This content has been authored by Rob Longmate, Head of Partnerships & Insights at Genie Shopping. Genie Shopping are one of founding members of The APMA and the fastest growing Premier CSS provider, providing Self-Managed and CPA Google Shopping services for established retailers.

In the affiliate marketing world, CSS has grown exponentially and is now a staple publisher type in the affiliate marketing mix. But at its core, CSS has a much wider scope than just an affiliate category; it’s the entire infrastructure that EU Google Shopping runs through.

Here we’ll explain what CSS is, how it operates, and how you should pick the right one for your publisher mix.

What does CSS stand for?
Let’s start with the basics; CSS stands for Comparison Shopping Services.

In 2017, Google created the Comparison Shopping Service as part of the Digital Marketing Acts.  When CSS was created, it established a new way for retailers to place Google Shopping ads, as well as opening up the possibility of using a CSS-accredited third-party company to place shopping ads on a merchant’s behalf.

Google’s official documentation states:

  • Comparison Shopping Services can bid to place Shopping ads on Google general search results pages on behalf of merchants that they represent.
  • Google Shopping bids on behalf of merchants that it represents in the same way, acting like any other CSS.
  • This means that as a merchant, you can choose to participate in Shopping ads on the Google general search results page in various ways: you can provide your product data to any CSS, including Google Shopping, and you can also use multiple CSSs at the same time.
  • CSSs use a separate Merchant Center account for each merchant that they represent. Each account allows them to upload inventory for a merchant and run Shopping campaigns on their behalf
  • Shopping ads on Google general search results pages where the CSS programme is available will also show which CSS uploaded the offer (the ‘By CSS’ link displayed at the bottom of the ad). If users click on that link, they are taken to the CSS’s own website.

In the affiliate world, CSS refers to the last of these statements, with a CSS partner using a separate merchant centre account for each retailer they represent, uploading inventory and running shopping campaigns on their behalf.

How does this work in reality?
Allowing a CSS partner to place shopping ads on their behalf is a daunting task for an affiliate manager, affiliate agency or a network requiring trust and a leap of faith for brands that they won’t be cannabalised.

Google states that : “a merchant will never be second-priced against itself in the auction for any offer, and that rule holds irrespective of the number, or identity, of the CSSs used by the merchant. Therefore, if two CSSs place bids on behalf of the same merchant, the winning offer and the price paid by the winning CSS will be the same as if those bids had been placed by one and the same CSS” –

This is probably one of the most important statements when considering working with a CSS. The fact that any auctions that are already being bid for are unaffected, means there can be confidence in using multiple CSSs to secure greater market share and drive more revenue through the channel.

How do CSS work in affiliate marketing
In the world of affiliate marketing, CSSs are utilising the tracking solution that affiliate networks offer, which means additional tracking integrations aren’t necessary.

With no integration needed for tracking, CSS can simply get approved on an advertiser program, obtain a product feed, and then create Google shopping campaigns on behalf of the advertiser.

Once they launch these campaigns, they will start to pay for clicks on a merchant’s behalf on their product feed. This will drive clicks through the affiliate program to product landing pages and start to drive sales where users are converting through these ads.

Any sales that are made will be tracked on the standard CPA basis, and the CSSs will use that commission to reinvest into the Google shopping campaign to scale this up. Think of your affiliates as arbitrating between the cost of the click and the commission earnings from sales.

But CSSs do not have to just work on a CPA basis CSSs. You could discuss CPC payments or a flat fee where an advertiser has a limited, fixed budget for any campaigns.

How do you select or work with a CSS provider?
In terms of choosing a CSS provider, all have their own unique selling points, often based on the commercial model they propose.

To find a partner, I would recommend two methods:

1. Affiliate Networks
Affiliate networks will typically have ‘CSS’ as an affiliate model and a selection of partners you can choose from. If not, your network contact can point you in the right direction, and should have the relevant marketing collateral for each of the suppliers, so you can make your own choice. 

2. Google’s official CSS content
The official and alternative way is using Google’s CSS partner directory; this is where every CSS that has been approved by Google to use the CSS ecosystem is listed.

Click to read about Genie Shopping’s approach to CSS.

About the Author: 
Rob Longmate is Head of Partnerships & Insights at Genie Shopping – the fastest growing Premier CSS provider, providing Self-Managed and CPA Google Shopping services for established retailers.

With over eight years of experience in performance marketing, leading teams within advertiser side, at agency, and in his current role as a publisher, Rob has a well rounded knowledge, which at Genie Shopping, helps him give perspective on bringing CSS to the forefront of advertisers strategy, ensuring its understood and implemented to its full potential.

To find out more about Genie Shopping and how you explore how CPA campaigns can drive huge growth for your affiliate channel, email the team or visit their website.