With Google's formerly free Product Search transitioning into a paid ad system called Google Shopping, some online merchants are casting their eyes in other directions for free search-engine traffic. This puts more attention on Bing, Microsoft's own stab at the search engine world, where a free product feed option still exists for Bing Shopping.
And while the volume of traffic sent by Bing does not match Google's, some sellers have found other benefits to using it. EcommerceBytes talked to sellers who use Bing, industry experts, and Microsoft itself about how to get the most out of this source of product search traffic, including the most important things to do to get included and what to avoid.
How to Use Bing Shopping
You need a Microsoft adCenter account to use the free Bing product feed. If you don't yet have one, you can sign up at Microsoft adCenter.
To get started sending your product feed to Bing, merchants should go to Bing Shopping Getting Started and read the "Merchant Integration Guide" (available as a downloadable PDF on this page), said a Microsoft spokesperson.
Above: A look at some product search results on Bing Shopping.
"Whether people are searching for information on product features, reviews or great deals, Bing
is the all-in-one online shopping resource," said the spokesperson. "With Bing Shopping, merchants can drive traffic to their sites for free, potentially displaying online products to millions (of) unique searchers."
The Importance of Feed Accuracy: Be Careful with Categories
So how can you increase your odds of getting your products seen on Bing? First of all, make sure your data is accurate. "When shoppers search for offers, the Bing Shopping full-text search feature chooses products to feature in the search results based on relevance," said the Microsoft spokesperson. "The quality of your data and how it's matched to our shopping catalog will dictate this relevance," she said, adding, "The more accurate the offer, the easier it will be to index and display."
Andrew Davis, Director of Marketing at CPC Strategy and writer for Search Engine Watch, agrees that it's critical for online merchants to follow the Bing Shopping Merchant Integration Guide (see link above) and to get their MerchantCategory and BingCategory formatted exactly as Microsoft advises. "Accuracy on all aspects of the feed is key to having a Bing Shopping feed go live, but usually mistakes are made in the category columns," he said.
Bing and Shopping.com
Merchants working through Bing's partner Shopping.com "get the benefit of higher visibility through paid offers, more comprehensive data to deliver a richer shopping experience," said the Microsoft spokesperson, as well as "the ability to easily manage listings across both Bing Shopping and the Shopping.com network." (Shopping.com is owned by eBay.)
But Davis cautions that merchants who are listed on Shopping.com might cannibalize their Bing Shopping traffic. "Following Bing's recent partnership with Shopping.com, Bing tries to source Shopping.com listings whenever it can, because they get paid a percentage of each of those click costs," he said. "So if you're listed on Shopping.com and you send a free feed to Bing Shopping, we've seen lots of instances where free Bing Shopping traffic has dropped to 0." (Microsoft did not avail itself of the opportunity to address that statement.)
Online merchants should avoid spending too much time setting up a Bing Shopping account and sending products to Bing Shopping thinking there will be a large amount of free traffic it, said Davis. He said the bottom line is, "getting free traffic from Bing Shopping is hard and sometimes not worth the time of wrestling with a data feed."
Davis does not agree with those merchants who say conversion rates are better on Bing than on Google, although he concedes that statement may have rung true during the Bing Cashback days when buyers were rewarded for purchasing through the Bing Shopping program.
A Mixed Bag: Merchants' Experiences Using Bing
For merchants who submit their product feeds to Bing, much of the lure seems to be the fact that the service is still free. One seller said that after extensive split testing with Google Adwords, Yahoo and Bing, he found that although there were fewer clicks with Bing, the conversion rates were much higher. Other sellers say the performance is underwhelming, but they won't turn down free traffic.
Andrew Splichal, Web & Marketing Director for Whatshebuys, says, "We send a daily product feed to Bing Shopping basically because it is free, not because it performs especially well."
For example, he says, for June they generated only 12 sales from Bing Shopping compared to 216 from Google Shopping, "which is, at least for now, also a free platform," he said. (Google Shopping will transition to a paid inclusion service as of fall 2012). As far as traffic, Bing only generated 416 unique visitors compared to roughly 5900 coming through Google, he said. "Although that is a decent conversion rate of nearly 3%, it just doesn't warrant enough traffic to really affect our overall marketing plans," he added.
Splichal said Whatshebuys also uses the Bing/Yahoo paid ad service (CPC), "and it generates a bit more business with 33 sales in the same time period. However, it is still a very small part of our sales and doesn't compare favorably to Google CPC program, which generated 596 sales."
Chaz Grooms of Plethora Computers said that although he was able to get his Bing feed to work, "We didn't notice any big change in traffic," and said "it was not worth updating it every week." He said they were working on a way to automate it.
Another business owner, Ricardo Heredia of PCPARTSETC.com, said his Bing feed is on hold currently while his hosting company works out some issues with the search engine. But he says it's expected his feed will be working soon.
"I decided to give them a try not too long ago, thinking that I should not rely solely on Google, especially with the upcoming changes," said Heredia. His website is "a transition from eBay, and as we all know, it is slow but will get there," he said. Most of his the traffic comes from Google organic search, he added.
Performance of Bing's Paid Ad Service
Steve Fliegman of Internet Auctions Company and Eyewear Super Center has seen good results with Bing's paid search, although he did not have feedback for Bing's free product search.
Bing's paid search outperformed Google by 2-1 for him during the period May 22 to June 21, 2012, he said. "I set up my accounts about five years ago and ran several variations. I picked the best performing two or three, set a budget and rarely change them." He said he used to adjust the budget to the season, but since the economy took a dive he's found it doesn't make much difference, but notes that "this can change by the hour."
The bulk of his business actually comes from Google orgranic searches, adding that the only real dislike he has with both search engines' paid-search programs is that "they are expensive, and rarely pay for themselves in the short term." He advises anyone who wants to use either to check out the many online tutorials, videos, workshops, tools, etc. that are out there. "They are all free; use them," he advised.
Benefitting with Bing
Fredrick Nijm, CEO of online marketplace Addoway, says Bing "has actually driven much more qualified traffic" to its sellers' stores, and he thinks it's due to the fact that "it is much easier to rise in the ranks there, and (searchers) are using it more and more compared to Google."
But he said the increase is mainly "from organic search through adding user-generated content where you can on your storefront." The Addoblog feature (where merchants can opt in to write a personal blog on their profile) has really taken off, he said, and "sellers have seen their views double and triple right to their storefronts, and not to specific listings."
Addoway encourages sellers to blog and add "great, useful, meaningful content." He says some examples of Addoway stores doing a good job with this are Royal Presence, Turkish Market-USA, and Donna's Stuff & More.
Addoway sends every seller's listings to Bing Shopping. Nijm said Addoway follows all of Bing's submission guidelines but, "unfortunately I am unable to share the SEO practices we are currently using."
Karen Dang of Pure Seasons, Inc., which runs costumes sites PureCostumes.com, and PureSexyCostumes.com, has had a similar experience to Splichal's, with underwhelming numbers, but nothing to sneeze at given that the feed is free. "The Bing shopping feed gives us about 3-5% of our overall traffic," she said, adding that in their experience, the conversion rate for Bing consumers is about the same as any other channel.
She said the feed was pretty straightforward once she went over the documentation and instructions and said it's actually very similar to other feeds (such as Google's). "I'd say the only hurdle about the process is the fact that Bing requires you to register and create a Bing ads center account. However, once you submit the request and it's approved, the rest is easy," she said.
She thinks that in general, Bing is great for small businesses or start-ups that need exposure: "It's basically free marketing, which no company should say no to."