eBay Promoted Listings: Your Top Ten Questions Answered

With Promoted Listings, eBay sellers can pay to jump to the top of the search results. How can sellers use these ads to best effect?

eBay Promoted Listings is a pretty simple advertising scheme.

You just choose which items to promote, and how much of the sale price you are willing to pay. eBay then boosts your items from their normal positions in the search results to the fourth or fifth spots from the top.

If a buyer clicks on a promoted item and goes on to buy it, you pay eBay the percentage you set, in addition to the usual final value fee. If the item does not sell, you pay nothing.

Despite its simplicity, there’s still a lot to think about with eBay Promoted Listings. How do you choose which items to promote? How much should you pay? Should you promote them all the time or just sometimes? When should you adjust the amount you’re paying?

Here’s the top ten questions we hear from sellers about Promoted Listings, and how to make sure you get the most out of every extra penny you give to eBay.

1. How much does eBay Promoted Listings cost?

You choose your own percentage rate for each listing, so you will never pay more than that. That makes it easy to control the cost of Promoted Listings, in comparison to cost-per-click programs with variable pricing like Google Ads or Amazon Sponsored Products.

But to be successful – to actually get your item boosted to the top of the search results – you will have to compete against all the other sellers with similar items who are using Promoted Listings.

To help answer this question, eBay provide average ad rates, updated weekly, across 32 main categories and hundreds of subcategories.

The typical range is 5-10% but there are exceptions reaching as low as 2% and as high as 18%. However, despite the level of detail, these are still just category averages. The amount you need to pay to promote your specific items can be completely different to the category rates shown.

To find the real cost, and avoid overpaying, you need to find the level yourself. Start with a low percentage, even 1%, and see how your items sell. If there are no additional sales, increase it to 2%. Keep going in small increments, until you see a spike in sales.

The short answer, unfortunately, is that it’s trial and error for each unique listing.

2. How do I know if I am paying more than I need to?

There is no simple way to tell if you have set your Promoted Listings rate too high. eBay won’t object to taking a larger cut of your sale. They won’t tell you if you’re paying too much. But it will eat into your profit margin and begin to impact your business.

So, you’ll need to experiment. It is best to start low and work up in increments, following the upward pattern of sales as you do so. That should always find the optimum rate.

But there are situations when you might end up overpaying, for example:

  • You need to give sales a quick boost, so go straight in with a high bid.
  • You build up slowly and reach a stable level, but the competition drops away over time.

If you suspect that you are paying more than you need to, slowly decrease the percentage to see if you can make the same volume of sales at a lower ad rate.

How do you know if a rate you set a while ago, by slowly building it up, is now higher than it needs to be? Unfortunately, you don’t. You just have to periodically try nudging rates down to see if there’s an effect on sales. Once again, it’s trial and error.

3. eBay already charge a final value fee, why should I pay even more?

Yes, there are already fees to sell on eBay. There’s listing fees, final value fees and PayPal fees on top of that. Many critics see Promoted Listings as just another way that eBay can profit from small businesses who are already struggling to survive.

There may be some truth to that. eBay is a publicly-traded company and their objective is to make as much profit as possible for their shareholders.

But you can also see Promoted Listings as a marketing tool and a great opportunity to exploit. If your listings are not ranking highly, and you can afford to pay a few extra percent, it gives you a big leg up in the search results.

If you were having a similar problem with sales on your own website, it wouldn’t seem strange to pay for additional marketing or advertising to boost sales. Promoted Listings is the same. It’s just a feature provided by eBay to boost your sales and get your products seen by more people.

There is no cost-per-click, only per-sale, and you can set the commission percentage as low as you need. eBay Promoted Listings is a tool you can use to maximize profits and grow your business, and that goes for eBay too.

4. Won’t Promoted Listings eat into my profits?

It is vital to know the limitations of your business and be meticulous with your budgeting and cost control. If you increase your Promoted Listings percentage just because other sellers are beating you, this will undoubtedly diminish your profits. There will always be a bigger fish, with a bigger budget to knock you out of the water.

So, tailor your Promoted Listings to your own business objectives and margins. Play to your strengths, leverage your assets and be competitive within reason. For some listings, increasing your percentage might do very little in terms of sales. A lower ad rate, or none at all, may be just right for those products.

It really depends on the product itself, how in demand it is, and whether or not the listing can be optimized in other areas. You should also have a good grasp of your item’s sell-through rate (conversion rate) prior to promoting the listing, so you can analyze how it performs over time.

