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? Yes. A Customer Support Service? Yes to this too, but that's not what we mean when we say "CSS". 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 web pages, or a site, that collect online product information from online retailers, to compare 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, (following an individuals search), 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 and have been directed to a page to purchase that product, the chances are that you've clicked on one of these shopping ads.

Don’t worry if this still sounds confusing as even for those with some experience of paid search advertising, the range of opportunities can seem overwhelming. In essence, CSS Partners work to provide a service that can increase sales and market share, to increase Return-On-Investment (ROI) of digital 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 a particular product, 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 different tools, some working on a Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) basis and others on a Cost Per Click (CPC) basis. 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 and reduce the likelihood of your competitors products showing next to your ads. 

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.

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

Good question. In simple terms, we, as a CSS Partner gain a commission on any sales that convert from our ads, tracked though an affiliate network.

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. However, it is probably worth mentioning that if you do run multiple CSS's and they operate on different CPA models, each CSS Partner will perform differently to one another as the CPA received impacts the amount that a CSS can spend, limiting their performance.

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, remembering that a CSS Partner can only work with the data they have from you:

  • Your Offering: To make CSS work optimally ensure you have a great quality website, product feed with optimised product titles (including attributes), and 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-19, changing shopping habits or quickly rising business rates, retailers need a strong online presence. 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 2021 and beyond. To find out more get in touch: support@redbrain.com

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