This post is by Carlo Silva, founder of ecommerce outsourcing company 2nd Office. Carlo has 16 years of experience selling on eBay and is a former eBay Titanium Power Seller.
UPDATE January 2017: this second edition has been completely reviewed and revised, with three new tips added.
Do you remember the days when you as a seller could leave negative feedback for bad customers?
Do you remember the days when you could list multiple listings and flood eBay’s search engine with auctions, Buy It Now listings and get tons of sales?
This is when eBay was still using their search engine called “Voyager,” which was built around 2002. Voyager was clearly more about the seller and not so much about the buyer because, if you knew how Voyager worked, you would be banking in on all the sales.
If you’re an old school eBay seller like me, then you experienced the glory days of eBay from the early 2000’s to 2008. I still remember those days. I also remember when everything started to change.
- How it all started
- What exactly is Cassini?
- What does Cassini want?
- How do eBay buyers search?
- 1: Optimize your titles with relevant keywords
- 2: List using GTC (Good ‘Til Cancelled) – with a twist
- 3: Out of Stock Inventory Control
- 4: Use scarcity
- 5: Offer the most value for your listing to stay competitive
- 6: Create a sale
- 7: Maintain your DSRs and feedback
- 8: Use auctions
- 9: Drive outside traffic to your eBay listings
- 10: Use the eBay catalog
- 11: List in the correct category
- 12: Fill in all of your item specifics
- 13: Answer eBay messages within 24 hours or less
- 14: Price your item to be the lowest for every new listing
- 15: Use a mobile responsive and branded listing template
- 16: Optimize your listing for conversion
- 17: List using variations
- 18: Create combo items for maximum search exposure
- 19: Use plenty of high-resolution photos
- 20: Qualify for Google Shopping
- 21: Use subtitles on your best selling products
- Putting it all together
How it all started
It was in 2008 when eBay’s marketplace started to change and the company implemented detailed seller ratings (DSRs). Prior to this, it was just about getting feedback from buyers and also leaving feedback for buyers. If you had more positive feedback compared to others in your category, you would have better rankings in search and better conversion rates. Ultimately, customers looked at feedback to make their buying decisions.
Back then, sellers had the power to leave negative feedback for buyers and feedback was the only metric sellers were rated on. Those good old days are long gone. With the new DSRs in place, buyers are asked to rate sellers in four different categories with a score of one to five stars, five stars being the highest. These ratings were anonymous, so as a seller you had no idea who would give you bad ratings. If you had a rating of 4.3 or below in any of the categories you would be penalized in search. Powersellers were required to have a rating of 4.5 in each category.
Sellers who were not ready for this were heavily affected by this change. Back then, software choices to help you manage your eBay business were limited – they were either really expensive or they weren’t any good. Long story short, most businesses had to change the way they operated to be successful on eBay.
There were numerous other changes from 2008-2012, the most significant would probably be “Top-rated” seller status. Being a Top-rated seller meant you would have gotten 30%-50% more sales compared to standard sellers. Some businesses lost half of their revenue over the next few days after Top-rated seller status was put into place.
Fast forward to 2012, eBay began testing a new search engine called “Cassini”. In 2013, eBay began to roll out Cassini as the default search engine. This was another major change that affected eBay sellers worldwide.
What exactly is Cassini?
Cassini is eBay’s new search engine that was rolled out in 2013. If you have been an old school eBay seller and your sales have never been the same since then, you have probably not changed your listing style to accommodate the needs of Cassini.
Prior to Cassini was “Voyager,” and with Voyager the typical seller strategy was to make multiple listings with different keywords in the title and item specifics. Sellers would make multiple listings of the same product and dominate the search results. With Cassini and eBay’s duplicate listing policies in place, however, those days are long gone and I’m sure you’ve noticed that already.
eBay likely put these policies into place for several reasons, including:
- They wanted to limit the number of duplicate listings in their marketplace, making it easier for a customer to find products.
- Google made changes to their search engine penalizing websites with duplicate content.
