Search is one of the most fundamental, basic aspects of eBay, yet it can also be one of the most confusing, frustrating aspects of using eBay for many people. The eBay search system is as complex as it is essential to using eBay successfully, for both buyers and sellers. And the fact that it changes regularly doesn't make it any easier either.
There are many different aspects of eBay's search system that are important to consider and to incorporate into your listing and marketing strategy if you want to find success on eBay. For the purposes of this article, I've grouped them into 5 major areas: Keywords, Categories and Item Specifics, Product Information, Sorting, and Best Match.
I'll cover the first four aspects in this post, and I will save Best Match for my next post.
Keywords - Most buyers search on eBay by just typing in keywords as opposed to browsing through categories/item specifics, which makes keywords the most crucial factor in mastering the eBay search system. Fortunately, maximizing your efforts in this area can practically be accomplished by just creating a good title for your listing. That means using as much of the 55-character space as possible and packing your title full of popular, relevant keywords that describe the item you're listing. Just pretend that you're looking to buy this type of item on eBay, and think of what keywords you would type into a search field to try and find it. Then put those words into your title.
Besides that, make sure to avoid using any special characters in your title (that means no exclamation marks, asterisks, slashes, dashes, quotation marks, or things like "L@@K" -- which no one ever types into search fields anyway). Many special characters are themselves advanced Boolean search commands and can sometimes prevent your listing from showing up in its proper search results altogether. Besides, almost no one ever types any special characters into eBay search fields anyway.
Keep in mind that eBay's search system is extremely literal. If you put "Sz." in your title and someone types in "size", your item probably won't come up in their search results. Don't worry, though -- your title doesn't need to be clever, or persuasive, or even necessarily grammatically correct. It also doesn't have to be in a sentence form. In fact, the best eBay titles are long strings of good keywords separated by spaces. That's it.
Besides thinking of what you would type in to find the item you're selling on eBay, performing thorough, methodical market research on the items you're listing (before you list them, of course) can also help you determine some of the best keywords to use for your item titles. Most reputable eBay market research tools will provide you with the keywords which have historically been linked to the most successful listings for the products you're selling.
Categories and Item Specifics - Up until a few years ago, most eBay categories were extremely lengthy and included several sub-category levels within each main category. Fortunately, eBay decided to simplify and streamline their category structure. They removed the more specific, detailed sub-categories, and transferred these product specifications into their new Item Specifics feature instead.
Now, when you click on a main category name on eBay's home page, you're taken to the category hub page to choose a sub-category (or two at the most), and then you're taken directly to the search results for that category. Obviously, these search results would still be very broad, being within only one sub-category of the main category. So at this point, item specifics become a crucial next step in narrowing down the search results.
Since most people browsing through a category will want to narrow down their search results to obtain the most specific results possible, the way eBay search works now, people have to select options from the item specifics appearing in the left column of the search results pages in order to narrow down their results. That's a good thing, right?
Yes, it is, and that means you need to make absolutely sure that your listing will still appear in all of those narrowed-down search results within which it should appear. And the best way to do that is to fill out every single item specifics field when creating your listing, and as accurately as possible. Otherwise, you might completely miss the boat.
In addition, equally as important is that eBay has recently modified its search system to include a combination search process between keywords and categories/item specifics. That means if there's a particular keyword that appears in one of your Item Specifics fields but doesn't appear in your title, your listing will still come up in the search results for that keyword, even if the person typing in keywords doesn't include that keyword in their search, as long as he/she selects it as an Item Specifics option.
Product Information - Product Information is the fairly new term for what used to be called "Pre-filled Item Information", the eBay feature that allows you to type in a few keywords regarding your item as you're listing it, and see if eBay has information for that item in its database, often including stock photos. If eBay's product information search doesn't return any results for your product, that's perfectly fine. You can move forward with listing your item and you'll be just fine, because that means no one else listing the exact same item will be able to use product information either.
If, however, eBay's product information search does indeed return a result matching the item you're listing, it's essential that you include this information in your listing, since eBay has determined from its own research that items with product information included have a much higher rate of success than those without it.
Sorting - The different ways people can sort the search results on eBay can have an extremely important impact on where your listings will most likely appear in the search results, including how much prominence they'll receive near the top of the list of results on any given page. These are the different ways the search results can be sorted:
As you can imagine, the 2 most popular sorting options are "Time: ending soonest" and "Price + shipping: lowest first". This shouldn't surprise anyone.
So in order to make sure that your listings appear prominently as much as possible when people sort the search results according to these options, for the second sorting option, it's crucial that either your starting bid price (for an auction) or your fixed price are either very low (for the auction) or very competitive (for the fixed-price listings). That way you'll have a very good chance at displaying prominently in the search results for your item and category.
As far as the sorting option "Time: ending soonest", this can be optimized by researching the past history and success rates for the item you're selling. Most reputable eBay market research tools will be able to tell you on which day of the week do most people usually purchase this particular item, so you can choose the day and time to list your item that will coincide with that day and time and result in your listing appearing very prominently during that high-traffic time for your item, which almost always results in significantly higher sales.
The next most important sorting option is "Time: newly listed", because you can list your item on a particular day and time that will coincide with what the market research results indicate is the most high-traffic time for that item on eBay, and set it up so that your item appears prominently on the page of newly-listed items right at the peak time when most people wanting that item usually look for it in the search results. This can result in a huge increase in sales for you as well.
As far as the next two options on the list, you don't need to worry too much about them, at least as far as how to list your item to maximize its appearance and prominence in search.
Those sorting options (Price + shipping: highest first and Price: highest first) are primarily designed for buyers to use when they want to buy something indulgent and expensive, or for sellers who are doing market research to find out the ceiling indicating the highest price your particular item has sold for in the past.
The next sorting option "Distance: nearest first" can do very little to help your listings obtain greater exposure in the search results, since it only promotes your listings to people living in your area, which cuts your buyer demographic numbers way down. So all you have to do to cover this base is make sure you indicate your Item Location when you're listing it, and whenever someone in your area sorts the results using "Distance: nearest first", your items will automatically appear very prominently in those search results.
And I won't even comment on the last option, "Best Match", in this blog post, since it deserves its own, lengthy blog post, which I'll address in my next blog post.
eBay User ID: the auctionguru
eBay PowerSeller and Top-Rated Seller
Former eBay Top Seller Account Manager
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