How Studying Poor eBay Listings Can Improve Your Marketing Efforts

Marketing seems like an abstract concept at times. How do you KNOW it’s working? How do you KNOW that more people are interested than before? How do you KNOW you’re making more money directly from the marketing? Well, it may sound strange, but eBay will give you real world examples of marketing principles in action if you know what to look for.


This tip is first on my list for a reason. If no one can find your item on eBay, then no one’s going to buy it – period. The same goes for your marketing strategies!

eBay’s search bar is a perfect analogy for a Web-wide search bar such as Google or Yahoo. You want as many people to find your item as possible. So that means Keyword Optimization. You don’t want to put a guitar on sale as “guitar.” That’s oversimplifying it, but if someone’s looking for a specific guitar, even if it’s the same as yours, they’ll never find it because the search term isn’t found in your title. A good rule of thumb is to get as many relevant keywords in the title as you can (without going overboard).


Going back to the guitar example: if your description for the guitar you’re selling just says “Nice guitar. Plays well,” then you’ve just lost your chance to tell people WHY they should buy your item. If two eBay items are identical except that one has a great description that doesn’t make me wonder what I’m getting into, then that one will be the one that sells.


There’s nothing like dark, blurry, and incomplete pictures to send buyers running. If I want to buy that guitar, then I want to clearly see what the whole thing looks like (in good light) so that I know you’re not trying to hide anything. Similarly, I probably won’t buy anything from you if your site is littered with poor-quality pictures or if it lacks pictures in the first place. Back up your claims by showcasing your products and your clients will thank you for it!

I bring up these 3 things because I know to avoid them as a regular eBay seller. You can search previous items and see what they sold for and it becomes pretty obvious why two exact items sell for such different prices. eBay also shows you statistics of how many visits and “watchers” each of your items has. Sometimes just a refreshed title can be enough to attract more visits.

Listing a specific guitar type as a generic "Nice guitar" is ineffective for eBay sellers.

Listing a specific guitar type as a generic "Nice guitar" is ineffective for eBay sellers.

As a buyer, this is a whole different story. These seller mistakes can work to your advantage. I was looking for a “ESP LTD EC-400 GUITAR” one day, and I accidentally hit enter after just “ESP” and the first result was “ESP GUITAR.” Well I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the exact guitar I was looking for. But there were no really good pictures, hardly any description, and of course the title left a lot to be desired.

eBay protects their buyers from getting ripped off by ensuring refunds for items that aren’t as advertised, so I decided to chance it and ended up getting the guitar for around half of what others like it had sold for. Now, anytime I’m looking to get a steal on something, I’ll look for a lack of the three criteria I mentioned above. I’ll search the most general term I can think of and filter the results with the on-site tools, and every now and then I’ll get a ridiculously low price on something. If the pictures and description are lacking, my chances are even better.

What’s the lesson? Don’t keep your business below the radar with poor descriptions, optimization, or photos. Step up your game and you could be a power seller in your industry!

So head to your favorite browser, pull up eBay’s site, and see if you can learn from eBay sellers’ mistakes and successes. Can you think of any other parallels between eBay listings and online marketing fundamentals?


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  1. Jill Tooley

    Brilliant post, Jeff! You’ve made some damn good parallels between eBay auctions and online optimizing for businesses.

    I’ve also used sellers’ mistakes to my advantage when buying on eBay…and man, do I feel guilty about doing so. The seller’s loss is a buyer’s gain (a savvy buyer, anyway) but part of me does sympathize with the seller when I see a terrible auction description or title tag. However, I have gotten some killer deals with this method, so how could I complain too much?

    This goes to show that something as simple as detailed descriptions, smart keywords, or unique photos can make or break how sellers do business!

    • JPorretto

      Thanks Jill! You definitely can’t rely on consumers to “figure it out.”

  2. Bret Bonnet

    Jeff, wow, you are an EBay expert. I’m glad you decided to come work for QLP instead of buying into one of those “Sell it on EBay” franchises! 🙂

    … I’ve got a ton of sh*t in my basement that I need to sell on EBay. I just keep NEVER getting around to it. I’ll go halfsies with you if you want to list, sell, pack, and ship for me! 🙂

    • JPorretto

      This can be done =) I am the one all my friends go to when they need things sold after all…

      • Jill Tooley

        You could help me sell some of my stuff, too! My goal is to get rid of anything I haven’t used/touched in more than a year (besides collectibles). I want to eliminate all the junk before I buy ANYTHING new that’ll take up more space or eat up more of my money. I’m trying to follow the Jeff way and implement some “cheap bastard” techniques into my life wherever I can! Haha! 🙂

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    It’s been such a long time since I’ve purchased anything on eBay, but I’m sure I’ll make my way back there eventually. These tips seem like they could come in handy, so I’ll keep them in mind. And you’re right about pictures. When I see only low quality pics for an item I’m interested in, I immediately find another distributor. I don’t take any chances when it comes to quality.

    I’ve never sold any of my belongings online either, but I’ll definitely be sure to optimize when the time comes. Over the past few months, I’ve certainly learned a thing or two about keyword rich content.

    • JPorretto

      You’d be a natural at this point!

  4. Jacob

    I always like reading your articles. You write some clever stuff. Never wouldve put these 2 things together on my own but good analogy!

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