3 good reasons to cut the crap from your eBay item descriptions

By Dan Wilson March 9, 2014 - 10:59 pm

The evidence is mounting up to suggest that cutting down the copy in your item descriptions on eBay is good for sales.

The ideal Item Description will contain just the full details of the item for sale and other brief instructions.

If you’ve been trading on eBay for a while, it’s likely you have developed a bolierplate text to help buyers. It will likely have come from problems you have experienced in the past. But there are three good reasons why you should get the red pen out and cut back on your item descriptions.

It upsets Cassini
eBay’s new search facility Cassini uses the item description text, and probably on the first 200 words or so, to help it catalogue an item. So the words used can have an impact on how visible your items are to buyers.

That means making sure that the vital info is at the top of the shop in your Item Descriptions to help Cassini. Any other textual noise that isn’t related to your sale is very likely confusing the system. So cut as much of it as you can.

It doesn’t translate to mobile
eBay say that one third of sales are currently “touched” by mobile. I’d say it was over 40% by now and it’s increasing: by the end of 2014 it wouldn’t be surprising if eBay said that one half of all sales come via mobile.

Screeds of text just don’t have impact on mobile. The experience of mobile is primarily visual. Check out your sales on a mobile device for confirmation. Short and sweet definitely works better.

Noone reads it anyway
The slightly annoying truth too is that very few people ever read this stuff anyway. eBay have fields for returns info, payment stuff and the like. Use those fields for salient instructions to buyers. Buyers still won’t read them. But it’s the place for it.

All the the warnings, asides, comments and instructions have been added by you over time to help avoid problems. It probably hasn’t worked so pare down the prose to the essential items about the item in question. It will be good for business.

  • Weeze
    4 years ago

    Where could I move my terms and conditions stuff to, the only place I can think of is my about me page, any other suggestions?

    • northumbrian
      4 years ago

      the only terms and conditions that are used on ebay are ,send instantly,refund or partially refund , so it matters little where you put them

  • 4 years ago

    Good advise, thanks. I think keep it simple and write proper sentences in your descriptions. Start with what the item is and then give the most important features in descending order. I guess 200 words is all you need too. Any more is not going to help. But if you must have your Ts and Cs in every listing (I suggest that you don’t) put them at the end. Do not include any HTML though. I use Garage Sale for my listings and the amount of HTML generated before it includes any actual content was pretty long. I reckon it was damaging my Best Match chances.

  • northumbrian
    4 years ago

    so true
    we have been at this game for 15 years and we have just recently completely wiped the description section with only a dot entered to stop the error pop up,

    the only time any buyer reads the description is after the sale ,using any ambiguity at all, as a stick to beat you with

  • Richard
    4 years ago

    I’m confused

    Does the new search method not use the Title?

  • admiralhardinge
    4 years ago

    This is really interesting. Presumably any kind of formatting and table is also bad for search? Is this right? What about things like the Ebay listing designer. Should that also be removed?

    If you use item specifics no need to repeat in the description.

    There is a place for ts and cs under Business Info. I think you can edit this through preferences.

    Is there a bulk text removal capability when it is used in multiple listings or does it need listing by listing editing?

    • 4 years ago

      The information I’m hearing from sellers, pundits and eBay types is that stripping out HTML (including listing designer) is a good idea. Ceryinly the HTML adds little or nothing on mobile.

      On repitition. There may be a point in that. Rather like SEO. If the same info is in the tile, IS and descriptions, Cassini can be in no doubt what the item it…


    • JD
      4 years ago

      I too would like to see evidence of the Cassini effect that is not simply anecdotal. And Cassini is not the only factor as said by others.

      Surely if listing designer is a bad idea going forward eBay should not be offering it? Or is it a way of them backfooting all the listings of whole tranches of sellers by continuing to do so?

      eBay is very very hungry on sellers time, in fact eBay can be likened to a voracious tapeworm! It’s easy to shovel stuff in but then not get too much out!

      I will wait on (today’s) seller release, consider all my shipping cost changes, see if eBay can be persuaded to give me ‘business policies’ and then see exactly where I think I am before touching a single listing.

      Good luck all.

    • Jimbo
      4 years ago

      if you look at the link below I would say this clearly shows Cassini missing/ignoring/selecting certain parts of a listings (deciding what is relevant for a certain scenario).

