EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 3099 - July 02, 2013     1 of 4

eBay's Hugh Williams Talks About Search Ranking, Part Two

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In Part 1 of EcommerceBytes' interview with eBay Vice President Hugh Williams, he explained the marketplace's new Cassini search platform, which rolled out in June, and what buyers and sellers could expect to see. In Part 2 below, Williams discusses the five factors that Cassini will use to improve the eBay search experience, discusses ranking and refinement, and talks about how sellers can improve their exposure in search.

You're really the guru on using behavioral data in search, coming from Microsoft where you have patents, so is the ultimate goal with Cassini to include behavioral data in terms of how you surface listings in search results?

Hugh Williams: A general answer to your question would be, I am incredibly passionate about using every bit of data we have available to do the best job on behalf of our customers. That is the core mission of our search science team. To go back to my garage analogy, to bring every tool to bear on the problem, so that we do a better job every day as we move forward.

I think a lot with the team, about a framework of how to innovate in ranking, and I tend to think about five different buckets of places we can go to help improve that experience. I think behavioral data is certainly one of those. There is a lot to be learned from our 116 million buyers that are active on the site, that are there every day using the site. We can learn a lot from their behaviors and how they interact with the site and use that to inform how to do things better.

There is also a lot we can learn about individual buyers or groups of buyers that can really help us do a better job for those buyers. You can imagine that the things you might want to do to somebody who is new to the site might be different to the kinds of things you might want to do to somebody who is a really experienced shopper on the site.

There is a lot we can use from the seller themselves and how they match with the buyers.

I think there is tons we can do in using the great text that comes from the items that people are selling.

And last but not least, I'm pretty excited about imagery, and I think the images are incredibly important and shopping is becoming more visual. I'm pretty passionate about mining all of five of those things, and making sure we can use every piece of data we can use to deliver the best possible experience.

If eBay search - if Cassini - is the brand new car, what about people who are the do it yourselfers who want to get under the hood. Is there any possibility that eBay would have a search form that allows users to control which factors are used in a given search? I always think about collectors who have,... I look at people who say they have set up really sophisticated searches to get what they're looking for. What do you think of that concept?

Hugh Williams: Look, I think about that in different ways. My experience with search over the years is that, by and large, customers just want you to understand what it is they typed in their query and do a great job in giving them great results. The vast majority of customers don't want complexity. They want simplicity. They want us to do the work for them. I very much respect that.

My primary focus is making that mainline search experience as great as it can be. There is a role for search refinement. We put a lot of work into our left navigation on the search results page, obviously that's very extensive, we have advanced search features that we offer.

I don't know if we'll add anything more to that advanced search suite, but we've put a ton of work into it to help those buyers who want more control over the experience. But our main focus is just making it work great for those customers who come and type in queries.

What's the number one change that sellers can make to get better exposure in search under Cassini?

Hugh Williams: Cassini today is intended to be a seamless transition from Voyager. We'd been really looking into the future in answering that question. What I'd say to that is, you know, we should bump up a level and really think about, as sellers, we should think about what buyers want. I think what buyers want is trust. They want to get a great experience. They want fast shipping times. They want reliable shipping. They want easy returns. They want things to arrive as they were described. All those things they really want that. They want great value in shipping, not just in the item that they're buying.

And they want relevance. Our buyers want to be able to type in queries and see items that are relevant to them and have those items surface for the right queries.

I think, thinking very hard about how to deliver that trusted experience, to deliver great value, and really stay on top of what that value is and delivering a relevant experience - titles that are clearly on topic, descriptions that are precise about the items, and really great imagery is incredibly important.

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About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to

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