In this article, we discuss the definition of eBay SEO, what has made SEO on eBay so necessary, how it helps to increase product listing visibility, 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 most other product promotion methods on eBay, which stop working the moment sellers stop paying for them, SEO pays for itself quickly and continues to work well after the project is complete.

But in spite of all the available information describing eBay SEO — from one-size-fits-all “ecommerce agencies,” to veteran eBay gurus who think they understand SEO, to faceless, rambling YouTube videos — the eBay seller community continues to languish over the basic question:  “What exactly is it?”

 

The definition of eBay SEO

eBay SEO (search engine optimization) is the methodical practice of increasing targeted organic traffic to eBay product listings as well as actively preventing their comprehensive removal from eBay search.

eBay SEO (search engine optimization) is the methodical practice of increasing targeted organic traffic to eBay product listings as well as actively preventing their comprehensive removal from eBay search.

SEO on eBay is unique in that it must both work to increase listing visibility within eBay search, as well as to diminish the effects of “listing displacement” — a chronic problem on eBay that results in product listings disappearing from search altogether.

Our approach to eBay SEO utilizes a blend of traditional “white hat” SEO techniques, including on-page keyword optimization, and tested optimization methods specific to eBay, such as technical compliance with eBay’s adoption of structured data.

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

 

What has made SEO on eBay so necessary?

In spite of the many improvements eBay has made to Cassini (its 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 best eBay sellers still have difficulty getting their listings to surface consistently for relevant searches.

Unfortunately, eBay has become a chronically oversupplied marketplace across many product verticals, which are unduly reliant on an ever-growing influx of new product listings.  At the same time inventory levels have reached their highest point in the company’s history, buyer demand in these categories has not been able to meet the increased supply.

Supply and Demand
Labeled for reuse, courtesy of Wikipedia

The problem of product oversupply on eBay is only further worsened by an abundance of counterfeit and China-based goods, a marked increase in the number of “arbitrage” sellers, and even purposeful efforts on the part of eBay to bring in large numbers of new listings in already crowded categories.

As a result, eBay is often drowning in its own inventory.

To make matters worse, eBay earned a Google manual action penalty in 2014, an historic event that predicated the need for eBay’s rollout of structured data and which continues to plague inbound organic search traffic.

eBay’s own ongoing SEO problems are accompanied by a persistent mythology among sellers that prefers 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 as central to eBay search rankings today as it was years ago for traditional search engines like Google.

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 critical role it plays on eBay cannot be overstated.

 

Structured data compliance

Under the leadership of CEO Devin Wenig, eBay’s relationship to its core business of small and medium-sized sellers was re-energized, artificial intelligence and machine learning became major transaction drivers, and eBay doggedly remained an open platform in an era of increased data protectionism.

But Wenig’s biggest project has been structured data.

In response to eBay’s search functionality having become “not sustainable,” Wenig led an initiative to improve eBay’s data organization starting in 2015.

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

His public interest in restructuring eBay’s product information and presenting it with a high degree of organization goes back to his first two months as CEO.

The multi-year process has continued to evolve over time, and each phase has brought the site closer to its ultimate destination of a robust product-based shopping experience.

eBay’s structured data “product pages” form the foundation of the restructuring process.  They are dependent on seller adoption of product identifiers and are responsible for grouping identical and similar items in search results.

Additionally, eBay’s new “browse pages” (sometimes referred to as “category” pages) make up the second half of structured data and continue to be pushed to search engines like Google as an attempt to increase inbound organic traffic.

Optimizing for structured data necessitates a form of technical SEO specific to eBay that involves conformity to eBay product categorization and the resultant product detail fields known as “item specifics.”  It is a process widely misunderstood among sellers and even some eBay executives, and its improper implementation can have devastating results on search rankings.

 

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.
  • Inbound linking from outside of eBay.
  • Taking keywords from listings that rank well.
  • A simple matter of following eBay best practices.
  • Hiring a freelancer with access to Terapeak.
  • Primarily concerned with competitor listings.
  • Asking yourself what buyers might search.
  • Manually ending listings and relisting them.
  • A mixture of auctions and fixed price listings.
  • Using a false sense of inventory scarcity.
  • Creating item description heading elements.
  • Saving images with keywords in the name.
  • Using 200 words in your item description.
  • A keyword-rich store name or categories.
  • Adding alternative text to description images.
  • 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.