The Pros and Cons of Sourced Product Data

If enriched product data is the lifeblood of modern distribution eCommerce, it is also the oxygen for a solid SEO strategy. But even with buying groups and associations making it easier than ever to purchase bulk product data, gaining a competitive edge when it comes to product information continues to be a challenge.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents in the Distribution Strategy Group (DSG) 2021 State of eCommerce in Distribution survey said that inadequate product data is their biggest barrier to eCommerce success. In our last post based on the results of DSG’s survey we talked about meeting the expectations of today’s B2B eCommerce shopper and why it is a priority for distributors.

Buying groups and associations have made it much easier for distributors to source the product data needed to add the enriched product information today’s B2B eCommerce shoppers have come to expect. Still, when everyone populates their core product data from common sources, how can one distributor achieve brand differentiation and a unique SEO advantage over another?

In this post, we’ll talk about the steps distributors can take to make their products stand out from the crowd, especially when core product data is obtained from a common source like a data service provider.

Wide Not Deep: The Limitations of Purchased Product Data

The pandemic lit a fire under many distributors’ nascent eCommerce plans. With tradeshows and in-person sales put on hold, many of the traditional channels for product discovery were suddenly inaccessible to buyers. With an urgent need to populate their eCommerce sites with product data overnight, many distributors turned to data service providers or subscription services to come up to speed.

Fortunately, in recent years, it has become easier to access quality core product data. There are a number of data service providers across many industries: Trade Service, AD and CNET are just a few. Such data service providers can be a reliable source of good baseline product data, usually at a reasonable cost.

Typically, these data providers do a good job of covering core product specifications. They will provide a basic long description, brand names, a standard taxonomy, and identifiers like UPC codes and manufacturer part numbers, which make it easier to source additional product data. Providers will strive to provide at least one image per product, but often there are gaps.

Tip: Agility PIM has tools and processes that can help you identify data gaps and inconsistencies within your product data, and pinpoint the content elements that move the needle in conversions.

For distributors facing the big lift of populating product pages for a large portfolio, being able to secure core product specifications across their entire inventory is a godsend. But data service providers face the same challenges everyone does with sourcing product data; data comes from multiple suppliers who follow different standards and have different levels of completeness. While most providers make the effort to address inconsistencies by classifying the data and adding some attributes, the data is far from perfect.

What does all this mean for your business?

Tapping into an off-the-shelf solution to quickly populate every product record with core content and specifications will provide you a quick win in making your full offering visible to customers via your own eCommerce website. But if your competitors can easily provide the same information, how can you differentiate your business?

The bottom line: Don’t mistake data services for a total solution. It’s a good start but you need to do more to provide a winning customer experience for digitally savvy customers.

Basic Content Doesn’t Cut it for SEO

Helping customers find products on your website is only part of the battle. To win at eCommerce you need to win at optimizing for search engines, i.e. SEO. This requires more than a bare bones effort. Core product data alone will not make you stand out over your competition, who are likely engaging with the same data providers.

Search engines look for the most relevant content to serve up in response to someone’s search request. Rich, differentiated information, including product features and benefits optimize your content for search engines— giving Google and Bing something “to talk about.” This gives you a greater chance of achieving higher rankings and attracting new traffic.

As an added benefit, rich differentiated product copy will further validate the customer’s choice when they land on your product detail page from an elevated SERP position – creating a virtuous circle. i.e., the search engine seems to ‘endorse’ your product page over others with less rich data which is in turn reinforced by positive customer interaction. Rich differentiated product detail pages go beyond specifications and descriptive copy to include images, videos and technical documents, which also increase the page’s relevancy to search engines.

This rich content has significant value beyond SEO. When visitors land on pages with images and rich, relevant content, including spin imagery and videos, bounce rates tend to be lower and time on page increases. Customers want to be confident that they are purchasing the correct product, and product images provide this validation. In fact, the more images you provide—showing the product from different angles and zooming in on details—the more you can compensate for the lack of touch that is inherent to eCommerce.

Analytics also tell us that page views per visit are higher when pages include links to related products, services, and value-add content. Unless customers are placing a simple reorder, they are likely coming to your site with unanswered questions. When you anticipate their questions and ensure that you are providing the answers within your content, you keep them on your site and increase average session time. By placing resources like installation instructions, technical diagrams, and safety data at the customer’s fingertips, you build trust in your brand, decrease calls to customer service and reduce your return rate.

Applying Solid Merchandizing Strategies:Getting from the Mountain to the Molehill

For any distributors and wholesalers reading this looking to maximize the product content on your eCommerce site, we recommend a two-pronged approach. Yes, purchase product data from a service provider to help you expand your online offering and ensure B2B shoppers don’t come up empty on your site. But then, focus your enrichment efforts strategically.

How do you decide which products get priority for enrichment from your limited authoring resources? Some of the most logical product information management tactics focus on prioritizing best-selling items and key brands:

  1. The 80/20 rule. Identify the 20% of your products that drive 80% of your eCommerce sales and ensure that these products are fully enriched.
  2. Featured products first. High-profile brands that you sell, often subsidized with marketing support from the manufacturer, should also be priority. Rule of thumb: if you create a web page banner for a product, make sure the linked product description is enriched.
  3. Critical applications or markets. Similar to core products but focused on solutions. If you are a sporting goods distributor and your forte is the active outdoors lifestyle, you want the hiking, boating, running, and camping content to shine.
  4. Seasonal products. Prioritize authoring content for pools and patio furniture in spring/summer while deferring holiday and game room items until the fall.
  5. New product launches. Obvious, but often overlooked. Before you introduce a high-profile product to your eCommerce site, be sure the content is ready in advance.
  6. Inventoried/stocked vs. third party. Enrich the items you stock and sell regularly. Items that you source on an as-requested basis are likely just fine with less enriched content.
  7. Online-only products. Let’s say you have both a storefront and eCommerce presence but a large segment of your goods is available online only. Chances are there is stiff competition for these items. Enrich them for the benefit of your online customers and to improve your Google rankings.

What’s Next: Is a PIM System Right for You?

As more and more companies offer the same products, often described with identical language, unique and enriched product content becomes a necessary differentiator. Data service providers can help distributors ensure their entire product portfolio is represented on their site, while prioritizing certain products makes it possible to climb the enrichment mountain, one step at a time.

Take our 3-minute product information management readiness assessment to find out if you are ready for a PIM system. Results are instant.

Maintaining comprehensive and consistent product information is essential for engaging and winning today’s always-connected buyers. Without a robust Product Information Management (PIM) system, the manual effort involved in managing ever-growing volumes of product data across multiple sources and channels can leave the best product marketing teams drowning in spreadsheet-driven chaos.

Also read: “Why Should You Manage Your Product Data as Relentlessly as You Manage Your Inventory?”