EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 1882 - September 25, 2008     1 of 3

eBay Loses Mojo on Google Search

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I was doing some searching on Google on September 18th for sewing patterns for Halloween costumes when I observed something interesting. eBay listings did not appear to be showing up high in natural search on Google for my searches. So I did searches for some traditional eBay items, such as Fenton Glass and Beanie Babies. There were no eBay listings on the first page of Google search results.

I know eBay Stores had been getting good exposure on Google search, so I went to eBay's Stores home page and found a major eBay Store seller Aero Tech Designs. (They had an ad on the main eBay Stores page, indicating they were an Anchor Store.)

I found a listing from Aero Tech Designs, "Mens Pro Bike Shorts cycling padded biking LARGE NAVY," and did a search for it on Google. Bingo, the eBay listing came up number one on Google results. But then I did a more generic search, since shoppers were unlikely to enter that exact search-string when searching Google. So I did a search for Men's Pro Bike Shorts.

A search for "men's pro bike shorts" showed zero eBay listings on the first results page. However, the eBay seller's own website showed up third - right underneath two listings.

eBay didn't come up on the first page for Google searches for "mens bike shorts" or "mens bicycle shorts" either. But and Aero Tech Designs' own website did.

I thought this was really intriguing, so I tried to devise a more scientific approach to test what was going on.

First, I went to eBay Pulse to gather eBay's top 10 Most Popular Searches. Then I looked for the keywords eBay placed in the metatags for its top-level categories, and randomly chose 26. And then I looked for a holiday shopping list for actual products people might be searching for, and found Oprah's Favorite Things Holiday 2007 (the 2008 list was not yet available). I chose ten items from the list.

I put all the search terms in a table, and conducted Google searches, and perused the results for eBay listings. I also compared them to Amazon listings as a reality check. (I was not trying to compare apples and apples by placing the eBay and Amazon results together - you would expect eBay to fare better on searches for "vintage toys" and "forestry equipment" than Amazon, and for other searches, Amazon might be expected to fare better. In addition, I used keywords from eBay's own site in the first two sections of the chart. But I did want to see if the problem might have more to do with Google's algorithm than with eBay, or to see if Google might be favoring one marketplace over the other.)

In the accompanying chart, I indicated whether there were any eBay listings showing on the first page of search results for the search term (ten results to a page), and then indicated the actual placement. I looked at the first 10 pages of results only. The chart then reports the same data for Amazon listings for the same searches.

For example, the first item in the chart was a search for the word "wii" - an eBay listing showed up as the 79th search result, and an Amazon listing showed up as the fifth search result (on the first page).

When there were no results on the first 10 pages, I indicated this in the chart with the term, "NF <100"

Google Results Rank
eBay Pulse Top 100 Searches

Search Term eBay Amazon
First Page Result Rank First Page Result Rank
wii No 79 Yes 5
ipod No 50 Yes 6
xbox 360 No 21 No 11
rat rod Yes 6 No 37
coach Yes 10 No 97 (video)
iphone No 84 No NF <100
mustang No NF <100 No NF <100
search N/A N/A N/A N/A
psp No 27 No 17
webkinz No 15 No 14

Google Results Rank
eBay Category Keywords (Random Sampling)

Search Term eBay Amazon
First Page Result Rank First Page Result Rank
architectural garden Yes 1 Yes 3
baby car seats No NF <100 Yes 7
digital camera accessories Yes 10 Yes 3
comics No NF <100 No 84
apple macintosh computers Yes 7 No 56 (books)
discount fabrics No 39 No NF <100
sharp lcd tv No 19 Yes 6
dietary supplements nutrition Yes 9 No 28
watches No NF <100 Yes 3
vinyl records No 19 Yes 3
musical instruments Yes 5 Yes 4
golf clubs No 11 No NF <100
camping equipment No NF <100 No NF <100
sports memorabilia Yes 3 No 71
us stamps Yes 10 No 17
vintage toys Yes 2 No 22
asian antiques Yes 3 No NF <100
original art Yes 5 No 45
baby strollers No 11 Yes 4
childrens books No NF <100 Yes 4
audio books No NF <100 No 11
forestry equipment Yes 3 No NF <100
photography equipment Yes 3 No 22
camera lenses Yes 8 (review page) No 17
sony ericsson No NF <100 Yes 9
disneyana Yes 10 Yes 4

