Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Mon Nov 17 2014 14:12:31

Marketplace Search Algorithms: All about Monetization

By: Ina Steiner

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Etsy sellers are seeing firsthand how changes to search engine algorithms can impact exposure in search results, and ultimately impact sales. But are online marketplaces doing a good job of ranking product listings in search results?

Etsy isn't alone in making major and minor changes its search engine. Wall Street analyst Bob Peck of SunTrust Robinson Humphrey issued a research note today in which he said "a platform's "algorithm" is a living / breathing entity that is constantly evolving." He was writing about Facebook's latest change to how it shows posts in its News Feed, and said Facebook's algorithm is mandated to create the best user experience as well as provide monetization for Facebook.

It's pretty certain that's true of any ecommerce marketplace as well - algorithms aren't about optimizing search for sellers - they're optimizing for buyers, which isn't the same thing. For instance, Peck had this to say about Amazon's search engine algorithm.

Amazon has discussed historically that its product search result dynamically adjusts in real time, accounting for things like: merchant review, price, inventory supply, etc. Impact: Creates the best user experience for shoppers and rewards top merchants. Likely improves frequency as users find what they are looking for faster. Good for long term experience, conversion, and hence revenue.


Peck also said Google makes small tweaks to its algorithm 1-2 times a day. "At the end of the day, if users have a subpar experience, they will reduce or stop using a service."

It's pretty likely marketplaces are also programming search algorithms to optimize first and foremost for what brings the most revenue to the marketplace. Could a marketplace such as Amazon or eBay, or Etsy make more money showing advertising rather than their merchants' inventory? If so, would the marketplace adjust the algorithm to show advertisers' listings more prominently than its own merchants' listings?

In the case of Etsy, the marketplace acknowledged the problem of clumping - though it didn't say whether it was, as some sellers believe, caused by its new Promoted Listings advertising offering.

Many sellers have long believed searchers should have control over how they search rather than letting algorithms "guess" what a shopper is looking for - many objected when eBay made its Best Match relevancy algorithm the default sort order in search results.

If you've got examples of how marketplace search algorithms help/hurt sellers, share your stories in the comments.




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

Mon Nov 17 14:35:56 2014

The two fundamental failure of algorithmic searches is that one size does not fit all (sellers).

What it does fit is the marketplace's maximum monetization agenda, and if this damages some sellers in favor of that amrketplace's preferred sellers, so be it.

Best Match is a prime example. It is and always has been a rigged card game that the government has allowed ebay to abuse and misuse by refusing to prosecute the numerous fair trade practices violations.

The only thing any seller needs to know is that all marketplace changes are ALWAYS ABOUT THE MONEY and NEVER about helping you sell more.

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by: DJBrady This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 17 17:49:57 2014

We cannot make sense of our own products in the searches on Ebay. We have several items which we're usually in the top 3 sellers in actual sales of but in the search ratings we are often 10 to 30 down the page in best match.

100% feedback, ship the day of purchase up to 6 at night, top rated, 30 day return, best price etc. and now evem with 90 day holiday returns still remain way down in the search. Other items we have are right are at the top of best match and we wonder why.

We're fortunate to have repeat business from years of selling but it would be really nice to make sense of how and why this works because we've tried everything.

As a buyer recently I've noticed items what comes up in the area of ''more items related to'' has been expanded greatly and many of the items that show up don't make any sense so there must have been a big tweak there.

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by: collectorjim This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 17 18:01:21 2014

Ebays best match is a prefect example of a rigged search engine. One thing you can't program into a search engine is a customer's desire and that was a major mistake on eBay's part.

The proof is in the pudding you might say... I've been tracking monthly unique visitors to sites like Amazon, eBay and Etsy for about a year now...

Amazon avg. 125 million unique visitors a month until sept. when it starts the climb to 160 million unique visitors at peak Christmas shopping. Very Impressive!

eBay stats a few years a go were only 1-2 million behind Amazon but not anymore. Sellers aren't the only people who hate the new rigged search results, buyers hate it much more and they are leaving and not coming back..the stats back that up.

