In this article, we discuss the definition of eBay SEO, what has made SEO on eBay increasingly important, how it helps to improve product listing visibility and search rankings, and how it effectively combats the problem of listing displacement.

 

Contrary to popular belief, the most effective and cost-efficient method for marketing on eBay is SEO.

Unlike sponsored ads, which stop working the moment sellers stop paying for them, search engine optimization pays for itself quickly and continues to work well after the project is complete.

But in spite of all the available articles and videos claiming to provide tips and tricks on the subject of eBay SEO, the professional seller community continues to languish over the basic question:  “What exactly is it?”

 

The definition of eBay SEO

eBay SEO is the methodical practice of increasing targeted organic traffic to eBay product listings, as well as actively preventing their chronic disappearance from eBay search.

eBay SEO is the methodical practice of increasing targeted organic traffic to eBay product listings, as well as actively preventing their chronic disappearance from eBay search.

SEO on eBay is unique in that it must both work to increase listing visibility within eBay search results pages, as well as to diminish the effects of “listing displacement” — a natural, albeit potentially disastrous, function of marketplace search that results in product listings disappearing altogether.

In order to accomplish this, our approach utilizes a blend of traditional “white hat” SEO techniques such as technical compliance with eBay’s adoption of structured data (a topic no longer discussed, but one that is as important as ever) and on-page keyword optimization.

The application of SEO to eBay listings makes a measurable and directly attributable impact on seller metrics, such as impressions, conversion rates, gross sales, and total transactions.

 

What has made SEO on eBay so necessary?

In spite of significant improvements made to Cassini (eBay’s current search engine), and regardless of how well a seller’s pages may be designed to convert or comply with best practice, our data shows that even the largest eBay retailers still have difficulty getting their listings to surface consistently for relevant searches.

As the seller community has sought out solutions to this issue, reasons given have included eBay’s abundance of counterfeit and China-based goods, a marked increase in the number of arbitrage “dropshippers” across the platform, an ever-growing influx of product listings that simply do not sell, and even a whole host of conspiracies that do nothing but to serve as a distraction to successful selling.

The truth is, the real problem with eBay listing visibility — and why SEO is ultimately so important — lies in the company’s relationship to search.

The real problem with eBay listing visibility — and why SEO is ultimately so important — lies in the company’s relationship to search.

Several years ago, eBay earned a manual action penalty from Google that wasn’t cleared up until sometime in early 2020.  Although now removed from the internet, the misguided “SEO pages” experiment continues to greatly reduce inbound organic search traffic.

In response to the search penalty, eBay rolled out an initiative to structure its marketplace, and ultimately its standing with Google.

As part of its new data strategy, eBay created a product-driven “buy box” shopping experience — one that mirrored that of Amazon’s.  It failed miserably.

By this point, eBay was left with the hopeful success of its structured data “browse nodes” and its ability to improve the buyer search experience by actually reducing listing visibility via a technology known as “search index trimming.”

At the same time, a stubborn and pernicious mythology had developed among sellers that continues to prefer gimmicks and hacks over genuine SEO practices.

Enter the power of legitimate, measurement-driven search engine optimization — the ultimate weapon in the war for visibility in any online selling environment.

 

How does SEO increase listing visibility on eBay?

Instead of working against the platform and its limitations, SEO takes advantage of eBay’s strengths by making the most of its present structure — and by adapting to its continual changes.

Although it is true that search on eBay is in a regular state of flux (particularly in the area of structured data), opportunities for ranking improvements are real.

Increases in listing placement are made possible by the strikingly stable nature of eBay’s default algorithm, Best Match, and they have become progressively apparent since our rigorous testing began in 2010.

eBay SEO has proven to increase product listing visibility according to the following two strategic funnels:

 

On-page keyword optimization

In contrast to what some self-described “experts” have said, eBay SEO does not target the item description.

Although there are seven specific listing description requirements sellers must follow to prevent both conversion and search ranking loss, keyword optimization on eBay is primarily concerned with the listing title.

This will come as a surprise to many educated eBay sellers.

It turns out the long-standing belief — that eBay looks mainly to the title for a listing’s keywords — is actually true.

