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A Bookseller's Guide to Sellathon
Part II: The Rest of the Story

by Craig Stark

#42, 2 May 2005

In Part I of this guide, I discussed the importance of titles for eBay auctions, and before I get to the rest of the story, I'm going to pound on this one more time: writing a good title is the single most important thing you can do to drive traffic to your auction. Sellathon's ViewTracker confirms this time and time again. Most buyers will find your books by performing title searches. Period. This isn't to say that auction descriptions aren't important either - they're vitally important - but only if your title can persuade a buyer to look at them in the first place.

Can ViewTracker help you write better titles? Absolutely, and I think this process can be explained best with an illustration. In the article "Crossover Hits: Making Local History Books Work Harder for You," I suggested that you look for additional flashpoints in local history books that are unrelated to the history of the town or county in question but likely to stir collector interest. For example, a surprisingly large number of local history books have chapters on (and/or photographs of) early logging operations. There's intense collector interest in logging, and often a local history book will be purchased for its logging content only - but only if you're savvy enough to disclose that logging information is indeed contained in the book.

A month or two ago, I sold a local history book with both textual and photographic logging content, and here's what ViewTracker told me about auction activity: 105 keyword searches were performed, and of these searches, 41 different search terms or phrases were used. 12 of these 41 had something to do with logging; most of them, in fact, used the word "logging" either singly or as part of a string. But this is more telling: ViewTracker also told me that of these 105 searches, 43 of them used one of the logging terms or phrases. 41% of the time, in other words, keyword searchers were coming to this auction because of an interest in logging, not an interest in the county the book was about. Also, of these 43 logging-related searches, 36 of them were title only searches; only 7 were title and description searches.

Here's the point: what if I hadn't put the word "logging" in my auction title? The impact would've been huge, and this impact wouldn't have been lessened much if I'd used the term in the auction description (which I also did). ViewTracker also told me that there were 146 visits in all - that is, 41 buyers found this auction without a keyword search, and who knows how many of them clicked into because I'd put the word "logging" in the title? If the same percentage applies, probably 16 or 17, making a grand total of 59 (or more) visits that wouldn't have been. Scary.

So, how do you find these power keywords in the first place? ViewTracker only flags them if you use them. If you're ignorant of their importance and don't know to use them in the first place, won't you be forever doomed to lower auction traffic? Not at all, and here's where your descriptions come into play. If you routinely include chapter headings, lists of photographs and illustrations, etc., in your descriptions, you'll almost inevitably, sooner or later, use them by accident, and thanks to the buyers who do search descriptions, ViewTracker will gradually reveal them to you. Teach you. In the example above, there were 4 additional references to logging in my description - and recall that there were 7 description searches using logging terminology. Given that this wasn't a book about logging, this would have immediately alerted you to the potential importance of the term.

Close monitoring of search terms in ViewTracker's Tracking Center, therefore, is vitally important for identifying the words that will deliver buyers to you. I keep a list of power keywords mined from ViewTracker. In Part I, I mentioned several: "book," "history," "genealogy" and "photographs." Not all power keywords, however, are general terms, and some will surprise you. Example: "helmet diving." It won't take long to put together a list of several hundred. Use them regularly in your titles (when they apply), and I guarantee that your sales will benefit greatly. There's a kind of serendipity to this process as well: studying terms that buyers use to find what they're looking for will often help you in bookscouting. Many power keywords, that is, are also flashpoints that you can use in the field.

ViewTracker can help in other ways as well. Using the same example, it disclosed some very useful geographical information about my visitors. In the Visitor Data area of the Tracking Center, you can search visitor IP addresses for locations. My book was the history of a county in Michigan, so it wasn't surprising to see that most of my visitors were from that area of the country. Why is this important? Well, think about choosing an optimal time of day to begin and end your auctions. If your book has a geographically-defined focus, it makes sense to place it in a time slot that will allow the highest number of interested visitors opportunities to bid in the closing hour or so. And don't forget about accommodating international buyers, especially if you're selling a book written in a foreign language. (By the way, if you're not certain whether to sell internationally or not, experiment some, and ViewTracker will soon convince you that you're shooting yourself in the foot if you don't.)

