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eBay Hacks, 2nd Edition by David A. Karp

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Hack #47. Use Keywords Effectively

Strategically place keywords in your title and description to increase your exposure without violating eBay's keyword spamming rules.

The title is the single most important part of your auction, as it is the only basis for standard searches on eBay. You have 55 characters with which to simultaneously describe your item and include as many search keywords as possible, so don't waste them.

Say you're selling a camera, and you want to attract as many bidders as possible to your auction. To construct the best possible title, start by including the full manufacturer name, product name, and model number, like this:

Nikon F100

If you were to put only "Nikon" in the title, any searches for the model name ("F100" in this case) would fail to bring up your item. Next, state what the item actually is:

Nikon F100 35mm Camera

One of the more common mistakes sellers make is never stating what the item is in the title or even in the description. Think about it: without the word "camera" in the title, searches for "nikon camera" wouldn't bring up your item.

Tip

eBay goes to great lengths to help sellers describe their auctions. If you're not familiar with a certain category, check out eBay's seller's guide for the section. For instance, eBay's Art Seller's Guide (pages.ebay.com/artsellersguide) suggests that the word "art" is consistently one of the top five search terms.

Next, you'll want to compensate for common variations by including them right in the title:

Nikon F100 F-100 35mm Camera 35 mm

This means that searches for "F100" and "F-100", as well as "35mm" and "35 mm" (with the space), will bring up this item. Note that some variations, such as "tshirt" and "t-shirt" are considered equivalent, thanks to eBay's support for fuzzy searches [Hack #11] , so you don't have to waste space by including both.

The order of the keywords in your title is also important, because some bid-ders search for phrases [Hack #10] . Here, "35 mm" (with the space) appears after "camera" so that the phrase "35mm Camera" remains intact. For the same reason, you wouldn't want to type something like "F100 Nikon". This is also acceptable:

Nikon F100 F-100 35 mm 35mm Camera

Next, if the manufacturer is known by other names (or other spellings), include them as well:

Nikon F100 F-100 35mm Camera 35 mm Nikkor

Finally, if there's room, think about other things your bidders might be looking for. Remember, the title not only seeds search results; it must also compel bidders to view your item when they see it listed in search results and category listings. For instance, if your item comes with extras, say so right in the title:

Nikon F100 F-100 35mm Camera 35 mm 2 Nikkor Lens Lenses

Again, multiple variants are included ("lens" and "lenses"). Now, after a simple test [Hack #11] , you'll find that eBay considers these two words equivalent, so both are not strictly necessary. But you may want to leave them in to catch searches for the phrase "Nikkor Lens," which paradoxically does not find the same items as "Nikkor Lenses."

In this last example, the number "2" was used instead of "two," which saved two characters for other keywords. This kind of abbreviation is okay because nobody will be searching for the word "two." But if there's space, "two" is a little more eye-catching and easier to scan (read quickly), and may be worth dropping the second "35 mm" variant:

Nikon F100 F-100 35mm Camera TWO Nikkor Lens Lenses NEW

This change also makes room for the word "NEW," something for which many customers will actually be looking.

Tip

Be judicious with your use of capital letters. In most cases, putting the entire title in ALL CAPS is unnecessary, and actually may turn off bidders. But a few choice words in all capitals will not only emphasize those words, but will help separate them from other words in the description without having to resort to unnecessary punctuation and prepositions like "with." A good mix of upper-and lowercase will stand out better than an otherwise homogeneous title.

Naturally, your ability to squeeze more words into the title will vary with the item being sold and which words you think people are likely to use in searches. If you run out of room, you'll have to start prioritizing. Remove the less common words, phrases, and monikers and embed them in the subtitle or description, discussed later in this hack.

Title Don'ts

eBay's support for fuzzy searches [Hack #11] is very limited, so in most cases, only exact matches will bring up your auction in search results. For this reason, never abbreviate:

Nikon F100 Cam. with two lns. & other xtras brand new

For the same reason, be careful not to misspell the name of your item, or nobody will find it. This, of course, doesn't include intentional misspellings you might include to accommodate your spelling-challenged bidders (e.g., "Nikkon").

Next, avoid wasting space with prepositions ("with"), conjunctions ("and"), and punctuation (commas, periods, semicolons, and quotes). In most cases, nothing more than a single space is needed to separate words in your titles. But don't take it too far; a lot of sellers make the mistake of squishing all their words together, like this:

NikonF100with2lensesextrabatteriesbrandnewsowhywait

This auction won't show up in any searches, ever, and is so difficult to read that few people will bother opening it in category listings. Do this only if you want to completely hide your auction from your customers.

