API Data Feed vs Product Data Feed: What's the Difference?

  • 4 min read

There are many different ways to connect your product data to an advertising platform. In this article, we’re going to take a look at two - API connections and data feeds. Both can be a good option depending on what your business looks like and your advertising needs. 

  • Product data feeds are more static in nature, while API data feeds are dynamic.
  • API connections require more technical knowledge and are more complex to set up. 

Product data feed basics

A product data feed is a file that contains all the information about the items in your online store. Product feeds are static in nature, meaning that they won’t be automatically updated (unless you set them up to be, but let’s leave the technical side of things for now). 

It includes data such as: 

  • IDs
  • Titles
  • Descriptions
  • Image URLs
  • Price/sale price
  • Color, size, material 
  • Product identifiers (GTINs, MPNs, etc.)

You’ll connect this file to the platform you’re advertising on like Google Shopping, Meta Ads, or Pinterest for example. That platform will then use this information to create your ads. 



Note: Every platform has different requirements and best practices, so oftentimes you won’t want to use your data feed “as is”, and some extra optimization will be required. You can use a feed management solution like DataFeedWatch to do that. 

Common data feed formats

Some common file formats are CSV, Excel spreadsheets, and XML. Typically you will have product IDs in the first column and then additional information in the following columns and rows. 

How can I get my product feed?

There are different methods on getting your product feed depending on how your online store is set up. 

Shopping cart software

If you’re using shopping cart software like Shopify or BigCommerce, you’ll have the option of downloading your product feed from there. Or, if you use DataFeedWatch, you’ll just be able to connect the two platforms without uploading a file manually. 

Manual extraction 

If you’ve set up your own shop on your website without the help of software like a shopping cart then your programming team will have a way to extract your product data. 

Manual creation

Merchants with smaller shops that carry just a few products might create and update their product feeds manually. If you don’t have products that don’t change inventory status that often and you’re not adding or removing products regularly then this option could work for you. 

Should I use a product data feed?


The main benefit of using a product data feed file for communicating with advertising channels is their simplicity. They are easy to acquire, so you don’t need programming skills in order to get or make updates to them. 


The limitations with using a product data feed is that they won’t stay updated with the current status of the items in your store unless your programmers have set it up to be that way. 

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What is an API data feed?

An ‘API data feed’ isn’t an official, technical term for a way to connect your products to an advertising platform. But it does a good job of conveying the concept of what happens when an advertiser uses an API to keep their ads updated. 

Let’s break down the term to understand what it means. 

API stands for Application Programming Interface. Simply speaking, it lets different software systems communicate and dynamically share data with each other.

In the context of ecommerce, an API is usually talked about in terms of accessing or updating data - in this case, data about products from an online store. 

And a data feed, as we covered above, is a place where all the information about your products is stored.

So now let’s put it all together. 

API feed meaning: A connection set up between your store and the platform you’re advertising on, that programmatically gives the platform the most up-to-date information about your products. 


Using APIs with ecommerce

Several of the big players in the advertising world offer APIs for advertisers. In general, it’s a better option for advertisers with programming knowledge than those without. Or for brands that have a team to carry out the technical duties.

The process for using an API will look something like this: 

  1. Authenticate your API

Get the API keys and authentication tokens from the platform you’re going to advertise on.


  1. Map your product data

Make sure your data complies with the requirements of the platform you’re advertising on. 


  1. Connect

Follow the instructions provided by the API you’re using in order to integrate your store with the advertising platform.


  1. Test 

Make sure everything is working as intended, that your data is synced, and your ads appear as they should be. 


  1. Keep monitoring and optimizing 

Continue monitoring the integration for any issues. You should also conduct ongoing optimization to your ad campaigns based on performance data.


Here are some specific examples: 

Google Content API

If you have large or complex Google Ads campaigns then the Google Content API could be for you. With it you’ll be able to: 

  • Automate how you manage your account
  • Have access to custom reporting
  • Manage your smart bidding strategies
  • Manage your ads based on inventory

Google provided a table of scenarios to determine if using the Google Ads API is the right decision for you.


Meta Marketing API 



If you’re running Meta ads then you can use their API to gain control over your campaigns, by: 

  • Managing your ads programmatically 
  • Tracking conversion events
  • Gaining access to insights and analytics
  • Tracking real-time performance
  • Integrating with 3rd-party tools
  • Automating catalog updates

Other available ecommerce APIs

A few of the other major players offer APIs in a similar vein:

  • Amazon Advertising API
  • Pinterest API for Shopping Ads
  • TikTok Ads API

Should I use an API data feed?


Your data will be updated in real time, and you may even be able to have more granular control over your campaigns compared to controlling things manually from the platform. 


Due to the potential complexity of using an API, you need to have some programming skills or have a team to rely on.

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Comparing API data feeds and product data feeds: which one should you use?

API data feeds will share real time data with the platform you’re advertising on but are more complex to set up, while product data feeds are more static in nature but a reliable option for most advertisers. 

When to choose an API data feed

Large enterprises with the resources to set up and maintain an API connection might find this is the best option for them. 

When to choose a product data feed 

Because all advertisers have easy access to their product feeds, it makes it a good option across the board. It also is simple to maintain so not a lot of technical experience is required. 

Using a feed management solution

Combining a product feed with a feed management solution like DataFeedWatch is a great option for SMBs and enterprises alike. This option allows you to connect your online store to advertising channels (while optimizing your data for each channel) with data feeds, shopping cart software, and FTP connections

About DataFeedWatch

DataFeedWatch by Cart.com is the top-rated global product feed management platform that enables eCommerce brands, retailers, and digital agencies to drive multichannel growth. Merchants on both custom solutions and popular shopping carts, like Shopify, WooCommerce, and Magento (among others), can choose from 2000+ integrated shopping channels, affiliate networks, and marketplaces in 60 countries (such as Google, Facebook, Criteo, Amazon, and more). Major global brands like adidas, Decathlon, and KENZO have used DataFeedWatch to improve product performance across channels and expand to new markets. Sign up for a free trial today and receive guided onboarding to get started.

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