And don't assume that starting/ending times should be evenings. It's important to monitor the time of day when you're getting most of your visits (and bids) and develop a feel for what types of books do best at different times. Since college students are notorious for staying up late, you might do well to schedule a textbook later in the evening. Home schooling books, however, might be a different story since moms often collapse not too long after loading the dinner dishes in the dishwasher.

ViewTracker will also suggest the best days of the week to begin and end auctions. Despite conventional wisdom, don't assume that Sundays are best. Some types of books do surprisingly well on, say, Thursdays. Also, if you've got a book that doesn't seem to lean one way or the other, you can always fall back on the fact that about half of all eBay users live in the Eastern time zone - and do your best to accommodate them.

Speaking of monitoring what's happening and when, I'd also urge you to pay attention to the interplay of bidding activity and traffic. Books that attract early bids often have much different patterns than those that don't. There's an almost measurable snowball effect, especially with books that attract multiple early bids, and unlike books that don't receive bids until near the end of auctions, traffic is usually much more consistent throughout the auction instead of (more typically) being clustered at the beginning and end. Part of this is due, no doubt, to the desirability of the book, but the early appearance of bids is a significant draw.

Depending on the kinds of books you sell, you might want to invent/use tactics that encourage early bidding - for example, setting your opening bids lower or offering incentives for early bids (free shipping if you bid on the first day, etc.). ViewTracker will suggest which books you can most safely do this with. Again, don't assume universal application. ViewTracker also teaches me that most visitors find my auctions by doing $Hi to $Lo searches, not $Lo to $Hi, and few buyers (most of whom are impatient) click beyond the first page of results. This would suggest employing an opposite tactic. Ultimately, much depends on the specific book.

One other point about timing. If you're listing a book that isn't likely to attract multiple bidding but has significant value notwithstanding, consider what ViewTracker has taught me about my auctions: approximately 80% of the time, visitors are finding me by "Ending First" sorts, not "Newly Listed." Knowing this, you might be tempted to run shorter auctions (5- 3- or 1-day) so as to appear more often on the all-important first page of results, but this isn't necessarily a good idea. High value books with a restricted market sometimes need extended exposure to sell, sometimes multiple re-lists to find a buyer. Yes, you can run 5-day auctions twice for about the same fee you'd be charged for one 10-day auction, but this only applies to auctions with low starting bids. Overall, running short auctions will cost you significantly more in fees to little or no advantage.

Other important data. ViewTracker will show you that category placement usually isn't a huge factor because so much searching (and even browsing) is done at higher category levels, and many times searches are done globally, not even at the Books level. Still, there are some types of books that are searched heavily at very specific category levels; and some types that do better when listed in two categories. Monitor this as well, and illuminating patterns will emerge.

What about Product Finder? Should you be using it? Visitors arrive at my auctions through Product Finder about 5% of the time, so I usually fill in Item Specifics so as not to lose them. If it was much less, I probably wouldn't bother, and if anything's clear now it's that Product Finder isn't the revolutionary, wildly popular feature eBay had hoped it would be.

ViewTracker will also inform you if a snipe bid is in place - a bid placed through a sniping service that will be automatically entered in the closing seconds of an auction. It's nice to know this, but I'm not sure that it's information I need to know as a seller. As a buyer, however, it's instructive to know how seldom this method is used - hardly ever in my auctions - and of course this gives you that much more of an edge if you use a snipe service yourself.

Finally, a word about a mysterious catch-all arrival method - the direct link. I've noticed that arrival methods for some of my auctions include a high percentage of buyers (sometimes as high as 50%) who ostensibly arrive via links outside of eBay. I'm guessing that the bulk of these are from meta search sites like FetchBook that include eBay listings in returned results, but other possibilities would no doubt include email links, stored bookmarks, snipe services, etc. It would be interesting to see more specifics on this - a breakdown - and perhaps very instructive.

For information on Sellathon's ViewTracker, click here.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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