Don't abuse keywords by using them to spam search results. A common practice is to include the word "not" followed by other manufacturer names, like this:

Nikon F100 Camera not Canon Olympus Minolta

The idea is to increase the item's visibility by having it show up in a wider variety of searches, a plan that usually backfires for several reasons. First, anyone searching for a different manufacturer is very unlikely to be interested in your item. Second, this is in violation of eBay's keyword-spamming rules, and is grounds to have your item removed (yes, they actually delete listings for this). Third, this practice will probably end up annoying the very customers you're trying to attract. Finally, these superfluous keywords are a total waste of space that could otherwise be used to include relevant keywords that will attract bidders who might actually bid on your item.

Here's an especially bad title:

°ºØ,,,,غ° `°ºØ,,,,غ° * * Nikon F100 * * @_@ LOOK @_@

Obviously, all this fluff is a total waste of space, consuming precious characters that could otherwise be used to include more keywords. And when was the last time you searched for the word "LOOK" anyway? But a lot of sellers do this; a recent title-only search on eBay for the word "LOOK" actually generated 79, 533 results.

In the rare case that you have space to spare, fill it with an acronym [Hack #17] or two. And if you want to attract attention to your listing, eBay's listing upgrades [Hack #46] do a much better job than ASCII art, and easily pay for themselves if you use them appropriately.

Make Space with a Subtitle

A relatively new addition to eBay's extra-cost listing upgrades, the subtitle is another 55 characters of text that appears beneath your title in search results, category listings, and on the item page itself. The key is that words in the subtitle are included only in title-and-description searches, whereas only words in the title are included in title-only searches.

Use the subtitle to include extra information or eye-catching phrases for which your customers would be less likely to search. For instance, instead of this lone title:

Nikon F100 F-100 35mm Camera TWO Nikkor Lens Lenses NEW

you could use this title-subtitle combination:

Nikon F100 F-100 35mm Camera 35 mm Film Nikkor Lens NEW

Brand new setup w/ two Nikkor lenses & extra batteries!

This new title regains all the keywords that were removed to make room for higher-priority ones, and even has space for "Film" (presumably to catch searches for "film camera"). The subtitle need not be as efficient and can, rather, focus on a selling point or two to help grab attention in a crowded market.

The Description

The description is used (obviously) to describe your item. But it's also the only other part of your auction that is indexed by eBay's search, so make sure to insert any relevant search terms that you weren't able to fit in the title or subtitle.

Since there's no size limit for the description, you can use as much space as you like with keywords, variations, alternate spellings, and anything else you can think of. The catch, of course, is that description text comes into play only in title-and-description searches.

The only big "don't" when it comes to writing auction descriptions is keyword spamming, which essentially involves listing a bunch of search keywords unrelated to the actual item being sold. As in the title, keyword spamming is grounds for removal of your listing.

Tip

As a seller, you have something at stake when other sellers flood category listings and search results with irrelevant auctions. Not only does this practice annoy potential customers, but the increased competition can make it harder for bidders to find your listings. What's worse is that more adept bidders may feel it necessary to narrow their searches as a result, using exclusions [Hack #10] that might inadvertently exclude your listing as well. If you suspect that a seller is keyword spamming, you have every right to report the listing by going to pages.ebay.com/help/contact_inline.

To avoid looking like you're keyword spamming (whether you are or not), you'll want to embed your keywords in your descriptions rather than blatantly listing them somewhere. This is a much better way to "hide" keywords than, say, making them invisible with white text [Hack #52] or including them with <meta> tags.

For instance, consider an auction for a used camera. Here's a paragraph that surreptitiously hides intentional misspellings, variations, specific phrases, and other keywords, all of which have been set apart in bold:

You are bidding on a like-new Nikon F3 35mm camera, complete with all the original paperwork, three Nikkor lenses (a 28–80 mm zoom lens, a 55mm macro lens, and a 105mm Nikon lens), and the original Nikkon warranty card. I've had the F-3 for only a few months, during which time I've only used FujiChrome 35-mm film with it. Of all the cameras I've used, including a Canon EOS, this has been my favorite. I'm selling because I'm shooting mostly digital these days. Being a photo nut, I also have some other photographic equipment for sale this week, such as two Olympus cameras and a bunch of Kodak TMAX black and white film, so check out my other listings.

As you can see, many of the keywords come from subtle advertising of other listings in the description [Hack #60] . Of course, since description searches also include titles, you don't have to go out of your way to duplicate keywords in your description that already appear in your title.

Item Specifics

Lastly, don't forget to take advantage of the specialized Item Specifics fields available for certain categories. For instance, if you're selling a pair of women's shoes, you'll be given the opportunity to fill out a handful of related fields, such as Style (e.g., athletic, boots, flats, sandals, etc.), Size, Main Color, Heel Height, and Condition. Not only do these choices show up in a dedicated box just above your description, but your customers will be able to find your listing by filling in the corresponding Item Specifics fields on eBay search pages. Among other things, any selections you make here may allow you to drop a word or two from the title to make room for any more-vital keywords.

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