Just like Google’s search engine, Cassini is all about relevance and the customer. Cassini reflects how much value you can offer the customer as a seller.
What does Cassini want?
- Relevant content (product title, description, images, categories, item specifics)
- Value for buyers
- Top-rated to above standard seller ratings
In a nutshell, Cassini wants to deliver products to buyers at the best price, from the seller who can provide the best service.
How do eBay buyers search?
eBay buyers search for the keyword and then they will use the refine feature (on mobile) or start choosing item specifics on the left side (on desktop) to help narrow down the listing even further. They will also choose a category to drill down the results even more.
Descriptions are more relevant for conversion in Cassini and not necessarily keyword matching directly. By default, “search in description” is not turned on, and is hidden under the more tab on mobile, and unchecked when browsing via desktop.
Now that you have the background, I’m going to give you 21 tips on how to succeed selling on eBay’s Cassini search engine.
1: Optimize your titles with relevant keywords
The maximum character count for eBay titles is 80, so be sure to pack the title with relevant keywords for your listing and if able, maximize the character count without keyword spamming!
Example of a good title:
This listing uses all relevant keywords (brand name, engine size, material, vehicle year). The listing also showcases that the product comes with a lifetime warranty through the use of a subtitle.
Example of a bad title:
Why? The keywords “free coolant” shouldn’t be in the title. A customer looking for coolant isn’t looking for a radiator, most likely he already has a radiator. This will bring down the listings ranking, because he’s getting irrelevant traffic to his listing. The seller should have put “free coolant” in the subtitle or created a new image with the coolant next to the radiator.
This would have been a better image to use to showcase the free coolant. By using images, you will avoid keyword spamming and still get the same message out to your customer.
These listings above are perfect examples of keyword spamming.
- Example 1: LLBean t-shirt title says “Looks similar to Ralph Lauren”
- Example 2: keen Vibram sliders says “Similar to Crocs Style”
- Example 3: NOS Vintage Sunglasses says “Similar to Oakley”
DO NOT keyword spam by using keywords that do not directly relate to the item. For example, selling an unbranded pair of jeans from China with a listing title that says “Similar to Levi’s”. Why would people do this? So they can get traffic from the keyword “Levi’s”. Does this actually give you sales? Not really, and you will get demoted in eBay’s search for keyword spamming, since the actual pair of jeans are not the Levi’s brand.
There are a few software solutions I can highly recommend for building eBay titles, including Terapeak and Title Builder. Title Builder is free and shows you the best-ranking keywords buyers are searching for a particular product. Terapeak is paid and starts at $19.98 per month, but gives you more insights on the eBay marketplace including top-selling products and the number of items sold for a particular product.
Terapeak, hot product research results:
You can also use eBay’s search suggestions to find out what buyers are searching for. If you start typing in “playstation 4 dualshock”, for example, eBay will show you the most frequently searched related terms. You can then use the same exact words, in the same exact order, to begin your title building.
The goal is to find the most targeted, accurate and niche keyword the eBay audience is already using to search on the marketplace, and embed those in your item title. This will increase discoverability and conversion. The goal is not to necessarily drive a high amount of traffic. Conversions are more important to eBay’s search engine than views.
NOTE: When using eBay’s search box for keywords, know that this process works well with popular branded products, but not so well with other products, because eBay doesn’t have enough search data.
2: List using GTC (Good ‘Til Cancelled) – with a twist
Good ‘Til Cancelled (GTC) is when eBay will automatically re-list your items every 30 days. You should list using GTC to retain sales history. The more sales and watchers a listing has, the higher it will go up in search. This means that your listing has good buyer engagement.
The twist is, what about listings with no sales after 30 days? You need to END these listings and re-list them. Why? Because it will re-index the listing and wipe the previous history of bad buyer engagement. Once relisted, your listing will show up as a “new listing” and be on top of search while Cassini gathers data on it.
