This is the next in our series of overview posts related to eBay’s annual seller update events and their overall impact on SEO.
Well, it’s that time of year again.
If you are interested in an overview of the entire update, check out this recent eBay for Business podcast episode. We recommend eBay’s official podcast as a valuable resource to both new and veteran sellers.
But for those concerned or just curious about the recent update’s impact on SEO, let’s get into the details.
The “lightning gauge”
Definitely the most dramatic and exciting release in the recent seller update is what has been referred to as the “lightning gauge.”
First revealed at this year’s eBay Open, the gauge informs sellers as to the number of buyer searches accessed as additional item specifics fields are completed in an individual listing.
In the example above, by just adding the brand of the item, a seller is expected to increase the visibility of his / her item — based on past data — by more than 40,000 searches over the next 30 days.
As more item specifics are filled out, the number of related searches increases — making this new feature extremely powerful.
Once again, Harry Temkin, eBay Vice President of Seller Experience, hit the nail on the head when he described the importance of these structured data fields at Wednesday’s eBay UpFront event in Chicago:
“If you use the color green in your title, and do not specify green in item specifics as well, your listing will not appear in the filtered search results when buyers use left hand navigation to filter for color green. Having the color in title only means the listing will only appear in query searches. You need to make sure that whatever you put in your title should always be in item specifics as well. This will ensure maximum search exposure.”
At List Rank Sell, we call the phenomenon described by Temkin as “listing displacement.”
A unique consequence of the left-hand or “faceted” navigation feature of marketplace SERPs (search engine results pages), displacement results in listings literally disappearing from search when specific filters are applied by a buyer.
And although it cannot be avoided entirely, selecting the best product category and completing all of the resultant item specifics goes a long way in combating it.
Of course, not all sellers will respond properly to this new feature. The obvious possible drawback to the lightning gauge is that some sellers will feel that much more complacent in not filling out the entirety of their item specifics.
The truth is, no eBay SEO worth his / her salt would ever leave out a single item specifics field in the optimization of a listing on eBay.
As much as it is human nature to waste time trying to find endless ways to save it, sellers make an enormous mistake when they judge some item specifics fields to be entirely unnecessary just because they are less relevant to search than others.
The truth is, no eBay SEO worth his / her salt would ever leave out a single item specifics field in the optimization of a listing on eBay. As much as it is human nature to waste time trying to find endless ways to save it, sellers make an enormous mistake when they judge some item specifics fields to be entirely unnecessary just because they are less relevant to search than others.
Unfortunately, such fallout within the seller community is inevitable. It will always be the case that some of us simply can’t be trusted with shiny new toys.
But I am convinced that under present leadership, it will not deter eBay from rolling out similar innovations in the future.
Automatic listing category updates
Also under the “Inventory Optimization” section of the Fall Seller Update, it was announced that eBay will be automatically moving some active listings to new product categories.
As indicated above, these automatic updates will be taking place as of October 15, 2019, and again as of January 28, 2020.
Two nights ago, I had an opportunity to speak with Temkin at eBay UpFront Chicago. We talked about this specific update, and he confirmed that all completed item specifics fields that are shared between a listing’s former category and the new one set by eBay will automatically transfer as the new category is applied.
Additionally, Temkin said that sellers will receive alerts within Seller Hub to any required item specifics fields that need to be completed as a result of the change in category.
According to the recent update itself, the categories eBay prefers for product listings are those considered to be the “best fit.”
A recent patent awarded to eBay describes the machine learning technology that assigns a single “back-end category” to every search query on the platform.
Our rigorous testing of this process reveals that what appears to be eBay’s back-end category, the same one that produces the most relevant, and often the most robust, item specifics fields and results in the highest degree of search visibility within eBay’s search and structured data-related pages, is not always the obvious choice.
For instance, based on an analysis of multiple category-based structured data browse pages that appear in Google for the phrase, “vintage metallica t-shirt,” as well as an overview of the eBay SERP faceted navigation options for the same phrase, the apparent back-end category is neither Music Memorabilia (even though it has a “Metallica” subcategory) or even Vintage T-Shirts, but rather Men’s T-Shirts.
We are very interested to observe the listing categories eBay selects as the result of the announced automatic updates and to attempt to determine whether the concepts of “best fit” and “back-end” conform to one another.
Increased visibility for Promoted Listings
Starting this month, each organic listing in eBay search with a corresponding visible Promoted Listings ad will be removed from the eBay SERPs.
Because of the sheer number of search results on eBay, especially for popular, short tail phrases, it makes sense that eBay would remove what are essentially duplicate listings when both the organic and paid listings are visible to buyers.
In fact, it has been my contention since the release of Promoted Listings that eBay’s featuring of both types of listings for the same item within search is counterproductive.
I am convinced it reduces the effectiveness of well-ranked organic listings as well as their paid counterparts by diluting the quality of the results and even, perhaps, by annoying potential buyers with the unnecessary repetition.
Secondly, the update mandates that the top listings within eBay search results will frequently begin to feature more Promoted Listings ads then previously.
Although probably unavoidable over the long run, this part of the 2019 Fall Seller Update is, by far, my least favorite.
As I have said before, I have regularly worked with client campaigns in which SEO and eBay’s unique SEM product, Promoted Listings, work well together.
However, I do not see how loading the top search results on eBay with sponsored ads, such as the top four listings for “vintage vase,” is a great, or even good, user experience. Buyers are not generally accustomed to being bombarded with ads on eBay, let alone within the top search results.
I do not see how loading the top search results on eBay with sponsored ads is a great, or even good, user experience.
In addition to the UX issues, we also anticipate that it will be more difficult to measure the effectiveness of SEO on organic listings when a Promoted Listings campaign is in place, as the organic rankings will not be observable.
Finally, the policy encourages sellers to “buy their way to the top” instead of implementing sensible optimization techniques. This is a common complaint about Google SERPs within the traditional SEO community, and I honestly hate that it has come to eBay.
Perhaps the crowding of eBay’s top search results with ads will eventually be accepted as the norm by eBay buyers and sellers, but I have my doubts.
A win for eBay SEO service clients
It never ceases to amaze us how many past clients have provided us with complete and unfettered access to their eBay accounts without a single word of caution. Had we been an unscrupulous operator, we could have wreaked absolute havoc in our clients’ accounts.
So when we learned last year of eBay’s planned rollout of multi-user account access (MUAA), we were very excited.
Sellers who hire outside help for optimization, product listing, or other services that require access to their eBay accounts, have long needed the protection afforded by MUAA.
This new functionality allows sellers to limit employee or independent contractor access to create and edit listing drafts, publish and revise listings, or both.
This update brings security to eBay SEO service clients, as well as protection to service providers from erroneous accusations of wrongdoing outside of the direct listing flow.
As we have discussed, there are some genuinely exciting aspects to the 2019 Fall Seller Update from an SEO point of view.
We are, and will continue to be, open to innovation on the part of eBay to assist in making listing and store optimization more effective.
But in light of the inclusion of additional Promoted Listings ads within eBay’s top search results, as well as a new cost-per-click model on the horizon, we are cautiously hopeful that eBay’s search page isn’t on the road to becoming yet another Google copycat.