For our purposes,* a data feed is a large file filled with lots of information about a merchant’s products. A data feed is also referred to as a database. Data feeds can contain anywhere from a handful of products, to tens of thousands of products. File sizes vary, and in uncompressed form can be anywhere from 500k up to 250MB or more. So those wanting to use data feeds for their affiliate sites must be prepared to handle these large files effectively.
*A data feed is simply a database containing information relevant to affiliate marketers. The data feed format is usually in the form of a large flat file, but may also be divided into more files if a merchant wants to categorize by products or some other reason.
The affiliate marketing community, through consensus, developed a standard format for affiliate data feeds. Affiliates can use the standard to set expectations for the use of feeds in their web site process. Merchants are not bound by the standard, and the content of manufacturer feeds varies. However, the standard provides a guideline for affiliates and merchants to work with, simplifying process and workload.
Affiliate data feeds are provided by merchants to affiliates to better promote and sell their products. data feeds are converted into individual products and include descriptions, links for images, links for visitors to click, pricing and more. The affiliate can take the information in the feed and build individual pages for each product, or put multiple products on each page. Additionally, the customization offered by WebMerge, affiliates can utilize some or all of the information (records) in the data feed.
An affiliate data feed may also enhance a site that already has some sort of specific content. Utilizing an affiliate data feed, means your site will have more exposure on the web through search engine results, and the higher number of pages published.
Data feeds can be delivered a number of ways, but usually involve the use of File Transfer Protocol (FTP). For example, many merchants have the affiliate log in to the merchant’s server and download the feed. Some networks or merchants actually deliver your feeds directly to your server via FTP. Still other programs may e-mail the feed to affiliates, helping to ensure fresh content is being published on the web. It is in both the affiliate’s and merchant’s interest to have “fresh” feeds published. Updating a feed every day is not an uncommon expectation.
Remember, the feed is filled with products. Each product in the data feed (or database) is called a Record. For example, if there are 3,500 products in the feed, then there are 3,500 records – one for each product. When viewed in a spreadsheet, these records are presented in rows, in MS Excel, this would be 1, 2, 3 etc.
Each record (product) has information associated with it. This information is found in individual Fields. A field, when viewed in MS Excel, is represented as a column (or category), and is denoted as A, B, C etc. For example, in viewing the product from the xyz-merchant data feed (foo.com); we see a couple of fields, like the URL for the product’s image location “http://www.foo.com/store/images/product/CFRS2786.JPG”, and the main category for the product “Air Freshener & Odor.” Most data feeds contain many more fields, and sadly not all of them are the same. Some feeds may have twenty or twenty-five different Field names.
We also need a name to call the fields, these are called Field Names, and may look like this: “Website_URL,” “Product-ID,” and “SALE_PRICE.”
To summarize, there are records, fields, and field names. These can be organized into a table, so it can be viewed like a spreadsheet. One of the tools needed, is a tool to view the information in the data feed. For example, MS Excel or other programs work well. But to give you a sneak-peak, demonstrating what the feed looks like once loaded into Excel:Figure 1 - Delimited data feed displayed in MS Excel.
Only four field names are shown (they will not all display on this page). The field names are Website URL, Product-ID, DESCRIPTION, and SALE PRICE. There are three records displayed above.
If you open the data feed in an application such as WordPad, Textpad or your favorite text editor, all of the fields appear jammed together in one long string. Looking at just the first record from the spreadsheet above (figure. 1) in a text editor, would appear like this:
Viewing the raw data in this manner can be confusing. Fortunately, data feeds are formatted or delimited, where each field is separated by something called a delimiter. Many data feeds are pipe, tab, or comma delimited. Pipe delimited data is preferred, and is the most reliable, because the ANSI pipe character will never be part of the data used, unlike the comma delimiter. Looking closely, one can see the little vertical pipes between the different fields, they look like this | . The pipe character should be on your keyboard at the extreme right, above the Enter key.
How a data feed is delimited is very important when importing into Excel in order to clean it up, or when using WebMerge to make our HTML files.
Turning data feed information into a web page that visitors can view, deliver value to the visitor, and be found in search results at major search engines, can be accomplished at least two different ways. One way is to utilize a script located on the web server to convert the information “on the fly.” This method, utilizing scripting languages like PHP, Perl, or CGI is very fluid and configurable, but requires programming knowledge. As a logical alternative, this tutorial utilizes another method, a tool called WebMerge. WebMerge builds what are called static web pages that are uploaded to your server complete and ready to be spidered by appropriate search engines.
One does not need to write any script to create web pages with WebMerge.
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