Unlocking 'Best Match' Mysteries

Learn what eBay's algorithm uses to return search results.

by Auctiva.com staff writer
- Oct 06, 2009

As a seller, you want your items to match buyers' criteria. In fact, you want them to be the best match. After all, that is the way eBay's search engine, known as Best Match, decides which products will show up in search results when buyers look for that special something on the site.

But how does Best Match work? It's hard to say exactly, since eBay preciously guards the specifics, but at the eBay Developer's Conference in mid-June, company officials discussed the components Best Match looks at. Some of these are more important than others—although eBay staff couldn't tell us the order—but having some insight into Best Match could help your listings shoot to the top.

Matching buyers and sellers

Best Match aims to find the best item and the best seller for a buyer when that buyer is cruising through eBay's aisles, says Sarah Brubacher of eBay's Seller Development team.

"You want to list an item with the best title and the best price to get to the top," she says.

But it's not just about having the lowest-priced goods. Best Match also takes into consideration title relevance, listing format, recent orders, shipping costs, feedback scores and a few other factors. Here's a closer look:

Titles and specifics

It shouldn't surprise you that Best Match looks at your title and description to determine whether a listing would be a good match for a buyer. After all, these two things are supposed to tell customers what you're selling, what the items looks like and its condition—all important factors in any sale.

Having good keywords is important here, but remember to keep your title and description relevant. You don't want to use popular keywords that have nothing to do with your products. If you do, Best Match won't be happy.

"Title relevance is going to look at the elements that are not relevant and is going to give [the listing] a low score as a result," says Olivier Dumon, eBay's senior director of Search.

So if you're selling a cell phone, tell buyers exactly which kind of phone it is. For instance, if it's an Apple iPhone, let them know if you're offering one with 8 GB or 4 GB. Don't just leave it at "iPhone." And don't stray from the product. Tell sellers what they need to know about the item and don't clutter your listing with needless information.

If several people recently purchased an item, odds are the seller is trustworthy and so is the product

Auction or fixed-priced?

The type of eBay listing you choose also matters. But if you're wondering which option will get your listing to the top of the search results, the answer is a little tricky. That's because while both auction and fixed-priced items will appear in search results, there are some items that lend themselves to one listing type over the other.

Take antiques and collectibles, for example. Dumon notes these are better suited for auction-style listings, especially if you don't know how to price items. Overpricing goods could mean missed sales. Pricing goods too low could mean missing out on profits. Goods such as tickets or other items with time constraints are better suited for fixed-priced listings. Listing either example in the opposite category could affect where they end up in search results.

Recent sales and closing auctions

If you list fixed-priced items, recent sales will affect your search result standings. Makes sense, right? If several people recently purchased an item, odds are the seller is trustworthy and so is the product. However, this should also encourage you to have professional, attractive listings, because it is also true that since that seller had recent sales, he or she will continue to be near the top in search results.

The drawback is this has meant one less spot for new sellers, or those who haven't moved many items in a while. But eBay continues to fine-tune the algorithm and, since September, new fixed price listings—both multi-quantity and single-quantity—get increased exposure in Best Match, based on the performance of similar listings.

Auctions that are nearing their closing time also get a boost in the search standings. eBay recommends starting auction listings at the lowest price possible to stimulate bidding—because auction listings with bids get priority in Best Match.

Shipping costs

"eBay wants to be the place where you can find a value," Brubacher says.

Part of a "good deal" is low shipping costs—and to Best Match there's nothing like free shipping. As a result, sellers who offer free shipping with their goods are more likely to reach the top.

Although many sellers dislike DSRs, these scores are one of the key criteria used by Best Match

This isn't to say that you should offer free shipping and hide the cost elsewhere, i.e., the price of your goods. Remember that buyers can easily find out if you're overcharging them by doing a little research, so keep prices fair. You have a lot of competition in the eBay world, even when you offer free shipping. In fact, a search for "free shipping" returned more than 260,000 results on a Wednesday afternoon.

But don't feel like you must offer free shipping to make it to the top, either. This is just one of many factors Best Match considers.

Your feedback

Lastly, when we talk about matching the right buyer with the right seller, we have to talk about feedback scores. Detailed Seller Ratings take into account whether an item arrived as described, the ease of communication with sellers, shipping time, and shipping and handling charges. Although many sellers dislike this system because they say some buyers abuse it, you should be aware that these scores are one of the key criteria used by Best Match.

Top-rated sellers receive increased visibility for fixed-price listings. Thus, it's a good idea to take a look at your scores—and keep track of them.

"We are encouraging folks to not look at the fives [they receive], but to really focus on the ones and twos and see why they got them," Brubacher says.

If a score seems inaccurate, you could try contacting the buyer to see what prompted it and offer them a discount to make amends, she suggests. But try not to appear pushy. It could be misconstrued by the buyer as harassment.

Now that you know a little more about eBay's Best Match, you may want to take a fresh look at your listings and feedback to make sure you're well suited to be near the top.

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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