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Tue Dec 13 2011 22:28:17

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

By: Ina Steiner

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Sellers who offer free shipping on some marketplace sites such as eBay and Etsy may be making a mistake that is costing them traffic during the holiday shopping season. Products listings from eBay and Etsy that include the words "free shipping" in the title are not appearing in Google search results.

That's because Google rejects listings that include promotional or boilerplate text. According to Google Product Search policies, all data needs to be a clear and direct description of the submitted product - "Text related to shopping or store policies is not allowed. For example, "Free shipping" is not allowed."

But some marketplaces clean up their data feeds before sending to Google. (Google does not allow marketplace sellers to send their product listings directly to its Merchant Center - the marketplaces do that on the merchants' behalf.)

eCrater, for example, strips out the words "free shipping" from its merchants' product listings before sending the feeds to Google. A product listing on eCrater with the title, "Mercenaries2 World In Flames Mercenaries 2 Official Game Guide PRIMA - FREE SHIPPING" shows up on a Google Product Search with the title, "Mercenaries2 World In Flames Mercenaries 2 Official Game Guide PRIMA."

This means that merchants can optimize their product listings for eCrater's search results, while letting eCrater worry about optimizing their listings for Google Shopping search results (some sellers think it's important to have the words free shipping in the listing title if they go to the expense of offering it).

In contrast, this eBay listing with "free shipping" in the title - "Jim Shore Disney Swaying Mickey Snowman BRAND NEW 2011 Free Shipping" - does not show up in Google Shopping search results for "Jim Shore Disney Swaying Mickey Snowman." eBay is leaving the words "free shipping" in the title and, therefore, Google is rejecting it. (It's even possible eBay is deleting those listings before sending the feed, because Google warns that "Failure to adhere to the following policies will result in your account being suspended or disabled." There's no way of knowing, and eBay has yet to respond to our inquiries.)

To be clear, Google is not rejecting listings when sellers offer free shipping. It's rejecting listings when the seller includes the words "free shipping" in their listing.

While running searches to test this issue, we encountered something interesting. We found a listing from a seller who listed included the phrase "free shipping" in the description. We took his title from eBay and entered it into Google Shopping search. His listing on eBay did not appear, but the very same listing from the seller on eBid did show up.

Note that sellers can offer free shipping on marketplaces without putting the phrase Free Shipping in their listings. However, the Free-Shipping-in-titles issue is particularly worrisome given that eBay is strongly pushing sellers to offer free shipping by rewarding them through increased exposure in search and reduced fees. Sellers who take eBay's advice to heart and offer free shipping may be tempted to also include the words in their listing titles in a bid to draw even greater attention to them.

How is it that a small independent marketplace seems better able to clean its Google data feed than giant eBay?

eCrater founder Dimitar Slavov said he loves to experiment and is constantly doing so. "The goal is to provide relevant, high quality product content for Google Product Search that is fully compliant with Google's policies."

We asked Dimitar what sellers could do to make sure their listings are not rejected by Google. It's simple, he said. "The merchants must read and understand Google's policies. Most common issues are duplicate content, promotional or boilerplate text. In addition they must make sure that their products include all required attributes."

Etsy confirmed it does not strip out the phrase Free Shipping before sending feeds to Google. Etsy Product Marketing Manager Natalie Schwartz said the company does a lot of work to get Etsy listing data in a form friendly for Google Product Search and have monitoring in place to make sure its submissions are going through, "but we don't try to optimize listings for Google's policies that are subjective." Etsy publishes a help guide to help sellers understand how to ensure their listings appear in Google Product Search

If you're testing this yourself, be aware that a listing that has characters run into the phrase "free shipping" may sneak past Google's radar screen, as will listings with phrases where free shipping is broken up. For example, you'll find marketplace listings with titles that read "Free Etsy Shipping" or "4Free Shipping" on Google Shopping results.

This very issue came up 2 years ago when we published a 3-part interview with SEO guru Tom Critchlow of Distilled on Google's editorial policies - see, "Optimizing eBay Listings May Hurt You on Google?" (link to the blog post).

