This post is a discussion of the Promoted Listings ad platform at eBay and a conflict I have observed with it and the application of eBay search engine optimization.
Some time ago, I worked with a short-term eBay SEO client who wanted me to optimize just one product listing.
This seller only had a handful of listings to begin with, and he was looking to obtain improved organic search rankings for his best-selling product.
As a freelancer, I have had a number of successful SEO campaigns involving a single listing, as well as eBay stores containing just a few total listings.
However, I have discovered over time that the potential conflicts associated with the optimization process tend to be greater in these situations, both for single-listing projects and small eBay stores.
(For this reason, we at List Rank Sell have determined a specific list of prerequisites for all hands-on optimization clients, which greatly improves the chances of successful results.)
I encountered one such SEO-related problem with the above client.
And it quickly became clear the conflict was coming from his use of eBay’s Promoted Listings program.
What is Promoted Listings?
In 2015, eBay announced the release of Promoted Listings — an eBay-specific platform that enables sellers to buy sponsored ads that appear in eBay’s search engine results pages (SERPs).
eBay CEO, Devin Wenig, recently said the following about the program:
“It’s been one of the most successful new products we’ve rolled out from a seller perspective ever. And they’re adopting it. And remember, it’s completely optional. Nobody has to use it. And they are flocking to it. And to me, it’s a way that you can, if you want, trade off some margin for some velocity. And there are many sellers that want to do that. So, we’re really happy with it.”
Promoted Listings, built on an innovative “cost per sale” model, allows sellers to only pay when their items sell directly through an ad.
Currently the only SEM (search engine marketing) product available to eBay sellers, Promoted Listings continues to gain in popularity.
Due in part to its widespread use, as well as its regular promotion by eBay, the program has become virtually synonymous with the concept of listing visibility. I discussed this a bit in my last post.
The problems this association creates for eBay SEO, and the marketplace itself, aside, the issue I encountered with my client was an unexpected result that came directly from my optimization of his listing and his existing reliance on Promoted Listings.
Promoted Listings as a genuine solution…
Originally, Promoted Listings ads were only made available to select eBay sellers with multi-quantity listings.
Not only have these sponsored ads now been released to those with and without an eBay store, sellers can also advertise any product they choose.
The significant expansion of the program, which has increased revenues for eBay, appears to have also resulted in sales across listing and product types.
Even though the results are often hard to measure, I have seen Promoted Listings ads perform nicely alongside a number of effective eBay SEO campaigns.
However, from my experience, Promoted Listings ads work best for sellers who (1) offer at least several hundred products of the same brand or category and (2) already rank organically for at least some of their listings.
Neither of these criteria applied to my client.
Nevertheless, the sales for his couple of listings with extremely low organic search rankings were through the roof. They were so strong, in fact, that my client appeared to be making his living from his two eBay listings.
The reason his sales were so high?
They were entirely dependent on Promoted Listings.
…as a purveyor of fakes…
To understand why my client’s listings performed so well using Promoted Listings, there’s something you should know about his products.
My client was selling two versions of the same product that was, essentially, a knockoff of a very popular electronics item.
To be clear, the item wasn’t counterfeit. Counterfeit products claim to actually be the real thing. This was an unbranded product that looked, and supposedly worked, very similar to the original.
The authentic version of this product continues to sell well on eBay, but the generic one is about a third of the price and sells even better.
Although my client’s original listing title was technically in compliance with eBay policy, it wasn’t as strong as it should have been in identifying that the product wasn’t the genuine article.
As a result, his Promoted Listings ads were appearing for searches specific to the authentic version of the product.
My client was absolutely convinced that all of his sales were coming from buyers who were searching by the genuine product brand — but were seeing ads for his knockoff version.
And the initial results of the listing’s optimization confirmed his hypothesis.
…and an influencer of men (and women)
Prior to the hands-on SEO, my client had been using Promoted Listings to literally appear for a product he didn’t sell.
The result of the misplaced ads was a psychological advantage in the minds of buyers.
Those searching eBay, expecting to see prices of $150 or more for the popular product they were seeking, were presented with an opportunity to purchase something similar for about $50. And they jumped at it.
But now that I had optimized his listing, it was no longer showing up for these searches.
I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t.
When I introduced my improved on-page keywords, including listing title, and increased structured data compliance to my client’s listing, I brought eBay’s attention to the true nature of his product.
I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. When I introduced my improved on-page keywords, including listing title, and increased structured data compliance to my client’s listing, I brought eBay’s attention to the true nature of his product.
And the effect was dramatic.
Because eBay’s index typically responds to listing changes in under two hours, it was quickly evident that my SEO changes had knocked my client out of the branded searches altogether.
Consequently, his sales for that listing came to a sudden — and complete — halt.
When two worlds collide
For the first time in my career as a marketplace SEO, I observed an immediate and pronounced conflict with organic optimization on eBay and the use of Promoted Listings.
Typically, we see these sponsored ads on eBay function as a cooperative adjunct to SEO.
It is true that there’s a certain difficulty to measuring the effectiveness of each when they are used together.
For instance, it can be hard to measure how many sales that have come through a Promoted Listings ad might have come from an organically-ranked listing had there been no ad in the first place.
But in general, eBay SEO and eBay SEM play well together.
In this case, however, they didn’t.
You might think from the content of this post or because I’m an SEO, I would feel threatened by the potential success of paid ad placements on eBay. But that’s not the case.
I’m actually a fan of Promoted Listings. It’s a powerful tool when used properly.
Devin Wenig recently confirmed that a “pay per click” advertising model is also in the works, and I’m optimistic about its potential as well — albeit cautiously.
No, I don’t blame either the optimization process or paid search on eBay for my client’s sales downturn.
Not by a long shot.
It’s not me, it’s you
One of the main things my working relationship with this client confirmed is that Promoted Listings must always be used in conjunction with a solid business model.
Sellers who invest in paid marketing of any kind must sell either genuine, branded products or unbranded products that don’t attempt to be identical to that of a recognizable popular brand.
It is possible that my client’s Promoted Listings ads may have regained some of their former positioning over time.
But I don’t think so.
Remember that their sudden disappearance was connected to the optimization process, which had brought clarity to the nature of my client’s products.
Had my client sold legitimate goods, branded or unbranded, his Promoted Listings ads would not have been affected like they were.
But he sold crap. There’s just no other way to put it.
I can’t tell you how often I encounter sellers on eBay who don’t have a real business.
Whether it’s online arbitrage sellers who claim to be legitimate dropshippers, “stateside” sellers who refuse to tell you where their products are actually warehoused, or knockoff sellers who arrogantly expect to appear alongside the real thing, those who trade long-term gains for short-term gimmicks will always point the finger when sales don’t perform.
But in the end, they’ve only got themselves to blame.
Keep your chin up.