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eBay Item Specifics and how to avoid getting them wrong

By Chris Dawson January 11, 2018 - 3:28 pm

This is a guest post by Matthew Ferguson of Emanaged, a company offering consultancy and support for online merchants.

As the New Year has just started it’s a great time to review how we sell online and look for ways to improve our listings. Today, Matthew takes a look at eBay Item Specifics and shares his thoughts on how best to optimise and use them:

eBay Item Specifics

You have not done your eBay item specifics correctly. Look at this.

eBay Item Specifics (1)

What do you see? All item specifics done and ready? You wouldn’t be alone and I wouldn’t blame you. This looks like a lot of work done to populate all the item specifics. But it’s somewhat wrong.

eBay does not care about your custom item specifics. They really don’t. Last I was told by eBay, they don’t even crawl them in search indexing. These custom ones have zero value for being found. They can help with conversions of course, as they offer some extra details that could sway the buyer. But our primary desire is to be found by the right buyers first, and then convert them second.

eBay Item Specifics (2)

So what’s the problem with the rest? Two words, which I want you to repeat and remember; valid values. eBay has two types of item specifics: valid values and free text. Free text of course means you add any value you want here. However most are valid values item specifics. You can still add any text you want into them, so they aren’t fixed’, but you shouldn’t.

Valid values are eBays own internal taxonomy. eBay uses these to better ‘know’ your product specifications. The better it knows the details, the better it can present your listing to buyers most interested. The closer the match between the buyers inputs and your listings criteria, the better the ranking.

Item Specifications Wrong (3)

Of course, I’m oversimplifying Best match. There are a host of other factors which add up and weight into the final result. But we’re forgetting all those for now.

Basically, if you send ‘Cotton blend’ in ‘Material’, you’re making a critical mistake. If you are sending “Sky Blue” to Main Colour, you’re making a mistake. If you’re sending “Short” for sleeve type, you’re making a mistake. If you’re sending anything except the values eBay is looking for in that item specific for that category in that region… you’re making a mistake.

eBay is trying their best to index and map internally. The likely will associate ‘Sky Blue’ to ‘Blue’ for fashion items. But don’t ever count on it or expect it.

Item spec Image 5 - left hand navRemember the buyer: he has millions of listings. He needs to use the left hand navigation filters to narrow his search.

If you plug a value eBay doesn’t recognise into an item specific, eBay has no choice but to remove your listing when the buyer uses the filter. You might have a short sleeve shirt to offer this buyer, but if you don’t tell eBay its ‘Short Sleeve’, eBay wont guess and risk poor buyer experience. Many of your competitors are sending the right value. eBay will have no choice but to favour other listings.

I’m not going to pretend its easy. Believe me. I’ve personally mapped thousands of these over the years, and supported teams who begrudgingly had to do it daily. It’s not fun. Put on music, watch reruns of a tv show in the background or ask someone to do it for you, but do not neglect it.

Item specifics are not just filter agents. They are picked up in search too. They are title extensions in many regards. They help you get favour from Cassini. They are surfaced before descriptions on mobile devices, now roughly 50% of all your traffic. They help qualify a buyer and avoid negative conversion metrics. They help convert the right buyers. Use tools, use service providers, batch them, maintain them but it truly is in your best interest to do them correctly.

  • Toby
    8 months ago

    This is all well and good for clothes etc, but many of our products don’t don’t sit well in the catogories provided. Plus we find many are ‘Americanised’ and the terms etc just dont work over in the UK. In some cases the whole thing falls down simply on the catorgories that ebay allow you. Take the garden section…. look at pools and you are well catered for, but try and list some things that are for hot tubs yet are also found in pools and you will find the catogories mostly aimed at pools with titles and terminolgy to match. Classic example is pool chemicals ( should read treatments really), there is this title under pools, but no such title under hot tubs… this then affects the sub cats etc… We end up putting hot tub treatments under pool chemcials, but how many buyers are searching under pools instead of hot tubs? Do you search for motor bike oil under car oil?
    I know its a massive area to try and get right but i believe that ebay needs to address some of these issues…. if only there were a way of advising them, which there never is. Plus it seems to be that we always end up at the sharp end of what works in the USA, rather than some thought as to what works here… one size does not fit all.

