In this discussion of eBay SEO vs. Google SEO, we will take an opportunity to analyze several key features of classic search engine optimization and contrast them to the practice of SEO on eBay.

 

Several of the techniques essential to effective eBay SEO would be considered outdated by the general search community.

Although entity extraction and structured data-driven listing schema are now fully-integrated components of eBay search, basic on-page keywords and even meta tag optimization also continue to be essential elements of SEO on eBay.

Although entity extraction and structured data-driven listing schema are now fully-integrated components of eBay search, basic on-page keywords and even meta tag optimization also continue to be essential elements of SEO on eBay.

In order to understand how the process of optimizing for eBay’s search engine, Cassini, differs from optimizing for Google, we will need to take a deep dive into the characteristics of eBay search engine optimization itself.

We will begin our examination with those aspects sellers largely cannot influence.

 

SEO fundamentals controlled by eBay

Link building

According to a 2021 Semrush study we conducted, eBay’s backlinks continue to climb — now at a staggering 10 billion.

As a general rule, a website’s Google search rankings are directly affected by the links that point to it.

The quality of its inbound links provides an insight into eBay’s overall perceived authority (sometimes referred to as “link equity”), as well as the relevance of the site’s content in the eyes of Google.

In this context, it is essential to understand that link building is a domain-specific endeavor.

Backlinks, including those that point to eBay store and listing pages, do not influence Google’s understanding of the individual retailer, but rather of eBay itself.  eBay businesses, then, are all equally limited to eBay’s own sitewide link equity and content relevance and are not able to influence this relationship in any significant way through strategic inbound linking to their own store pages.

Link building is a domain-specific endeavor.  Backlinks to eBay pages do not influence Google’s understanding of the individual retailer, but rather of eBay itself.

In addition, none of our own testing in this area suggests linking to eBay listing and store pages from external sources affects rankings within Cassini.  Some eBay “experts” have claimed otherwise, but not one has provided actual data to support their assertions.

Although advantageous for sending targeted traffic to product listings as well as increasing an eBay store’s overall branding, link building is not a useful technique for optimization purposes on eBay.

As a result, our successful application of eBay SEO has never included a strategy involving inbound links.

 

Page speed

In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that Google favors websites with positive usability metrics — including page content that loads quickly.

Pagespeed
Labeled for reuse, courtesy of Flickr

eBay began focusing significant attention on page speed as early as 2012 with the development of Marko, its open source JavaScript user interface framework.  As of 2021, Marko “now powers the majority of ebay.com.”

In 2016, eBay launched eight million of its mobile pages using Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP) to assist them in loading faster.

According to Search Engine Journal, “eBay was the first major non-news site to deploy AMP widely in a production setting.”  By the following year, the number of eBay pages using AMP was up to 16 million.

In 2018, the emphasis on performance “took a backseat” to the “product-based shopping experience” initiative (PBSE), but it rebounded nicely in 2019 with eBay’s company-wide effort to increase processing speed — known simply as “Speed.”

By mid-2020, eBay had increased its above-the-fold rendering time by up to 13% (depending on the platform) and had improved average page load times to twice the speed of competitors like Target and Walmart.

Online businesses that follow eBay guidelines, such as by updating to HTML5 and using only HTTPS protocol links, will see an added benefit in the load times for their listing description templates.

However, overall page speeds are controlled by eBay and should not be a focus of a professional seller’s SEO campaign.

 

Crawlable site structure and page content

One of the key components of traditional SEO is the ability of a search engine to “crawl” a website’s own links and content.

If Google cannot find a webpage because of poor internal linking or see its content because of issues in its code, the page will not get indexed properly.

In spite of fairly clean internal linking, eBay’s site structure has long been an issue due to its visible lack of an organized product page architecture.  As a result, it has been historically difficult for buyers to discover all of what is for sale on eBay.

The site’s regular improvements to its unique structured data schema is working to address this problem — with varied levels of success.

In terms of page content, Cassini remains primarily reliant on the product title as a judge of the content relevance of its listing pages.

Although a typical search does not query the content of listing descriptions, eBay continues to increase the use of relevant recall to surface listings via structured data-provided keywords.

Alternatively, Google can easily discover the content of eBay’s listing titles, taxonomy, and item specifics fields.

However, our testing reveals the content of the item description, which is embedded in an inline frame, is not consistently crawled nor attributed to the listing itself by external search engines.

 

URL structure

Web address structure is still part of the process of optimizing pages for Google search.  It generally requires URLs to be simple, easy to crawl, and free of unnecessary characters.

From November 2005 to October 2018, eBay’s original and largely incorrect Learning Center SEO pages instructed all sellers to “include keywords in your URL strings, and place the most important keywords at the beginning of the URL.”

In spite of this advice, it has never been possible for eBay businesses to amend the web addresses of their listing pages.