Before relisting though, you need to figure out why your listing had buyer engagement and fix those issues. You need to ask yourself did the listing have a bad product title? A bad image? Is my pricing competitive? Is my description speaking to my customer? Did I fill in all my item specifics? Did I list in the correct category? If you can figure it out, you’re on your way to a better listing. I explain most of this in the tips to follow.
Bottom line is, if the listing gets good buyer engagement, it will stay up at the top. If it gets bad buyer engagement, it will be pushed down. So make it a habit to always end and re-list items with no sales after 30 days.
NOTE: When re-listing, make sure you use the “Sell Similar” function rather than “Relist”. This way, you’ll get a new eBay item number with fresh stats.
3: Out of Stock Inventory Control
eBay has a feature called “Out of Stock Inventory Control,” which allows your listing to stay live and active even when there is no inventory available.
If you have a sales history, for example, of 100 items sold then you run out of stock, your listing will end automatically and you will lose all of your sales history. You don’t want to lose that, because eBay sees items with a lot of past sales as a good thing. If you lose your sales history you start at zero again, lose your search rankings and – if your competitor has an established sales history – his product will have a better chance of showing up first. Buyers also like to buy from listings with a lot more sales. It shows that the seller has a proven track record of delivering goods to their buyers.
With the Out of Stock Inventory Control feature turned on, however, the listing will say “out of stock” instead of automatically ending, thus retaining your sales history. This feature is available in most third-party listing software and available in eBay’s account settings under “selling preferences”. The preferred method is to use eBay’s own out-of-stock feature.
4: Use scarcity
Scarcity gets customers to buy your product. A good strategy that can be combined with out of stock inventory control is what I like to call the scarcity trick. In this, you will use your 3rd party listing software or an app like Quantity Manager to control the stock that’s shown on eBay. We can use this app to make your listings always display “Last one” and make customers think you only have one in stock left, even if in reality you have hundreds.
How do you do this?
Setup your third-party listing software or application to always display one in stock and turn on Out of Stock Inventory Control (see tip 3 above). Note that this method will vary depending on your listing software. You can also turn on Out of Stock Inventory Control directly in eBay if you aren’t using third-party listing software.
5: Offer the most value for your listing to stay competitive
Free shipping: Offer free shipping on all your domestic listings and eBay will give you a boost in search.
Offer additional shipping methods: Like express, local pickup and international shipping. Use global shipping if applicable to your category.
30-day return policy: Offer a 30-day return policy to earn your buyers’ trust and to help increase conversions. You now need to offer a 30-day return policy for your listings to qualify for Top Rated Plus status. In addition, you need to be a Top Rated seller and provide a same-day or one-day handling time. The benefits? An extra 20% discount on your FVF (Final Value Fees) and a Top Rated Plus badge.
Best price: Buyers are always looking for the best price. If you have the highest price as well as other competitors with similar seller ratings and policies, you will most likely lose the sale. You need to stay competitive by offering the same or better pricing. You can use software called Price Spectre to auto reprice your products to help you beat your competition. This is very useful if you have hundreds of products. It also enables you to reprice against Amazon.
6: Create a sale
Using eBay’s Promotions Manager you can create sales on a store category or per-product level. Buyers love sales and it will entice them to buy something if they see it’s on sale. This will also help increase buyer engagement.
Encourage multiple purchases by offering combined shipping discounts or bulk-buy discounts to drive additional sales. Or use Markdown Manager for your store inventory or fixed price listings, to create a price discount sale or free-shipping sale to create a sense of purchase urgency.
How a sale item looks in eBay’s search results:
How a sale item listing page looks:
7: Maintain your DSRs and feedback
Cassini rewards sellers with great detailed seller ratings (DSRs) and feedback. You need to maintain awesome DSRs to be on top of the search results. Top-rated seller status is preferred.
Tips on maintaining great seller ratings from eBay can be found here.
You also need to respond to open cases in the resolution center ASAP and you must close all of them to maintain your rankings in search. Cassini will penalize you if you have a bad seller reputation, and that includes having too many open cases.
Resolution Center tips from eBay can be found here.
