How eBay Promoted Listings Standard and Advanced Ads Work

A Standard Overview with Some Advanced Tips

How eBay Promoted Listings Work

This post covers how Promoted Listings Standard and Advanced work, and is also one in a series of posts discussing the influence of the recent Seller Update on eBay SEO.


The Promoted Listings ad platform on eBay has come a long way since I first wrote about its potential conflict with SEO several years ago.

This time around I’ve chosen to cover the current basics of eBay’s advertising platform, as the only impact the 2023 Summer Seller Update had on SEO and eBay search is in the area of Promoted Listings.

As usual, I strongly suggest that you read all of eBay’s seller communications for yourself.  But we can always recommend Richard Meldner’s article as a good overview of the latest update.

Now let’s get started on how this Promoted Listings thing works — and along the way discover the recent update’s effects on it.


Are eBay Promoted Listings worth it?

Other than used car part sellers, we do not primarily serve the reseller community.  As a result, I am not an expert as to whether Promoted Listings work well with pre-owned items such as fashion, electronics, and collectibles.

But for niche retailers with new products and multi-quantity listings, the question isn’t about whether sponsored ads are worth it.

The question is whether they wish to continue selling on eBay.

For niche retailers with new products and multi-quantity listings, the question isn’t about whether sponsored ads are worth it.  The question is whether they wish to continue selling on eBay.

The complex reality on eBay today is that — with a specific exception that we’ll discuss later — serious sellers must use some form of eBay advertising.

This is not how it once was even just a few years ago.

I used to consistently rail against the assumption that eBay sellers couldn’t rely solely on organic search rankings and had to pay for advertising to be successful.

In fact, I went as far as to say back then that I hated Promoted Listings.

One of the reasons why I was initially against sponsored ads on eBay was that I feared the site would be overtaken by the “pay-to-play” conditions found in Google search results.

While there are significant differences between the practice of traditional Google SEO and eBay SEO, the gap between the two platforms in terms of paid advertising has also diminished.

If sellers hope to remain competitive, they must adapt to these changes.

To be more blunt, most retailers on eBay who refuse to pay for any form of advertising will ultimately fail.

This represents a fundamental shift in our philosophy at List Rank Sell.

And it’s not one I’m terribly happy about, to be honest.

There’s more than enough to keep us interested, such as:

  • Researching every eBay search patent,
  • Testing eBay search on a weekly basis,
  • Analyzing everything eBay says about SEO and search,
  • And tearing to shreds nearly everything being said about eBay SEO across the internet,

that we would have gladly kept Promoted Listings on the back burner and continued focusing solely on perfecting our organic search optimization process.

But like our eBay SEO clients, we’ve also had to embrace the “new normal” — requiring that we become experts in all forms of advertising available on eBay.


The nuts and bolts of Promoted Listings

As I mentioned earlier, this article covers what we would consider to be a basic overview of eBay’s Promoted Listings Standard and Advanced programs — but I guarantee you will discover things here that you haven’t heard anywhere else.

The main thing to bear in mind about using sponsored ads in eBay’s present environment is that no one marketing strategy works fully independently.

A weak Standard campaign, for instance, will place a strain on the margins of a seller also utilizing Advanced ads.

In the same way, sellers who rely entirely on Advanced ads will, without question, spend too much on ad spend.

Thus, sellers must begin by understanding the relationships each ad model has with the other — as well as with SEO itself.

The answer to how eBay’s Promoted Listings work is that while Advanced (pay-per-click) ads are dependent on the quality of the campaign’s own keywords, Standard (pay-per-sale) ads are directly dependent on the SEO strength of each listing.

The answer to how eBay’s Promoted Listings work is that while Advanced (pay-per-click) ads are dependent on the quality of the campaign’s own keywords, Standard (pay-per-sale) ads are directly dependent on the SEO strength of each listing.

Since the rollout of Promoted Listings in 2015, I have often seen the interdependence of paid ads with eBay search rankings gravely overemphasized.

For this reason, I will be careful to be as clear as possible as we develop these important relationships.

And for the sake of the flow of the discussion, let’s begin with the hot topic at the moment.


Promoted Listings Advanced, aka eBay PPC

eBay PPC Ads (Promoted Listings Advanced)
Free image, courtesy of Pixabay

Pay-per-click (PPC) ads function a bit like an auction.

To quote the source of where SEO got its start:

“PPC advertising works by allowing advertisers to bid on specific keywords or phrases that they want their ads to appear for in search engine results.”

This advertising format requires sellers pay an agreed-to bid amount every time buyers click on their sponsored listings in search results.

