Sometime during the last quarter of 2013, my sales—along with those of others—took a downward spiral. I couldn’t understand why, but then I read a FB comment that explained it in one word: Cassini. eBay had quietly rolled out its new search engine in June.
Cassini who?! What?! I’d read the announcements and postings about the new search engine and listened to some of it. I improved my photos, filled in the Item Specifics, completed the Condition Description box, and even refreshed my stale store listings. But I was oblivious to the impact of other important factors and how it all would affect my sales. I decided it was time to really look into this new Cassini. Here is what I learned and had not previously understood.
Cassini is about the buyer, not the seller. It is designed to provide consumers with a more targeted shopping experience and is based on personalization. In essence, it is the buyers who influence the order of search results.
Cassini bases its search results on the 4 core values: trust, value, relevance and convenience. This means the listing title is no longer the master because other aspects of the listing and selling process also play a key role in rankings.
Cassini uses algorithms that match a buyer's search term with the following:
- your product details
- the price
- the age of your listing
- the quality of your item
- shipping cost
- shipping time
- your feedback rating
- the number of viable items you have listed
- your sell through ratio
- your return policy
- your compliance with eBay's regulations
- and many more mundane points.
Whatever product has the highest score based upon these factors goes on top and is seen and often purchased first.
What?! I didn’t realize that my ranking in search results was also based upon my return policy, my sell-through ratio, etc. Cassini has definitely changed the way our listings show up in searches. It is now more important than ever to show that your items are in demand, that you can make the sale, and that you can provide great customer service which results in happy buyers that come back.
What significant changes has Cassini made that affect listings the most? What does Cassini like – and more importantly, does not like? And what can I do to ensure my listings get top ranking?
1) Fewer search results. Rather than returning all potential matches, Cassini displays only a subset of listings in search results that are unique to each buyer. This results in fewer—but more relevant—search results for the buyer.
2) Free listings. eBay would be hard-pressed to continue charging sellers listing fees when only a few hundred—albeit relevant—listings show up in results. I believe this is their way of making up for the significant cut back in listings in search results
3) Text mining. Cassini goes beyond pure keyword matching in a title. Cassini also mines the text in item descriptions to capture additional information that will result in more relevant searches.
4) Feedback. Cassini mines the text of feedback comments looking for patterns—both positive and negative—to get a more accurate picture of the level of customer service each seller is providing. Why? Because some buyers who are unhappy with a transaction may be loathe to leave negative feedback. They will instead leave a positive feedback but will hint or complain in the feedback comments.
5) Sell-through rates. Cassini loves activity. It looks at how fast you turn things over. It makes it counterproductive to post many more items than you expect to be able to sell. So while in the past it may not have mattered if you had 1000+ active listings with only a small percentage of them selling regularly, these days those stale listings can adversely affect your ranking in search results.
6) Seller performance and Defect Rate (eDR). This is about your business practices as they relate to the four core values. Cassini tends to reward sellers with good-faith business practices. It looks at your seller ratings, overall feedback, dispute resolution history, customer service history, past buyer protection cases, shipping and return policies, plus buyer communication history as well as your seller compliance rating.
Your Seller Performance is measured by your Defect Rate. A poor Defect Rate not only affects your seller status and discounts, but it also affects your ranking in search results. The better your eDR, the more you will be “search advantaged”.
1) Listing Title – Use relevant and popular keyword combinations. Write titles for a buyer, not a search engine. It’s no longer advisable to cram the title with keywords and fill in all the spaces. Irrelevant words like L@@K confuse Cassini and it will bypass your listing. It’s more important that the title include words that are relevant to the buyer and in the order a buyer would. This is very important because a poorly written or irrelevant title can result in a lower impressions-to-transactions ratio, pushing you downward in rankings.
2) Catalog and Item Specifics – Whenever available use the eBay catalog and fill out the item specifics as completely as you can. Add your own item specifics whenever possible to better inform buyers and more completely describe your products. This data is no longer there just to help shoppers make buying decisions. It plays a significant role in search rankings.
3) Complete Item Descriptions – Add clear and precise information, including details about the condition as well as any facts the seller should know. The idea is to keep the buyer engaged as long as possible and to eventually get them to buy an item. Cassini measures each view to see how well and how long it can keep a buyer’s attention and how often that view becomes a sale.
4) Item Performance over Time – Cassini compares how many times your listings have been seen to the number of sales they generate. So it really pays to have fewer listings do more. Your ranking will decrease the more your listings are viewed without a buy-through. It may be better to list stock gradually as you actually expect to sell it and review your prices so that your are price-competitive.
Cassini does not like stale listings. New, reasonably priced listings from a reputable seller with high ratings will automatically be placed near the top of the Best Match category for the first day or two. I like to review and refresh my fixed-price listings every 30-90 days. Sometimes I will relist an old store listing as an auction. Other suggestions include re-doing the entire listing with new description and new photos.
5) Photos – Photos need to not only be big and clear, they also have to be appealing. With Cassini, every click and purchase counts, so you can’t afford to be passed over or ignored by buyers because of poor pictures.
Please do not include your doggy or your
ugly feet in the picture, no matter how cute you think they are. (Surprisingly, the Dumbo plush elephant actually sold.)
6) Feedback and Open Resolution Cases – Buyers don’t like sellers with negative feedback (even when it’s a “positive”)—and neither does Cassini. Poor feedback and open resolution cases significantly lower your listings in searches. Cassini will be quick to lower your placement in searches as soon as a case is opened. So you have to be just as quick to find a solution that results in a happy buyer (and positive FB) and close that case fast. Your listings will not recover until you resolve the issue.
7) Free Shipping – We all know there is no such thing as “free shipping”, but buyers perceive Free Shipping as a wonderful thing. Cassini does too and will move your listings into a higher level in Best Match. A buyer is also more likely to leave positive FB when they receive free shipping.
8) Hassle-Free Returns – I am not suggesting that you opt-in to eBay’s return process, but sellers with a great return policy that includes a longer return period will rank higher in Best Match. Remember, you don’t have to accept returns; but if you do, you are required to accept returns for ANY reason (per eBay policy).
10) HTML – Remove any extraneous HTML code from your description area. Listing templates, banners, widgets, maps, and info copied from the internet that carries code with it can muck up this area. Cassini can’t read it and listings with too much HTML will be pushed to the bottom.
I didn’t realize that cutting-and-pasting info in my descriptions would affect my ranking in searches. The best way to strip the code from copied info is to drop it into MS Word and then save it as a plain text file (.txt extension). Open this .txt file, fix the formatting and then cut-and-paste this info into your item description.
11) RSS Feeds – Refreshing your RSS feeds forces Cassini to re-index your first 100 listings and will temporarily move them higher in Best Match. It is recommended that you do this once a week if you want to get a good temporary boost.
Bottom line: Sell good-quality items that buyers want at a price they want to pay; and keep them happy so they come back. You do this and eBay will reward you by placing your listings at the top level of Best Match.
I am sorry for the lengthy post, but I think it’s important to understand how Cassini affects our sales. Basically eBay is now evaluating every single thing that you do as a seller and making it part of the Cassini Search ranking process. So, it's more important than ever to do those things that will likely result in better search placement over time.
While I have added my own two-cents, please note that I am not the original author of much of the information. It was culled from the sources listed below; and I want to credit and give them a big thanks.
And if there is anything here that you think may be inaccurate or you have additional suggestions, please post a comment. Inquiring minds want to know!