Best Match is eBay’s default search and sort algorithm. It is fundamentally different than the way search results were presented to potential bidders browsing the the auction site during eBay’s first decade of existence. Unfortunately, for many sellers accustomed to success under the old search method, Best Match has had significant negative impact on their sales.

For those sellers nimble enough to adjust and adapt to the new paradigm, Best Match actually results in increased sales. These are the sellers that have learned to optimize their eBay listings for maximum exposure under the Best Match algorithm.

How Things Used to Work

Until recently, eBay served up search results in a very straight forward manner. It would:

  1. Look at the keywords entered by the buyer in the search box
  2. Look at the keywords of every listing on the site
  3. Return only the listings that had 100% of the keywords entered by the buyer
  4. Sort the listings by “time remaining”1

Previously, by default, results were sorted by listing end times, with the auctions that were ending the soonest appearing at the top of the search results. This method provided parity for all listings, as all of them eventually worked their way to the top spot of eBay’s search results.

All an auction seller needed to do to appear at the top of the search results was: (1) anticipate what search terms potential bidders might enter in the eBay search box, (2) include those keywords in their auction title, and (3) wait until their listing’s end time approached.

The good news was that everybody got their turn on the first page of the search results as the time remaining in their listing ticked towards closing time. The bad news was that the seller could not count on the user to employ a search query that included the same exact keywords that they had put in their listing’s title.

eBay’s Best Match search results are supposed to serve up results that are relevant to the buyer according to historical buyer behavior – regardless of what search query the bidder used. Best Match is also designed to encourage selling practices eBay feels improve the buying experience – such as offering low shipping and handling fees and excellent customer service.

According to a post announcing the feature:

Using this sort won’t change which listings are returned, it only changes the order in which listings are presented. No listings will be added or removed when [sorted] by Best Match.“ Additionally, “[Best Match] actually learns and never stops learning. … [It] learns from aggregated buyers’ activity over time and accordingly adjusts product rankings. … Product rankings are dependent on what buyers are looking for and clicking on.”2

Best Match’s Impact on Sellers

Unfortunately for many sellers, their auctions aren’t ever making it to the first page of the search results under eBay’s Best Match algorithm.

Look at the two screen shots below. They both show the search results obtained when the bidder searches eBay using the phrase “Guitar Hero III Controller.” The first screen shot is sorted by time, with ending soonest at the top of the search results.

Before Best MatchThis was the default search and sort method until recently and displays listings as you would normally expect. The top listing closes in 9 minutes. The next listing closes in 15 minutes, followed by one that ends in 16 minutes, etc. Every listing gets their turn on the first page, and every listing eventually gets their turn at the top of that page. Now look at the same search results sorted under the Best Match method:

After Best MatchUnder Best Match, the auctions closing in under 19 minutes are nowhere to be found. In fact the listing that occupies the number 3 position closes in 2 hours and 33 minutes! The listing in the number 7 position doesn’t close even for almost another 9 hours!

What’s the difference between the auctions that occupy positions in the top ten of the search results for an 8 hours period and the auctions that will never make it to page one? The answer to that question is the purpose of this series.

Why Is This Important?

If a seller’s auctions aren’t making it to the first page of the search results:

  • Buyers aren’t clicking through to their listings;
  • So, the listings aren’t receiving bids; and
  • The items aren’t selling, or are selling for less than they normally would.

One seller reported on the eBay message board that over the first weekend of Best Match as the default search and sort method on the auction site, page views for their auction listings were down over 60% based on statistics collected from their hit counters.

Best Match Is About Business

eBay is quick to claim that Best Match is about improving the buyer experience. Sellers are quick to claim that Best Match is about crushing the “little guy.” The truth of the matter is unsurprising. Raghav Gupta, the developer who created eBay’s Best Match algorithm states on his eBay Labs web page, “when used appropriately, this capability [eBay’s Best Match] will open doors to significant revenue opportunities, not just for eBay, but also for the vast network of affiliate developers.”3

Same Name – Different “Best Match”

The auction site employed a search algorithm called Best Match on eBay eXpress a while back that was, many many accounts, a miserable failure. Sellers frustrated with the current situation are quick to question why eBay would employ Best Match on the main site when it was such a disaster before. But as Raghav Gupta points out, this Best Match is a completely different system. He says:

It’s disappointing that the name ‘Best Match’ was ultimately chosen for describing the sort by relevance functionality on the main site, in particular because it has nothing to do with the ‘Best Matches’ mechanism used in eBay eXpress. The two do not share the same algorithm, the same code, or the same implementation…except the name.” 4

Points are awarded or deducted for various aspects of the listing, including:

  • Your auction-style listing accrues points automatically as it gets closer to the time the auction ends.
  • Your multiple quantity fixed price listing scores points for sales relative to the number of times it has been exposed to eBay visitors in the search results.
  • Your listing loses points if you have accumulated several 1s or 2s in your Detailed Seller Ratings – especially for the “Item as Described” category.
  • Your fixed-price listing gains points if you meet the sales volume and seller quality thresholds to qualify as a “Top Rated Seller.”
  • Your listing gains or loses points depending on your shipping and handing fees.
  • Your listing gains points if you can identify and include certain keywords in your title.
  • Your listing gains points if demand is high for what you are selling compared to the number of listings for that particular item.

Best Match and You

The competitive eBay seller views Best Match as an opportunity. This change is new to everyone and impacts everyone equally. The good news is that you can use this to your advantage if you are willing to take the effort. There are no hacks or schemes in this book. If you want to optimize your listings to make the most of Best Match, it involves a four-letter word: W – O – R – K. Therein lies your competitive advantage. If you are willing to do some work and learn the system, you will have a significant leg up on the 98 percent of other eBay sellers who won’t.

Next Listing Type: Auction or Fixed Price

1 Adam Nash, eBay Rolls Out Best Match, http://blog.adamnash.com/2008/01/21/ebay-rolls-out-best-match-in-earnest/ (January 2008).

2 Esteban Kozak, Introducing Best Match: A new sort option based on relevance, http://forums.ebay.com/db1/thread.jspa?threadID=2000241408&tstart=0&mod=12102327081479 (October 2006).

3 Raghav Gupta, Relevance Sort, http://labs.ebay.com/raghavgupta/ (Accessed January 2008).

4 Ibid.