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.
Many of the techniques that are essential to effective eBay SEO would be considered outdated by the traditional search community.
Although query-driven entities and structured data are now fully-integrated components of eBay search, basic on-page keywords and even meta tag optimization also continue to be as important to SEO on eBay as they ever were.
To understand how the process of optimizing for eBay’s search engine, Cassini, differs from optimizing for Google, it requires a deep dive into the characteristics of eBay search engine optimization itself.
This article provides a basic framework for understanding the differences between eBay SEO and how search engine optimization is applied to webpages in general.
We will begin our examination of this important subject with those aspects sellers largely cannot influence.
SEO fundamentals controlled by eBay
A website’s Google search rankings are directly affected by the inbound links that point to it. According to a study by Search Engine Land, eBay’s backlinks outnumber Amazon’s by 77.8% at a staggering 4.8 billion.
The quality of these links provides an insight into the authority of eBay’s webpages (sometimes referred to as “link equity”) as well as the relevance of its content in the eyes of Google.
It is essential to understand that link building is a domain-specific endeavor.
Inbound links, including those that point to eBay store and listing pages, do not influence Google’s understanding of the individual seller, but rather of eBay itself. Sellers, then, are all equally limited to eBay’s 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. Inbound links to eBay pages do not influence Google’s understanding of the individual seller, 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 claims.
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. Our successful application of eBay SEO has never included a link building strategy.
Page load speed has been an important user experience (UX) issue since the days of the dialup internet connection.
But in recent years, it has become increasingly clear that Google favors websites with positive usability metrics — including page content that loads quickly.
eBay began focusing significant attention on page speed as early as 2012 with the development of Marko, its open source user interface library that helps “to greatly accelerate the performance of eBay’s pages.”
In 2016, eBay also launched eight million of its mobile pages using Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP) to assist in loading them faster.
According to Search Engine Journal, “eBay was the first major non-news site to deploy AMP widely in a production setting.” And 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.
Sellers who 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 an eBay seller’s SEO strategy.
Crawlable site structure and page content
One of the key components of traditional SEO is the ability of search engines to “crawl” the links and content of a website.
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 and the content may not be read by the search engine.
In spite of fairly clean internal linking, eBay’s site structure has long been an issue due to its historical lack of an organized product listing architecture. As a result, it has been difficult for buyers to discover all of what is for sale on eBay.
The site’s rollout of a unique structured data framework, as well as its successor known as “multi-aspect guidance,” are working to address this problem — with varied success.
In terms of page content, Cassini is able to read all of the text of eBay’s listing pages. Nevertheless, it remains primarily reliant on the product listing title as a judge of content relevance.
Alternatively, Google can easily discover the content of eBay listing titles and item specifics.
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 outside search engines.
Web address structure is still important in the process of optimizing pages for Google search. It 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 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 sellers 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 and other search engines 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 eBay sellers.
Besides the fact that eBay automatically renames all uploaded gallery images, the historical source for image data on the site is a combination of the page’s 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
Compliance with eBay’s usage of structured data is a critical element to the practice of eBay SEO.
Many sellers, who had never heard of structured data before eBay began rolling it out in early 2016, believe it is specific to eBay (or at least ecommerce).
In truth, the SEO community has paid increasing attention over the last several years to the implementation of structured data, particularly since the more 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.
Missed by most self-professed “experts” on the subject, the process begins with proper eBay category selection — not the listing item specifics. In our ongoing testing, we have discovered some items sold on the platform can be accurately associated with as many as four separate and distinct eBay categories.
Missed by most self-professed “experts” on the subject, optimizing for structured data begins with proper eBay category selection — not the listing item specifics.
Selecting the best category for SEO purposes requires determining eBay’s single “back-end category” for the product being listed. The process involves a study into eBay’s SERP refinements, its structured data “browse pages” for the product type, and the quality of the item specifics fields generated by the category.
On the other hand, our testing indicates blind reliance on the “Create your listing” category tool results in the wrong selection up to one-third of the time.
The listing’s item specifics are determined entirely by a seller’s category selection, and they must be completed in accordance with the requirements of eBay’s ever-changing search architecture.
For example, full usage of the exact options as seen in the provided dropdown menus is paramount to a successful application of eBay structured data optimization.
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.
The most significant useful meta tags to eBay sellers are the following:
Webpage titles, defined in the code by the title tag, are still relevant HTML elements in classic SEO. However, their exact influence on Google search rankings is a matter of debate.
In contrast, the title tag remains the most critical aspect of on-page keyword optimization on eBay because of Cassini’s demonstrable dependence on “exact match” keywords.