8: Use auctions
If you have some popular items and you’re able to confidently auction them off without sacrificing your margins, you should create auctions to help increase the traffic to your eBay store.
In the auction listing, you can cross-promote your other items for sale. If an item is popular and is getting good buyer engagement, the auction will get more love compared to items with the similar keywords in the category, since it’s only up for a limited amount of time.
9: Drive outside traffic to your eBay listings
To help increase buyer engagement on your listings, a great strategy is to use social media platforms, your email list and PPC so you can drive targeted traffic to your new listings. This will give the listings more views and hopefully purchases which will help push your listing up in search.
You will want to do this on newly listed items only. If you have items with no sales, end those items, relist and then drive traffic to them. Make sure you drive only targeted traffic. Cassini’s results are often based on conversion and engagement (time on page) rather than high traffic with a high bounce rate. Drive targeted traffic to convert, not just to get views.
10: Use the eBay catalog
When you’re able, use the eBay catalog. If your item is a well-known brand, most likely it already exists in eBay’s catalog.
All you have to do is enter the UPC or EAN of the product and the listing will automatically populate all of the product data. By using eBay’s catalog, it will populate all the correct item specifics, eBay category, photos, and product descriptions for you saving you a lot of time and effort! I would add your own images though, as that will separate you from the competition.
Example of eBay’s catalog:
11: List in the correct category
Choose the category based on product and buyer behavior. If you list in the wrong category, your listing will be brought down in search. Listing in the incorrect category could also give you problems when it comes to eBay global shipping as some items are not allowed to be shipped to other countries. Here’s a list of categories and items that global shipping doesn’t support.
For example, if you are selling a case for a mobile phone, the correct category will be All > Cell Phones & Accessories > Cases, Covers & Skins:
If you’re selling men’s jeans, they would go under All > Clothing, Shoes & Accessories > Men’s Clothing > Jeans:
12: Fill in all of your item specifics
What are item specifics? Item specifics are the features or specs of your products. They also act as a filter when a buyer is shopping, so they can easily find what they want to purchase. For example, if you’re selling a mobile phone case, you’ll want to indicate what material it’s made out of, the color, what model it fits, the part number, the brand, and more.
Item specifics displayed on the listing page:
Make sure all of your item specifics are filled in and that they are relevant to your product. Also add in your own “custom item specifics” to help educate your buyer even more about your product. If your item specifics are not filled in, your item will not show up in the search results. This is especially important in mobile, since most buyers on a mobile phone will use item specifics to drill down into listings.
For standard item specifics (non-custom ones), you should only use item specifics that already exist in eBay’s catalog. If your listing software doesn’t populate the item specifics for you, eBay’s Item Specifics Lookup Tool will get the exact item specifics you can use from eBay’s catalog. Make sure you enter the values exactly as they are spelled.
13: Answer eBay messages within 24 hours or less
eBay says that you will get an automatic five stars for communication for a sale if:
- You specify handling time of one business day and upload tracking information within one business day.
- There are no buyer- or seller-initiated communications in eBay Messages, and there are no pending eBay Money Back Guarantee or PayPal Buyer Protection cases.
- There are no requests for contact information between you and the buyer.
The faster you respond to a potential customer on eBay the more likely they will buy from you. It will also help with your detailed seller ratings. This will help increase your buyer engagement on the listing once they buy the product and will give you a boost in search.
14: Price your item to be the lowest for every new listing
When you are able, pricing your item low in the beginning will get you more sales since you’re the cheapest on eBay. Once you build up your sales history, you can increase your price as long as it’s within the market rate for your category. Cassini likes conversion and having the best price on eBay will help convert buyers.
15: Use a mobile responsive and branded listing template
Hire a professional to design a mobile responsive eBay template to help build your brand. A good eBay template will help increase conversion rates and increase your brand awareness online.
Make sure that your eBay template is mobile-friendly and that the person making the template has the description above the fold, i.e. that the HTML coding is not preventing your descriptions from showing up first. Some templates aren’t coded correctly and could affect your eBay rankings.