Providing more detail than Google, eBay has made its pay-per-click ad algorithm public.  It consists of the following components:

  • Keyword quality.
  • Keyword relevance.
  • Your bid amount.
  • Other seller’s bids.
  • The reserve price.

(The reservice price is described by eBay as “the minimum amount we’ve determined a click is worth, taking item quality, competition, seasonality, and marketplace thresholds into consideration”.)

The keyword quality and relevance, as described above, come strictly from the PPC ad campaign — not the listing itself.

Because of this, there is no inherent relationship between pay-per-click on eBay and SEO.

It is critical to understand that, unlike Standard ads, eBay’s Advanced model does not use the title, item specifics, or any other content from the listing to determine what search phrases your ads show up for.

It is critical to understand that, unlike Standard ads, eBay’s Advanced model does not use the title, item specifics, or any other content from the listing to determine what search phrases your ads show up for.

Consequently, advertisers who use pay-per-click on eBay must keep weekly (then biweekly, and eventually monthly) tabs on the bid and sales activity of their ads.

I could do a whole series of post on how to do this properly, but that’s for another time.

What is important to know at this stage, however, is that all of the following must be true for an eBay PPC campaign to be successful:

  • The keywords must come from actual research — not from the list recommended by eBay.
  • The listings must be “hero” multi-quantity listings with a large inventory dedicated to that single listing.
  • The listings must be in an eBay product market with intense competition, requiring aggressive paid ads to quickly obtain top search placements.
  • The seller must have sizable margins to cover the higher costs associated with unpredictable buyer click behavior and time-consuming keyword research by listing.
  • The Advanced campaign must be accompanied by strong Standard ads, which are typically cheaper, easier to manage, and less affected by volatility.

The primary reason eBay PPC ads perform miserably is the group of terms the seller has selected.

I cannot stress enough that using eBay’s suggested keywords for your pay-per-click ads will result in bidding on phrases that are either largely irrelevant or simply too broad to be in any way effective.

Although no one is saying this, PPC on eBay requires that sellers conduct extensive research of the terms their buyers on eBay are searching.

These keywords will often differ from those searched on Google, and the phrases — as well as their corresponding match types — that we have discovered perform well are impossible to predict and frequently contradict what is widely accepted across the PPC industry.

The list above also helps us understand the relationship eBay’s pay-per-click ads have with pay-per-sale.

Because of their expense and accelerated nature, Advanced ads will not produce an acceptable advertising cost of sales (ACOS) without a complimentary Standard campaign to take the pressure off of bidding on keywords.


Promoted Listings Standard, aka eBay PPS

eBay PPS Ads (Promoted Listings Standard)
Free image, courtesy of Pixabay

Compared to pay-per-click, pay-per-sale (PPS) ads represent a more straightforward format.

We’ll quote another name in the industry with the definition:

“Cost [or pay] per sale, also known as cost per conversion, is the amount an advertiser pays for each sale generated by a particular ad.”

In this model, sellers only pay when a buyer actually purchases one of their advertised items — and at a percentage agreed to beforehand.

There are no costs specific to buyer clicks in eBay PPS.

In addition to Advanced ads, eBay has also revealed the details of the Promoted Listings Standard algorithm as follows:

  • Count of historical impressions.
  • Listing clicks.
  • Total transactions.
  • Number of competing promoted items in the same leaf category.
  • Item price.

eBay uses these components to calculate each listing’s suggested ad rate, which has become a more efficient feature over time.

This is particularly the case for our hands-on clients, due to the interconnected relationship pay-per-sale ads have with search engine optimization.

What makes Promoted Listings Standard ads effective is their dependence on the strength of your listings’ existing SEO, as opposed to Advanced ads that rely solely on keyword bidding.

What makes Promoted Listings Standard ads effective is their dependence on the strength of your listings’ existing SEO, as opposed to Advanced ads that rely solely on keyword bidding.

Although not an aspect of the stated ranking algorithm, eBay PPS ads pull their keywords directly from your listing titles.

So if your titles don’t contain the exact search terms you want your listings to appear for, neither your organic results nor your pay-per-sale ads will have an opportunity to rank — as they won’t show up in the first place.

If your listing titles are fully optimized, there is no research involved in setting up pay-per-sale advertising.

And the costs involved are much easier to manage than those associated with Advanced ads, as they are assessed at a rate controlled entirely by you.

