Bing recently announced the introduction of a new Bing shopping experience. Bing Shopping as a (more-or-less) standalone product is being replaced by product elements that will be integrated directly into the search engine results pages: namely a a product carousel with corresponding product Snapshots and product ads when an user clicks on a carousel item.
Concurrent with this announcement was one made on the Bing Ads Blog introducing rich captions and product ads. Rich captions are a free service that allows information about products to be displayed in the SERPs; product ads are, well, ads.
There are a number of things interesting about rich captions, and a couple of questions about related to them that have yet to be answered.
First of all, rich captions are dependent on the existence of a Bing Product Ads feed, and on information in that feed matching information that appears in Bing's public index. Bing says of this product:
Rich Captions is a new free service which gives you an opportunity to provide information about your products directly on the Bing search result pages. Your product’s price and availability may be displayed below the search algorithmic results linking to your product’s page. […] To participate, you will need to submit your product catalog via a feed. If you are a Product Ads beta customer, this feed is the same as your Product Ads feed or you can create a new one.
If I'm reading this correctly, this means that in order for product price and availability information to be displayed in the SERPs a merchant must submit a feed to Bing.
This suggests, on one hand, that Bing is trying to ensure that its providing accurate information in the SERPs by correlating what it sees on product web pages with the data provided to it in shopping feeds. This is another instance highlighting the importance of what I've taken to calling data fidelity, a method of building trust with the search engines by consistently providing them with the same data from any source (whether that data is found in feeds, structured data or plain text).
Barbara Starr has an excellent post concerning data quality in the Google shopping universe that speaks to this principle and, interestingly, the Bing announcements were published just two days after a Google post reminding merchants that they'll "soon be enforcing the new unique product identifier requirements to continue improving data quality on Google Shopping."
On the other hand, whether by necessity or design, this sort of data comparison ensures that Bing is provided with structured, detailed and seemingly accurate product and offer information in the form of a Bing Product Ads feed. In other words, Bing could potentially realize a huge reward by dangling the carrot of SERP rich snippets in front of webmasters – a benefit that's already driven extraordinarly rapid adoption of schema.org. A portion of the announcement suggests that this is at least in part by design:
Since Rich Captions is a new product and we expect many merchants to sign up, it may take a few weeks for us to review your feeds (to ensure high levels of data quality) and onboard you as merchants.
Bing already displays some rich snippet information in the SERPs for products, like ratings and reviews associated with this "nikon d5100" query:
This potentially adds product price and availability information to rich snippets, for those that want it to appear there.
That's the second thing that stands out about rich captions: they're opt-in. Merchants have to check a box if they want rich captions to be displayed for their products. This suggests that Bing is cognizant of situations where rich snippet display might not work to a merchant's advantage, such as when their products are offered at a significantly higher price than can be had from most competitors. Whether or not that's good for users can be argued but, again, it's a means by which Bing can collect structured product and offer data from merchants who otherwise might be reticent to share it.
Bing doesn't speak to whether or not a failure to opt-in to rich captions will throttle all rich snippet information for a given merchant, or only price and availability information: presumably the latter.
Hopefully Bing will take this opportunity to simplify the nomenclature and clean up the documentation surrounding product search in Bing, both of which are in shambles.
For example (just one of many), Bing says that to participate in rich captions, "you will need to submit your product catalog via a feed. If you are a Product Ads beta customer, this feed is the same as your Product Ads feed or you can create a new one." If you search for "bing product ad feed" or "bing product catalog" this is the first-listed Bing or Microsoft result:
There you'll find esoteric information about the transition from the Bing cashback program (long defunct) to Bing Shopping (now being retired) and no mention of all about Bing Ads or Bing Merchant Center, where you can submit your feeds.
It wasn't clear from the original announcement whether or not the program would be available internationally or restricted to US merchants. The new "getting started" guide answers this unequivocally:
Your store must be domiciled in the United States. […] You must conduct transactions in U.S. Dollars (USD).
Other rich caption requirements simply bring in line with feeds for
Bing Cashback Bing Shopping Bing product search ads, such as the usual product restrictions (no body parts, drugs, etc.), and the requirement that a new feed be submitted "at least every 30 days.
(By the way that last strikethrough –
Bing Shopping – was a bit premature. The rich captions and new product ad annoucements says that "additional information on the new shopping experience and how you can prepare" can be found at this Bing Merchant FAQ, which at time of writing is hideously out-of-date. Not only does it speak of Bing Shopping as if it's a going concern, and fails to use the phrase "product search" even once, but it talks about Bing Deals, which I'm 99% certain have been replaced by Bing Offers. But, curiously, rather than deal with this monstrous, unwieldy, anachronistic page holistically, they've chosen to simply slap a "Rich Captions" section at the end. Perhaps they are trying to snag the award for "Worst FAQ Ever.")