It's easy to take your titles and see for yourself if they are showing up in Google Shopping search results. If your marketplace isn't cleaning up your listings before sending feeds to Google, you might want to clean up your titles yourself!




Comments (16) | Permalink

Readers Comments

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

This user has validated their user name. by: Pete

Tue Dec 13 22:38:33 2011

I am really sick of all this Free Shipping Garbage....in 99.9% of cases its SHIPPING INCLUDED

It’s about time this was correctly defined on all internet sites as its actually deception by stealth

I buy nothing from these so called free shippers as I want to know what the item costs not the total I have to pay  

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous Annie

Tue Dec 13 23:53:01 2011

Once again, we have a clear and irrefutable example of how eBay's lazy and inattentive ''programming'' is a costly detriment to the small sellers who can least afford to take the hit caused by eBay's incompetence.

This is just a hunch on my part, I have no proof or statistics to back it up... but it seems logical to me that the sellers who are most likely to use the phrase ''free shipping'' in their product title are the small sellers who are trying their darndest to demonstrate to eBay that they are playing by the rules and jumping through eBay's hoops... and what do they get in return? Nothing.

The large preferred Diamond sellers may indeed offer free shipping, but the preferential treatment and positioning they receive by default means that they don't have to try as hard. They don't have to resort to such obvious tactics of emblazoning their listings with the magic ''free shipping'' phrase.

The cynical part of me wonders if eBay's inaction is actually BY DESIGN. Is this neglect just one more example in a long line of injustices that are thrust upon honest hard-working small sellers in an attempt to squeeze them even harder and force them to leave?

It's a question worth asking, and even though we already know the truth, it's a question that will never be answered directly.

Hey, Joanna Hoff... what are your thoughts about this? Care to try and spin this? I'll bet you can come up with some explanation that goes something like...

''eBay leaves it up to the sellers to determine the best description for their items. It's not our place to second-guess what our sellers want. We trust our sellers and by not modifying the titles, we ensure greater integrity. Our research shows that this is what the buyers want. It's a feature, not a bug.''

Yeah, right.

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

This user has validated their user name. by: Bill
Web Site

Tue Dec 13 23:55:19 2011

eBay is tasting some of its own medicine with Google! eBay has been very harsh with their policies on sellers as long as with buyers. Whether it concerns account suspensions or paypal limitation... Nonetheless I agree with the comment above. Most items are not free shipping, but shipping included. And yea let's how eBay will react to someone bigger than them imposing their rules!

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

by: Harriet This user has validated their user name.

Wed Dec 14 00:13:54 2011

eCrater.com has bent over backwards to help sellers with Google requirements. I really appreciate this. They have helped us drill down on where the errors are in out listings so we are better able to correct them.

eCrater is one excellent site, especially if you take advantage of their help. I have learned so much since opening a store there.

For all the reasons above, I am having a good holiday selling season.

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

by: Rich

Wed Dec 14 01:05:22 2011

Very interesting article.  I have 2 ebay accounts and the smaller account uses free shipping and it's been doing awful.  The non-selling auctions, which is most of them are being transferred over to ebay store and without the free shipping.  The ebay store which does not have free shipping is doing decent.

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

This user has validated their user name. by: Siobhan

Wed Dec 14 01:49:52 2011

Isn't going to affect me, because I've left ebay.

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

This user has validated their user name. by: TheCheapSkirt

Wed Dec 14 03:33:05 2011

Even though I have no problems with my items appearing in Google Product Search, the actual amount of traffic I get from Google Product Search on my websites is so negligible I wonder why I even care.

Of the 333,331 visitors I've had this holiday season to my seasonal ecrater store, only 114 were from Google Product search.

That is less than 3/100% of a percent (if I've done the math correctly?).

So even if my items weren't appearing in Google Product Search, I wouldn't care too much, since it would be a small traffic loss.

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

This user has validated their user name. by: TheCheapSkirt

Wed Dec 14 03:34:34 2011

Oh wait, typo... only 33,331 visitors, so 3/10% of a percent.