Following are the most essential steps involved in setting up eBay PPS ads:

  • Include all of your listings in your campaign, unless you have listings with margins that are too low to justify paying a small percentage of the item’s total sale price.
  • Select “Dynamic” as your ad rate.
  • In the same dialogue box, elect the “ad rate cap” option instead of setting a straight rate for all listings (e.g., if your maximum ad rate is 5%, avoid paying too much in Standard ad fees by setting the cap to the same 5%).
  • Begin your campaign by testing at below the suggested ad rate, as we’ve seen great results at even half this rate.
  • Your ad rates will update automatically with these settings, so you need not check them unless your margins change and you need to update the cap.

Although successful and affordable eBay PPC ads are dependent on strong PPS ads, the reverse is not the case.

While only a handful of our present SEO clients use pay-per-click advertising, every one of them utilizes pay-per-sale.

At this stage in eBay’s evolution, we strongly recommend sellers at least test the running of a Standard ad campaign.

Bear in mind that, even with all of this due diligence, not all listings that qualify for one or both primary types of eBay ads will actually produce enough sales to continue including them in your campaign.

You will likely need to “weed out” some listings over time to avoid spending too much on your overall eBay advertising.


When eBay sellers need not use Promoted Listings

Before we briefly discuss the most recent seller update, I want to go over the one scenario in which we have personally observed businesses on eBay no longer need paid advertising.

The clients in question all had the same characteristics:

  • Sold items in new condition.
  • Used multi-quantity listings not prone to going out of stock.
  • Painstakingly avoided (or removed) all eBay policy violations.
  • Operated in a niche market with enthusiastic buyers.
  • Owned a brand recognizable to those who use their type of product.
  • Had gained significant search traction through strong eBay SEO.
  • Took advantage of PPS ads in the initial phase of their eBay marketing strategy.
  • Size and nature of existing competition on eBay does not require the use of PPC ads.

When all of the above are in place, testing has, on occasion, revealed that their organic search rankings have grown to the extent that even Standard ads are no longer necessary.

This won’t happen quickly.  It takes time.  And honestly, it’s rare.

But it’s something to keep in mind as a potential ultimate objective of your eBay selling efforts.


Summer Seller Update’s changes to Promoted Listings

Now for the promised analysis of how the recent seller update has impacted Promoted Listings Standard.

I think you will agree that there is far too little here from which to have built an entire post, like I’ve written in the past.


Dynamic ad rate expanded to all campaign types

As we discussed above, the suggested ad rate is central to the function of Promoted Listings Standard ads.

When eBay revealed a dynamic version of the rate, we were quick to adopt it.

This feature automatically updates each listing’s ad rate based on the parameters set by the seller.

With the release of eBay’s recent seller update, this new ad strategy is now available for all PPS campaign types — including simple, bulk, and automated.

(Note that the update does not mention bulk campaigns, but they also have access to the dynamic ad rate.)

Whether sellers opt to manually select the listings they wish to advertise, upload them using a CSV file, or include every listing in one large group, eBay now provides the option for having all pay-per-sale ad rates adjusted automatically.


Upcoming ad rate forecasting option

By some time later this summer, eBay will be making available a “forecast” feature that predicts the share of search visibility sellers can gain based on their selected Standard ad rates and daily budget.

According to eBay, the functionality will offer the ability for sellers to make adjustments to their PPS ad spending and view in real-time how they impact their maximum impression share.

Impression share is defined as the “metric [that] balances your chosen ad rate with the maximum possible impressions your ad could receive.”

Sellers will be able to access ad rate forecasting on both the campaign creation and campaign details pages.


Promoted Listings Express and Promoted Display

I would be remiss if I failed to round out this post by at least referencing the third and fourth types of Promoted ads, including another eBay pay-per-click model that we are hoping to test in the next six months.

If you run auctions — less than 10% of eBay listings do — then Promoted Listings Express may be an option.

Sellers pay a flat advertising fee based on the duration of the auction and the product category of the listing.

As with the other types of Promoted Listings, sellers must be at least Above Standard and maintain sufficient account activity to use Express ads.

We have never tested this ad format, so I have no idea if it’s effective.

However, the one new ad type about which eBay has thus far been extremely quiet has recently been named Promoted Display.

eBay Promoted Display
Screenshot of eBay’s Promoted Display ad feature

The photo in eBay’s description of this ad type is misleading.

Initially, I believed that sellers could choose whatever photos they wished for their Display campaign — such as two dudes standing proudly together.

But the ads actually feature listing photos, the eBay store logo and name, and the seller’s total number of transactions.

Promoted Display ads utilize the pay-per-click format and are featured in recommendation modules on other sellers’ listing pages in the same category.

As with every other ad format on eBay, the only way to discover if these new ads are worth it is to test them.

I just hope they don’t become another aspect of Promoted Listings that sellers must either choose to use or simply close up shop.

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.