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eBay Sellers Must Compete with Promoted Listing Ads

eBay is taking another stab at offering an advertising program for sellers. The newly announced Promoted Listings offering takes a different approach than previous attempts, however – sellers only pay when a shopper actually purchases an item after clicking on an ad (Cost Per Sale, not the typical Cost Per Click).

Jordan Sweetnam, Vice President of Seller Experience at eBay Marketplaces, said, “With promoted listings, you’ll be able to put your best-selling merchandise and seasonal must-haves in front of your customers as they are actively searching for specific items. This will give you the opportunity to boost the visibility of items and may increase the likelihood of sales.”

Promoted Listings is only available to a limited number of eBay Store subscribers. eBay beta tested the program from October through December, and it will become available by invitation only in June in the US, UK, Germany, and Australia.

Promoted Listings are labeled “promoted” and may appear in search results (both desktop and mobile) or on the right side of the search results page. They are not to be confused with other ads that appear all over the site and listing pages, including “Sponsored Links” that look like eBay listings but take shoppers to a different retail website.

The reaction from sellers who heard about the program in EcommerceBytes in September was skepticism – “The program appears to be nothing more than eBay management’s latest attempt to squeeze more money out of sellers,” wrote one seller, who added, “If eBay’s search engine was even average, sellers would not need to spend more to gain visibility.” One seller said they feared it would hurt small sellers, “as the big retailers with deep pockets will win, just like on Google.”

However, many sellers participated in previous ad programs on eBay, and they may be disappointed to learn the program is not open to everyone. eBay said it has plans to expand the program this year.

eBay has always struggled with search, and when it phased out a previous seller ad program in 2010, it gave the reason as wanting to ensure shoppers would see the most relevant listings – “Our goal is to keep the focus in eBay search results on surfacing the items most relevant to a buyer’s search from sellers delivering the best value and service,” it said at the time.

Since then, it rebuilt its search engine from scratch, and “Cassini,” as it’s called, was supposed to give the most relevant listings the best exposure in search to ensure the optimum buying experience for shoppers.

eBay will use an algorithm to determine which Promoted Listing ads to display in search results – however, it’s different than eBay’s Best Match algorithm for regular search results. eBay explained, “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. Promoted listings from sellers with different ad rates may appear in different page locations.”

In 2013, eBay dropped a bombshell when it changed its User Agreement, adding a provision that allows it to hide listings in search results for any reason. Upon learning of the Promoted Listings beta testing last year, a seller had written, “I predicted that once eBay granted itself permission to hide your listings in the October 26, 2013 user agreement, they would then devise a way to charge small sellers for increased visibility of their items.”

eBay explains on the Promoted Listings website, “Your ads may appear in prominent locations on eBay based on several factors, including your chosen ad rate and how relevant the item is to a buyer’s search.”

In a Frequently Asked Question, “Why should I use promoted listings when I’m already optimizing for Best Match,” eBay responds, “Optimizing your listings for Best Match remains an important best practice. Promoted listings gives you the opportunity to boost your visibility and sales potential by making your listings eligible to show up in more places on eBay. Your Best Match ranking does not affect whether your promoted ads appear.”

In announcing the program on Tuesday, Alex Linde, VP of Advertising and Monetization, said, “Most other advertising services will charge you for a click, whether or not a sale takes place. This is a more efficient way to advertise and one more example of our focus on seller success.”

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
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 ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.