Better Categories in Data Feeds

Category data is useful in creating navigation structures for affiliate sites that consume data feeds.  Sadly, there is a major lack of standards and practices in the filling in of category fields.  Here are a few pointers:

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel

There are examples of rich category hierarchies out there, be it Amazon/Zappos/PopShops/GoldenCAN that can be leveraged as a starting point.

2. Work from top to bottom

Even if your store is specific to a vertical, include that vertical at the beginning of your categories.  Longer and more descriptive is better, just work from general to specific.  Think Shoes>Women>Sandals>Slide rather than just Slides.  It avoids ambiguity and is much richer.  Slides could also be found in a playground.

3. Make your levels consistent

If your store is 90% womens’ products and 10% mens’ don’t have rich categories for the former and just Mens’ for the latter.  Make the hierarchy the same on both sides, even if the latter may be missing categories (Apparel>Men>Dresses is not so commonly found as the reverse).

4. Think about the customer

If your item is specific to Women/Men/Boys/Girls/Toddlers/Infants/Dogs/Cats/etc put that in there, so segmented affiliates can extract what they need and things can be tagged appropriately.

5. New! and Sale! are not descriptive of the products

Having a separate new products feed, sale products feeds, top sellers feed, or other specialized feeds is a fine idea.  So is offering RSS for specials and freshness.  But using those things as the only category for an item does that item a dis-service.  The item’s category no longer describes what the item is.  These should therefore be avoided.

6. Don’t leave them out

Even if you only sell one sort of thing, put the same value for the category for all of them.  More data is always better than less.