There are as many as three core URLs used by eBay for every listing (not including the dynamic versions).  Each contains the listing’s item number and either all, part, or none of the listing’s title.

Each of eBay’s listing web addresses are simple in structure, and the code of each page utilizes the “rel=canonical” tag attribute to tell Google which URL to treat as primary.

 

Image alt text

The practice of saving images with keywords in the name is a time-wasting myth that has never provided any SEO benefit for online businesses on eBay.

Besides the fact that eBay automatically renames all uploaded gallery images, the source for the contents of an image is a combination of computer vision, the page’s surrounding content, and the alt text.

The source for the contents of an image is a combination of computer vision, the page’s surrounding content, and the alt text.

Image alternative text provides additional information concerning the content of an image to Google, and eBay automatically inserts the listing title as alt text for all gallery photos.

Image search engines like Google Images obtain their images from the eBay photo gallery, not the item description as eBay itself suggests.  Consequently, it is entirely unnecessary to utilize image alt text in an eBay listing template when photos are included.

 

SEO fundamentals controlled by eBay sellers

Structured data

Regardless of the fact that the term is no longer popular in eBay circles, “structured data” has been the focus of the SEO community for years — especially since the widespread adoption of Schema markup.

As a result, it has become especially important to optimize webpages according to how their data is organized and, consequently, understood by search engines.

Through the implementation of relevant recall, Cassini has become increasingly dependent on its internal structured data to understand the nature of what is being sold across its platform.

Consequently, it is no longer enough for eBay businesses to simply include the main descriptive terms in their listing titles.  Sellers must absolutely comply with eBay’s unique structured data framework to have any hope of appearing well in search results.

It is no longer enough for eBay businesses to simply include the main descriptive terms in their listing titles.  Sellers must absolutely comply with eBay’s unique structured data framework to have any hope of appearing well in search results.

Missed by most self-professed “experts” on the subject, the process begins with proper eBay category selection — not the listing’s item specifics fields.  In our ongoing testing, we have discovered some products can be accurately associated with as many as four separate and distinct “best fit” categories.

However, selecting the best category for SEO purposes requires determining eBay’s single “back-end category” for the product being listed.  The process involves a deep dive into eBay’s understanding of product entity, the resulting search refinements, and often the structured data “browse nodes” for the product type.

The resultant item specifics must be completed in accordance with eBay’s continually updated requirements, and full usage of the exact options as provided in the dropdown menus is paramount to the final stages of structured data optimization.

 

Meta tags

Meta tags are bits of text built into the code of a webpage that provide information concerning the page’s content.  When discussing meta tags, many think of the once-popular keywords meta tag.  The truth is the keyword tag has been obsolete for many years and is not pertinent to traditional or eBay SEO.

However, there still are some useful meta tags to ecommerce businesses on eBay.  They include the following:

 

Title tag

Webpage titles, defined in the code of the page by the title tag, are still relevant HTML elements in classic SEO.

The title tag remains an important aspect of on-page keyword optimization to eBay listings because of Cassini’s demonstrable dependence on “exact match” keywords.

eBay sellers create both title and h1 (heading element) tags when they write optimized listing titles, as the title is inserted by eBay into both tags.  It continues to be used as the primary keyword source by Cassini and influences when a listing will or will not surface in eBay SERPs.

 

Meta description

The meta description is an HTML element that summarizes the content of a webpage.  Meta descriptions are important as they sometimes appear as “snippets,” the descriptive text beneath the blue, clickable links displayed in Google search results pages.

DC Comics Meta Description
Screenshot of DC Comics meta description

The stated function of the now-defunct “Search Engine Keywords” feature in My eBay was to provide meta description content for an eBay store’s category and other pages.  In reality, this functionality never influenced eBay’s Google SERP snippets or any other aspect of SEO pertaining to the platform.

In spite of this, professional sellers can, in fact, directly impact their eBay stores’ meta descriptions visible in Google.  This is done by modifying the homepage welcome statement — now known as About Us.

By contrast, eBay profile pages display a static, universal statement in the meta description, and the meta descriptions for product listing pages utilize a random excerpt from the listing’s item description.

 

Keywords

The keyword phrases found on a webpage, and the context in which they are used, are both useful indicators to Google of the content and potential relevance of that page.

An analysis of eBay keywords from an SEO perspective can be broken down as follows:

 

Keyword sourcing

One of the most foundational principles to search engine optimization as a whole is query behavior.

Good eBay listing keywords, then, come directly from what buyers type directly into eBay’s search bar.

eBay directly collects this data via its autocomplete database, and its importance to eBay SEO cannot be overstated.

Unfortunately, most businesses on eBay are operating on the premise that their best terms are seller driven.

Serious sellers can gain a significant advantage over their competition by understanding the simple fact that the eBay community generally believes keywords should be taken from the listings of other sellers — instead of from the search behavior of buyers.

