eBay Search Results: Make Best Match Work for You

How eBay's search results work and how to climb to the top of rankings

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••• Getty Images/Peter Dressel

Depending ​on whether you’re talking to a buyer or to a longtime seller, eBay’s Best Match search system is either the website's savior or a major obstruction. That difference of opinion is hardly surprising. After all, one of the reasons for creating the search was to remove some listings to the background so that buyers didn't have to see them any longer—a move that killed visibility for many eBay sellers using techniques that had proven so successful for them in the past.

The ranking system and algorithm push some sellers’ items to the top of buyers’ searches while pushing other sellers deep into obscurity.

As a seller, the keys to survival depends on understanding how the new ranking system works and adjusting your item listing and customer service practices to match.

eBay Search Results: How Best Match Works

The idea behind best match is to have the search system reward seller behavior that eBay (and, in theory, the average eBay shopper) likes and to penalize behavior that eBay and its shoppers don't like. The best way to think about best match, therefore, is as a system that ranks the “good behavior” or “best practices” of all eBay sellers and their listings. Sellers and listings with high rankings are shown to buyers on the first page of shopping search results. Sellers and listings with low rankings appear much later or even not at all.

Many people feel that eBay has been frustratingly obtuse when it comes to revealing the details of the best match system, but based on anecdotal evidence from posted by sellers around the web and on eBay’s forums, as well as information you can find on eBay’s patent application for the best match search process, a number of things are clearly critical for search rankings:

  • The amount of time remaining before a listing ends
  • Feedback and detailed seller rating scores
  • Shipping costs and methods
  • Status (or not) as a power seller
  • Use of quality listing pictures
  • Use of appropriate listing titles and keywords
  • Encouragement of high bidding and viewing activity

Some of these items may be beyond a given seller’s control (status as a power seller, for example, or time remaining before the listing closes), but most of them are actually easily “realigned” to work well with the best match system to provide better search rankings.

Before actually reading the changes listed below, remember that best match is designed to encourage conscientious behavior, excellent customer service, and sustained buyer interest. You’ll know you’re thinking about best match in the most advantageous way if you begin to realize that optimizing your listings for best match is also helping you to achieve these other, equally beneficial things.

Best Shipping Practices 

There are several apparent scoring cues that relate directly to your shipping pricing and practices, so the shipping side of your selling is the first place to look if you want to enhance your best match ranking.

  • Reduce your shipping costs. This is the first and easiest thing that you can do to increase your best match score, especially because of its reliance on detailed seller ratings in scoring your listings. Sellers are, it appears, heavily penalized for even slight drops in their “shipping and handling charges” score.
  • Consider free shipping. Aside from boosting your detailed seller ratings, there is some evidence that offering free shipping enhances best match scores and thus leads to higher visibility.
  • Offer expedited shipping and gift features. As you complete the shipping section of the selling form, offer multiple shipping alternatives and enable gift services. These appear to boost your ranking by some small amount as well.
  • Change item location to match the market. On the shipping area of the regular selling form you’ll also notice an option that can be used to specify the item location. It appears that an item’s proximity to the buyer is also a part of the best match score, so you may add to your advantage by changing the item location to an area in which buyers are searching for your items—for example, list winter coats as being located in New York rather than in Florida.

Optimal Listing Practices for Best Match

Beyond shipping practices, several other items appear to have a direct and critical impact on your best match score, so don’t just change your shipping model and stop there; take a good look at the other components of your listings as well.

  • Include high-result keywords in titles, listings. Best match keeps a record of all the eBay items purchased, bid on, and viewed by buyers, along with the keywords that led buyers to them. You’ll enjoy a best match bonus if you use these keywords—things like brands, model names, and “new” or “mint” condition—in your listing title and, to a lesser extent, body.
  • Find high-result keywords yourself. Don’t assume that you already know what these magic words are. Find them yourself by using best match. Conduct a search for the kinds of items you sell and make a list of all the words that appear often in the highest ranked (i.e. the first page of) search results. These are the winner words that will score you bonus points and propel your listings upward.
  • Don’t use keywords that don’t apply. Sophisticated ranking technologies like best match can tell when very popular words are used where they don't belong. For example, based on the fact that very few past listings for Apple iPhones have included the word "Nokia," best match might actually penalize you for trying to artificially elevate your listing with a title like “New Nokia phone, similar to Apple iPhone!”
  • Include multiple additional images. It appears that you’ll score best match bonus points if you have added your own images of an item, rather than relying on stock images or having no images at all, so be sure to take nice photos of your own and add them to your listing.
  • Drive bids and views. Best match appears to give bonus points for accumulating many bids and also for generating a high click rate (i.e. buyers click on your listing often when they see it in search results). If you can, therefore, price your auction format listings with a $1.00 initial bid to cause high bid activity, and encourage buyers to open your listings with phrases like “Must see!” or “Look inside!” or “Many great photos!” in your listing subtitle.
  • Offer a Buy it Now price. It also appears that bonus points are awarded to listings that offer buyers the chance to "Buy It Now" as opposed to forcing them to place bid(s) in order to win the item in question.

Customer Service Practices

Beyond listing and shipping techniques, there are more general, customer service oriented things to be aware of when trying to maximize your best match score. These are at least as important as, if not more so than, the listing and shipping oriented techniques given above.

  • Keep your feedback and detailed seller rating scores up. These should be as high as you can possibly keep them; losing just a fraction of a star below full marks in your detailed seller ratings can mean the difference between appearing on the first page of search results and appearing on the twentieth or thirtieth.
  • Be extremely conscientious. A long, steady stream of disputes is the last thing you want to have on your membership record with a system like best match in place. Even resolved disputes remain in the database forever, so do what you can to offer sufficient customer service and security to your buyers before there is any need for dispute resolution.
  • When disputes do occur, give in as often as possible. The only thing potentially more damaging than having disputes on your membership record is having lost disputes in which eBay or PayPal decided against you. If you’re going to lose anyway, give your buyer what they want before the database shows that eBay or PayPal had to do it for you.
  • Obey all eBay rules and regulations. Every warning, suspension, or other type of rule-oriented action from eBay also appears on your database record and can be used to affect your score, so be sure that you’re also in compliance with eBay’s policies about how sellers ought to behave, including avoiding things like shill bidding or rights violations.
  • Check your seller dashboard. Happily, eBay provides a tool, the seller dashboard, where you can monitor your performance with regard to customer service and rules compliance. Use it and consider enrolling in selling manager to help you to stay on top of things.

Although the system may frustrate some sellers,  it does reduce shipping price abuse, poor seller performance, and keyword spamming by making each of these practices unprofitable.  Sellers can use it as a tool to establish and enhance their standards for efficient performance and customer service.