16: Optimize your listing for conversion
Most sellers don’t take the time to write good copy for their listings. If you write good sales copy and showcase why you’re different, you will have an advantage over your competitors. What does a good listing look like?
A good listing will have the following:
- Good sales copy: Buyers like buying from sellers who know what they’re talking about. Showcase that you know your products and tell them about your business and why they should buy from you. Write a good product description and format your item specs in bullet points. Make it easy for your buyers to scan and read quickly.
- Policies: Showcase how easy it is to return an item. If you provide tech support for your products, tell buyers about it. Make a nice banner or image showing this. Use your customer service to appeal to the buyer and close the deal.
- Extras: Do you offer extra services that the competition doesn’t? If yes, then tell your buyers about it and make it so they can see it. Using images or banners is the best way to do this.
Example of a listing that showcases more than just a product description:
17: List using variations
If available in your category, list products using variations. Variations allow different products to be purchase from one listing, and also combine the number of views, watchers, clicks and sales – which Cassini loves.
18: Create combo items for maximum search exposure
This strategy creates more listings for your store without violating duplicate listing policies. Creating combo items gives you more visibility in search with different types of products as you can put multiple keywords within the title.
For example, if you’re selling jeans and t-shirts, you can create a package deal to buy them together. So, instead of having one listing for a t-shirt and one listing for jeans, you’ll have a total of three listings. I would combo every item that makes sense and a buyer would purchase.
There’s three types of bundling strategies:
- Creating more value for the buyer. For example, if you’re selling a $500 smartphone and you decide to throw in some accessories like a $4 screen protector, $3 charger, $3 case and $10 memory card. Accessories like these sell for low margins if you’re selling them individually, but if you sell them with a $500 smart phone you can sell the bundle for a lot more. Why? Because a buyer looking for a new phone will want all those accessories and will most likely pay more to avoid having to buy them separately. Time is money!
- Discount bundle. You can combine products which have a high list price (MSRP/RRP etc) and show the buyer that by purchasing them as a bundle they’ll save a bunch of money.
- Wholesale lot. You can create a wholesale lot of different products for resale. This is a great method if you want to move product fast. Don’t bother doing a wholesale lot if another seller can’t make money off it. Customers that look for these type of deals usually resell the items individually for more money. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Xbox System bundled with three games. 5,172 sold:
The best way to increase conversion rate is to communicate to the buyer the following:
- They’ll save money. You can do this by listing each product’s original price and how much they’ll save by purchasing the bundle compared to buying them individually. This can be done in the product description.
- Beautiful main image. Create a main image that showcases all of the products included in the bundle.
- What they’re getting. Include a detailed description for each product and what’s included in the total package.
In The Dynamic Effects of Bundling as a Product Strategy, researchers Vineet Kumar and Timothy Derdenger found that:
“Sales can soar when companies bundle products together into one cheaper package—Happy Meal, anyone? Yet a buyer’s affinity for such deals comes with a big caveat, according to new research: These groupings are often successful only if the consumer is given the option of buying the same products separately.
However, when a bundle was the consumer’s only option—a “pure bundling” scenario—Nintendo would fare much worse, when compared with both offers that lacked any bundle as well as those with the mixed bundling option. Revenues decreased by over 20 percent compared with the mixed bundling scenario; the total hardware units sold declined by millions of units; and software units fell by over 10 million as well.”
19: Use plenty of high-resolution photos
Create high-resolution photos that are a minimum of 1600 pixels on the longest side (height or width). This will give you the zoom effect you see on some eBay listings.
According to Neil Patel, great photos are known to increase conversion rates.
You also want to add as many pictures as possible, because buyers love images. Since buyers can’t touch or feel the product, images are the next best thing.
Take as many angles and close ups of your product as possible. The maximum amount of photos allowed per listing is 12, so use them.
Example of using multiple images on eBay, by Tech Armor:
Example of using images to showcase product features:
20: Qualify for Google Shopping
For your eBay listings to show up in Google Shopping, your listing needs to meet the minimum requirements and this varies per category. The bare minimum you need to have is brand, model and a product identifier (e.g. UPC, ISBN or EAN). You’ll also need color, size, gender and Manufacturer Part Number (MPN) if applicable to your category.