Check them out www.compete.com

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by: sailormoon This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 17 19:14:10 2014

I think the problem is less that ebay rigged it's search engine, but more that it did a poor job of it. Amazon "rigs" its search engine as well and I never had a problem with it. I seem to be able to find things I like. Google is constantly optimizing and it's not the users who complain, it's the websites themselves who complain when they get bumped down. But on ebay and etsy, users/buyers are complaining and don't like the search engine.

For example, I remember reading somewhere that ebay downplays auctions in search results for new members. Hm, I wonder why new members would sign up for an AUCTION site if they don't actually want to see AUCTIONS. Idiotic stuff like that is why Cassini doesn't work. I don't even know what the deal with etsy's search engine is but I can never find anything on that site, it's horrible.

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by: aim04744 This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 17 19:18:46 2014

This works to make them money, until it doesnt. Yes it gives them an initial surge but in the end it drives away both buyers and sellers. Ebay has been dealing with it for a couple of years and despite the evidence, Etsy decide to follow in those same footsteps.  Eventually all the site is left with are the people who will pay to advertise and the rest of the party has moved on to where they can fin/buy and sell tems.  

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by: cayenna This user has validated their user name.

Tue Nov 18 02:33:28 2014

My sales stopped pretty much quite a few months ago on both eBay and both etsy shops. Just today I listed 25 new listings and then I did a search and only one listing showed up on page 7 on etsy. Those items are sold by quite a few others also and they still dominated the pages before mine re clumping. I have a 100 percent + FB on eBay and etsy so no issues. It just came to a screeching halt and that was it. Same with eBay only with eBay it stopped much sooner. Whether they tweak things or not what about the money we pay them so that we can be seen re etsy. And does not our sales make them any money? More than advertising? I feel like everything's become a major rip off and the sellers expense. I read people encourage having your own website which I have done at least 4 times now and ended them because there was no visibility there either. Even with social marketing there's nothing happening. I went to anywhere from 3000 views to 80 and less. Flat lining for more than a week on etsy and only 3 sales in 6 months in one etsy shop when sales were regular. I am so sick of all of this and I have no choice but to keep putting up with it because I can't go out and work outside my home due to 2 car accidents. I need to make money to pay bills. There's so much greed that they don't care about their sellers that have helped build their foundation and support it. If they easily throw us under a bus for advertising then why would we want to support them...and I am paying etsy for one shop close to $300. per month! etsy has definitely changed and the fact there's also no transparency or detailed information for sellers so we can really understand why this is happening also shows how they have changed. Perhaps etsy did become like eBay where they opened etsy up to the market and others are now controlling everything...I don't have the time or energy to try and figure it out. Just wish they would care enough to support their sellers. Apparently they don't care as much about their market place and the message they convey to the world anymore if this is what we have to keep putting up with. Looking at it all peripherally there's a lot of bad things combined going on. Why do I feel google, etsy and eBay run all the visibility online...

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by: Tiffee Jasso This user has validated their user name.

Tue Nov 18 02:34:28 2014

I agree with Ming. When I am shown less then a dozen items in my search, I just go do something else or head to the mall. I am tired of going out to Google and coming back into Ebay to find what I am looking for. This "We know what you want!" attitude is the worst failure the market programmers have come up with. A man high on his own BS has no idea what I want and is an arrogant bastard to think he does.
This type of manipulation reminds me of the vintage Russian commercial for the bathing suit lady. A man would say, "Next!" and a lady would come out in a bathing suit. He did this several times and each time the same lady in the same bathing suit came out because that was the only model that was being shown as available. To this day in my family, "Next" means no choice, no way, anyhow.      

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This user has validated their user name. by: shabbychick

Tue Nov 18 03:14:57 2014

I guess this is why when I was doing a search last night with a particular artists name along with ''vintage lithograph print'' I was getting listings for auto parts with one PART of the artists name and not one of the other 4 words in most of the search results! Then at the very bottom in the ''also ran'' section called 'you might also be interested in'' was the exact wording I requested.  The exact item ....but only at the very bottom.  Do they have to be so obvious?


We really do have to to have a contest for the most bizarre search results!

Is the Ebay walkout scheduled for tomorrow? I'm trying to prepare to end all my listings but I'm not hearing much about it now.

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This user has validated their user name. by: shabbychick

Tue Nov 18 03:17:55 2014

Correction. Not ''you might also be interested in''.    It was in ''more items related to''.

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by: Biglouis This user has validated their user name.

