eBay SEO Myths #1: Top Search Rankings

The Untruth So Many eBay Experts Believe In

eBay SEO Myths #1: Top Search Rankings

In this first in a series of eBay SEO myth-debunking posts, I’m tackling a subject near and dear to so many eBay “gurus” — top search rankings.


Let’s talk iPhones.

More specifically, let’s talk about generic cases intended for iPhones.  These are protective covers made specifically for the Apple iPhone but are not, themselves, Apple-branded products.

Over the last year or so, I’ve had consultations with multiple eBay sellers of this very product type.  In each case, the individual has strongly believed his version should be selling a lot better than it is.

Besides the fact there’s only so many ways to differentiate one generic case for an iPhone over another, the real problem is that there are just too many of the darn things for sale.

The search phrase, “case for iphone,” brings up well over 12 million listings on eBay.  It’s what’s known as an “oversupplied market.”

What makes the situation even more problematic, however, is that every seller with one of those listings wants to be at the top.

Which leads me to an important question:

What does it mean to be at the “top of search”?


The meaning of “top search rankings”

In traditional search, the “top results” are, at most, the top three to five organic listings (not including ads) found in a search engine like Google.

Top Three Search Results on Google
Screenshot of top Google search results for “immortal hulk”

As much as every SEO would like to get his or her client’s website on the first page of Google, doing so is not the same thing as getting them to the top.

In fact, when SEOs talk “top search rankings,” they’re usually referring to the actual top listing.  The very first organic result.

And it’s not just search engine optimization professionals that take the phrase, “top of search,” exactly as it reads.

Many past clients I have worked with have been adamant I get their products to the top of eBay’s search results, and they always — every time — mean the topmost position in search.

Top Search Result on eBay
Screenshot of top eBay search result for “the punisher”

It makes sense that sellers would take this phrase literally, because it already has an established meaning in the actual search community.

But it also makes sense because, honestly, it’s not a complicated concept to understand.

I mean, how many ways are there to interpret a simple phrase like, “top search rankings”?

You’d be surprised.


What the “experts” have to say

In a recent public discussion I had with Frooition, an eBay template design company and self-described member of eBay’s development council, I stated that top rankings are unnecessary for effective eBay SEO (which I will discuss later in this post), and their reply was the following:

“‘Top rankings are entirely unnecessary’ – for you, but not the opinion of 99.9% of sellers who very much want to get their listings seen.”

As can be inferred from this quote, the phrase, “top rankings,” is understood by at least one close eBay ally to be a catchall for the concept of listing visibility.

When we analyze a client’s “listing visibility” at List Rank Sell, we start by taking a close look at their impressions metric — a measurement of how often potential buyers are actually seeing our client’s listings when doing a search.

And that’s what listing visibility is.  Simply put: The more “visible” a listing, the more consistently it’s being seen by buyers.

But the process of getting a product to surface well in search does not require, and is by no means the same thing as, getting it to the “top of search.”

And yet, it’s what everybody seems to be talking about.


Who’s doing the talking

Besides my friends at Frooition, there are plenty of eBay gurus proclaiming the need for obtaining top search rankings.

Let’s quote some of them:

“A lot of sellers think about, ‘Are my listings ranking well in search?…Are my items in the top five search results on eBay?'” — Shefali Singla, eBay Senior Product Marketing Manager, from the official Selling on eBay podcast discussing Promoted Listings as a solution for not appearing in the top five search results

“You’re dead if you don’t show up in the top five spot.” — Craig Zimmer, Owner of Mobile PC, from an official eBay webinar entitled, “Price Guidance 101”

“There are several reasons you want to create your listings the right way. The first reason is for SEO…or in plain English, to get to the top of search organically.” — Suzanne A. Wells, veteran eBay guru, from her video entitled, “How to Create the Perfect eBay Listing for SEO”

“How we cracked eBay best match algorithm to appear at the top.” — Victor Levitin, Co-Founder of CrazyLister, a relative newcomer in eBay listing software

“We’ll walk you through the newest and best of these tools including…leveraging repricing technology to land the top spot.” — ChannelAdvisor, a popular eBay listing software company

“Getting to the top of search is, or should be, every eBay seller’s objective.” — Aron Hsiao, writer for The Balance Small Business

“eBay SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the art & science of getting your product listings to the top of the eBay search engine.” — Danna Crawford, PowerSellingMom, from a post entitled, “eBay SEO: The Ultimate Guide”

“How do you actually get your products to the top of Best Match?” — Chris Dawson, Co-Founder of Tamebay, from a lecture in which he claimed top rankings were achievable

“I own Best Match at eBay…If buyers love you, and you have a good, solid trading history on eBay, you will be near the top of search.  Simple as that.” — Todd Alexander, eBay Head of Customer Insight, from a heavily-distributed YouTube video

When I said, “everybody,” I wasn’t really exaggerating.

Now that we’ve established the subject is popular with eBay experts, let’s talk about the one topic they all leave out of the discussion.


It’s all about the keywords

If there’s one constant in SEO, it’s got to be keywords.  Even the weakest practitioner is going to be heard discussing them.

So you know you’re talking to a really bad search “expert” when he or she fails to mention the keywords for which they claim they can rank you.

They’ll just talk to you about guaranteed “top search rankings.”  Not the phrases they’ll be targeting.

And that’s exactly what we’ve got in the eBay community — a whole lot of talk about the top search spot, with hardly a single reference to specific keywords.

The sellers I described at the beginning of this article all wanted to appear for extremely broad (known as “short tail”) terms like, “case for iPhone.”  As I mentioned, there’s over 12 million listings for that phrase.

But even if you were to narrow the search to shockproof, silicone cases for the iPhone 8 Plus, you’re still competing against more than 113,000 listings.

Do sellers actually believe it’s necessary to appear at the top of 113,000 listings to be successful on eBay?

Unfortunately, I have spoken with many who do.

But the good news is, this “top of search” requirement that everybody’s talking about — is a myth.


The actual goal of eBay SEO

In my six years of working as an eBay SEO, I have managed to achieve actual top search rankings for converting search phrases a handful of times.  In one particular case, I was able to obtain the first or second search result for at least 89 relevant, short tail terms.

Top rankings have sometimes happened, but they have never been the focus.

Because they’re simply not necessary.

The end goal of eBay SEO is not to obtain top search placements, but to increase a seller’s performance metrics.

These include impressions, listing views, click through rates, sales conversion rates, and ultimately, gross sales and total transactions.

The end goal of eBay SEO is not to obtain top search placements, but to increase a seller’s performance metrics.  These include impressions, listing views, click through rates, sales conversion rates, and ultimately, gross sales and total transactions.

As listing performance improves, so will listing rankings.

Increases in rankings trigger additional sales, and additional sales, in turn, trigger even further improved rankings.

It’s a cycle that plays out over and over again, and it’s an integral part of the eBay optimization process.

So it’s not as though a listing’s search ranking has nothing to do with eBay SEO.  It does.

Heck, it’s even part of our company name.

But the notion that sales can’t increase, even dramatically, without top search results is simply not true.



When the “experts” tell eBay sellers that top search rankings are a required component of successful selling, they are not only speaking an untruth, they are setting sellers up for defeat.

Because sellers generally take the concept literally (as they should), the perceived need for obtaining the topmost placement in search becomes a barrier to success.

“How can I compete?” is something I hear sellers ask all the time, and it’s usually accompanied by a despondence in their voice.

My answer is always the same:

“You optimize your listings for increased visibility and reduced displacement.

And you don’t need top rankings to do it.”

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.