5. Which items should I use Promoted Listings on?

When it comes to deciding which items to promote you need to think tactically. There will be certain items which present themselves naturally, and others which require more consideration.

Promoted Listings can be a good fit for:

  1. New product lines.
  2. New listing ideas such as kits and variations.
  3. Seasonal products.
  4. Liquidating old product lines.
  5. Products that are already selling well.

By promoting new products and product combinations, you can establish a positive sales history early on, that helps with your organic Best Match ranking as well. You can also test the market and make iterative changes more quickly. An ordinary, non-promoted listing might struggle to gain a foothold in the search results, and provide too little data to judge its performance properly.

Seasonal products are particularly important to promote. Items that only sell in summer, or on holidays like Halloween, for example, can’t be left to languish in the search results. When the season or holiday has passed, the value will suddenly drop and you’ll have to store them until next year or liquidate the stock at a potential loss.

More generally, if you have old lines that you need to liquidate to make space for newer products, Promoted Listings can help them sell quickly. In this situation, you may value your warehouse space more than your profit margin, and start with a relatively high ad rate even if it means you suffer a net loss on those products.

Bestselling products are an interesting case, because you are likely to pay extra fees for sales that you would have made anyway. This is covered in more detail in question 7.

6. What kind of items are not right for Promoted Listings?

Promoted Listings are not usually a good fit for:

  1. Rare, collectible or unique items
  2. Listings with a weak sales history

Buyers of collectible and unique items usually know exactly what they want, and will spend a lot of time searching and comparing the listings they find. There is unlikely to be a benefit from boosting a listing to the top of the search results, if it will be found anyway. Also, auction-format listings, which are still popular for collectibles, are not eligible to be promoted.

Old listings that have failed to generate many sales are not good candidates for Promoted Listings. It is tempting to try to use Promoted Listings to inject new life into under-performing items, but these are unlikely to gain additional sales from the boost in visibility. It could be that the product is not in demand, or the listing is of poor quality, or a competitor has a better price or shipping rate.

While it can’t hurt to try Promoted Listings on these items, it makes sense to look at the more fundamental problems first.

7. Why use Promoted Listings for bestselling products?

eBay recommends that sellers use Promoted Listings to boost sales of products that are already bestsellers. There is a reasonable argument for that, as Promoted Listings are often effective at increasing sales of products that are already selling pretty well.

There is also a good argument that a product already selling well does not need the additional boost, and you will give away precious profit margin when you don’t have to.

The only way to reconcile these two points of view, is to try Promoted Listings for a time so you can calculate the sales and profit you will make, both with and without the additional advertising.

You might have a lower profit per unit with Promoted Listings, but the higher sales velocity could make you more profit in total per week. In that case, it might make sense to give up some margin for more sales and higher profit overall (if you have any margin to spare, of course!)

You will also need to consider your ability to replenish the product when stocks run low. It’s not a good idea to give up margin if the sales volume will be restricted anyway, due to restocking difficulties.

8. How important is sell-through rate for Promoted Listings?

With Promoted Listings, eBay does not simply choose the the two listings with the highest ad rate to boost up the search results:

In addition to looking at a seller’s set ad rate, other factors are also considered, such as relevancy and how well an item is selling at the time the ad rate is set.

This is backed up by feedback from sellers, that the items which benefit most from Promoted Listings are those which already have a high sell-through rate.

New items, with no sales history at all, can also benefit. But existing items with a poor sell-through rate are unlikely to do well.

This might feel a little unfair and circular. Sellers often want to use advertising to “fix” their under-performing listings, and don’t see the point in paying to promote listings that are already doing well.

But it might be worth paying to promote listings with a good conversion rate, but low traffic, and turn that good performance into a lot more sales.

9. What’s a good overall strategy for eBay Promoted Listings?

The right way to use Promoted Listings depends on your individual business. It’s unlikely you can guess exactly what will work from your existing organic sales data, so do your own experimentation, analyze the results, and make a decision based upon the facts.

With that said, here are some good general practices:

  1. Promote listings with a good sell-through rate but low traffic.
  2. Promote new items to provide traffic and establish a sales history.
  3. Consider promoting your bestsellers if it makes sense to sacrifice some profit margin for higher sales volume.
  4. Consider promoting seasonal products to kick off the season with good sales, or address any risk of overstocking.
  5. Consider promoting products you need to liquidate quickly.
  6. Optimize weak listings to improve the sell-through rate, before promoting them.