Then check that your listings are showing up in Google Shopping, and that your template is coded correctly so the description shows up rather than general text about your store. Below is an example of a listing with a badly coded template.
21: Use subtitles on your best selling products
Use subtitles on your best selling eBay items to promote free delivery, free support or anything else that can help convert your customer into a sale. Having a subtitle makes your listing stand out from the buyer’s perspective. Good copy helps sell the product.
This is an example of wasting subtitle real estate. The seller is letting the consumer know that he’s a top seller and that the listing comes with free shipping. But this is already showcased with the Top-rated seller icon, and free shipping is shown under the Buy It Now text.
To make the best use of subtitles, showcase why a buyer should buy from you. What makes you different as a seller? Is your product different from the others on the market? Do you offer a better service? Do you have freebies?
A better subtitle would have been:
== 100% Authentic Guaranteed! ~ 1 year Warranty ~ Same Day Shipping! ==
Here are some examples of listings with great subtitles.
Subtitle below: ==| 100% GUARANTEED! ~ FREE/FAST Ship! ~ SAVE NOW!! |==
This tells the consumer they’re getting a reliable product and fast shipping.
Subtitle below: Weekend Sale With Zagg Glass Cleaner + Surprise Gift 🙂
This tells the consumer they’re getting a useful freebie (the glass cleaner) as well as a little surprise included in the package.
Subtitle below: Message Us For Free Preloaded Windows 10 Upgrade!
This one is a call-to-action to contact the seller about a free upgrade.
Putting it all together
Cassini is all about the value you can offer to your buyers. The goal is to show relevant listings ranked according to their criteria, which we can assume include the number of sales, price, quantity sold per hour, number of views, number of watchers, number of clicks and your seller rating.
To prove this theory, I did a search for the keyword “iPhone 5s” then selected the following criteria:
- Storage Capacity: 16GB
- Condition: New
- Lock Status: Factory Unlocked
- Category: Cell Phones & Smart Phones
- Sort by: Best Match
I then picked the top four listings to gather data on.
I then went into each listing to pull the data points below, and figure out why they rank in those positions.
- Price: The selling price of the item
- On Sale: If the item is on sale through markdown manager
- Top Rated Plus: Does the seller have Top Rated Plus status?
- Seller Rating: The seller’s current rating after all feedback and DSRs have been accounted for.
- Watchers: The number of watchers each listing has
- Sold: The number of items sold since the listing was created
- Sold per Hour: The number of items sold per hour
- Qty Left: The number of items left before it sells out
- % Sold: The percentage of inventory already sold
- Views per hour: How many people are viewing the listing per hour
- Views per day: The number of people viewing the listing per day
By looking at the data above, we can come to the conclusion that seller ratings and the number of items sold play the biggest factor in ranking on Cassini. If you notice seller #3 has a higher price compared to seller #4 and ranks higher. Why? Because seller #3 has a higher seller rating at 99.1% compared to seller #4 with only 98.8% feedback.
What about seller #1? Why is he ranking first? Seller #2 has a slightly better price compared to seller #1, the same feedback rating as #1 at 99.9% and the same # of views, but #1 has more listings that are converting and a lot more watchers!
Since seller #1 has more sales he’s ranking #1 in search. But why do you think #1 is converting better? I went into the actual listing of #1 and found this:
The seller is offering a 100% money-back guarantee and the other sellers are not. By offering a guarantee, this seller is able to sell one hundred times more than his next competitor!
To be successful on eBay, you need to know your buyers, maintain your DSRs, and create listings that convert. Once you rank well, or ideally first, you’ll be pulling in the big bucks.
Download the eBook version of this article, with additional bonus tools and resources.
2nd Office is trusted by top 100 Amazon and eBay sellers and top 500 online retailers to support their business with talented staff in customer support, product copy, listings, accounting, web development, design, marketing, product research and more.