eBay SEO Myths #2: Listings that Go “Stale”

A Myth Unique to eBay & Harmful to Sellers

eBay SEO Myths #2: Listings that Go Stale

In this second in a series of posts debunking eBay SEO myths, I discuss the notion that listings go “stale” over time, a history of how the idea came about, the real reasons listings do poorly in eBay search, and how to address the problem.


I can’t tell you how many eBay sellers I’ve worked with who have sworn by the continual tweaking of their product listings.

There was the veteran purveyor of fine jewelry from Israel who never left his listings alone for longer than a week or two.  He explained at the beginning of our relationship that he “knew marketing” and that his listings had to be kept “fresh” by constantly changing everything from the titles, the item specifics, the item description content, and even the description template itself.

Then there was the entrepreneur from the UK who had a burgeoning home decor business running out of his home.  After I spent considerable time optimizing a number of his listings and achieving substantial increases in sales, he decided that his listings need to be “updated.”  So he abruptly ended all of his listings with established sales history and created one, single, multi-variation listing to replace the entire lot of them.

And finally, let’s talk about the Australian seller of personalized holiday and event items who was very excited to work with us.  Several months of hands-on eBay SEO and $7,000 later, this individual promptly hired someone else to “tweak” the listings we had already optimized.  To this day, he has listings that contain item specifics such as “Natural Wood” instead of the actual color in the “Color” field, “Personalised” instead of his actual brand name in the “Brand” field, and even asinine phrases like “Kick Ass Father’s Day Gifts” in the “Theme” field.

Granted, these are absurd examples.

Most of the clients we’ve worked with have not been this extreme.

But besides the fact that these established sellers made outlandish decisions, each of them did so because they sincerely believed one thing:

That listings on eBay go “stale” over time.

Where did this idea come from?


A history of changes

A look at the top results from Google’s autocomplete database for the phrase, “stale listings,” suggests that, as far as marketplaces are concerned, this phenomenon is specific to eBay (Amazon doesn’t appear in any of the results).

Google Autocomplete for Stale Listings
Screenshot of top Google autocomplete results for “stale listings”

Most of us remember that eBay, known initially as “AuctionWeb,” got its start as the world’s first online auction house.

Auctions could run for as little as three days, always bringing in new inventory to the marketplace.  Initially, they were highly effective selling models.

Eventually, however, the “Buy It Now” format became more commonplace.

But hardcore sellers defended the auction format as superior to fixed price, largely due to the fact that they considered the move by eBay as a betrayal.

Many veteran sellers favored auctions for another reason as well.

They did so because they labored under the perception that, due to their constant turnover, auction listings were “fresh.”

And in contrast, fixed price listings became viewed as having the potential to grow “stale.”

Hence, the need to successively tweak them.


Here come the experts

Besides having a firm establishment in the historical psyche of the eBay seller community, the idea that listings must be refreshed has remained because of the people who remind us that it is so.

As we look at some of those who hold to this concept, however, it is critical to understand that not everyone appears to be thinking about it in exactly the same way.

Truthfully, the potential nuances of this particular viewpoint are endless.

But the conclusion is always the same — eBay listings go stale over time, and as a result, must be regularly updated.

Here are some quotes from the experts:

“Sometimes when I have stale items sitting there in inventory, we’ll run a big promotion.  We’ll list a couple of hundred of them at a 99 cent auction.  Just take the risk that they’re going to sell for that.  But then a lot of times, uh, you know, they’ll catch some traction and make a little profit off of that.” — Richard Cooley, large volume eBay seller

“The last and other one that I would think about is stale listings.  Typically when an item is not doing well on eBay, it starts to drop in ranking in the search results…So once you have an item that’s not moving anyway, you will actually only benefit from Promoted Listings and not actually lose anything because otherwise organically that item will be really hard for the buyers to find because eBay has considered that as not a relevant item.” — Shefali Singla, eBay Senior Product Marketing Manager

