EBay Search Visibility Report and Best Match Analysis Broken, Worthless

4 Oct

EBay has introduced the (not so) much heralded “Search Visibility Report” as part of the new Seller Dashboard update.  To access it, simply go to “My eBay,” mouse over “Account,” Click “Seller Dashboard” and look on the far left for “Search Visibility Analysis” under “Reports. 

EBay Seller Dashboard October Update

The report is supposed to give you insight into how eBay calculates your listing placement in Best Match search.  You can also type in various keywords to find out what page your listing will show up on. When it was first announced it sounded like it would be a helpful tool.  Unfortunately, like all new things eBay, at best it doesn’t work and at worst the information it provides is completely worthless.

One of my favorite guides of all time is How to Raise Your Listing and Gain More Visibility in eBay Best Match Search.  Follow these steps and you would find your listing at the top of search results every time (pending you follow the other 3,000 pages of advice on this website).  As part of the October update, eBay is mysteriously tweaking the “Best Match” algorithm.  For one reason or another, eBay won’t tell anyone how it decides what listings go where or what exactly you can do to raise your listing in search results.  Time will tell what changes they’ve made as sellers try to adapt, and in the process lose money on listings that are never seen by anyone other than their mother.

Let’s have a look at a Fixed Price listing that has been relisted after the first 5 items sold out. To run your own report, simply find the item number of a current listing and input it into the report creation box or select a category to run a report on all of the listings in that category:

EBay Search Visibility Report

Ok..we know the price and we know whether or not we’ve set free shipping so that isn’t much help.  If we click the little question mark icon next to each topic we get a little explanation of what eBay may or may not be thinking.  Next to “Free Shipping Boost” it says:

“If you offer free shipping you may be raised in search results. However, this boost does not apply to all listings or all categories.”

Cryptic as usual.  Luckily our listing in Clothing gets a boost.  Fair enough – we knew offering free shipping previously gave a huge boost in search results.

Next up is “Sales/ Impressions” with the explanation:

“The ratio of sales to the number of times the listing has been displayed to members in search results (using the midpoint of the impression range). This is a measure of how relevant members perceive the listing is to their search.”

This is where things get a little bizarre.  First of all, if all of the buyer’s search terms aren’t in your item’s title then the listing won’t show up at all. For example, if your title is “Abercrombie Jacket” and a potential bidder searches for “Women’s Abercrombie Jacket” then your listing won’t show up in their search results even if what you’re selling is precisely a women’s Abercrombie jacket.  Conversely, if a bidder searches for “Women’s Abercrombie Coat” and your title is “Women’s Abercrombie $250 Wool Parka Jacket,” then your item won’t show in the buyer’s search results even if you’re selling precisely what the buyer is actually searching for.  Occasionally all of the keywords don’t necessarily need to be present though, which is also a bit contradictory (sorry, but things like this aren’t my fault).  For example, if you run a search for “Nintendo Wii,” eBay will return listings that do not have “Nintendo” in the title.  Don’t ask me how or why eBay makes this distinction especially because it makes it easier for sellers to stick “Wii” in items that have nothing to do with the Wii.

Ideally, sellers want their listings to show up as often as possible in order to reach as many bidders as possible.  There has always been a fine line between writing a “good” title and “keyword spamming.”  Keyword spamming occurs when a seller lists a bunch of keywords in their title that have nothing to do with what they’re actually selling.  For example, if I was selling a broken first generation IPOD I might write my title as “IPOD 30 60 80 120GB CLASSIC NANO TOUCH IPHONE ZUNE CASE HD.”  Clearly, I am using a bunch of keywords that have nothing to do with the actual item in order to get as many views as possible.  This has always been against eBay policy and if I did something like this I could look forward to getting the listing removed along with a matching policy violation.  What eBay appears to be doing here is make it so keyword spamming is counterproductive, at least as far as placement in Best Match search. In addition, eBay appears to be penalizing sellers for using titles that yield the highest number of relevant search impressions unless those impressions translate into sales.

Thanks to 21st century data collection, eBay knows how often your listing shows up in buyer’s search results.  What we don’t know is whether or not the bidder actually ever makes it to the listing.  If my item is one of 32,981 listings and it appears on page 175 of search results does eBay count it as an impression?  If the buyer purchases the very first item in search results and doesn’t even notice mine is cheaper, better quality, and ships faster, does eBay still count it as an impression?  Is it my fault that bidders search for irrelevant terms?  Is it my fault no one even trusts anyone on eBay anymore and no one is buying?  Is it my fault Best Match search is based on a stupid algorithm in the first place?  What is a “good” Sales/Impression ratio? Is it a set percentage in each category or some overall number? How important is this information?  Who knows!

The larger problem here is that the information listed in the report is inaccurate and as you run reports on your own listings you will notice the same thing. The listing used in this example has five original sales and three sales from the current listing, for a total of eight. The report doesn’t reflect these sales; nor does it reflect the past page impressions or clicks. On several of my other relisted Fixed Price listings the past sales aren’t noted at all. One of those listings also has five previous sales and three current sales and the sales are listed at two which isn’t true about the past listing or even the current listing! It’s unclear whether eBay uses this same information to actually place listings in Best Match search, but we have to assume eBay isn’t purposefully feeding us bogus information (????) If eBay isn’t even using valid sales data then how can Best Match Search work successfully?

