2020 Spring Seller Update: Its Impact on eBay SEO

Hang on to Your Britches -- This One's a Doozy!

2020 Spring Seller Update

This is the most recent post in our continued overview of eBay’s regular seller update events and their impact on SEO.


Is it that time already?

Due to our most recent eBay SEO myths post, monthly traffic to our website increased by over 50% — creating a “problem” of becoming almost too busy with work than we can currently handle as a husband-and-wife team.

But I assure you that we will continue to provide you with only the very best in eBay SEO news and analysis going forward, albeit a little less frequently at the moment than we would prefer.

Now, let’s get into the aspects of the 2020 Spring Seller Update that directly affect eBay search.  There’s a lot to cover!


“A listing may not appear…”

Without a question, the issue of product listing visibility in search is the most critical question currently facing all eBay sellers.

It’s what we hear about the most from our clients, and it’s what we, ourselves, have been analyzing and testing for the last 10 years.

But just this past October (shortly after the 2019 Fall Seller Update), we began to notice a startling, new phenomenon taking shape within eBay SERPs (search engine results pages).

Viewed in a private browser page (to significantly reduce the influence of machine learning), the SERP for “darth vader figure” can be viewed below.

Automatic Selection of Back-end Category by eBay
Screenshot of eBay SERP for “darth vader figure”

It is important at this stage to emphasize that no left-hand filters of any kind have been applied to these search results.  Nothing has been done by us, other than searching the phrase itself.

If you look closely, you can see that the only results visible are the 9,284 listings in the Toys & Hobbies > Action Figures > TV, Movie & Video Games category.

The problem is, there are actually a total of 15,037 Darth Vader action figures currently for sale on eBay — meaning that 5,753 of them are entirely invisible for the phrase, “darth vader figure.”

Why is this happening, and what does it mean?

To answer these questions, we must take a look at eBay’s newly updated user agreement.

Delivered in a marked section of the 2020 Spring Seller Update, the terms under “Listing Conditions” now read in part:

“To drive a positive user experience, a listing may not appear in some search and browse results regardless of the sort order chosen by the buyer.”

In response to the overall failure of eBay’s product-based shopping experience, the company has begun reducing what it sees as clutter in its search results by sometimes only showing listings from a single product category — what a recent patent refers to as eBay’s “back-end” category.

Although I understand the reasoning behind this decision, it has had a dramatic impact for the worse on search visibility across the eBay platform.

In spite of the fact that there is a huge Star Wars Collectibles category on eBay, and that Darth Vader products continue to be one of its most popular, every seller who currently categorizes their Darth Vader figures as collectibles (instead of toys) is experiencing massive displacement — meaning their listings are consistently not visible.

In spite of the fact that there is a huge Star Wars Collectibles category on eBay, every seller who currently categorizes their Darth Vader figures as collectibles (instead of toys) is experiencing massive displacement — meaning their listings are consistently not visible.

Let’s be clear here.  It’s not that their listings are being pushed down in search.

As long as the phrase, or many variations of the phrase (including “vintage darth vader figure”) have been searched, their listings are being removed from search results completely.

And this is by no means a limited occurrence.  This sitewide search event is taking place well over 50% of the time for the short tail (two or three-word) phrases we have actively tested.

We will have a lot more to say about this new development, including in our upcoming video series, but for now it’s critical to understand that eBay is repeatedly showing listings from a single category in their search results pages — literally eliminating listing visibility for products in other categories when specific queries are searched.


Policy compliance & search rankings

Consistent with eBay’s past messaging on the subject, the updated user agreement also spells out a number of general elements behind the “placement of listings in search and browse results” — including product price, shipping cost, listing format, and relevance to query.

I would guess that most eBay sellers are well acquainted with these best practice-related ranking factors.

What we never hear about, however, is the issue of policy violations.

The revised agreement, as included in the Spring Seller Update, now directly states that “eBay policy compliance” is a factor that influences placement in search, and it specifically calls out the Duplicate Listings Policy as an example of what “may also affect whether your listing appears in search results.”

It doesn’t surprise me at all that duplicate listings are being referenced in the discussion of eBay search rankings and overall visibility.  As I’ve said before, the majority of our hands-on eBay SEO clients exhibit at least one major policy violation that directly impacts both.

In fact, two recent clients had a significant number of carefully crafted duplicate listings that they were using to gain “extra real estate” in search results.

In reality, the effect of this strategy is to greatly lower the seller’s overall quality score, which effectively buries their listings in search results.

After we ended every single duplicate listing and then optimized the remaining ones, both clients saw significant year-over-year sales increases (in one case, an increase of over 100%).

The bottom line here is that sellers must know all of eBay’s policies, including the ones specific to their product vertical, in order to safeguard the effectiveness of their SEO efforts and prevent nullifying them altogether.


Metatags and URLs

The updated user agreement also states, “Metatags and URL links that are included in a listing may be removed or altered so as to not affect third-party search engine results.”

As relevant as it is to the concept of search, I wouldn’t pay much attention to this statement.

In contrast to the myth some eBay gurus believe, the listing item description is, by far, the least effective driver of search engine optimization on eBay.

The only user-generated metatags and web addresses that exist in an eBay listing are located in the item description, and the entire area is embedded in an inline frame — rendering its content, at best, difficult to read by Google.

As a result, we do not recommend sellers spend time updating their description meta content or adding keywords to their image URLs or alternative text for SEO purposes.

Should eBay make an update to your item description metatags or embedded URLs, it will have no impact whatsoever on your search visibility on eBay.


More category changes

As always, eBay is making further revisions to its site categories as a part of the 2020 Spring Seller Update.