Because Cassini is still heavily dependent on exact match keywords, the precise content of the HTML title tag is still extremely important to eBay search rankings.

On eBay, minor search query changes with no effect on the meaning of a phrase can often have a tremendous impact on search results.  Combined with eBay’s closed set of competitor data, the opportunities for improved search rankings consistently outpace those in traditional search environments.

On eBay, minor search query changes with no effect on the meaning of a phrase can often have a tremendous impact on search results.

Keyword optimization, which has always been centered on the terms buyers actually search, is a bedrock SEO principle that has been in place since the beginning of the search industry.  Although its present relevance as a primary ranking factor to traditional SEO is not always agreed upon, the role it plays on eBay is undisputed.

 

Structured data compliance

Very few members of the eBay community continue to use the phrase, “structured data.”

However, in spite of the term’s connotation with Devin Wenig’s largely failed, “structured data initiative,” its relationship to seller success on eBay is as critical today as it has ever been.

As a result, the process of optimizing for structured data is at the heart of the practice of eBay SEO.

eBay structured data browse page
Screenshot of eBay structured data browse node

Structured data necessitates a form of technical SEO specific to eBay that involves conformity to the following:

  • eBay’s “back-end category” (as opposed to what eBay refers to as its “best fit” category),
  • The technology known as “search index trimming,” which effectively reduces the size of eBay’s visible search results,
  • And the resultant product detail fields known as item specifics, or more recently, “listing aspects.”

This process is widely misunderstood by sellers and even some eBay executives.

But its improper implementation can have absolutely devastating results on eBay search visibility.

 

What is “chronic listing displacement”?

Second only to improved search visibility, the most critical task eBay SEO performs for sellers is the prevention of listing displacement.  Product listings are “displaced” when they disappear entirely from eBay search results pages as a direct consequence of having failed to optimize them.

Product listings are “displaced” when they disappear entirely from eBay search results pages as a direct consequence of having failed to optimize them.

eBay has touched on this subject on numerous occasions, but its failure to drive home the severity of the issue has left sellers uninformed and still at the problem’s mercy.  Although clearly well-intentioned, eBay’s official communications on the subject of optimization are consistently mired in ambiguity, repetitiveness, and even misinformation.

The application of SEO is a methodical, step-by-step process that can be applied to any eBay listing (and to a lesser degree, any eBay store as a whole).  Its effectiveness is limited by factors such as product supply and demand, the seller’s eBay policy and best practice compliance, and how well sellers’ listings are differentiated from their competitors.

However, it is noteworthy how well fully optimized listings consistently perform on eBay, even in moderate product markets.

SEO is a legitimate, statistically provable methodology that makes demonstrable differences in product listing search placement.  And it is by far the best strategy for long-term success on eBay.

 

What is NOT eBay SEO?

We would be remiss in a discussion of the subject if we did not also mention what masquerades as eBay SEO.

Search engine optimization on eBay is NOT the following:

  • A Promoted Listings campaign.
  • The daily tweaking of product prices.
  • A dependence on top search rankings.
  • Titles focused solely on being descriptive.
  • Optimizing for one or two-word phrases.
  • Larger, square photos in search results.
  • A strategy focused on increasing watchers.
  • Inbound linking from outside of eBay.
  • Manually ending listings and relisting them.
  • Taking keywords from listings that rank well.
  • Creating duplicate listings to increase visibility.
  • A simple matter of following eBay best practices.
  • Hiring a freelancer with access to Terapeak.
  • Primarily concerned with competitor listings.
  • Regular updates so listings won’t go “stale.”
  • Asking yourself what buyers might search.
  • A mixture of auctions and fixed price listings.
  • Using a false sense of inventory scarcity.
  • A technique involving the “sell similar” feature.
  • Inserting heading elements into item description.
  • Saving images with keywords in the name.
  • Adding alternative text to description images.
  • Using 200 words in your item description.
  • Including a viewport meta tag.
  • A keyword-rich store name or categories.
  • Related in any way to RSS feeds.

This is just a sample of the pure mythology that surrounds the practice of eBay SEO.  As is the case with all search engine optimization, on or off eBay, the practice has always been about testing.

Any technique, regardless of its incessant repetition, is only as good as it stands up to proven, statistical measurement.