There’s a difference between optimization and manipulation. You optimize when you find and use the keywords that apply to your eBay listing. You manipulate when you use keywords in your title that don’t pertain to the auction you are listing.

Misleading Keywords

Including keywords that are irrelevant or misleading just because they improve your Best Match relevance score is considered keyword SPAM. As the Best Match algorithm matures, auctions with titles such as the example below are apt to be canceled or penalized in some manner as to make them irrelevant:

Like NEW MP3 PLAYER better than IPOD NANO

Keyword Repetition

In the Spring of 2008, some sellers discovered that repeating high-scoring keywords in their listing titles multiplied the effects of those keywords and rocketed their auctions to the top of the Best Match search result pages. Auctions with titles such as “NEW NEW NEW Wii 2 2 2” were very profitable for a few short weeks.

Ultimately, eBay caught on to the fact that this very basic form of keyword SPAM was occurring and modified the Best Match algorithm in relatively short order in order to make this form of manipulation ineffective.

A Dynamic Algorithm

eBay will continue to aggressively monitor and modify Best Match in order to minimize the effects of manipulation attempts. According to a blog post by Adam Nash, a former eBay Finding Team employee, “Best Match is designed to be opaque. As a result, eBay will make no guarantees about how it functions, and they will actively change it over time to improve it and to prevent abuse.”1

eBay has already taken action to mitigate attempts to manipulate the Best Match search results. Accordingly, you can expect that they are actively working on developing and perfecting automated methods to identify manipulation and quell it when they find it. You can also anticipate that other sellers will be quick to turn in competitors that are blatantly attempting to manipulate the Best Match search results.

I would expect the Terms of Service to eventually be modified to include disincentives and penalties for this kind of activity. My guess is that these would include canceled listings, reduced exposure, and termination of the offender’s account.

In fact, as I’m writing this chapter, eBay announced a new Browse Manipulation Policy:

Starting in early June a new Search & Browse Manipulation Policy will take the place of the Keyword Spamming, Misleading Title, Miscategorization, and Brand Name Misuse policies. The new Search Manipulation Policy simplifies the guidelines for sellers, prohibiting any unfair methods of diverting members to their listings. This includes any addition to a listing not related to the item being sold or other activity that harms the shopping experience by making it difficult for buyers to find the items they’re looking for.2

The bottom line here is you could expend significant time and energy attempting to gain an advantage by manipulating the Best Match search results. As some sellers have already learned, this advantage is short-lived and they must now start over in their attempts to make Best Match work for them.

In contrast, you could invest that same time and energy learning how to optimize your listings for Best Match and enjoy sustained success in the new selling environment.

I don’t know about you, when I chose to invest something I value – whether it be time, energy, or money – I’ve always got an eye on the long term returns. My money is on optimization.

1Nash.

2John McDonald Sr, eBay General Announcements Board, http://www2.ebay.com/aw/core/200805191328272.html (May 2008).