Serious sellers can gain a significant advantage over their competition by understanding the simple fact that the eBay community generally believes keywords should be taken from the listings of other sellers — instead of from the search behavior of buyers.

eBay’s own consistent message to sellers is to, “Ask yourself what words people are likely to use in a search engine when looking for what you’re selling.”  To make matters worse, this statement is rarely followed by a recommendation to do actual research.

Besides directly instructing sellers to simply come up with their own keywords, eBay also regularly refers to its product research tool, Terapeak, as a keyword tool.

While Terapeak’s primary feature is an excellent resource for researching the strength of any market on eBay, only genuine marketplace keyword tools are useful to the practice of SEO.

 

On-page keyword usage

As stated earlier, an important aspect of eBay keyword optimization is the title and h1 tags.

eBay retailers are given 80 characters with which to create a keyword-rich title for each product listing.

Since Google can easily read both the listing’s title and item specifics content, the same terms used in the former should also be the focus of the latter.

Doing so is not a mere process of “providing as much detail as possible,” but requires technical compliance with eBay’s use of structured data and an understanding of how to strictly avoid keyword spamming.

In contrast to conventional wisdom, the product item description is much less important as a source of relevant, on-page eBay SEO content than descriptive material generally is to traditional search.

Finally, in spite of what sellers have been told, the number of words used in the item description, as well as its keyword “density,” are completely irrelevant.

 

Mobile optimization

Buyers are increasingly turning to their phones to do their online shopping, and SEO practitioners utilize a number of different methods to optimize their clients’ websites to make them mobile friendly.

Techniques include improving page load speeds, instituting design responsiveness, and addressing usability.

Mobile Optimization
Labeled for reuse, courtesy of Pixabay

As a result of the significant innovations eBay has continued to make in regards to its shopping app, nearly 60% of all eBay transactions close on a mobile device.

In addition to the listing’s original title and gallery images, eBay’s mobile product page features an “About this item” section that functions as a surrogate product description specific to the eBay app.  In order to view the listing’s complete item specifics data or full item description, buyers must take an additional browsing step.

Mobile optimization on eBay begins, then, with an emphasis on exhaustive item specifics, a concise item description, and, when applicable, a thorough, well-written item condition statement.  Item descriptions must also meet several requirements to ensure their proper optimization for the mobile environment.

SEO on eBay for mobile does not end there, however.

 

Visual search

Like webpages, images can also be optimized for search engines.  Professional eBay sellers are familiar with the best practice of using numerous images in their product listings, but still too many do not fully optimize them.

eBay app features like Find It On eBay allow buyers to begin their search journey with a single photo.

By taking bright and clear photos of just the item, businesses on eBay can assist Cassini in surfacing their listings on both mobile and desktop platforms.

Although eBay does not require white backgrounds for product listing photos, the guidelines for Google Shopping highly recommend them.

However, techniques like cropping the backgrounds of photos or adjusting their shape for maximum eBay SERP exposure are not relevant to SEO or an effective use of time.

The computer vision technology that drives eBay’s visual search functionality is robust and continually evolving, and even some of the weakest photos appear to be easily crawled.

Nevertheless, eBay retailers both increase their chances of being found higher in search results as well as converting page visits to sales by properly optimizing their photos.

 

Voice search

The SEO community has been talking about voice search and its benefits for a number of years, but the technology has yet to find its true footing.

Nevertheless, in 2020, eBay developed its proprietary voice search product.

The technology utilizes eBay’s deep learning architecture and Google’s natural language processing to connect eBay’s shopping app directly to Google Assistant-enabled devices.

Voice queries are used to directly open the app and automatically connect buyers with specific functionalities that they have requested — including eBay search results, a buyer’s purchase history, and even buyer watch lists.

Sellers optimize for voice search on eBay when they properly align their listings with eBay’s structured data.

 

Policy compliance

A typical online study of SEO basics will not usually list compliance with Google webmaster guidelines.  However, one of the first orders of business in every good SEO audit is an overview of all Google policy violations.  Correcting the problems should, in time, help to improve overall search rankings.

One of the most overlooked influences on poor eBay search rankings is the individual seller’s lack of policy compliance.

One of the most overlooked influences on poor eBay search rankings is the individual seller’s lack of policy compliance.

More than half of all the clients we have served have demonstrated at least one significant eBay policy violation in their listing or store pages.

Selling practices still in use that violate eBay policy include creating duplicate listings with minor variations, providing contact information and outbound links in store and listing pages, adding text and other imagery to listing photos, and stuffing keywords and irrelevant data into item specifics.

Some verticals, such as fine jewelry and automotive products, have their own specific listing policies that, when violated, have dramatic results on eBay SERPs.

Although most sellers are aware of eBay policy and that violating it is said to hurt them in some way, the practice remains fairly widespread — and the result is entirely avoidable lower search rankings.