eBay Promoted Listings Search Placement Changes On Horizon

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


Changes are coming to how eBay displays Promoted Listings ads in search according to Pravesh Katyal, Director of Product, Search Ads in his presentation at eBay Open 2022.

And finally, we'll go through a couple of key changes to ads. Some of these are already in place, and some of these are upcoming. Number one, ads in top four slots, to give you some history, ads in the search river were interspersed throughout the river. You would see ads as well as organic results mixed with each other in the search river, but that's changing.

Soon you will see clearly demarcated ad placements such as the top of search ad placement, middle of search ad placements as well as bottom of search ad placements. Each of these ad placements will have a number of ad slots. Ads will be shown in a continuous and clearly demarcated manner. We think that makes it much easier for buyers to identify and to interact with the ads, and more importantly it gives an ability for sellers and advertisers to target specific ad placements.

So in the future, you will have an ability to target a specific placement such as the top of search ad placement or a bottom of search ad placement. We think that that will provide you even greater flexibility on how you control your cost and how you gain visibility on search, and again, as I mentioned, it's also good for the buyers because the buyers can clearly identify the ads and have better interaction with them...

...We are also working one what we call Ad Rate Sensitivity, which is essentially making changes throughout our system to ensure that when you make some change in your bids, you see a more pronounced impact in your visibility, your ranking and your velocity on search. So we want to give you all these tools which you can use to, again, eventually improve the velocity on search through ads.

Promoted Listings Advanced ads in the top 4 spots isn't exactly new - it's been that way since at least July.

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What really caught my ear was the part about "clearly demarcated ad placements" at the top of search, middle of search, and bottom of search and the fact that sellers will be able to target those specific search placement areas in the near future.

Here's what a search looks like currently when the top 4 spots are taken by Promoted Listings.

While the word "sponsored" at the bottom does demarcate the listing as a Promoted Listing ad, what Pravesh said sounds to me more like eBay is possibly planning on creating designated ad areas at the top, middle, and bottom of search.

That could mean they'll just do blocks of sponsored listings together like this in each of those areas, but my guess is they may be working on ways to stuff even more ads on the each search page, just like they've done with the listing page.

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The easiest way to do that would be to use scrolling ad carousel modules. On listing pages, they're now showing more than 100 ads per page by using these modules that allow the user to scroll to the right to view more ads.

What might this look like in search results? Possibly something like what eBay is already doing in sneaker searches to showcase shoes with authenticity guaranteed.

When searching for Nike Air Jordan 1 for example, about halfway down the page eBay inserted this scrolling carousel module showing only shoes that qualify for the authentication program - it would be very easy for them to do the same with Promoted Listings ads.

What impact might it have if eBay goes this route for ads in search as well?

On one hand, it could be a positive - if they put ads in this type of scrolling carousel that might possibly take up less space and thus not push organic results down quite so far.

In the above example the authenticity guaranteed module is about the same height as 2 regular listings displayed in search. So let's say hypothetically that module showed 3 ads immediately, with 7 more visible if you scroll to the right for a total of 10 - pushing organic listings down only 2 spots on the page vs 3 or even 10 could potentially be a better user experience.

However, there's also a potential downside to this, if my theory about how eBay counts impressions is true.

Speculation Warning: the following is a very educated guess about how eBay measures impressions and the impact it may have on rankings. eBay has thus far declined to confirm or deny or give any detail beyond their basic definitions - take it for what you will.

eBay basically defines an impression as any time your listing is displayed anywhere publicly accessible on eBay.

Impressions. The number of times your promoted listings have appeared on any eBay site.

Note it does not say anything about whether or not the buyer actually has the ad viewable on their screen, simply that it appears on any eBay site.

Referring back to the picture above of the 100+ ads on the listing page, if eBay has selected one of your ads to be number 78 in a scrolling ad spot, technically you could say that PL still "appeared on an eBay site". Based on data I've collected from multiple sellers, I believe they count that as an impression, whether the buyer ever scrolled to it or saw it at all.

I also believe it's possible the same may hold true in search. Any time your listing is returned for a search query, that could technically be said to be "appearing on an eBay site" and if so, that could mean it's counted as an impression even if it's on page 3 of search results and the buyer never navigates past page 2.

If you see impressions go up significantly, but click through and sales do not, that may be an indication your listings are appearing in more places across the eBay site, but are not targeted well and/or may be appearing in places less likely to actually be seen and clicked on, like in one of those scrolling ad spots or further back in search results.

Some people will say none of that matters, because you only pay the Promoted Listing Standard fee if and when you make a sale within 30 days of a click on the ad, but I'm not so sure that should be the only concern.

Where can this get tricky for sellers? We don't know exactly to what extent click through rates factor into eBay's algorithms at any given time, but many long time sellers believe it's a major ranking factor, which makes sense - higher click through rates (CTR) would seem to indicate buyers are interested in your item, lower ones might indicate your item is not attractive to them.

CTR is defined by eBay as:

The number of page views to your listings from eBay during this time period divided by the number of impressions. This excludes external page views.

For example, if your listing gets 1,000 impressions and 5 page views from eBay, your click-through rate is 0.5%.

It does not specifically split out Promoted and Organic in this definition, so I have to assume they look at the total of both for this metric. So just as a matter of basic math, if your impressions increase, but page views don't, that is going to lower your CTR.

What impact that may have long term is unknown and honestly probably changes constantly, as we know eBay tweaks the algorithms and may even have different ones running in different categories at any given time.

However, it's at least possible if a seller has lower CTR overall, over time that could tend to make the organic version of your listings rank worse in search as eBay may see that as an indication buyers are not interested in your items.

That could potentially create a vicious cycle where you would need to continue to promote just to maintain any real visibility at all, but the very act of promoting could hurt your organic ranking long term.

Is that maybe one reason why so many sellers report they've seen Organic vs Promoted impressions go from a relatively even split to ~80% in favor of Promoted?

And that brings us to the final point Pravesh touches on - Ad Rate Sensitivity.

We are also working one what we call Ad Rate Sensitivity, which is essentially making changes throughout our system to ensure that when you make some change in your bids, you see a more pronounced impact in your visibility, your ranking and your velocity on search.

That's a nice way of saying that how much extra you are willing to pay eBay will soon have an even greater impact on your visibility and ranking in search.

Bottom line: eBay is cranking up the ad revenue printing presses and increasingly rigging search to favor those who are willing to pay to play - buckle up and get ready to open those wallets!

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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!