The title tag remains the most critical aspect of on-page keyword optimization on eBay because of Cassini’s demonstrable dependence on “exact match” keywords.
eBay sellers create both title and h1 (heading) tags for their listings when they write optimized listing titles, as the title is inserted by eBay into both tags. It is used as a primary keyword source by Cassini and influences when a listing will or will not surface in eBay SERPs.
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.
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. To our knowledge, this functionality never influenced Google SERP snippets or any other aspect of eBay SEO.
Sellers can, however, directly control their main store meta description. This is changed by modifying the welcome statement on their eBay store’s homepage.
By contrast, sellers’ 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.
To make matters more confusing, Google snippets specific to eBay pages derive their content from multiple sources — not just the respective meta descriptions.
For instance, the snippets for eBay store homepages typically consist of a cluttered assemblage of feedback rating details. Occasionally, this information is also accompanied by the first few words of the homepage’s meta description.
In addition, eBay profile pages do not appear to rank in Google search, while the snippets for eBay listing pages include either eBay category and subcategory data, item specifics content, or to a lesser degree, the meta description.
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 keywords from an SEO perspective can be broken down as follows:
One of the most foundational principles to search engine optimization is buyer search behavior. There are many tools for discovering and analyzing the words people search, and some provide terms specific to both Google and eBay.
In 2018, eBay purchased Terapeak, an analytics company known best in the seller community for its popular “SEO” keyword tool.
Incredibly, the tool obtains its keywords from (1) listings that rank well on eBay and (2) webpages that rank well on Google — ignoring search behavior entirely.
Notwithstanding all of the problems that arise from the assumptions inherent in the usage of this tool, it is imperative to understand that eBay sellers commonly believe keywords are seller driven.
It is imperative to understand that eBay sellers commonly believe keywords are seller driven.
Even worse is eBay’s consistent message to sellers on the subject of keywords — “Ask yourself what words people are likely to use in a search engine when looking for what you’re selling.”
Besides directly instructing sellers to simply come up with their own keywords, eBay also regularly tells sellers they need only describe the products they are selling when determining those keywords.
As with traditional search engine optimization, the heart of SEO on eBay is what buyers actually search. In addition, our rigorous testing has revealed that, although a listing’s keywords must all describe the product being sold, not all potentially descriptive keywords are beneficial for SEO purposes.
In fact, a significant factor leading to problems with listing visibility on eBay is sellers’ usage of descriptive keywords with no view to their impact on search.
On-page keyword usage
As stated earlier, the central focus of eBay on-page keyword optimization is the title tag.
Sellers are given 80 characters with which to create a keyword-rich title for each product listing. Once the keywords are selected, they must also be carefully repeated within the listing’s item specifics for on-page keyword repetition, utilizing both default and custom fields.
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 item description is much less important as a source of relevant keywords because of Cassini’s primary reliance on the title and the construction of the listing page’s internal code.
Additionally, in spite of what sellers have been told, the number of words used in the item description, as well as its keyword “density,” are irrelevant.
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.
Besides the many well-publicized innovations eBay is making in regards to their mobile app, the company continues to do a great deal of heavy lifting in the background to encourage the use of the eBay marketplace on mobile devices.
As a result, nearly 50% of all eBay transactions close on their mobile platform. And according to an official 2017 eBay OPEN workshop, 61% of all transactions are “touched by mobile.”
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.
To round out this section, products in new condition utilize a selection of the listing’s item specifics content as well as an excerpt from the listing’s item description. Used products feature a pairing of item specifics content and the seller’s item condition statement. (In order to view the listing’s complete item specifics data or actual 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 as well as prevent potential listing displacement.
SEO on eBay for mobile does not end there, however.
Like webpages, images can also be optimized for search engines. Most 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.
By taking bright and clear photos of just the item, sellers 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, sellers both increase their chances of being found higher in search results as well as converting page visits to sales by properly optimizing their photos.
eBay experimented with an early form of voice search technology called ShopBot, an artificial intelligence driven “chatbot” that enabled Facebook Messenger users to search eBay using vocal commands.
Although ShopBot was quietly discontinued in September 2018, it is reasonable to expect further innovations in this area based on eBay’s many other developments in the mobile arena.
For instance, buyers can currently check for the lowest price on eBay by asking to “talk to eBay” on any Google Assistant enabled device.
Sellers optimize for voice search on eBay when they properly align their listings with structured data.
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.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked influences on poor search rankings on eBay 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.
Seller practices still in use that violate eBay policy include providing contact information and outbound links in store and listing pages, adding text and other imagery to listing photos, creating duplicate listings with minor variations in the title, photos, and description, and stuffing keywords and irrelevant data into item specifics.
Some verticals, such as fine jewelry and “adult” 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.