Whatever you decide, always have a logic and rationale for what you do. Follow the stats as time goes by, to check if you got it right or if the situation has changed.

Remember that you have to find the optimum ad rate yourself, usually by starting low and increasing it slowly. For lagging products or stock liquidation, you might decide to start high to overcome the weak sales history, then decrease the rate when (and if) sales pick up.

Promoted listings are just a marketing tool, they cannot improve your products, your seller feedback, returns rate or any other shortcoming of your seller account. Work on those before you pay for advertising.

10. Does eBay Promoted Listings really work?

The short answer? Yes.

Promoted Listings are a great tool for boosting your items in the search results, and can have a really positive impact on sales. Depending on how competitive your product category is, Promoted Listings may not secure as many additional sales as you hope, but it should still have an effect.

Unlike Amazon PPC ads or Google Ads, eBay Promoted Listings are not auction-based or keyword-targeted. It is by design a much simpler tool. You just set your ad rate and see what happens. But that doesn’t mean there’s no need for strategy.

You need to use it smartly. It’s not something to “set-and-forget”, or use as a crutch to make up for other problems, or you could end up in a loop of escalating fees and falling profits.

So, does it work? Yes. Does every Promoted Listing set the world on fire? No. But, given a tactical and thoughtful approach, Promoted Listings can really increase your sales and help turn your business around.

Thank you to Matthew Ferguson and Sadie Manboard of Emanaged for their help with this post. Emanaged works with retailers and brands, managing their presence on online marketplaces including eBay, Amazon and many others worldwide.

9 comments on “eBay Promoted Listings: Your Top Ten Questions Answered

  1. Yes it’s easy to use but can be expensive in certain categories, especially anything tech or electrical. It’s almost a no-win situation for the seller as you’re trying to keep prices as low as possible to compete with the Chinese who are already unfairly subsidized by both the US and UK governments.

    Incidentally that’s something that makes me laugh about this Brexit nonsense when many UK businesses are worrying about our what our post-Brexit ability to sell over seas will be – well I and many of the smaller businesses out there have got a message for the government: Do something about Chinese imports and give us a better chance to sell to people in our own country, because this has nothing to do with our membership of the EU. But I digress…

    I’ve used Promoted Listings for slow or non-selling (underperforming) items, and contrary what the article suggests I find that they do work. But to be honest a better way to get your listings up the rankings and get stock moving is to use the old fashioned Markdown Manager and reduce the price.

    Everybody loves a discount and if you’re going to add 10% to your price by using Promoted Listings, you would almost certainly be better off by reducing the price instead. Even a small decrease in price can get sales moving, and once you have sold a couple your listing will rise up the rankings quickly – and of course your eBay bill will be lower.

    This does work, but eBay’s absurd system means that unless you sell items regularly they will drop like a stone almost overnight so the caveat is that if you don’t sell more than a couple a day, which can be a problem with less popular or higher priced items, then you’re probably still going to struggle and a Promoted L:isting might be a better option.

    For clearing older, non-moving stock consider listing it at cost price. You might not make any profit on it but rather than have it sitting there gathering dust you’re better off recouping the funds and buying in something else.

    1. Hi Mark,

      I think partly you’re outlining a very real and very serious strategic problem, but not something directly related to Promotions. Tech is a very tough vertical for margin, and Chinese sellers are under cutting sellers at scale. Neither however are the reason promotions fail, more a symptom of a different business model ailment to remedy.

      Would agree Markdown manager is a safe place to keep energy. All these tools should be used together, not cherry picked. Its all about the desired strategy of the company, channel and product in question. In the right context, there are likely always good reasons for several directions.

      1. Even the best thought out plans can fail – for example, an outdoor event might be killed by bad weather or another event out of your control.

        Case in point, if England manage to reach the World Cup (soccer) final for example, half the nation will be watching the final on July 15 so if you are holding another event that day, or have set your auctions to end during match time you’re probably screwed so be careful what time you set your auctions and look out for major events.

        It also depends what you’re selling. In this case of course it may be that more women will be surfing eBay while the men watch the football, so if you’re selling baby clothes it may work for you.

        A local store may close because a large national might open a superstore across the road. Your killer invention might fail because somebody came up with something better.

        But in business you can mostly ensure some level of success by good planning, research and testing, and over time put your experience to good use. But this is my gripe with eBay – most of that goes straight out of the window because whatever you do, there system doesn’t work.