      In that particular scenario Cassini is ignoring certain tags but just because something is being ignored by the search engine doesn’t mean that it is detrimental/not relevant. For example bullet points may be skipped by Cassini but may also be very helpful for buyers when they land on your page.

  • northumbrian
    4 years ago

    many third party listing tools put massive amounts of html in templates, how does this effect Cassini ?

  • Gary
    4 years ago

    Seems odd that google can cope with HTML but ebay search cannot. Would have thought those using ebay templates would be at an advantage in search as these are paid for.

    • 4 years ago

      As mobile increases to be a source of sales, those design templates are certainly going to be less useful. Not sure they were ever worth extra money though.

    • cackonmyleg
      4 years ago

      Problem is ebay won’t give an open policy on the matter.

      If they want sellers to have description white background, black text, no bigger than 8pt, no bold, no italic, left margined, one font, with no hyperlinks then all they have to do is say so, put a deadline on it and we will all happily shut up and comply.

      Consumers are however not moving to mobile platform because of what ebay offer there. It is just that people are using their phones already and HAVING to use the mobile online for ebay.

      I say HAVING , as It is blatantly unfriendly (if not impossible) to use the “classic” site on my iphone which is the only way to access the proper full search/filter functions.

      Popups are pushing the mobile app version to users constantly yet it is just crap, albeit better than 6 months ago, but still crap and frustrating for experienced ebay users who know how to filter results.

      It seems to me that rather than bring their mobile app up to spec equal to the ‘classic’ PC functions, they are dumbing down the entire site to funnel results into the inferior mobile version.

      It’s totally back to front but demonstrates panic that their mobile platform is falling behind so everything else has to suffer.

  • Jon
    4 years ago

    Where is this evidence that proves Cassini doesn’t like HTML & long descriptions actually coming from? Who has done tests & how do we know they are competent? If HTML is reducing the chances of sales then why has eBay not mentioned this to their sellers? I’m sure they & their shareholders would want as many sales as possible ..right? I find it hard to believe that HTML & long descriptions negatively affect sales. Where is the evidence? Who has the evidence? I’ve not seen any.

    • cackonmyleg
      4 years ago

      Exactly. It’s currently moving chairs on the titanic.

      I recommend to do NOTHING further to change listings on ebay and spend any further spare time developing other sales outlets as a lifeboat against further ebay disaster/breakdowns/follies.

      When ebay issue qualified technical guidance from the actual programmers or alternatively admit its core functionality is broken and proposals for major reboot I won’t waste my life, risk my employees livelihoods and spend long evenings reprogramming listings that might create fresh issues or at worst do sod all whilst taking them out of searches for the 11hrs or so ebay advise occurs each time a listing is resubmitted to the search index.

  • cackonmyleg
    4 years ago

    The fact that we are still engaging in this whole “try this, try that, add this, remove that” is making ebay sellers part of some mad prehistoric religious cult rather than retailers utilising a professional business software platform environment with defined rules as to how and why it works and what affects it/blocks it up or supercharges it so all sellers have a fair and consistent platform to build upon.

    We did all the HTML stripping 6 months ago and it made marginal difference. It’s a myth. And a costly one in time and misplaced faith it would work.

    12 months on either HTML does, or does not, upset Cassini.

    There should be no ‘maybe’ anymore about it.

    If you were asked after 12 months headbutting a wall “is the wall giving way?” and you responded “not sure, maybe, you should keep trying and see maybe if we all headbutt together?” you would be considered a loon.

    Imaging having to keep refreshing your seller data/settings on amazon every couple of months? its unheard of. You don’t need to because any changes are rare, tested to destruction and released into the world with absolute care.

    if HTML does affect cassini and other things as well, then ebay should be able state categorically why, how and the optimum layouts/structure to correct it so sellers can adjust, not DESTROY, their layouts many of which took hundreds of hours work or hundreds of pounds having designed.

    HTML however is just another ‘snake oil’ solution after watermarks, free shipping, 1 day dispatch, 24hr shipping, top rated seller, premium listing, DSR, removal of sellers leaving negtive ratings, failed to do anything other than continue the decline since circa 2011/12 when serious games/tests started being played with core functions with no benefit to buyer or seller.

    It is to cover up an ever more intrusive, interfering and assumptive search engine that was not designed for retail inventory search or cater to how humans have been trained to search for things for decades on computers.

