Have Them at 'Hello'

Writing attention-grabbing auction titles

by Auctiva.com staff writer
- Mar 11, 2008

In online auctions, clicks equate to bucks. And clicks mean getting eyeballs on your listing. To do that, you need to start with a great title.

To be effective, auction titles should:

  • Be descriptive
  • Be compelling
  • Be likely to be returned by keyword searches
  • Solve a problem or imply a benefit to the buyer

Just like the headline of a news article, the purpose of an auction title is to sum up the content of the listing—and create curiosity or anticipation to entice the viewer to read deeper.

The title field for eBay listings is 55 characters long. Incidentally, it took exactly 55 characters to write that, counting the spaces between words. Take a look at that first sentence of this paragraph again. You can see that 55 characters is not a lot of space. But it is enough, if you use the right approach, to get your point across and make an impact. Bottom line: Make every word count.

To say or not to say

Compelling Words

Amazing, Antique, Awesome, Beautiful, Bold, Breathtaking, Charming, Classic, Daring, Dazzling, Exceptional, Exquisite, Fantastic, Gorgeous, Grand, Handcrafted, Huge, Incredible, Innovative, Lovely, Magnificent, Mind Blowing, Mint, One of a Kind, Original, Phenomenal, Prime, Pristine, Rare, Remarkable, Sexy, Striking, Stunning, Tremendous, Unique, Unusual, Vintage, Wonderful

As a general guideline, make sure your auction title accurately describes the item, and is easily searchable. eBay's own research shows that more than 70 percent of bidders find items using the search feature. And, by the way, the site's default settings specify a title-only search. (You can select an option for searching auction descriptions too.) Use keywords that best tell the story and are likely to put your items in as many search results as possible, and leave out the fluff.

Why are keywords so important? Because they help buyers weed out extraneous listings and find exactly what they are looking for.

Let's imagine a buyer is looking for a baseball signed by Barry Bonds. An eBay search for the words "Barry Bonds" turns up more than 2,000 listings. Adding the word "baseball" to the search string trims the results to about 150. A more specific query of "Barry Bonds signed baseball" nets 13 listings, however replacing the word "signed" with "autographed" narrows it even further to six.

With a more specific and descriptive title, the competitive field becomes much smaller, and your listing is more likely to get noticed.

Include essential information such as the brand name, model number, or artist. Tell what the item is: a lithograph, a pair of skis, computer speakers, etc. Add item-specific descriptions to make the listing pop out to people who have a specific need. Include size, color, or number of items if it's a collection or a set.

If the item is new or "mint," say so and give your listing an edge. Conversely, if the item is used, don't waste characters stating the fact. It's rare that anyone searches for a "used" anything.

Condensing commonly used terms into acronyms, such as NWT (new with tags), is a good way to budget your character usage, but don't go overboard with ALL CAPS acronyms that make it look like you're yelling, or abbreviations that aren't easily recognizable. It's also a good idea when you use an acronym in the title to spell it out in the listing description. You want to make sure buyers understand what you're selling. And if they expand their search to include descriptions, you've just increased the listing's odds of being discovered.

One more note about capitalization: It's best to start each word with a cap, and limit ALL CAPS to certain keywords that you really want to emphasize.

Common eBay Title Acronyms

  • AKA: Also known as
  • B&W: Black and white
  • BBC: Bottom of back cover
  • BC: Back cover
  • Gently Used: Used but shows little wear
  • HTF: Hard to find
  • LTD: Limited edition
  • Mint: In perfect condition
  • MIB: Mint in box
  • MIJ: Made in Japan
  • MIMB: Mint in mint box
  • MIP: Mint in package
  • MNB: Mint no box
  • MWMT: Mint with mint tags
  • NBW: Never been worn
  • NC: No cover
  • NM: Near mint
  • NOS: New old-stock (e.g., collectibles)
  • NR: No Reserve price on auction (highest bid wins)
  • NRFB: Never removed from box
  • OEM: Original equipment manufacturer
  • OOAK: One of a kind
  • OOP: Out of print
  • Patina: The shine on the item
  • Rare: Overused term; use sparingly
  • Sig: Signature
  • TM: Trademark
  • VHTF: Very hard to find
  • WYSIWYG: What you see is what you get

Avoid using punctuation and symbols such as exclamation points, dashes, or asterisks. Search will ignore punctuation, and such characters eat up critical space. Spaces are critical, however. Suppose your title was "Pink NIBiPOD," for example. Buyers aren't likely to search for "NIBiPOD." So your listing would only come up in a search containing the word "pink." Good luck with that.

A rose by any other name

There is some controversy surrounding the use of misspelled words in auction titles. One school of thought is that misspellings make a listing less visible and the seller sloppy and unprofessional. For Pete's sake, everyone nowadays has a spellchecker, right?

Yet, some sellers purposely misspell keywords. Why? They've done their research and found that more buyers search for Little Tykes than the correctly spelled Little Tikes, for instance.

If you still have room after including all the vitals, add more hooks to grab attention. Use words that evoke emotion, create mystery or stir excitement—like stunning, sexy, or awesome. But don't get silly with irrelevant expressions like L@@K!! or SAVE$$. Gimmicks like these are the mark of an amateur, and might even result in a lower final price.

Finally, use listing upgrades sparingly. Features such as bold and highlight may be eye-catching, but they won't improve your search results. And they may not increase your traffic enough to make it worth the extra fees.

Subtitles are a possible exception, if used right. Just remember, they are not searchable, so it's important to get your keywords into the main title, and save the subtitle for additional information that might help lure buyers in once they locate your listing. Using the Barry Bonds example above, a subtitle might let viewers know that the autographed ball is certified to be authentic, certainly an added value.

It might be useful to include a hit counter, such as Sellathon, to track how many people visited your auction and what keywords they searched with. This way, if your listing isn't getting clicks, you can go back and fine-tune your heading before relisting the item.

Think of your auction title as your elevator speech or, if it works for you, a pick up line. It is the first impression you will make with potential buyers—your foot in the door. Make it effective, and reap the rewards.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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