Readers appreciated last year's article by Alice Delore on getting eBay item listings well-positioned in eBay search using Terapeak Research. Alice's article discussed eBay's Best Match search platform in general terms, but with eBay's Cassini search algorithm rolling out this year, sellers need details—not generalities—on how eBay's default search experience is poised to work in the future.
Happily, Todd Alexander, Director of Onsite Search at eBay.com.au, recently gave a presentation at the PeSA 2013 Internet Conference to help make eBay search placement more transparent for sellers. For attendees that hadn't seen a lot of concrete information about Cassini yet, Todd's explanations were illuminating.
What Cassini is All About
The key concept for understanding eBay search going forward is that its development is oriented toward using all of the data available to eBay to meet the immediate needs of eBay shoppers as they search for products to buy. eBay's goal is to treat search as a way to connect every shopper to the listings and sellers that are most interesting to them, as quickly and as painlessly as possible.
Four major factors will drive eBay's search ranking technology moving forward:
Relevance. Shoppers should quickly see the results that they intend to see and/or want to see, rather than having to dig through results that don't matter to them.
Value. Shoppers should always find that items in their eBay search results represent a good overall value.
Trust. Shoppers should see listings that they can trust, from sellers that are likely to serve them well and to generate return business for eBay and eBay sellers.
Convenience. Shoppers shouldn't have to work harder than is necessary for a pleasant and positive transaction, from the initial search all the way through to fulfillment.
To emphasize these factors, eBay's new Cassini search ranks results in a more sophisticated, data-intensive way than eBay search has done in the past. For years the listing title has been king at eBay, but with Cassini other dimensions of the listing and selling process can also play significantly into rankings—not just listing titles, but also catalog entries and item specifics, complete item descriptions, seller performance and customer satisfaction, as well as the performance of particular listings and products over time.
eBay is not focused on showing you, any other particular seller, or even any particular product to shoppers in response to a search. Instead, eBay wants to show every shopper the listings that are most likely to result in a completed sale with a high-satisfaction outcome. With Cassini, eBay will acomplish this using real data about buyer and seller behavior—and sellers should bear in mind that eBay has a lot of data about buyer and seller behavior on its hands.
Best Practices and Key Concepts for eBay Search
With this overview of Cassini in mind, there are some clear best practices and relevant tips about eBay search positioning that sellers need to understand. While the specific calculations and numbers involved in rankings will continue to evolve as eBay works to create the best possible shopping experience, these are the basic details and general strategies that will enable sellers to make eBay search work for them, rather than against them:
Use popular, relevant keyword combinations. Use the Terapeak title builder to help you identify good keyword candidates. Then, on eBay's front page, try typing phrases into eBay's search box, without hitting either your enter key or the search button. What you'll see for high-performing keyword combinations is a pop-up list of "suggestions" from eBay. For sellers, these suggested phrases are important—they represent actual, frequent searches from users and should be assumed to play a role in Cassini rankings. Try to make sure that your listing titles include phrases (same words, same order) from this list, and be wary of using too much space for keywords or keyword combinations that don't appear in it.
Be generous with catalog and item specifics data. The catalog and item specifics data in listings isn't just there to help shoppers make buying decisions any longer; it's also playing an increasingly significant role in eBay search rankings. Use the eBay catalog whenever you can, and fill out item specifics data as extensively and completely as you can. Add your own item specifics whenever appropriate to more completely inform buyers and more accurately represent your products. When in doubt, use Terapeak's competitor research tool to browse the listings of successful sellers in your product areas. Study the item specifics details that they use—then follow and improve on them.
Make accessible, interesting, attention-grabbing listings. With Cassini, eBay is weighing sellers and listings by comparing how many impressions they receive—how often they're seen, in other words—to the number of sales that they generate. This means that it's more important than ever to be sure that your listings actually hold attention and close the deal when buyers see them. Your goal is to get shoppers to click on your listings whenever they appear in search results, and to get them to actually make the purchase in each case. Sellers that do this will rise over time in the rankings, at the expense of sellers that don't do this. This means that more than ever you'll need great photos, clear, informative text, and whatever else it takes to turn shoppers on rather than off as they see your listings in results and click through to consider a purchase.
List stock gradually, as you actually expect to sell it. Because sell-through rates now figure into search ranking in this way, Cassini makes it a counterproductive strategy to post many more listings or items than you expect to be able to sell, simply to gain "visibility." Instead, be sure that every one of your listings is geared toward producing actual results—clicks and purchases—not just toward crowding your competitors out of search by any means necessary.
Focus on performance and being customer-oriented, not just on listing tactics. Cassini will tend to reward the attributes commonly associated with good-faith business practices, so it's more important than ever to do all of the little things well: pay your eBay selling fees on time, maintain strong detailed seller ratings, select appropriate categories for your listings that match eBay and customer intent, resolve disputes quickly, offer customer-oriented shipping and returns policies and practices, and so on. Doing these things increases trust—not just for you, but for eBay as well—and they'll likely result in better search placement over time.
Maintain consistency. With Cassini, eBay will be operating on a "what have you done for me lately" basis, using limited time frames for some of the ranking calculations involved. This means that it'll be easier for sellers that have struggled in the past to rehabilitate themselves, but it also means that it'll be easier for sellers to drop in search placement if they begin to get lax or sloppy about good-faith business or customer-centric listing practices. More and more, consistent sellers will perform consistently well, while inconsistent sellers will struggle to keep up.
Use both Terapeak and eBay Listing Analytics. Use Terapeak for eBay to understand supply, demand, sell-through, and the best listing practices for your products or markets, and use eBay's free Listing Analytics application, provided in conjunction with Terapeak, to help you to stay on top of the actual performance of your listings as you make them. To place well in eBay search, it will become increasingly important to be aware of and to create the best listings around, to operate with a solid understanding of the marketplace surrounding them, and to monitor your impressions, clicks, and sales on an ongoing basis to stay at the top of your game.
Putting it All Together
While reactions to eBay's initial Best Match launch and now to the forthcoming Cassini search platform have been mixed, with some veteran sellers bemoaning what they see as eBay's attempt to "game the system" in some way, the changes are actually motivated by the opposite idea:
eBay wants to create search results that simply make sense to buyers, that serve them well as customers, and that drive repeat business for eBay and eBay sellers over the long term. Buyers will see the items they're most likely to actually buy, from sellers that are most likely to keep them coming back to eBay the next time around. eBay isn't relying on whims or playing favorites; they're relying on a big and evolving universe of hard data about the things that actually result in long-term sales volume and customer satisfaction.
To make the most of eBay search going forward, sellers will have to adopt a new approach to eBay promotion—not "How do I get my stuff visible in eBay search at any cost?" but rather "How do I get eBay's data to show that my products are in demand, that I can make this sale, and that I can generate customer loyalty, for the benefit of myself and eBay alike?"