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How does eBay work?

Being successful on eBay requires many elements. Starting with the basics, you must have products people want to buy, at a price which makes you a profit. There must be a reliable delivery system in place, and good customer services. After that the control passes to eBay, because they make the rules about how to sell on their platform, and they do not always make these rules clear. There are good reasons for that – if eBay detailed how the algorithms work then their systems would be easy to game and cheat. On the other hand, if sellers have no idea what eBay is looking for then they don’t know which areas to focus on, and good sellers will not do better than bad ones.

So eBay walks a tightrope of information, reinforcing the more obvious criteria for success such as make prices attractive, deliver quickly, treat buyers kindly, and keeps other aspects secret such as how they deal with copyright infringements or rogue buyers.

This can make it difficult to understand what parts of selling on eBay take priority.

In another post I go into more detail about the different options for advertising and marketing on eBay, but first I want to explain how eBay’s search algorithm works (as far as we know)

A very high percentage of sales made on eBay are through search results – buyers type in a few words into the search bar on the home page to find their item and then choose from the results. As with Google, the higher up search results your listings are the greater the chance of a sale, so matching what the search engine (called Cassini) is looking for is crucial.

But that’s not the only element. Broadly speaking, eBay will look at three areas: First, the account itself. Is it Top Rated? Is it declining, having more late delivery strikes month on month? Does it have a high percentage of non-selling listings? Have the listings gone stale? This all contributes to search positions. Second, eBay looks at the individual listings. Have they had good sales overall? Also recently? Are there free postage/returns, Click and Collect, fast delivery, good prices, many images, completed Item Specifics and so on? And finally eBay looks at the marketing. Is the listing Promoted and if so by how much? Are there Multi-Buys, Best Offer, a Markdown sale? All these angles are considered and measured and will determine the search position.

There is one final element which sellers have no control over, and even buyers can be hamstrung. This is the Personalisation option – buyers will be shown listings in their own countries first (usually) and eBay will note whether that buyer prefers auctions or Buy it Now, whether they filter by price and so on. This means that it is not actually possible to get an entirely neutral search result because it doesn’t exist – it’s always filtered by eBay. This is not generally a bad thing, as the whole point of this exercise is to match what that buyer wants with the best listing possible to make a sale – win win for eBay, seller, and buyer.

What does this mean for sellers trying to get to the top of search results? Taken in order, the account health is important, so trying to reach and retain Top Rated status is monitored closely. If Late Delivery strikes are an issue, then it’s important to show that the situation is improving. Stale listings need ending and recreating regularly, and keywords changed slightly if appropriate.

Listings need as many good images as you can get and offer the other options as above.

And finally it is important to use at least some marketing options.

The priority here is optimising and maintaining the account – eBay will not normally promote a listing if it is failing. The dreaded Below Standard status will see sales plummet by over 50%, sometimes more, because eBay will demote all listings to way down search results.

Once the account and all listings are fully optimised, marketing options must be used. It is possible to have good sales without advertising, but there is a glass ceiling that sellers will not get past without them. And because eBay is very keen on sales history, if your competitors outsell you because they are marketing and you are not, your search positions will gradually decline.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, check out my other insights into eBay by clicking here – eBay Blog

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