“Today we look at a strategy for tweaking your listings showing you where to focus and which listings to start with…The answer is not to try and edit all your listings in one go, but to work on them regularly.” — Chris Dawson, Co-Founder of Tamebay, who confuses the eBay optimization process with regular tweaking

“Many times Cassini ‘prefers’ new listings…It is better to not use the ‘good till cancelled’ or ‘relist’ functions here, rather use the ‘sell similar’ option when a listing ends which creates a brand new listing.  It makes quite a bit of sense since people are always interested in what is new.” — Max Godin, Co-Founder of CrazyLister, under the heading, “Renewing old listings,” from an article loaded with bad eBay SEO advice

“When eBay sees that you have a high number of page views over a long period of time, such as a year, it’s less likely your item will sell because eBay will push it down in search results, says Wells.  To bring it back to the top of available items, end the listing and then relist a couple of weeks later.” — Marcia Layton Turner, Forbes contributor, referencing the work of eBay guru, Suzanne A. Wells

“Always keep tweaking and testing your titles.” — Sam Dey, self-described ecommerce expert, in his YouTube video entitled, “eBay SEO: How to Rank a Product on the eBay Search Engine”


Listings don’t grow stale…

Whether the experts are:

  • Members of the actual eBay expert community who are simply mistaken,
  • The type who love their gimmicks and prefer them over solid business practices,
  • Or the kind who simply repeat what they’ve heard someone else say,

those who promote this myth do so without the facts.

And those facts are plain.

Regardless of who insists on it, product listings on eBay do not become stale over time.


…they were stale to begin with

The truth is, listings that find their way down in eBay search do so for reasons intrinsic to the listings themselves, not because they need to be made “fresh” again.

The prevailing wisdom on eBay in this case has led to a complete misconception within the seller community.

Our experience at List Rank Sell is that sellers consistently believe their listings aren’t selling because of their sheer time on site — and not their genuine lack of quality.

The truth is, listings that find their way down in eBay search do so for reasons intrinsic to the listings themselves, not because they need to be made “fresh” again…Our experience is that sellers consistently believe their listings aren’t selling because of their sheer time on site — and not their genuine lack of quality.

So instead of taking a hard look at their listings for improvements that should have been in place from the beginning, sellers often believe that any change is better than none.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

But before we get to that, let’s take a look at some of the real reasons listings on eBay don’t sell.


The market is weak

Recently, I had the opportunity to dialogue with one of the largest sellers of new t-shirts on eBay.

With more than 3 million listings on the platform, this seller should have known their market well.

But they didn’t.

Although the vintage clothing market isn’t what it once was on eBay, the vintage t-shirt market is strong and far outpaces the new t-shirt market in terms of per-listing velocity potential.  New ones sell so poorly in comparison, that we measure the market as “Anemic.”

Declining Market Graph
Labeled for reuse, courtesy of Wikimedia

Sellers must not only know their market (which to most sellers means they know their buyers), they must actually measure it.  And they must do so regularly.

For this reason, we measure the product market for our clients as part of the prerequisites for hands-on eBay SEO.  Our proprietary Demand Sales Rate and Condition Sales Rate determine, all else being equal, the degree to which an item will sell on the eBay platform.

When a seller discovers that a particular product market performs poorly (especially when compared to the same period a year ago), they should simply move on.

Products in a weak market on eBay shouldn’t be listed in the first place.

With a handful of very specific exceptions, they will not sell well — no matter how often you update them.


The price is too high

I once consulted a seller of “snuff bullets.”

These items are usually made of aluminum, contain tobacco, and are intended to be stuck up a person’s nose.

When asked why their product’s price was nearly double the going rate on eBay, our client simply replied, “We think ours is worth more.”

It wasn’t higher quality than most.  It didn’t feature colors not usually available.  It wasn’t easier to use in some way.  It was just “worth more.”

Their buyers clearly disagreed.

Of all the best practice issues that affect the conversion potential of listings on eBay, price is one of the most important.