(I couldn't imagine the volume of sales with over 300,000 visitors... I can barely keep up with what I have! LOL)

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

by: reader1412

Wed Dec 14 09:45:35 2011

Things on ebay are usually priced much higher than the same thing elsewhere. It's very obvious that there is no free shipping on ebay. Everyone jacked the prices waaaay up.  Do they think shoppers are that stupid, really?

I'm also not sure how many people would actually use google shopping to begin with, when there are search plugins for any place you can dream of or even make your own easily.
Google has changed a bunch of times and I'm not so sure people like it as much anymore. More spyware and tracking garbage than it's worth.

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

by: G#@gle Sh0p%ng

Wed Dec 14 10:04:54 2011

@TheCheapSkirt
 I think Google shot their Product Search (''Shopping'')in the foot when they added ''+You'' as the first Google menu tab link on the top of the Google page.
 ''Shopping'', which previously had it's own easily visible, clickable tab on the top of the Google home page, then became hidden inside of the ''More'' drop-down menu of additional Google links.
  Since this has happened, my Google ''Shopping'' hits as a percentage of where my customers come from, have dropped 50%.
(Stats are courtesy of Atomic Mall, which tracks buyer source and makes the data available free to it's sellers)
  This leads me to one more rant (at Google). Google: look at your home page! You have way more room for additional tabs (links) across the top of your page!!! Why would you want to bury ''Shopping'', ''Finance'', ''Blogs'', ''YouTube'', etc., in an additional drop-down menu (''More''), forcing the user into extra clicks(?) ... WHEN YOU HAVE TONS OF ROOM LEFT ACROSS THE TOP OF YOUR PAGE, TO DISPLAY THOSE LINKS UP FRONT!!!
  (Lazy IT people?)
  There, I've vented, and I feel much better. I don't want to send this rant to Google directly, as I fear getting my items donut-holed by Google's discovery of my ISP address (Google style)
: )

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

by: reader1412

Wed Dec 14 10:17:59 2011

People who don't like or trust google can use scroogle.org or ssl.scroogle.org search scraper Go to mycroft.mozdev.org for search plugins.

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

by: MR ME

Wed Dec 14 11:12:15 2011

Right On - Google !

At least they understand the "Free" shipping gimmick !
Just walk down the serial Aisle in safeway or watch late night informercials to get your fill of "free" offers.
Whenever I see the word "Free", I know that there is a loophole !!!!
Calculated, honest shipping is the best policy for all (Except eBaqy/paypal who use it to line their greedy pockets)
Mat eBay die a slow/painful death ......

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Wed Dec 14 11:15:25 2011

ArtFire alerts you if it detects the word "free" in your listings (not just the title). It's a bit of overkill, IMHO, since the word does have other connotations. I used to have the phrase "please feel free to contact me with questions" in my listings and had to reword it because ArtFire wouldn't send the listing to Google like that. That said, they seem to do a pretty good job with their Google feed and they give you access to your referral URLs.

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

by: Carson Ward
Web Site

Wed Dec 14 18:33:12 2011

It's an interesting conflict between eBay and Google, but not the first we've seen. Google handles eBay results very poorly, so users don't click on eBay results.

When I've clicked an eBay link from Google Shopping (aka Product Search) either...
-the price was wrong.
-the item was used, even though Google said "new."
-shipping costs were inaccurate.
-the listing was a totally different product.

Some of these issues may have been resolved since I last checked.

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed Dec 14 20:46:07 2011

Ebafia may have quite by accident actually helped multi channel sellers avoid Google sanctions by preventing identical items being shown in Google results.

Your thoughts?

Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?   Could Offering Free Shipping on eBay Hurt Your Google SEO?

by: John

Wed Dec 14 22:29:51 2011

It does not matter on eBay or google, they are both too big and they do not have people in place who are competent. Why would it matter if you put free shipping in your title? You can use free shipping in Adwords, it is all about money not the search. eBay is just a cesspool they are crowding the site with the free listing offer for auctions. There servers cannot handle it all, we sell in spurts, it is clear that there is some sort of rotation or blackouts. Free shipping who cares, shoppers look at the total, this is just a friggin distraction, the real problem is the anal rules and policies on google and eBay that are the problem,  greedy rich people are unable to manage this it is way over their heads.



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