eBay Search Results: How to Make Best Match Work for You

Climb to the top of rankings

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Getty Images/Peter Dressel

The Best Match search system on eBay has gotten mixed reviews, with buyers typically liking it more than sellers. That difference of opinion is hardly surprising. One of the reasons for creating the search feature was to move some listings to the background so buyers don't have to see them any longer. This hurt visibility for many sellers using techniques that had proven successful for them in the past.

The ranking system and algorithm push some sellers’ items to the tops of buyers’ searches while pushing other sellers into obscurity.

The key to success for sellers is understanding how the new ranking system works and adjusting item listing and customer service practices to match.

How It Works

The idea behind Best Match is to have the search system reward seller behavior that average eBay shoppers like and penalize behavior shoppers don't like. An algorithm ranks eBay sellers and their listings by their use of “best practices.”

Based on feedback from sellers on eBay’s forums and elsewhere on the web, as well as information on eBay’s patent application for the Best Match search process, a number of things clearly are critical for search rankings:

  • The amount of time remaining before a listing ends
  • Feedback and detailed seller rating scores
  • Shipping costs and methods
  • Status as a power seller
  • Use of quality listing pictures
  • Use of appropriate listing titles and keywords
  • Encouragement of high bidding and viewing activity

Status as a power seller or time remaining before a listing closes may be beyond a seller’s control, but most of these can easily be “realigned” to work well with the Best Match system and provide better search rankings.

Best Shipping Practices 

There are several apparent scoring cues that relate directly to your shipping pricing and practices, so the shipping side of your selling is the first place to look if you want to enhance your Best Match ranking.

Reduce Your Shipping Costs

This is the first and easiest thing you can do to increase your Best Match score. Sellers appear to be heavily penalized for even slight drops in their scores for shipping and handling charges.

Consider Free Shipping

Aside from boosting your detailed seller ratings, there is some evidence that offering free shipping enhances Best Match scores and thus leads to higher visibility.

Offer Expedited Shipping and Gift Features

Offering multiple shipping alternatives and enabling gift services appears to boost your ranking by a small amount.

Change Item Location to Match the Market

On the shipping area of the regular selling form, specify the item location. It appears that an item’s proximity to the buyer also is a part of the best match score. For example, winter coats located in Florida aren't likely to appear high in rankings because fewer people in that area are likely to be searching for them.

Optimal Listing Practices

In addition to shipping, several other practices appear to have a direct and critical impact on your Best Match score.

Include High-Result Keywords in Titles and Listings

Best Match keeps a record of all eBay items purchased, bid on, and viewed by buyers, along with the keywords that led buyers to them. You’ll enjoy a Best Match bonus if you use these keywords—things like brands, model names, and new or mint condition—in your listing title and, to a lesser extent, body.

Find High-Result Keywords Yourself

Don’t assume you already know what these magic words are. Find them yourself by using Best Match. Conduct a search for the kinds of items you sell and make a list of all the words that appear often in the highest ranked results.

Don’t Use Keywords that Don’t Apply

Algorithms like Best Match's can tell when popular words are used where they don't belong. For example, based on the fact that few past listings for Apple iPhones have included the word "Nokia," Best Match might actually penalize you for trying to artificially elevate your listing with a title like “New Nokia phone, similar to Apple iPhone!”

Include Multiple Additional Images

You’ll score Best Match bonus points if add your own images of an item, rather than relying on stock images or having no images at all.

Drive Bids and Views

Best Match appears to give bonus points for accumulating many bids and also for generating a high click rate (buyers clicking on your listing often when they see it in search results). If you can, price your auction format listings with a $1 initial bid to encourage high bid activity.

Offer a Buy it Now Price

 It also appears that bonus points are awarded to listings that offer buyers the chance to buy it now as opposed to forcing them to place bids in order to win the item in question.

Customer Service Practices

Be aware of how good customer service can help maximize your Best Match score. These are at least as important as, if not more so than, than listing and shipping techniques.

  • Keep your feedback and detailed seller rating scores up. These should be as high as you can possibly keep them; losing just a fraction of a star below full marks in your detailed seller ratings can mean the difference between appearing on the first page of search results and appearing on the 20th or 30th.
  • Be extremely conscientious. A long, steady stream of disputes is the last thing you want to have on your membership record with a system like Best Match in place. Even resolved disputes remain in the database forever, so do what you can to offer sufficient customer service and security to your buyers before there is any need for dispute resolution.
  • When disputes do occur, give in as often as possible. The only thing potentially more damaging than having disputes on your membership record is having lost disputes in which eBay or PayPal decided against you. If you’re going to lose anyway, give your buyer what they want before the database shows that eBay or PayPal had to do it for you.
  • Obey all eBay rules and regulations. Every warning, suspension, or rule-oriented action from eBay also appears on your database record and can be used to affect your score, so be sure that you’re also in compliance with eBay’s policies about how sellers ought to behave, including avoiding things like shill bidding or rights violations.
  • Check your seller dashboard. This is where you can monitor your performance with regard to customer service and rules compliance. Use it to help stay on top of things.

Although the system may frustrate some sellers, it does reduce shipping price abuse, poor seller performance, and keyword spamming by making each of these practices unprofitable. Sellers can use it as a tool to establish and enhance their standards for efficient performance and customer service.