        Best Match and the search doesn’t work – you regularly see items that shouldn’t be there, searches that don’t find your item and sellers with no ratings, no experience, relatively poor feedback and poor descriptions selling more than you are for no apparent reason. The system is a mess.

        Run out of stock of a good seller because your order was delayed or whatever and you’re as good as finished. When you relist a week or two it just won’t sell anymore, for no apparent reason other than eBay’s algorithm have pushed it back down the rankings. Didn’t sell a popular item during a quiet week? You might as well bin it, because you now have a battle to get it selling again.

        This is my problem with eBay, all the business advice in the world is worthless and because of the way the algo works it now only works for those selling the same item all the time, which keeps them top of the rankings. The Chinese are laughing in this instance because they don’t have to import their stock and they can undercut on both price and shipping cost.

        I think the only thing that would work is to automatically cut out results from outside your country unless you filter them in, and scrap Best Match in favour of the original default, Ending Soonest. The latter was the fairest option in my opinion because everybody’s listing was top of the results at some point, when it was about to end, and we used to have fantastic results using that and features like Bold and Subtitles, when they were affordable.

        Never a “blank” day with no sales, never the problems that we get now. It’s a long time ago I know, and many readers have probably never seen it but it worked for everybody as we all got our minute on page one of the results and you didn’t have to try to sell your items at the cheapest possible prices to get a sale.

        At the end of the day it’s just buying and selling and there’s no reason why that wouldn’t work now – no need for complex algorithms which have now made eBay so complex to master that even the staff don’t know how it works, although that’s probably partly because it doesn’t.

        1. All valid points. Simplicity is best, and often the key for ongoing success!

          If ever you’d like to take this chat offline Mark, let me know. We could always do a free audit of your business model and channels and see if we could help in some ways. We don’t make promises we can’t keep, but I can promise we’d give you the best chances of being found and converting. The rest is for the market and product to ‘do’.

    2. i was actually doing quite well til ebay started promoting other peoples same items in the middle of my listings. now my sales have dropped dramatically in the last month. even worse someone went to purchase one of my items today and she got a letter from ebay saying my item was no longer available ( it was still available and still on there) and they sent her to a site with the same item cheaper. i was forwarded the email. that is totally wrong. promoting items is fine, but don’t use the sites of other people to do it, especially without even asking our permission. we already pay seller fees and final fees if i start paying promotional fees what is left for me?????

  2. Ebay should’nt allow China sellers lie about there location. China sellers know local sellers have a posting time advantage. They say in titles, images, there description uk seller yo boost their sales. But when you look their negative feedback “took 1 month to arrive. Not from uk” .When you report to Ebay they do nothing about it. It bad experience ebay customers and it bad for local sellers too.

    1. Certainly agree with you – this is an issue of globalisation and international trade expanding faster than legal and technical controls can keep up with. eBay do need to fix this, but I suspect they fear the drop in sales it could have. Some buyers happily wait a month if they save a penny. Its also unclear how eBay could completely control this too.

      1. I agree that the problem exists, but not that it’s an issue of “globalisation and international trade expanding faster than legal and technical controls can keep up with”.

        Platforms like eBay are supposed to have great features to prevent scammers and the like from joining the platform in the first place. Is it really too much to prevent a seller from entering the location as US or UK when his address is in China?

        It’s a very simple fix. A bit of HTML code would prevent the seller from completing the “item location” box and simply adding the location information they gave when they registered.

        The reality is eBay know they’re making money and don’t care where it comes from, it’s nothing more complex than that. Whether that’s morally right or not depends on your point of view, but eBay have no allegiance to anybody in particular, buyer or seller, nor do they have any reason to, so why should they care how they’re making their profit? We may not like it but it’s their site and they can pretty much do what they like.

        1. Yes, agreed. But from eBay’s perspective, they want to be consumer focused. If buyers are proportionately happy to pay low fees and wait long lead times for these product, eBay is following the consumer’s desires. In essence, that is what a Marketplace has to do to be successful.

          They could control this with changes. The question is if they want to, and it is better for the every day consumer. My assumption is they are not sure it is, despite the challenges.

          It is sadly a lot to do with money, but I guess that is true of all business. So long as buyers keep buying from these illegal low cost sellers, eBay has little reason to take action. Hence why I think a fix of this nature is more a legal challenge to our economic order, and the pace Globalisation and international trade has ran faster than the filters and means to control and regulate it effectively.

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