    • 8 months ago

      Hi Toby, very valid concerns and I would agree eBay hasnt gotten this perfect by a country mile.

      However it isnt as hard as it might appear. Thats easy for me to say, given we do this for sellers for a living.

      The main point is not to ignore it. Play the game eBay wants you to play, especially now that these item specifics are increasingly prominent filters appearing on mobile devices (now at least 40% of all traffic), and get a routine established to plug these gaps ongoing. You wont have overnight success, but I assure you the numbers speak for themselves ; populated item specifics using valid values does help.

  • 8 months ago

    @Toby “I know its a massive area to try and get right but i believe that ebay needs to address some of these issues…. if only there were a way of advising them, which there never is”

    And there is our lesson today on ebay in one sentence… spend you life trying to guess best match… not even ebay can tell you why a private seller with low feedback selling the same item (lots of them) gets a higher ranking than a registered business seller paying fees/promoting/filling the correct item specifics/lower price…

    Ebay are not interested, so it seems to be learn to game the system.. this article shows nothing new for that process.. or am I missing a trick

    • 8 months ago

      Hi Mr S,

      Correct, this is merely a reminder that these things matter. As mentioned to Toby, I would treat this topic as a check box activity. Do it, play the game, and it will help. I assure you it does produce a bottom line positive. The key is to manage it effectively and ongoing.

      Its programmatic in nature, and by doing it, its one less topic to guess ‘what if’ thoughts around. If you optimize all these points, have a great title, great price, great images… and the item still doesn’t sell, you’ve at the very least ruled out a number of topics to re think.

  • james
    8 months ago

    if you’re doing things to please customers instead of ebay, you’re doing it wrong.
    take your colourful, unique item and cram it into whatever inaccurate pigeon hole ebay has provided for it.
    if it causes problems they’re your problems to deal with, ebay will still blame you for not describing it correctly.

    • 8 months ago

      Hi James,

      I wouldn’t want the implied action to be cramming erroneous data to ‘fit eBay’. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t force it.

      But I would disagree – the buyer is the focus. Buyers use filters to narrow search down, and thats exactly why item specifics matter. You don’t want to appear in the wrong search, or be removed from search completely.

      eBay doesn’t always treat circumstances correctly, that much I do agree. If you supply all the right data in all the right places, you do increase the strength of your position should any dispute arise with the buyer or eBay support teams mediating.

  • Andy R
    8 months ago

    In collectables on Ebay, we’ve found item specifics actually hinder sales.

    The reason is they are not sensitive enough to help the customer find what they are really looking for.

    Terms such as “new or “used” are frankly meaningless in collectables, as are many of the other terms they ask you to specify.

    Being told in this article that custom values are pointless largely backs up what we’ve seen in sales.

    So we stick to the tried and tested values of putting in all the appropriate key words into the title on Ebay.

    For our website sales the key is getting all the meta tags right for both the description AND the image. Would be better for Ebay to drop items specifics and go down the google route of using tags,

    But then again, they wouldn’t find it as easy to manipulate those!

  • 8 months ago

    “Being told in this article that custom values are pointless largely backs up what we’ve seen in sales.” – My apologies for not clarifying. They do have value, but post search mostly. They can further spur the purchase with details a buyer wants, or stop them and stop an eventual refund. They do have value, just not in the total context sellers often use them for.

    I agree collectibles is a really tough vertical. Its hard to get the exact right values in just the title. You have a hard enough time selling a collectible to a buyer with all the detail you have to go through on condition. And with eBay losing its auction market, I imagine an element of the original interest for collectibles has shrunk somewhat in comparison to the volume of products.

    Where the attribute is open to free text (most on eBay are), if you don’t have a good match, always add your desired value. Its better than nothing. eBay do make changes based on the data they see over time you’d assume, and they index these free text values surely (looking for any ex-eBay people reading here 🙂 )

    eBay, for its many faults, is one of the easiest marketplaces to start and list on. With that comes some chaos and compromise on controls. I do sympathise, we work on data all the time re-purposed for eBay, among others. All things being equal, many marketplaces are far more demanding.