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The 4 layers you need to build a product feed

A guide to product feeds, their core components, and how you can leverage each one to build a more effective feed.
Evan Hurrell

Product feeds are an essential building block of ecommerce marketing today, populating retail websites and ads with the latest product offerings. They’re not super exciting, but they work. In fact, they make up for more than 60% of paid clicks for retailers on Google.

The even more exciting news is that how you organize and display your product feed can boost its performance even further. ROI can grow exponentially when you have the right automated tech on your side. In this blog post, we’ll walk through the software needed to build a successful feed marketing program from the ground up.

The challenge in building a product feed

The major challenges for initiating and managing a product feed include creating, validating, and optimizing the feed; and troubleshooting issues that may arise as your product portfolio evolves.

Depending on the platform, a product feed may need to be created manually or through an automated method. Creating a product feed manually can be time-consuming, so many retailers choose to automate the process. Once a product feed has been created, it must be validated to ensure that all required fields are included and that the data is accurate. After validation, the product feed must be optimized for the target platform to ensure that the right products are being displayed to the right audience.

Throughout the life of a product feed, as new products are added and details are updated, issues will inevitably arise that will need to be troubleshot.

How to build a product feed in 4 layers

As we see it, there are four layers of a successful product feed marketing program. The combination of these layers is what we call “the feed stack.” 

From the bottom up, these layers are:

  • Layer 1: Ecommerce platform
  • Layer 2: Feed management tool
  • Layer 3: Enriched catalog creative
  • Layer 4: Dynamic product advertising (DPA)

Let’s dissect each layer, one-by-one.

Layer 1: Ecommerce platform

Ecommerce platforms are an entry point for new brands to connect with other ecommerce tools and integrations, and can help scale inventory management for enterprise brands as well. 

This is the foundation of your retail site and product catalog, allowing you to manage your inventory and update its status at regular intervals. Think Shopify or Adobe Commerce. 

The ecommerce platform layer is table stakes for any retail business. It’s the shelves and racks of your online store, and ultimately the final landing place for customers making a purchase. 

Best practices

Think of your ecommerce platform as the hub for all of your product information and image assets, which can be leveraged down funnel for marketing initiatives. 

Organizing your product photos and information into specific columns within your ecommerce platform makes it easier to get more out of the tools you integrate with. From here, you can build the rest of your feed stack

Layer 2: Feed management tool

Feed management tools help you manage your inventory in real time, build in logic, and prepare the data set to be applied in other platforms for marketing and sales purposes. This is what gives you the power to target (and re-target) the right people with the right product lines and SKUs. Productsup, Feedonomics, Channeladvisor, and Channable are all great examples of feed management providers. 

This layer is where the work is done to better target potential customers in advertising. If the ecommerce platform is your online storefront, the feed management system is your sales associate — showing interested parties the products that fit their needs. It’s the translator that lets you apply your product catalog across the web on all platforms.

Best practices

When evaluating a new feed management tool, make sure it allows you to make custom, dynamic columns for product attributes and update product information with automatic, rule-based criteria. This would allow you to apply logic strategically. For example, during a sale, you can enable a formula that adds the discounted price automatically.

Layer 3: Enriched catalog creative

We’ve arrived at the creative layer in catalog management. Enriched catalog creative allows you to optimize your product feed by redesigning the images used for your product SKUs with backgrounds, icons, product reviews, and more

It does so by using the data within your feed management system to identify which images to redesign and how. If you have a feed management system and you’re already doing the back-end work to properly tag and organize your inventory, adding this layer helps your product feed ads work even harder.

For example, products categorized as “Bestsellers” could carry a “Bestseller” badge on its image to let customers know it’s a hot item. You can even assign designs to specific product categories. For example, if only mattresses are on sale, you could apply a sale price design to mattress SKUs only.

This does a handful of really important things:

  • Allows you to break out of the sea of all-white carousels
  • Adds a layer of branding and positioning
  • Provides potential buyers with more information before their initial click

All of this adds up to increased purchase intent when customers land on your product page, leading to even greater success. 

Marpipe Enriched Catalogs is a great example of this layer of the product feed stack. With Marpipe, you can customize every aspect of your feed creative overlay — by uploading your brand colors, images, graphics, and fonts — and have full access to a wide range of free assets and graphics, too. Marpipe customers using Enriched Catalogs have seen more than a 60% increase in ROAS and 3x revenue with the same spend.

GIF of product catalog ads before and after using enriched catalog creative
Enriched catalog creative tools, like Marpipe, let you redesign your product catalog.

Best practices

Here are a few more ideas for how to use your enriched catalog creative to apply thumb-stopping designs to your catalog ads:

  • Product reviews: Any brand or group of SKUs averaging a high rating from customers can be shown off with a five-star graphic, an average review score graphic, or a "Top-rated" badge. With Marpipe, you can also format the perfect customer or press review to add credibility to relevant products. 
  • Colorways: Tagging products as “dark” or “light” can help you make decisions on which background color, overlay, or brand graphics will make them pop off the ad. SKUs tagged as “dark” would benefit from a lighter colored background, and vice versa. The background colors you choose could come from your brand palette.
  • Pricing options: Use your feed management system to input MSRP and sale price. SKU images could contain MSRP with a strikethrough next to sale prices. Installment pricing is another great option to showcase if your brand offers a buy now, pay later service. One Marpipe customer saw a 54% increase in purchases when they promoted the ability to pay in installments on their catalog ad creative.

Dynamic product advertising (DPA)

This is the publisher side — where your ads are displayed. It can be called something different depending on the platform. For example, Meta calls this DABA for Dynamic Ads for Broad Audiences. Google calls it PLA or Product Listing Ads.

DPA optimizes against the engagement of your catalog ads to show the best-performing products and creative to the very best buyers.

Best practices

The very best enriched catalog creative providers will integrate seamlessly with DPA providers. Within Marpipe, for example, you can design catalog ads for launch directly to Meta, Snapchat, Pinterest, and TikTok.

Marpipe’s approach to the product feed

With Marpipe Enriched Catalogs, you can customize every aspect of your feed creative overlay — by uploading your brand colors, images, graphics, and fonts — and have full access to a wide range of free assets and graphics, too.

Simply plug in your product feed, use our drag-and-drop creative builder to level up your product images, and upload the resulting ad creative directly to ad platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and TikTok. (See it in action in this one-minute demo video.)

Templated text lets you insert the right text into the right ads by dynamically linking placeholder text assets to your PIM columns. 

Templated text 

And our feed status indicator shows you, at a glance, if your feed is syncing properly with color-coded status updates — Live, Inactive, Ready, and Draft.

Feed status
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See how Marpipe Enriched Catalogs increased ROAS for three distinct retail brands.
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Enriched catalog design

Just as you would with other types of online ads, testing out different design elements in your catalog ads can be highly beneficial. Of course, no two brands are completely alike so what works for one may not work at all for another. You need to identify a baseline for your audience’s preferences.

Maybe you first try adding the price, and in another ad you include the price AND your logo, and in a third you take it one step further and also use a colored background.  

When you try testing a few different “levels” of enriched creative in your ads, it can give some helpful context and insight into where the happy medium is for your targeted audience.

Enriched catalog ads are a great way to catch your customers’ attention, drive site traffic, and boost sales. If you want to know more about how catalog ads work, or why our customers love using Enriched Catalogs, check out our pricing and book a 1:1 demo to see it in action.

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