Google Results Rank
Oprah's Favorite Things Holiday 2007 (Top 10)

Search Term eBay Amazon
First Page Result Rank First Page Result Rank
Samsung Progressive HD Camcorder SC-HMX10C No 16 Yes 1
Claus Porto Soaps from Lafco New York No NF <100 Yes 10
UGG Australia Classic Crochet Tall Boot No 58 No 12
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett No 40 Yes 3
TOYWATCH Crystal and Colored Crystal Watch No 20 No 27
Breville Ikon Panini Press from Williams-Sonoma No NF <100 No 13
HDTV Refrigerator with Weather and Info Center from LG Electronics No NF <100 No 48
Ciao Bella Blood Orange Sorbetto No NF <100 Yes 3
Rachel Pally Swing Turtleneck and Sailor Pants No 26 No 34
Scrabble Premier Edition from Hasbro No 32 Yes 10

Google Results Rank
TIAS Hot List for Collectibles & Antiques (July 2008)

Search Term eBay Amazon
First Page Result Rank First Page Result Rank
Cookie Jar No 81 No 14
Bird No NF <100 No 76 (DVD)
Brass No NF <100 No 69
Teapots No 36 No 13
Transferware Yes 5 No 36
Carnival Glass Yes 4 No 18 (Book)
Stamps Yes 4 No NF <100
Avon No NF <100 No NF <100
Roseville No 64 No NF <100
Candlesticks No 39 Yes 9(Book)

The results of Google searches surprised me. I had expected both eBay and Amazon to fare better than they actually did. I also would have expected that if eBay's SEO had declined, eBay Store sellers would have noticed and I would have heard about it.

I decided to run one more test. Since the Oprah gift list was composed of new items, I decided to test a list of collectibles. I found the Hot List of antiques and collectibles from July 2008, and added the results to the chart.

In the quest for more data, I asked an eBay Store owner on Tuesday if she had spotted any changes in her eBay Store traffic data to see if there had been any changes in her search-engine referrals. She said, "I know for certain that Google traffic went from about 30% one day last week (Thursday?) to about 17% the next day," and she agreed to check her eBay Stores traffic report for previous months. In the meantime, another seller did notice a decline in Google referrals.

Some of the data in these charts are not surprising - Amazon shows up 5th for Wii, eBay places 79th. But some of the data are harder to understand. There are 121,635 results found for "comics" on eBay, yet a search on Google for the word comics brings no eBay listings back in the first 100 results. Amazon placed 84th.

Without having historic data, it's difficult to make sweeping statements about how eBay exposure may have changed on Google over time, though anecdotally it appears it has decreased. However, it also appears that both eBay and Amazon face challenges in getting high rankings on Google searches.

The lesson here for sellers is that going multi-channel can be helpful not just for reaching buyers directly on various marketplaces, but to increase the chances of appearing on Google search results. Even if you have done well in natural search on Google, the search engine can (and does) change its search algorithms over time, leaving you vulnerable if you count on one site for search-engine exposure.

Like the eBay Store owner Aero Tech Designs, merchants should consider developing their own website. Even if it doesn't have a shopping cart, sellers can fill it with content that is helpful to shoppers and indicate where they sell online - and it could help increase exposure on search engines like Google.

Sellers should conduct their own searches using their own products to learn as much as possible, and track results over time. Sellers with analytics tools should look for trends and be ready to adjust their selling strategies.

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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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