CSS: What is it and how will it boost sales for my business in 2021?

Do you know what a CSS is? Isn’t that a programming language? No, wait…Customer Support Service? Certified Security Solution?.. I give up. With the tech-world’s reliance on acronyms and abbreviations it’s easy to get confused between terms and phrases, which is why at Redbrain we want to explain what the term CSS means when talking about Comparison Shopping Services.

What is a Comparison Shopping Service (CSS)?

At Redbrain, there’s one CSS we’re really excited about, and that’s Comparison Shopping Services. So what is it? Comparison Shopping Services (CSS) are basically webpages, or a site, that collect online product information from online retailers, to promote this particular product information (such as the price, image and brand of an item), to potential customers. A CSS therefore works with retailers to drive individuals, (potential customers), to a relevant website to make a purchase; and they do this through shopping ads on Search Engines. So, if you've ever clicked on a picture of a product having searched for something, the chances are that you've clicked on one of these shopping ads.

Don’t worry if you’re in this still sounds confusing as even for those with some experience of paid search advertising, the range of opportunities can seem overwhelming. Even more so, if you plan to work with multiple Comparison Shopping Service (CSS) Partners but I'll explain more on that later. In essence, a CSS is a service to maximise ad spend and increase ROI of campaigns.

So, how did CSS start?

Great question. CSS started with Google’s original product comparison and shopping service in 2002, which was called Froogle. It was great for consumers to find products and grew massively in importance and prominence for businesses, customers, and Google themselves. However, in 2017, the European Commission fined Google for being ‘anti-competitive’ in Search and as a result Google introduced remedies to allow room for new independent CSS's - such as Redbrain - to reach Google Shopping customers. 

OK, I’m interested…but how do Comparison Shopping Services work?

You’ve probably seen (or even used) CSS without knowing it. When you use a Search Engine to find something you want, you will see several pictures on the results screen (as image below) which link to online shops – these are Product Listing Ads (PLAs).

                          Redbrain Optimised Adverts on Google Search Screen

CSS Partners operate differently with some working on a Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) basis and others on a Cost Per Click (CPC) basis, as well as offering different tools. The three main routes to advertising your business via Google Shopping Ads with a CSS Partner are:

  • Self-service
  • A fully managed service
  • A hybrid of the two

So with many partners and ways to choose from, if you're unsure on what to look for, we have written a post on how to find a CSS performance partner that is right for you. Whichever CSS Partner you do use, they'll bid for shopping ad placements on your behalf so the images in the top carousel promote your goods, and not your competitors.

Whichever merchant wins the advertising auction will then pay a cost-per-click based on the next highest bid. So, if your CSS bids 50p, and the next merchant bid is 30p, when your advert is clicked the cost will be 30p. This means your costs cannot be artificially increased. There are a few other factors that determine if your adverts are displayed based on relevance and quality for each product, and all ads need to meet Google’s Shopping Ads policies (if promoting on Google), but your CSS Partner can help you with this.

So, how does it work? When someone clicks on the product details in the advert, they’re redirected to the product on your website to make their purchase. Alternatively, if they click on the CSS Partner’s credit (e.g. ‘By Redbrain’) it will go to that CSS’ own comparison site. This site shows customers all your products and directs customers to you for their purchase – so either route means sales for your business!

I know this will help my business, but what’s in it for CSS Partners?

Good question. Obviously, partners get paid for the sales they bring you, and their business model could include a monthly or daily fee, or they may only charge a fee when your ads lead to a successful sale. It is also possible, (with certain providers), to choose the commission percentage that you pay. Paying less saves you money in the short-term, but it can increase costs long term as any extra you pay will equate to more time dedicated to your brand from a CSS Partner; (essentially your commission buys more of the time and expertise that a CSS Partner offers). There are obviously benefits to each and this flexible business model is as great for a CSS Partner as it is for your business which is why it's important to ensure that you select the right CSS Partner for you. 

Should I work with just one CSS partner?

You can of course try different partners to see who offers the best return on investment, and don’t worry, it doesn’t matter how many CSS Partners you are working with; a specific product will only appear once. Your product can however be displayed via multiple CSS providers in the same shopping carousel, but if multiple CSS Partners all bid on the same product, from the same merchant, it’s treated as coming from the same CSS. This means that you never pay more for advertising due to having two or more CSS providers, so it’s up to each of your CSS Partners to win the bid if they want your commission – meaning the position for the seller (you) could not be stronger.

Are all CSS Partners trusted?

Well, every CSS Partner must meet strict minimum requirements to operate with Google Shopping and Google list these Comparison Shopping Service Partners on their site. Google has also introduced a CSS Partner and Premium CSS Partner program which lists organisations that have been officially certified for their skills, training, and experience with Shopping Ads. In return for meeting the requirements, Premium CSS Partners (like Redbrain) gain access to higher levels of support and training.

Our Four Pillars of Success with Google CSS

Hopefully CSS is a bit clearer now, but just to make sure, and provide a recap, here are our four pillars of success for selling your products with a Comparison Shopping Service:

  • Your Offering: To stand out and make CSS work optimally, ensure you have a great quality website, products, and data feed, with a good existing conversion rate.
  • Your Competitiveness: Ensure that your products are well-priced, with strong reviews and plentiful availability.
  • The Market Demand: Make sure you are only selling products that customers really want and that there’s sufficient search volume for these.
  • Your CSS Strategy: This is about picking the right partners, brand and marketing strategy, and the right commission rates (for managed CSS services) so spend time researching the right CSS Partner for you based on what they offer. 

Whether it’s Covid, changing shopping habits or quickly rising business rates, companies are increasingly searching for a strong online presence; some retailers moving completely online. Whatever you are trying to do with your business, make sure you implement a CSS strategy to catch every customer and achieve your goals in 2020 and beyond. To find out how, get in touch: support@redbrain.com

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