Every Character Counts: Optimizing Listing Titles in a Mobile Age

By Julia Wilkinson

October 07, 2012

A title can make or break a product listing, and by now, most people who have been selling a while figure they know how to compose good titles. But did you know that as more and more folks browse eBay and other sites via their mobile phones, they may only look at the first few words of your title? And how does the "autofill" option on Amazon's search engine affect how shoppers there look for products? We asked some eBay and Amazon experts about what's working now for those all-too-crucial characters.

Titles for A Mobile Age
"Get the best keywords in your title first," advises longtime seller Lynn Dralle, The Queen of Auctions. "With eBay mobile growing to $10 billion this year, those first few words are even more important than ever," she says. Start to think like a buyer, she suggests. "As an example, if your buyer were going to purchase a dinner plate you are selling, what would they type into the search box? Most likely brand, pattern and specifics. So put "Lenox Platinum Dinner Plate" first in your listing."

"When it comes to search, keep the mobile buyer in mind," agrees eBay Certified Business Consultant Cindy Shebley, author of the upcoming ebook on mobile shopping called "SEO Swat." Mobile users type in fewer words when searching than desktop users, she said. "In fact, a mobile search is 25% shorter on average than a desktop search."

With their mobile apps, sites are starting to adopt an old web tool to aid the shopper get to products faster, says Shebley. It's known as "AutoSuggest." As the buyer types in their search string, AutoSuggest displays a number of possible results in a drop-down list below the search bar. The user can quickly tap onto one of the prefilled results to see matching listings.

"So it's important to make sure you are combining the proper mix of keywords in the best order to make sure your listings get indexed into these autosuggestion results," says Shebley.

Keyword Suggestion Tools
Certain words are obvious to put in your title, like the item's brand and size. But how do you know what other words to use to fill up that 55-character space? Consider keyword suggestion tools.

"Make use of Terapeak.com and their (Title Builder) keyword suggestion tool," advises Shebley.

Another Keyword Tool is offered by Google, she says. "It's designed for AdWords users, but it can help eBay sellers as well."

"To use it, type in the keyword you are looking for and use the drop down menu to filter (under advanced users options) for mobile users. What you are looking for is the keyword(s) with the highest number of mobile searches or hits."

For instance, if mobile searchers are looking for "Hawaiian shirt," you don't want your title to be "Cotton Shirt Camp Hawaiian Cuban." Keep the phrase "Hawaiian shirt" together or you'll risk being buried in the search results.

Other Title Suggestion Tools
As Elad Darmon wrote in the EcommerceBytes piece Top 5 Tools for Building Optimized eBay Item, you can also use these tools: Title-Builder; Google Insights for Search; and eBay Labs' Catman.

eBay Titles Then and Now
Longtime sellers probably remember we had fewer characters to play with in titles back in the day. Dralle recalls, "When I started selling on eBay back in 1998, we had only 45 characters (if I remember correctly - that was 14 years ago!), and it was very, very hard to fit everything you needed into that small space." She still encourages sellers to use up all of those title characters.

"When they changed it to 55 characters, we were all ecstatic! Fifty-five was perfect. The new 80 is a little long and sometimes even I run out of things to say about an item. However, I still encourage sellers to fill up that space, even if it means adding size and condition. I do this for many reasons but the most important being that most eBay buyers NEVER get to the description. They read the title, look at the photos and place their bid. That title is extremely important, not only for the search engines, but for making sure your buyers know exactly what they are buying."

Mistakes to Avoid
What are the worst title mistakes sellers make with listing titles? "Short titles," affirms Dralle. "If someone is selling a button-down shirt and I see "Ralph Lauren Shirt," that is a huge title mistake. The title should be "Ralph Lauren Mens Dress Shirt Button Down Blue Oxford 19 36 New NWT."

Other title mistakes she sees:

  • Using all caps. "The eye can not follow a title listing with all caps as well as it can read a title where each individual word is capitalized. I always capitalize the first letter of each word in my title. Also, all caps appears to be yelling or screaming at the buyer," says Dralle.

  • LOOK or L@@K, etc: "I think that sellers who use attention-getting graphics and words in their titles appear desperate. The item's easy-to-read title and great picture should speak volumes about the item. I don't think as many sellers are doing this these days, but it used to happen a lot.

