Why Keywords Still Count

Keys to making the 55 characters in your listing title add up to profit

by Dennis L. Prince
- Jun 16, 2010

What's in a word? Well, when it comes to the titles of the items you post for sale or bid, there could be gold in them thar' words—or not. The truth is that your potential to get your item seen—or, better yet, bid on, or purchased—depends upon how well you choose your words.

In listings on eBay, "keywords" are those words and terms that buyers search for, found within your listing title. If you haven't given much thought to this aspect of marketing your goods, or if you wonder whether you're making optimum use of your item titles, consider these keys to choosing keywords, why they're critical to your sales success and why you should literally make every word count.

Understanding searches and indexing

At eBay (as well as within the major online search portals), listings are "indexed" in a search engine that identifies the words within the item title. When a user performs a search using a particular word or term, the search engine uses the index to locate and return a listing of items that match the user's search terms.

Naturally, the search engine indexes most popular search terms for deciding which content will best match a user's search. This is why keywords are so important to your success: When chosen carefully, they'll help ensure your listings will appear in relevant user searches.

Your challenge is to be seen among the millions of other items up for bid or sale

Hit me

When it comes to searches, your goal is to get more "hits" more often. Hits implies the number of times the search engine selects your item as a good match for a user's search. When you're offering items for sale—some vintage carnival glass, let's say—you want to ensure your listing is selected (e.g., gets a "hit") whenever a user is searching for carnival glass products. Therefore, your first order of duty is to ensure your items are accurately titled and properly indexed so they're easily found by the search engine.

Remember, you're listing in the vast sea of offerings at eBay (or at any online commerce site), so your challenge is to be seen among the millions of other items up for bid or sale. Because there are so many items available online, few shoppers have patience to scan page-by-page category listings, and elect to use keyword searches instead. Since keywords are your best means of connecting with potential bidders and buyers, you need to ensure you choose each word carefully.

55 characters or less

When you list on eBay, your listing title is limited to 55 characters, including spaces. Each word needs to serve a purpose, both as an effective search keyword and also as an accurate descriptor of your item for sale. Yes, you'll want to include a bit of marketing "pull" in your title to help encourage potential buyers to take a closer look, though that tactic is often poorly done or overdone. We'll review that a bit later.

For now, begin crafting your title to include as many pertinent keywords that shoppers are likely to search for. Here, you need to know your commodity well, and know what terms buyers are using to locate these sorts of items. Review other active listings or closed listings to see what words others have used—did those words translate into a sale? Also, look for effective keyword combinations and other details that will help your listing get more hits.

As a guiding principle, you'll want to include as much of the following information within your listing title:

  • Brand name
  • Item origin
  • Year (or period) of production
  • Manufacturer
  • Item color, size and other descriptive attributes
  • Item condition

While that may seem like more than can be communicated within 55 characters, consider this example:

Polar Lights Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine model kit 2000 MISB

In the above example, a model kit of the iconic Mystery Machine van from the Scooby-Doo cartoon is being offered. Note that the title includes manufacturer (Polar Lights), item identification (Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine), item type (model kit), year of production (2000) and item condition (MISB, or Mint In Sealed Box). And, after all of that, there are still four characters of the available 55 left to use.

Don't waste valuable title space on words that do little to describe your item or properly identify it to buyers

Check your spelling

Now, more than anytime else, is when spelling counts. Buyers and sellers continually lament lost sales and missed purchasing opportunities due to misspelled keywords. Be sure to spell correctly, especially when items like yours feature intentional spelling variations or are identified by words that are commonly misspelled (recall "Beanie Babies," often misspelled as "Beeny" and "Beaney" and so forth).

A timely tip for you: If you have the character space, consider including common misspellings associated with your item. Include proper spelling but append a common misspelling at the end of the title to be seen by those buyers who accidentally misspell a search term.

Don't get cute

Simply enough, don't waste valuable title space on words that do little to describe your item or properly identify it to buyers. Useless words like "cute," "adorable," "desirable" and the like often do little to help attract, let alone convince, any buyer. Words like "rare," "hard to find" and so on are not only unneeded (especially when buyers are already aware of the scarcity of an item) but they can also expose a seller's misguided (or, at best, misunderstood) attempt to wrangle a higher price. And, visual come-ons like "[email protected]@K" and its sort are nothing short of obnoxious and should be avoided always.

Abbreviated angst

Lastly, remember you're working to specify recognizable and understandable terms within your item titles, the sort that search engines have indexed and for which buyers are searching. Therefore, avoid clever abbreviations. They might make sense to you, but they will likely cost you a sale when they fail to be accurately indexed and returned on a search hit list. Unless the abbreviations you use are commonly used by your buyers (such as item condition abbreviations like MISB), it's best to avoid trendy contractions or concatenations whenever possible.

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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