    It is the stupid outcome of over engineering and tampering/redesign and futile initiatives by people who have to justify their salary with input, of any kind, to appear relevant.

    The ultimate test of cassini interference is try typing common words and then deliberately spell them wrong.

    For example type in “chocolit” and cassini changes it when you click ‘search’ to “chocolate”.

    It should, logically, say “nothing found” and then suggest alternatives so the user can self correct or use their own brain to try alternatives. That is both human logic/problem solving and inventory search works. Until last year of course.

    Instead cassini is second guessing and making assumptions as to what a buyer is looking for when it wasn’t asked to and is not welcome to given the raft of user complaints on various forums not being able to find what they are looking for anymore.

    Ebay are engaged in style over substance for some time. They released an untested, clearly unresearched software and arrogantly assumed they “know better” what buyers want more than buyers themselves or us sellers who are specialised in our product areas to cater to our buyers needs based on proven expectation.

    The fact searches are tampered with shows it is pot luck.

    did free shipping, marginal if any difference. It’s a myth.

    Did 1 day dispatch, no difference. It’s myth.

    Removed watermarks, no difference, but can see ebay wanting to strangle sellers taking brand identity away from them so worth doing long term.

    24hr courier, no difference.

    My Amazon buyers appear fine and consistent and I havent touched anything on products/layout other than price/shipping price for 2 years since first activated.

  • Jon
    4 years ago

    Right on! Very well said Mr cackonmyleg. I agree..
    eBay continually move the goalposts in an effort to please shareholders..not sellers. Their programmers are probably secretly making work for themselves. Employment preservation. I doubt their secret algorithms exist at all. It’s constantly used as an excuse to never give a straight answer.

  • Jimbo
    4 years ago

    I’m not sure about 200 words but having 200 characters of correctly formatted and relevant description could be beneficial if your potential buyer is coming to eBay from a goggle search.

  • northumbrian
    4 years ago

    the condition section in a listing not showing on iphones,
    is a major fault that needs to be remedied

    • cackonmyleg
      4 years ago

      Exactly northumbrian, and how inexcusable is that in 2014?

      It is a fundamental core piece of information for a buyer and something ebay made compulsory for us to put in our listings several years ago now.

      ebay mobile looks more like an art gallery than an ecommerce platform and seems to not understand the primary art of actually closing sales, not browsing wishlists.

      Worse than that, there is no way to quickly see the type/status of the seller who is offering the goods on mobile platform. Shop links, seller status, shipping type/speed etc are all absent from mobile listings unless drilled deep into other pages yet these are the proven key decision influencers for buyers.

      Again, pretty pictures basic layout but not designed to SELL, rather nice for window shopping though for teenage kids.

  • 4 years ago

    Cassini is starting to sound like a technology project gone badly wrong, IF the speculation about it turns out to be right.

    The first 200 words sounds like a completely arbitrary and incredibly low limit. Cassini should be a world-class search engine and as another commenter pointed out, Google would be a laughing stock if it stopped indexing web pages after 200 words. The same goes for HTML – Cassini should ignore the markup and index the content, not choke on it!

    Finally, it may be completely innocent, but as previously reported Cassini’s architect Hugh Williams left the company just as it was being rolled out. If it was a successful project, wouldn’t he be given a big promotion and moved onto even more wonderful things?

    • cackonmyleg
      4 years ago

      Andy Gelman is bang on the money.

      Anyone remember that 80’s film “war games” with Matthew Broderick? And the mysterious guy he had to find who lived on an island as the only person who knew how the rogue computer worked?

      I see this in Cassini and a case of life imitating art.

      Cassini is just a concept based on social media trending, it is not a workable ecommerce platform based on the rules and tricks of trade established over centuries. It seeks to reinvent the wheel, not make the car go faster.

      Its a concept who’s designer Hugh Williams, instead of being raised to Master of all ebay tech areas and showered with millions in a golden handcuff deal to keep him at any cost, has in fact left under the radar, seemingly never to return, in relative secrecy with barely any comment from the man himself or ebay other than a 1 paragraph neutral and curiously cryptic statement.

      As Mr Williams designed the system perhaps Tamebay could get an interview as to its core principles.

      He probably lives on that island though, playing tic-tac-toe….

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