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How to Optimize an eBay Store

by Kent Johnson

#100, 30 July 2007

Having sold books primarily on Amazon and the other fixed-priced venues over the past several years, I only recently decided to throw my hat in the ring and open an eBay Store. I had heard mixed reviews on Stores from other booksellers - some had had great success, while others (quite a few others) had closed their stores in frustration, especially after eBay raised their fees last year. And so I set out to discover why some were doing well with their stores and what they were doing different from the sellers who had given up.

Then the eBay seller is faced with the task of taking digital photos of his or her inventory - and I'm convinced you're not going to sell many books without at least one good photo - and writing a description of the item. While eBay does offer an ISBN-based pre-filled listing feature through Muze, I quickly discovered that it doesn't provide photos of many of the older books that I was listing, and I found their generic descriptions less than adequate for selling expensive books. At this point, I could understand why many sellers used to listing books on fixed-price venues throw their hands up in frustration.

The question is, Is an eBay Store worth the extra work (and extra cost) of building and maintaining it? And will it generate enough additional sales (as opposed to listing my inventory on another fixed-price venue) to justify the effort? Then, of course, there's the matter of generating enough traffic to the store to actually get steady sales, which is the real focus of this article.

Once I had my store laid out the way I wanted had my books listed in the appropriate categories, I waited for the sales to roll in. And waited. Over the next few weeks I sold a few books out of my store, but nowhere the volume I experience on Amazon, which has always been my primary sales channel. I suspect that many booksellers have experienced the same thing, which at least partially explains the wave of eBay store closings in mid-2006 after eBay raised its store listing fees.

After checking the "traffic reports" feature provided with my basic store account, I found that my store was receiving over 100 visitors per day, so some shoppers were finding it. What surprised me, though, was the fact that over 30% of my traffic was coming from Google and several other major search engines. I had always assumed that almost all eBay store traffic would be generated by eBay's internal search engine. Could it be that I was missing out on an opportunity to receive more traffic - and sales - by not optimizing my store to gain more exposures from the major search engines?

So I decided to adjust my marketing plan and approach my eBay store as if were just another stand-alone website (which in many respects, it is).

The first order of business was to use my keywords and the content of the site more effectively. The home page and category pages of a store are just like any other web pages, after all, and are submitted to the search engines by eBay. The keywords present on those pages will greatly affect how the search engines place them in their index. eBay even provides a "Search Engine Keywords" section in their store manager, which displays a snapshot of what the search engines see when they crawl through your store pages. Make sure the keywords shown effectively represent what you're selling, or edit them as needed until they do.

Next I re-wrote my store description, replacing the generic "I sell quality used books" text with copy that included the keywords indicating the types of books I specialize in. Then I went in and looked at the listing titles of the books themselves. Like a lot of eBay booksellers, I had been using eBay's Muze service to enter my ISBN-era books into my auction listings and had stuck with the listing titles they provided. The problem with this is that many book buyers don't search for books by title; they search by subject, which may or many not be included in the title. Unfortunately, eBay doesn't provide a means of editing the titles of store listings (at least not that I know of) so I was forced to cancel the listings in question and re-load them with the new, keyword-rich titles - and pay another round of listing fees, of course).

Once I had the keywords in the store the way I wanted them, I set out to get some quality inbound links to the site. Now in case you're not aware of the importance of links pointing into your site, this is one of the key components of the complex algorithm that search engines use to rank web pages. A book could be written about Google's Page Rank algorithm (and several have been), but generally, the more higher quality links that point to a web page, the higher that page will rank in the search results compared to the pages that compete against it. This is one reason that Amazon ranks so highly in the search engine results: There are literally thousands of affiliated sites that link to it.

Anyway, I have several webmaster friends who agreed to place links to my store from their websites, which at least got the ball rolling. Then I submitted the store URL to the Open Directory Project.

The Open Directory is the granddaddy of web directories, and inclusion even gets you listed in Google's shopping directory; and best of all they don't charge a submission fee. Just don't expect to be accepted right away. Many webmasters have reported wait times of a year or longer before their sites were reviewed and included in the directory. You can also pay a small fee to be included in directories like JoeAnt or or Romow Web Directory - Shopping.

There are also hundreds of smaller hub directories on almost any subject you can imagine. Just go to Google and type "specific keyword" + "submit a site" into the search box (replacing the "specific keyword" with your target keyword, of course) and submit your store url to as many of these directories as you can.

Another strategy for getting links that I've used for years is writing and submitting articles to article directories like EzineArticles.

You can write articles related to the types of books you sell, then submit them to one of these directories (or as many of them as you can find) with the agreement that other webmasters can publish the articles on their sites. In exchange, you're allowed to include a link to your store or website at the bottom of the article. I've had several articles that have, over time, provided hundreds of links to my websites, all for free.

Blogging is another way of positioning yourself as an expert in your field and driving traffic to your store. You can set up a free blogging account at Blogger.

and post blog entries two or three times per week, including links to your store pages. eBay even provides a tool to broadcast your store listings as an RSS feed so that subscribers can receive your updated listings on a daily basis.

Another good idea for promoting your store off eBay is to register a .com domain name, then re-direct it to your store. It's a lot easier to tell someone to look you up at "" than something like "" And with domains costing as little as $8 a year to register, there's no reason not to have a .com of your own.

Once you have some quality links into your store, you can start focusing on getting more traffic from within eBay itself. Since store listings only show up if there are less than 30 auction or Buy-It-Now listings under a given keyword, a lot of your store inventory is basically invisible to your target market. I suspect this is one of the reasons that many booksellers have had less than stellar results from their eBay stores. So you need to run some of your inventory as auctions or Buy-It-Nows, then cross-promote your store to the visitors who view your listings. Try to pick titles that will get a lot of interest and match the bookselling niche you specialize in (assuming you do specialize in a particular niche).

Another store feature that I've had good luck with is the "custom listing frame" option. With this option turned on, every visitor to one of your auctions or store listings sees your logo and store navigation - with categories - down the left side of the page. This gives all your listings the same look and feel as your store, and invites buyers to click on your category links and explore the rest of your inventory as well.

Other good ideas include writing a monthly newsletter to keep in touch with your customers, taking advantage of eBay's "My World" feature to let potential buyers get to know you and your interests, submitting your listings to Google Base, running a craigslist ad with a link to your store, and writing an eBay Guide that will give you and your store more exposure to potential buyers.

In short, there are lots of ways of building your brand name and getting more traffic - and sales - to your eBay store. Just start with the ones that fit into your schedule and budget, and go from there.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: BookThink highly recommends using Google Base Store Connector to give your Store listings more exposure. It's free and easy to use. Download it here. ]

Questions or comments?
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