eBay Says Don't Give Us Money If You Don't Have To?!

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


A quote from this week's eBay for Business Podcast has stirred up some interesting discussion in the community about whether or not Promoted Listings and other additional features or services on the platform really are optional.

A seller wrote into the podcast with a question about using the subtitle feature for listings, which tacks on an additional $6 fee.

I use Promoted Listings with great success and I view that as money well spent, one of the options on listing is to pay $6 for a subtitle. I primarily sell coffee mugs. So that high cost doesn't make sense for my average price point. But even for several more expensive items, I just can't see the value.

Does eBay have any data to support the value of charging $6 for subtitles?

Senior Manager, Seller Advocacy & Engagement Brian Burke answered:

...Don't give money to eBay that you don't have to give it to us. Um, if you can successfully sell your item without doing it. And that's why we encourage folks to test, because that will allow you to optimize the dollars you spend on eBay, which means you're gonna keep selling on eBay, which is good for eBay and good for you. And for some things like you sell really unique items, rarely do you need something like some of the features that we offer.

That advice not to give eBay money you don't have to led to further discussion among sellers.

ebay exec: “Don’t give money to eBay that you don’t have to give to us.”
There was a question today on the ebay for business podcast about using “subtitle” in an ebay listing. I’ll skip the details, but thought this quote was worth repeating, from long time ebay exec Brian Burke “Don’t give money to eBay that you don’t have to give to us. ... if you can successfully…

Most sellers agreed that features like subtitle, bold title, etc. were of questionable value where testing may do some good depending on your specific business but that likely most sellers don't need to use them, making them truly optional.

However, most sellers were also in agreement that while paying for Promoted Listings Standard ads is still technically optional, the way eBay has stacked the deck makes the choice quite clear - either pay to promote or don't get sales.

That point was driven home by one seller, ZamoZuan, who gave some illuminating insight into their experience with Promoted Listings.

While I agree, it often isn't a choice in certain categories unless you don't want to get enough sales to keep your store going.

In Motors, if you don't give at least 3-4% in promoted listings (not advanced) you're going to be losing ~75-80% of your impressions.

If anyone is trying to sell in one of these categories without promoted listings? Not going to happen. So it's not really a choice here...

...Also in our own testing, it's shown that it's more beneficial to INCREASE price and then use promoted listings to compensate. That's where eBay's design becomes a problem. To see a minor increase, you have to invest a much bigger sum in eBay's promotions...

...I understand promoted listings might not fit everyone's use case. But for many of us, it's not a choice, unless you're choosing to go out of business. And it's a shame that customers have to deal with increasing prices just so we can keep the doors open - scratch that - just so eBay can inadvertently get more fees from all of our pockets.

But it gets even worse than that - ZamoZuan has seen through testing on their account that not only must they continue to spend more on Promoted Listings just to maintain the same visibility levels they previously had without PL, but in fact not participating in PL at those levels negatively impacts organic performance too.

As a #1 seller in our category, want to see the reality of what happens if you don't invest in promoted listings?


See that big drop? We did NOT stop promotions there. We went from our usual 3-4% to 1% to test things.

Where we went up again afterwards? That's when we went back to our normal 3-4%.

  • Investing less dropped our promoted impressions from ~270k to 38k. A drop of ~86%.
  • Investing dropped our organic impressions from ~140k to 8k. A drop of ~94%.
  • Investing the same exact amount after testing it lower led to lower values than we had before, as we lost the earlier momentum that was built over months.
  • Average promoted impressions after reinvesting was ~210k. A drop of ~23%.
  • Average organic impressions after reinvesting was ~85k. A drop of ~40%.


  • Organic impressions (which are supposed to be free impressions/not altered by paying) have a greater change than promoted impressions do if you do not invest.
  • Investing only 1 or 2% isn't enough to trigger their systems. You must hit a certain level that seems to vary based on category.
  • If you don't hit the "target level" in your category you will lost 80-90% or more of your total impressions.
  • Simply experimenting in your category is dangerous, as you could permanently lose momentum and not regain what you lost. Meaning you're safest if you keep your investment and don't dare risk reducing.

I have to say, I don't think it can be fairly argued that saturation is the problem. Because in eBay's system, ORGANIC impressions are PAID IMPRESSIONS too. It's not saturation that's a problem, it's that you're not even given organic traffic unless you pay.

Now based on the above information, can you honestly say it's really a choice?

The screenshot of the chart that ZamoZuan shared is very troubling indeed because it does seem to show that in fact lowering Promoted Listings ad rates also impacts organic views - and that is something that absolutely should not be happening.

Here's how eBay defines "Organic impressions (promoted):

The number of times your listings have appeared in an organic placement (i.e. not sponsored) on any eBay site.

Data is only for items in active promoted listings campaigns for the time period you have selected.

That should mean the chart represents only listings that are enrolled in active PL campaigns, with one line showing the impressions on the promoted version of the listings and the other line showing organic impressions for that same group of listings.

However, sellers in that thread also indicated there have been intermittent issues where this chart appears to include all organic impressions, not just ones for listings in PL campaigns - so bottom line, the data is all over the place and may or may not represent what eBay's own definitions say they do at any given time.

The graph has always STATED that the organic impressions shown in the graph are:

"The number of times your listings have appeared in an organic placement (i.e. not sponsored) on any eBay site.

Data is only for items in active promoted listings campaigns for the time period you have selected."

However, for a long time, this is NOT what ebay was actually showing. ebay was actually showing ALL organic traffic, including impressions for items that were NOT part of the PL campaign.

The error was obvious if you ended a campaign and went a couple days with NO campaign. The graph would show a flatlined "PL" line, but would show organic listing numbers that matched the number shown in the regular traffic report.

But even if we assume the chart is correctly only showing impressions for listings enrolled in ad campaigns, the results shown are still very troubling.

If you lower the Promoted Listing ad rate, you'd logically expect to see a dip in the promoted impressions - however organic impressions should be operating independently based on price, distance, delivery timeframe and whatever other criteria eBay uses for "best match" search placement.

What we would expect to see with a lowered ad rate would be a drop in promoted impressions with organic impressions remaining relatively consistent to the normal pattern (with maybe slight variations depending on those other factors).

Instead, What ZamoZuan has seen in testing is there appears to be a very clear connection between the drop in promoted impressions and organic impressions. It looks like promoted and organic are perhaps linked together by the algorithm in some way when they should be operating independently, by definition.

That's insane and not at all how any of this should work. 🤯

Given all of that, I have to agree with ZamoZuan, there's no way you can argue Promoted Listings are truly "optional" if your choice to enable ads and what rates you choose can severely impact organic performance as well.

What has been your experience with "optional" additional features and services on eBay? Do you believe you're getting a good value for those additional costs? Let us know in the comments below!

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