Are eBay Ads Ruining The Buyer Experience?

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


eBay has been moving at a fast and furious pace to continue pumping up ad revenue, but at what cost to the overall user experience?

Just as one example, they've recently expanded Promoted Listings Advanced CPC to cover the top four slots in search instead of just one.

eBay Promoted Listings Advanced Takes Over Top 4 Search Spots
eBay Promoted Listings Advanced Cost Per Click ads take larger role in placement, expanding to top 4 search spots.

As a CPC product, PLA ads use keywords and bids to determine placement and relevancy for search queries, but buyers are finding that keyword spamming and manipulation are negatively impacting results.

It's bad enough when that causes one result to be irrelevant but if the top four results don't match what the buyer is actually looking for, odds are they're just going to head to Amazon to find it instead.

Not to mention, I'm sure big brands like Nike really love having their trademarked name hijacked by a competing brand.

eBay says they allow the use of trademarked keywords, but their systems are designed to weed out irrelevant results - we see how well that's working out.

We don't restrict trademarks as keywords. If a listing isn't relevant for a particular branded query, however, the Promoted Listings Advanced ad for that listing is not likely to show.

Our algorithms are designed with proprietary relevance and performance filters in place, which means that ads will only appear if they pass our relevancy filters and will only continue to show if buyers actually engage with them.

eBay also says your listing will only be shown once in a search result, either the promoted version or the organic version, but not both.

Can the same promoted listing appear in more than one placement on the same set of search results?

No. An individual listing will only appear once in the same set of search results. If your listing is promoted, it will either appear as a promoted listing or an organic listing.

That appears to be somewhat true for default Best Match sort, but as soon as you sort by price or any other option, all bets are off - eBay still commonly shows both the organic and promoted version of the same listing in search (if you hover over the search result, it will show the listing ID is the same).

How is this a positive user experience?

Unfortunately, the ad stuffing doesn't stop at search - eBay is also increasingly encroaching on listing page real estate for more ad rev opportunities.

When I looked at how ads affect the user experience in 2021, eBay was averaging about 52 promoted listings ad spots on every listing page - today that number has practically doubled!

For example - when looking at this listing in an incognito browser with no ad blocker, if I used the side scroll function in the ad carousels to view every possible ad slot, eBay showed me 107 ads. 🤯

Colgate Toothpaste Cavity Protection with Fluoride Regular Flavor- 3 OZ (4 Pack) 8437012067431 | eBay
Product Description: Colgate Cavity Protection fluoride toothpaste strengthens teeth with active fluoride and fights cavities. Formulated with active fluoride, the Colgate toothpaste provides cavity protection as well, it is clinically proven to help strengthen teeth. Feel your mouth fresh and clean…

Other listings I tested averaged in the 90-100+ range as well. Open up your favorite incognito browser and check for yourself to see just how bad the ad stuffing has become.

If that isn't bad enough, it appears eBay has completely done away with the one small benefit there was for sellers in this scheme - opting in to Promoted Listings used to "reserve" one section of ad space for "sponsored items from this seller".

In fact, some sellers say they begrudgingly use Promoted Listings for no other reason than to win back some valuable real estate on their own listings that they often are paying premium store subscriptions for, on top of Final Value Fees.

eBay has now completely removed that "items from this seller" section and instead replaced it with "similar sponsored items" that are from competitors.

That means sellers are no longer guaranteed even the few measly ad slots on their own listings they used to receive for opting in to Promoted Listings. 🤯

Sellers who go above the standard free listing allotment are either paying $0.10 per listing or have a store subscription costing anywhere from $4.95/month - $2,999.95/month depending on which store level they select.

Can you imagine paying almost $3000 or even $300 a month to eBay for a store subscription and still having 100+ competitor's ads shown directly on your listings, directing buyers away from your items?!

This situation hits particularly hard for long-time sellers who may remember a time when eBay's "cross promotion" feature was optional.