Next up is “Seller Performance.”  You may have noticed on your Seller Dashboard that there is no longer a “Raised, Standard, and Lowered” search standing.  That’s because your Seller Performance no longer raises your items in search standing unless you’re a Top Seller.  At this time I’m not sure if you’ll be lowered if you aren’t “Above Standard” because I don’t have any accounts like that currently, but maybe I’ll try to lower one for research purposes.  I don’t recommend buying any tapered shirts from User ID AClockWorkOrange for the next 7-10 days.  How much does Top-Seller status raise your listings you ask?  We don’t know because eBay doesn’t say.

The problem with only raising listings from Top-Sellers is that there are plenty of great sellers who for one reason or another are excluded from “Top-Seller” status.  Many of these sellers simply had one bad buyer who bought six items and left six “one” ratings and ruined the seller’s star rating percentage.  Others have received bogus listing violations or don’t have the required 100 transactions.  Either way, no fee discounts or preferential search standing for the great majority of sellers on eBay is not the motivation many sellers need to offer this so-called “excellent customer service” that all sellers are supposed to strive for. Many deserving sellers have been skipped over while other sellers are awarded Top-Seller status with hundreds of negative feedback and a history of shifty selling practices. When eBay ran their free shipping promotion and gave a discount to sellers who offered free shipping thousands of sellers fell in line and offered free shipping. Now that eBay has discontinued that promotion there is less motivation to offer free or even reasonable shipping.

“Unique Click-Throughs” is up next, defined as “The number of clicks on a listing from search results. Duplicate clicks are not counted.”  This is pretty straight forward but it doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know.  I assume that the hits on your item don’t matter much in Best Match because it’s supposedly based on sales.  Nonetheless, in case you didn’t want to click on an individual item to check the hits counter you can see those hits here too.

Next up is another percentage – “Unique Click-Through Rate.”  Is it starting to seem like some intern is trying to show off what they learned in remedial mathematics to anyone else?

“The ratio of click-throughs to the number of times the listing has been displayed to members in search results (using the midpoint of the impression range). This may indicate your listing’s appeal in search results.”  Ok…….I guess.  It may tell us something or it may not tell us something.  EBay may use this number to decide where to put your livelihood or it may not.  Thanks report!

We know the number of watchers and the number of sales.  The final “Other Factor” is “The percentage of unique click-throughs resulting in sales. This is an indicator of your item page’s effectiveness.”  We could figure this out ourselves if we wanted to by simply dividing sales and page views.  Nonetheless, the brains behind eBay have calculated it for us. All you have to is pay 15% of your revenue.

Not exactly the most helpful report I’ve ever seen.  From the looks of it, the bullets listed under “Best Match Factors” would obviously be the most important.  I’m not sure what price has to do with it since eBay couldn’t possibly figure out if what you’re selling is a “good” price or not.  Free shipping seems to still give a solid boost, but it’s unclear how much.  The sales/impressions as a major factor is interesting because it’s unclear exactly what a seller could do to improve that percentage other than sell for a loss or write nothing in the item title other than a specific model number or something. Even a specific item title will have general terms like “camera” or a common brand name like “Canon.”

So called “Top-Sellers” seem to get a serious boost in search standing.  For example, a search for “Canon EOS” results in 15 of the top 25 items from Top-Sellers.  Of those 15, nine offer free shipping.  A search for “Nintendo Wii” returns only four of the top 25 items from Top-Sellers.  Fifteen of the first 25 results offer free shipping.  Interestingly, the first item listed was item 330364763012, or “Dirt 2 (Nintendo Wii) – Codemasters – BRAND NEW.”  The item ships for $3 and there is no actual picture of the item or any original content or any mention of selling terms or conditions.  Odd search returns like this make me wonder how the eBay algorithm actually works.  Sure, the item is probably fine, but why does eBay assume that some random video game is what I’m really searching for and what is so special about this item in particular that it’s listed first?  Even stranger, Item 400075816190, or “Major Minor’s Majestic March (Wii)” was also returned on the first page.  First of all, the title does not include the “Nintendo” that I searched for.  Second, the game is used, horribly reviewed, the seller doesn’t accept returns, the listing only has 14 views, and shipping is a ridiculous $9+.  The bidder could have purchased the game brand new from Amazon for 92 cents more.  Why on earth is that item listed on the first page of search results?  It appears that eBay is currently favoring auctions based on ending time, rather than any kind of algorithm.  If you look at a page of search results you’ll notice that they’re mostly in order of ending time with a few Buy It Now listings from Top-Sellers thrown in.  It’s unclear if this will continue or if we’re simply between when the new Best Match algorithm will be implemented and the old algorithm will be phased out. Taking away a set “Raised, Standard, or Lowered” search standing may actually level the playing field for most as the great majority of sellers do not qualify to be Top-Sellers.

The goal of Best Match search is to bring the cheapest, most relevant products from the best sellers to the top of search results so buyers can have the best eBay experience possible.  Unfortunately, eBay cannot possibly figure out who the real “top” sellers are or what items buyers are actually searching for with some automated algorithm.  As evident by our bizarre “Nintendo Wii” search, eBay returns items that are not in demand from sellers with less than stellar feedback, ridiculously high shipping charges and no returns.  At this point, it doesn’t seem like eBay has made any meaningful changes to Best Match search that actually translates into a better shopping experience for the buyer. For sellers, the added confusion will simply make it more difficult to write successful listings and convert sales.  The new Visibility Report is inaccurate and unhelpful.  Overall, I am not impressed.

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