Grammatical Order Not Important
One EcommerceBytes reader noticed people did not seem to care about grammatical order when making listing titles; they were more random: "more like stringing words together not in a grammatical fashion, than any kind of sentence or phrase," and wondered if that made sense?

For example, for a 100-day anniversary clock, the current thinking seems to be:

BAD: "1952 German 100-Day Anniversary Clock ~ 4 jewels ~ (insert mfr's name) ~ Brass ~ Key ~ Works Perfectly (etc.)."

GOOD: "Clock Anniversary German (Mfr Name) Brass Key Porcelain Face Perfect Condition Engraving Glass Cover (etc.)."

But Dralle says, "I don't think grammatical order matters one bit. The search engines are looking for key words and don't care what order they are in. However, again, I think it makes sense to get the best keywords up front. Manufacturer should be first, then German 100 Day Anniversary Clock, 1952 and finally the condition at the end. It should still be easy for the buyer to follow the logic in the sentence, but you don't have to spend hours (and you shouldn't even spend more than 30 seconds) composing your title.

Titles that Sell on Amazon
Search is a different animal on Amazon, so sellers need to keep that in mind when writing their titles. "When a shopper searches for a product on Amazon, the Amazon system searches more than simply the title," says Amazon selling expert Steve Lindhorst.

A search includes:

  • The words in the title
  • brand/designer/manufacturer/manufacturer part number
  • standard product ID (UPC, EAN, GTIN)

So when composing a title, there is no need to repeat those terms, says Lindhorst. Instead, focus on other keywords a customer would use to find your product.

For example, if you list a "Four Piece Knife Set," you'd be missing all of the buyers who are searching for "steak knives" or "laguiole knives," says Steve. "A savvy seller will also include the brand name, and provide a product title like "Jean DuBost LaGuiole Knives, 4-Piece Steak Knife Set."

"Amazon is a community selling system; that means multiple merchants may sell on the same product detail page," he explains. That must be kept in mind when you create a new product and title, he says. You may be offering free shipping, but the other sellers may not.

For example, "Spongebob Squarepants Giant Pez Dispenser Free Shipping." If a customer decides to order from a competing seller and he is charged a shipping fee, this would cause a bad customer service experience for everyone involved, including Amazon, says Lindhorst. It also means you should pay close attention to how the product is titled when you list an item under another seller's pre-existing title.

Other things that are important when creating a title on Amazon, according to Lindhorst:

  • Avoid gimmicky terms like "super," "cheap" or "quality" unless it is part of the trade name. "These terms may come across as a bit over-hyped to shoppers and turn them off," he explains.

  • Including the unique and specific language of your product into your keywords will help your product stand out.

  • Keep less-essential information within the product description and bullet points. For example, variations (such as size, color, or quantity) should not be included in the title of the listing.

  • Use accurate spelling for the brand of the product. Spell it exactly as the manufacturer has it, including punctuation and capitalization.

  • Use the word "and" instead of "&" (ampersand character) when possible. Trademark and reserved symbols should be avoided.

Precise Titles that Stand Out on Amazon
Amazon titles tend to be shorter than those on eBay. But in certain product categories, such as books, or even periodicals, there can be so many variations (different editions, printing years, and publishers, for example), that including that information in your product title can help your listing find a buyer who may be otherwise faced with a sea of identical-looking listings. Bookthink editor Craig Stark regularly sees this kind of detailed information lacking, mainly in Amazon product descriptions - such as the edition, ISBN, and printing number; and he even sometimes sees poor spelling or diction. But some of that information can be important to include in your Amazon title, as well, to differentiate which version of a book or periodical you are selling. And titles that are not typed exactly as they are on the book cover can be a problem, too.

Relatively minimal changes can have a big impact in your sales, says Stark. This is true not just on Amazon, but of titles across all the online marketplaces.

So the next time you list a product online, make every space of that title work for you.

About the author:

Julia Wilkinson is the author of "The eBay Price Guide" (No Starch Press, 2006) and "eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks" (Wiley, 2004-6). Her free "Yard Salers" newsletter is at available at YardSalers.net where you will also find her latest ebook, Flip It Again.

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