Initially the idea of allowing eBay to promote other sellers' items on your listings was sold as a mutually beneficial quid pro quo system - sellers who were willing to participate would allow eBay to show other seller's listings on their items and in turn would have the opportunity to have their listings displayed on other seller's items as well.

Most importantly, if you didn't want to participate, you could completely opt out - losing the supposed benefit of being promoted across eBay, but retaining complete control over your listing real estate in the process.

eBay quietly killed the opt out function in 2019 when then CEO Devin Wenig was going all in on Promoted Listings to power revenue growth.  No announcements, no notice -  sellers just suddenly couldn't access the settings to turn off cross promotion any more.

Since then it is still technically optional as to whether or not you want to pay more to promote your items, but not optional to have ~100 competitor ads shown on your listings.

Obviously sellers aren't thrilled with how things are going here, but what does all the ad stuffing do to the buyer experience?

How Do eBay Ads Affect User Experience?
Do eBay ads stuffed on listings lead to more Not As Described claims & returns?

If things were this bad last year with an average of ~50 ads on the listing page, how much worse is it at 100+?

Re: Wayyyy!!! too much carp displayed to the buyer on the Item page
Just checked out one of your listings of a stamp with a duck, and was shocked to see no less than 10 rows of sponsored adds, most of them of stamps with ducks! So as a buyer, I get to compare your duck stamp with 100 other duck stamps on eBay without leaving your very own listing. This comes…

Just checked out one of your listings of a stamp with a duck, and was shocked to see no less than 10 rows of sponsored adds, most of them of stamps with ducks!

So as a buyer, I get to compare your duck stamp with 100 other duck stamps on eBay without leaving your very own listing.

This comes as a surprise to me, as when I do buying for myself, I am usually in a hurry and very focused on the item’s description, so I ignore the adds, but for someone doing more leisurely shopping, surely a hundred adds offering very similar items would be a distraction.

And we wonder why there are so many non-paying buyers. When they go to pay they see 100 better alternatives. Terrible.

The cherry on top of the ad stuffing sundae is while many sellers do notice an increase in "impressions" from all these ads, click through rates and sales are not increasing at anywhere near the same rate.

eBay appears to just be using the shotgun approach of plastering ads on every spare pixel they can find, but doing a very poor job of targeting those ads to potential buyers to optimize for CTR and sales.

Remember that time back in 2019 when SVP Global Markets Jordan Sweetnam said he agreed with seller concerns about Promoted Listings ruining the quality of search results?

Re: Promoted Listings are Ruining Quality Control
Wrapping up for today so I’ll keep this one short, but I agree with the concerns raised. It’s something I saw pretty quickly after my return... great sellers (top rated, amazing feedback, great prices) were ranking below sellers with 0 (!) feedback or (even worse) feedback scores of 94%, 96%, etc.…

It's something I saw pretty quickly after my return... great sellers (top rated, amazing feedback, great prices) were ranking below sellers with 0 (!) feedback or (even worse) feedback scores of 94%, 96%, etc...

I think promoted listings is great tool for sellers when used correctly. Have a new product and want to have it rank up in search quickly? Use PL. But if you are new to the platform and haven't proven that you can deliver the buyer experiences of our best sellers it doesn't make any sense to have those items appear at the top. I certainly do not want someone taking $s out of shipping faster or packing better to invest in paying for a promoted listing placement instead.

Conversations on this topic are underway - I can't commit to a specific date or change - but don't be surprised to see us testing some things in the new year and announcing changes by Q2.

What happened to that Jordan Sweetnam and can we get him back? I think he needs to have a chat with VP Global Ads Alex Kazim - clearly those previous conversations didn't do the trick.

What do you think about how ads are impacting the eBay user experience? Let us know in the comments below!

eBayAds & Marketing

Liz Morton Twitter

Liz Morton is a seasoned ecommerce pro with 17 years of experience in online sales & marketplaces, providing expert commentary, analysis & news about eBay, Amazon, Etsy & more at Value Added Resource!