eBay and the ongoing Google SEO penalty

Devin WenigDuring the recent Earnings Call, when eBay reported its first quarter results for 2015, eBay Marketplaces head Devin Wenig made several comments about how eBay has been hampered in the past year by a Google SEO penalty.

In short, last year eBay was found by Google to be using so-called “black-hat” tactics to boost search engine ratings and took a poor view of that. We wrote about it at the time here.

It’s important because it seems that the impact of that downgrade still persists. It has doubtless had an detrimental effect on sellers and it’s very much a spur behind eBay’s new passion for product identifiers.

I’ve picked out the comments made by Wenig on the call on the topic for your delectation. The full transcript can be read here.

In the scripted part of the call Devin Wenig said: “We are certainly not ready to declare a victory over last year’s SEO and password reset challenges but we are making progress. SEO-generated traffic is still impacting growth. While this channel is beginning to stabilize, effectively managing SEO traffic is a constantly evolving process. We’re working to stay out front of it.”

When answering a question from an analyst, Wenig added:

“We grew up as a marketplace and eBay looks at the world historically through listings rather than products. Listings gave eBay a tremendous selection advantage. It’s why we have the most things for sale of any marketplace in the world. But listings are also transient. They come and go. They don’t have link equity and they’re hard to attach content to. So if you go back over eBay’s history, there’s been a pattern of SEO disruptions across various search engines.

We now believe that the state of our business and our technology is that we can maintain the advantage given to us by a marketplace business model but include a structured data catalog, which gives us persistence and link equity and makes our sellers’ inventory more discoverable, both on and off eBay . The way we’re approaching that is, it is a deep transformation. It’s a multiyear process. We’re approaching it by category but horizontally but also focusing on the vertical areas where we believe we can have the most impact early on.

I’d say we’re off to a good start but it’s an early start. And it will take — it is a multiyear transformation. But we do know that where we structured and cataloged our inventory, those items are more discoverable on eBay and they’re more persistent and generate more traffic through search engines and other digital channels. So we feel good about the approach but it is not a short-term fix.”

So clearly, it’s still a problem and eBay is actively trying to find a fix. But what’s not clear is the extent to which their efforts are successful so far. And we’re now nearly one year on.