Tue Nov 18 06:42:56 2014


Etsy's new search is now scamming the very group who worked the hardest, read all the tutorials, did the SEO and built up their stock.

Now these sellers find the bulk of their stock languishing behind that of less relevant listings which are scraped up from the bottom of the barrel in the name of ''diversity''.

If I search for ''blue art deco bangles'' then that’s what I want to see. If I am looking for blue bangles and one shop has 50 of them then let me see them. I don’t want to wade through pages of items which are NOT BLUE, NOT BANGLES and NOT VINTAGE to get to the items I want. I will conclude that there is little choice of blue vintage bangles on Etsy and go away. Most buyers will not search beyond 4/5 pages. Life is too short.

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by: rhawk This user has validated their user name.

Tue Nov 18 09:26:20 2014

Yes, this is the direction ebay has gone, and others are following.  

Here is a hint.....When you follow an Inept CEO with no prior Ecommerce experience, you are going to get reults that are inept.

This shift to this type of algorithm is not working.

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by: Flying Childers This user has validated their user name.

Tue Nov 18 09:38:55 2014

Excellent posts. I hope this article gets read by a lot of sellers. BTW, Etsy has been removing all links to E-commerce Bytes in the forums. And very quickly too! So even though they refuse to answer the 1000s of begging sellers questions, they are out there in a matter of minutes to remove any post they think is too informative or critical of the powers that be.

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

Tue Nov 18 09:40:55 2014

Yep!  What BigLouis said...

''I will conclude that there is little choice of blue vintage bangles on Etsy and go away. Most buyers will not search beyond 4/5 pages. Life is too short.''

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This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Tue Nov 18 09:48:59 2014

Ming says "a rigged card game"

That is a perfect way to describe it.

I guess greed trumps common sense. Just show the buyer what it is he/she is looking for for crying out loud.

Who needs machine learning trying to figure out what someone wants.

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by: JohnGermaine This user has validated their user name.

Tue Nov 18 09:51:08 2014

A few years back I had a good friend come to me and say, ''Hey, what's up with Google?'' So I explained that they have played with the search results to show you what people who advertise are paying for. Their reply was, ''Huh??'' And I responded that let's pretend you are looking for a blue blouse. If you were to put that in the search bar, you are going to get results on the first page that will be neither blue nor a blouse because someone has paid for advertising and it will show up on that first page regardless of what you are looking for. And that also, they have rewritten the results for some items to show up that the program ''thinks'' you want because you are too stupid to know what you are really looking for. I suggested to find what they want that they try Google, Bing, Yahoo and then go straight to the venues to see what you can find there but that the venues are doing the same thing so good luck finding what you want.

I keep hoping that there is some law they are breaking that will make the madness stop as it's very frustrating to be looking for something and not be able to find it, especially when I know it's a common thing and it should be out there.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Tue Nov 18 09:51:08 2014

"Etsy has been removing all links to E-commerce Bytes in the forums."

The best compliment David and Ina Steiner can receive.  Keep up the good work David and Ina.

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This user has validated their user name. by: bitbybit

Tue Nov 18 14:01:29 2014

Too bad searches and other sites cannot run as smooth as ecommercebytes. This seems to be the ONLY site where I feel I am getting real facts and not being scammed. I will second what Rexford said. Thanks Ina & David.

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by: sailormoon This user has validated their user name.

Tue Nov 18 16:52:18 2014

Rexford hit the nail on the head.. them removing ECB links shows that you guys are doing a wonderful job! Not that we needed any further proof. Thank you Ina & David.

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by: Ebay Seller-Ebay Buyer This user has validated their user name.

Tue Nov 18 18:53:06 2014

As a buyer and a seller, the ebay search has gotten very bad at times.  I search items with certain keywords andmany listings are showing up that do not have all the keywords I'm putting in. I'm trying to eliminate these listings so I can search the listings that I what I want, but instead I'm getting these huge lists of tons of items that should not be showing up. This hurts me as a buyers and wastes my time and of course hurts sellers when buyers like me log off of ebay and buy somewhere else or don't buy at all

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This user has validated their user name. by: David Steiner

Tue Nov 18 18:59:19 2014

Does that mean the the ultimate compliment would be a DDOS attack?

The Internet rewards people in mysterious ways...

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