CSE Wishlist – Part 1

Since it’s a new year (almost), I thought it might be a good time to discuss some new features from which merchants would greatly benefit. So to all you CSE product managers out there, tune in over the next week or two. Here is the first request:

More budgeting options.

Most CSEs only offer monthly budget caps, but there is no way to control the rate at which that is spent. Much like AdWords, one or both of the following is needed:

  • A function that attempts to balance the spend across the month.
  • A daily cap that ensures a set amount is not exceeded for any day.

This would be especially valuable for small/medium-sized merchants who want to test the waters but may have trouble keeping their account active because they can’t afford to let it run free. There is no reliable way to forecast what traffic levels will be, even for merchants already live on a particular engine (many CSE’s own documentation indicates such). Remove the risk so they feel comfortable.

For larger merchants, this would allow feeds to remain larger and lower the risk of having to go dark at the end of the month/quarter. Since spend velocity is currently dictated exclusively by user behaviour and engine/affiliate promotions/merchandising, the only lever the merchant can pull is to remove products from their feed. This is a necessary evil but isn’t ideal for merchants, engines or consumers.

Most importantly, this will shield merchants from the dreaded traffic spike. Some engines are more prone to this than others, but at times, merchants will see huge traffic increases for a single day, either on a single product or across a few products. Sales may increase, but often the quality of that additional traffic is poor, so the return on that spend is usually very poor. Such spikes typically result in requests for click cost credits at least and complete feed removal at worst, so no one really wins. Ideally the engines would coordinate the promotions that results in such spikes with merchants before-hand as well, allowing merchants to authorise an override of their daily cap.

I think I know what the CSE folks are muttering right now: “Our system architecture can’t support this!” and/or, “This will lower our revenue!” I believe you, but I think if you could work toward this, you would get and retain more merchants, meaning more products/listings/revenue in the long term.

One of the overall themes you will see in this series is that of more control for the merchant. Comparison Shopping is a complicated and sometimes overwhelming channel, one that is often misunderstood. I think the more control merchants have, the more likely they are to try the channel, see some success and therefore continue with it.