The top level categories affected are Business & Industrial, Watches, Home & Garden, and Sporting Goods.

I think everyone can agree that there’s something very wrong with a category that looks like the following:

Business & Industrial > Heavy Equipment, Parts & Attachments > Heavy Equipment Parts & Accessories > Heavy Equipment Attachment Parts > Moldboards, Plowshares, Screed Plates & Discs

Yes, this insanely lengthy and terribly repetitive eBay category tree is real.  It even has multiple structured data category pages associated with it.

Lengthy eBay Category Tree
Screenshot of lengthy eBay category tree under Business & Industrial

It’s no secret that eBay’s taxonomy is a mess, so updates that actually improve it are welcome — in spite of the additional work that they create for sellers.

As the literal backbone of eBay’s unique structured data framework, eBay category selection is even more critical to SEO than the use of item specifics.

In the recent update, eBay again describes a seller’s proper category selection as the one that is the “best fit.”

Because they have failed to define what they mean by this term, we can only conclude that the best fit category is the one that seems most logical in the mind of the seller.

And as I have demonstrated above, the most logical eBay category selection is often the “wrong” one — resulting in significant search-related problems.


Help with item specifics

The Spring Seller Update also continues eBay’s recent tradition of assisting with the completion of item specifics, or what they are now often referring to as “listing aspects.”

As described to me personally at last year’s eBay UpFront Chicago event by Harry Temkin, eBay Vice President of Seller Experience, item specifics guidance is now being provided to sellers in Seller Hub when the categories of existing listings are automatically updated by eBay.

In order to address these new item specifics, as well as those fields that are simply missing, eBay has released a Tasks module notation within the Overview page of Seller Hub and a new “quick filter” that appears at the top of the “Manage active listings” page.

The purpose of completely filling out a product’s listing aspects is to increase search visibility when buyers apply one or more filters (e.g., brand, size, material, etc.) at the left-hand side, faceted navigation feature of the eBay SERP.

eBay SERP Faceted Navigation
Screenshot of faceted navigation aspect of eBay SERP

Recently, Mohan Patt, eBay Vice President of Buyer, Ads, and Retail Standards, confirmed that nearly 80% of all searches on eBay involve at least one filter.

Sellers ignore this statistic at their own peril.

When they fail to complete their item specifics — even those that may seem unimportant — their listings experience unnecessary displacement from search.


Terapeak’s usefulness (and lack of)

We have found Seller Hub’s market data provided by Terapeak to be quite helpful.

In fact, we use the “Terapeak product research” tool to calculate a significant portion of both our Condition Sales Rate and Demand Sales Rate metrics.

The recent seller update states that new features are going to be added to its capabilities throughout the spring, including aggregated metrics for active listings and price and category “visualizations.”

The eBay Tech blog also published a recent article, explaining how eBay’s engineering team greatly expanded the availability and usefulness of Terapeak to sellers across the platform.

However, the same article affirms the following erroneous SEO assumption that eBay has been making for years:

“They [sellers] can gain insights into the keywords that top-selling listings include in their titles, providing them with keywords suggestions that will surface their listings in the search results, putting them directly in the buyer’s line of sight.”

The above quote is talking about Terapeak’s “SEO” tool, which gets its keywords from eBay listings that rank well and webpages that appear on the first page of Google search results.

The truth is, it is simply absurd to assume that highly ranked listings are, by definition, utilizing solid keywords.

We have observed hundreds of examples of listings that do well in eBay search that are weak from a keyword point of view, as there are many ways to rank a listing on eBay that do not utilize solid SEO.

These listings rarely produce results that last, and they usually employ tactics that are little more than gimmicks.

Indeed, websites that rank well in Google using similar methods are even more dubious.

Other than Promoted Listings — eBay’s lone SEM product that works only as long as sellers keep paying for it — the only legitimate on-site marketing technique on eBay is search engine optimization.

And genuine eBay SEO requires that, instead of copying terms from other listings, sellers research keywords actually searched by buyers to gain the advantage over their competition.

I’ve got to tell you, the keyword tool by Terapeak just sucks.  And once it becomes available to all sellers with a store subscription, it’s going to be a dark day in eBay search and a huge step backwards.


Limited expansion of MUAA

As I discussed last time, the long overdue idea of multi-user account access (MUAA) is a welcome one.

In order to perform various tasks without the worry of having service providers cause problems with a client account, or having clients accuse service providers of doing the same, the ability for outside users to be provided limited access to another eBay account is very desirable.

But as it currently stands, the feature offers very little functionality.

Prior to the most recent update, the only tasks a MUAA user could perform were listing creation and editing.

In spite of this, we were happy when the feature was first rolled out — because we understood at the time that significant expansions were on the way.

We were hopeful, for example, that eBay would soon provide the ability to check our clients’ analytics via the Performance tab.

Or at the very least, provide the simple functionality to create or edit existing listing variations (which users still can’t do).

But this last update merely added read-only access to the Orders page, with the ability to leave notes.  That’s it.

If eBay expects sellers and service providers to take the feature seriously, MUAA will have to grow up and become a big boy.

And do so quickly.


Wow.  What a pile of changes.

The developments of this seller update are certainly a mixed bag.

But one thing is certain.

Most of them provide enormous optimization opportunities for those who are informed.

Keep your chin up.

About Dave Snyder 25 Articles
Dave is Founder & Chief Analyst at List Rank Sell. He began his intensive testing and study of eBay SEO in 2010, which eventually grew into a full-service agency dedicated to the practice. Dave has developed a methodology that embraces traditional search as well as technical SEO specific to eBay. Previously, he led a successful career as a tax analyst representing Cook County property owners.