
Here’s how this looks:
First, you’ll dig into your listings’ performance data on a daily basis. This involves assessing and analyzing data such as:
- Traffic-related metrics, as generated from the CSE
- Conversion rates of this traffic
- Return on ad spend generated by your listings (individually and overall)
You’ll also want to dig into the on-site behavior of your visitors after they click-through from a CSE listing. As we talked about earlier, this can give you an idea of what the customer is looking for from your company when they go to use comparison shopping engines.
Of course, the reason you’ll be keeping close track of these and similar metrics is so that you can make improvements to your CSE campaigns moving forward. Whether tweaking or adding to your product feed, enhancing your listing copy and product photography, or optimizing your approach to bidding, these metrics can help you identify specific areas of improvement to focus on.
But, you can only make improvements that actually matter if you understand why a certain listing is performing well (or not so well, as the case may be). Taking this a step further, you can only apply what’s working for one of your listings into the rest of them if you can identify the reason behind the first listing’s success.
To illustrate what we mean, here, say we have two product listings—one with multiple photographs, the other with just one picture. Over time, the one with multiple photos outperforms the other completely (for the sake of argument, let’s say that having multiple photos is definitely the reason the first one performed better).
Now, if I only look at the surface level, here, all I know is that the the first listing is performing better for some reason. Sure, I can now focus on investing my money into this higher-performing product and listing, and will probably be successful in doing so...but that doesn’t solve my problem with the second listing.
On the other hand, if I dig deeper into why the first outperforms the second, I’d see that it (obviously) had something to do with providing more than one photo of the product. Now, in addition to investing more money into the first high-performing listing, I can also make improvements to the second listing—and potentially generate massive amounts of business in doing so.
8 Comparison Shopping Engines to Consider Using
As we’ve mentioned, there are more than a few different comparison shopping engines “out there” that could help you generate some massive visibility for your brand.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the most popular ones around today.
Undoubtedly the most-used CSE in the world, Google Shopping lets retailers provide a ton of information about their products to potential customers before they even visit the company’s actual website.
While Google Shopping is a highly-competitive channel for retailers in pretty much any industry, there’s no denying that the audience the platform can provide for your brand is well worth the investment.
(Need some help getting the most out of your Google Shopping campaigns? No problem: We’ve got you covered.)
Amazon Product Ads
Okay, okay...as you probably know, Amazon is much more than a comparison shopping engine.
(Really, it’s an entire marketplace unto itself, where consumers and retailers can do business directly without having to navigate away from the platform in the first place.)
Still, it’s not uncommon for consumers to head to Amazon when considering their options before making a purchase—regardless of whether they actually use Amazon to finalize the purchase later on.
While you can generate visibility on Amazon through organic means, you can also go the PPC route, as well. For example, notice that the first two results in the following screenshot are sponsored ads:
While it wouldn’t exactly make sense to use Amazon for just CSE purposes as a retailer, you can certainly use what you’ve learned in this article to enhance your presence on the highly-populated platform.
Like Google and Amazon, Shopzilla’s product listings contain items from a vast spectrum of industries:
It’s also worth noting that Shopzilla partners with a number of other search networks, such as BizRate and InStore, to provide even more search results to their users. As a retailer, this means your potential reach can increase multiple times over simply by generating a buzz on a single site.
PriceGrabber is another example of a CSE that partners with a much larger network (in this case, Yahoo!) to help your company maximize its visibility.
PriceGrabber also provides retailers the ability to track trends regarding their industry and target audience, in terms of competitors’ pricing history and consumer behavior.
Another oft-used comparison shopping engine, Shopping.com provides visibility for brands in a variety of industries (though perhaps not quite as diverse a list as Shopzilla’s).
In addition to the information your company provides Shopzilla, the platform also collects information from a variety of other channels, as well. For example, here’s a listing that provides information taken directly from the product’s Amazon page:
So, if you’ve already created a presence on these other platforms, you’ll want to use Shopping.com to help spread this presence even further.
In similar fashion to Amazon, Wish allows companies to sell to their customers directly on the platform (as opposed to needing to navigate to the retailer’s site).
Now, if you’re looking for a platform whose audience is engaged to the max, look no further than Wish: Every day, consumers add more than ten million products to their “Wish lists.” To add to that, Wish’s uses also provide over 250,000 daily product recommendations, as well—meaning even more potential customers for your brand.
We mentioned WaNeLo before, explaining that it’s one of the more niched-down CSE platforms around.
While not all brands will be able to find success on WaNeLo, those who fit the expectations of the platform’s customers definitely stand to gain some ground on the channel.
ShopSavvy is a bit different from the other entries on this list, as it caters to brick-and-mortar shoppers as well as online consumers.
One of the app’s main features is a barcode scanner, which allows consumers to compare prices of products within a physical store with the price offered by other off- and online vendors:
Getting noticed on ShopSavvy, then, can be a great way for your brand to generate business from consumers near and far—as long as you can compete on price, that is.
Before we close out our introductory guide to comparison shopping engines, we want to reiterate that the final sale does not occur on the CSE—it happens on your website.
So, while optimizing your presence on your comparison shopping engine of choice can get more high-quality leads to visit your site, it’s still up to you to seal the deal. If you can ensure the path from finding your product to purchasing it is as seamless as possible, you should have no problem making this happen.