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Spread Your Message Far and Wide

Getting listed on comparison shopping search engines is an effective way to reach new customers

Todd Rath is on a mission: He doesn't want to miss a single person searching the Web for golf equipment. "I often search online for products that we sell," says Rath, the owner of Norfolk, Va.-based Rock Bottom Golf (http://www.rockbottomgolf.com), a discount golf retailer.

"If my competitors come up in a search and we don't, then I know what I have to do-find a way to join the party."

Some of the best online soirees recently came of age. Shoppers are flocking to shopping engines like BizRate.com and Yahoo Shopping to compare the offerings of many merchants side by side. The benefit for small-business owners is an educated customer base poised to purchase. According to Forrester Research, 75 percent of users eventually purchase a product they researched on these sites.

In March 2004, Rock Bottom Golf started marketing on Shopping.com with impressive results. The discount golfing business gradually added BizRate.com, GolfReview.com, NexTag.com and PriceGrabber.com.

The return is great, says Rath, who spends about 2 to 4 percent of each sale to be listed. And the sites have accelerated Rock Bottom Golf's branding strategy. "We are a growing business," Rath says. "We have to let people know who we are and what we are doing. The more clicks we can get, the better our future."

But the road wasn't always smooth. Rath's first problem was time. Uploading and maintaining the data feeds ate up resources. So Rath contracted with ChannelAdvisor, a software and services firm that connects retailers to online marketplaces. "They automated the process," Rath says.

Automation is important, he says, because if the data gets outdated you risk broken links, frustrated customers and an eroded return on investment. "Don't put garbage out there," Rath warns. "Make sure you have accurate links that drop shoppers right into product pages-not your home page."

Rath also learned to avoid sites that don't attract the right customers. MySimon, for example, may be a leading shopping engine for some businesses, but for Rath, it was a golf wasteland, and Rock Bottom Golf quickly pulled out. "We use tools to measure our ROI," Rath says. "We will only expand as long as there are customers to win."