Sellers can update their listings all day long, but those who have priced themselves out of their market will never see the sales they are seeking.


The listing just sucks

There are so many ways in which a product listing on eBay can be destined for nonperformance.

A short of list of best practices includes the following:

  • Weak or unspecified store policies.
  • Unprofessional or sparse number of photos.
  • Lack of free shipping when expected by buyers.
  • Poorly written or nonexistent item descriptions.
  • No HTML template when the specific market demands it.

And then there are aspects that affect eBay SEO, which include:

  • A lack of back-end category selection.
  • Run-on titles that focus too highly on synonyms.
  • Keywords that come from other listings.
  • Incomplete or improperly completed item specifics.
  • The multitude of possible eBay policy violations.

All of the above issues impact sales conversion potential.

But it’s the second group that specifically affects how well a listing performs in search.

And it is this reason — poor eBay search rankings — that tends to drive the craze behind regular listing updating.


Manually ending and relisting

The list of methodologies used to update eBay listings when they go “stale” is as long as the reasons sellers have that the phenomenon is real.

One of the most common practices for keeping listings fresh is to manually end and relist them.

Like so many other eBay SEO myths, this approach requires huge amounts of time to implement and, in the end, only hurts sellers’ chances for ranking well in search.

As I have previously described in detail, sellers should never end their listings — unless they are absolutely required to do so.

An ended listings loses its web address in the process, as well as all of its engagement.  Sellers have no chance of regular sales on eBay without a static URL and an uninterrupted flow of engagement such as sales history, watchers, and even listing views.

So if the answer isn’t to end it, what can be done with a listing that’s not performing?


Don’t just “update” — optimize

There is a significant difference between making ongoing listing tweaks and optimizing.

Optimization on eBay directly addresses the problem of search rankings and involves a unique process that is both distinct from traditional SEO and separate from the practice on other marketplaces.

Proper SEO on eBay requires (1) a complete overhaul of the listing’s structured data — including product category selection and complete item aspects — and its on-page keywords, as well as (2) a view to mobile, visual, and even voice search.

The procedure returns the listing to the state it should have been in from the start.

Proper SEO on eBay requires a complete overhaul of the listing’s structured data and its on-page keywords, as well as a view to mobile, visual, and even voice search.  The procedure returns the listing to the state it should have been in from the start.

It’s not one of those “let me see what I can do” tasks.

It’s either done right, or it isn’t.

And when it is, it can make a world of difference.

But that’s not quite all I have to say about this subject.


Set it and leave it

When sellers talk about tweaking their product listings, they’re talking about regular tweaking.

Emphasis on regular.

In the minds of eBay sellers, there is no actual end to the updating process.

After all, your listings can always be better.  Right?

This is where I go out on a limb and hang myself.

Traditional search engine optimization is not a “set it and forget it” process.  By nature, it requires continual updating.

But on eBay, the practice of SEO is very different.

It’s not just unique.  It’s final.

By “final,” I mean it needs to be left alone once the process is complete.

Cassini, eBay’s search engine, responds to the optimization process within as little as two hours.

But in order for SEO to take effect on eBay, it needs time.  A lot of it.

Time for engagement to develop, time for sales history to build up, and time for rankings to eventually improve.

Continual changes to your product listings will only disrupt the extremely important process that takes place after the optimization is complete.

A listing should be left alone for at least 180 days, a year if possible.

It’s prudent for sellers to go in from time to time and check to see if eBay has rolled out new item specifics.

And it’s certainly important to stay up to date with what’s going on at eBay at all times.

But I assure you, if “professional long range geolocator” is determined to be a strong phrase for eBay search purposes, it will most certainly be so a year from now.

If you remove just one of those words, even if you wait for a couple of months before you do so, you could impact your search visibility dramatically because of the continued “exact match” nature of search on eBay.

So instead of continually tweaking that listing that just won’t perform, optimize it.

And then do the unthinkable:

Leave it alone.

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.