What is Cassini ?
All search-based websites such as Google, as well as marketplaces like Amazon, have a search algorithm that aims to give any given enquirer or shopper results which match their search query in the best way possible. Amazon’s search algorithm is called A9, while eBay’s is called Cassini after the Cassini-Huygens space-research mission launched to explore the mysterious Saturn back in 1997. eBay’s Cassini is just as much an enigma to sellers as Saturn was and continues to be to the whole of humankind. Speaking with sellers on a regular basis, questions constantly come up regarding Cassini, and since the algorithm’s code is constantly evolving, I decided to publish a completely up-to-date post for 2019. Here are the questions and topics I will be addressing:
- Why is Cassini so important?
- What factors influence ranking in Cassini search results?
- How to optimize listings to outperform your competition in Cassini search results.
Why is Cassini so important?
Put simply, Cassini is important because it is the algorithm in charge of regulating the free market trade of one of the world’s largest eCommerce marketplaces, eBay. Like it or not, if you want to build successful, high converting listings, you have no choice but to ‘play the game’. According to the Conversion Guru, most shoppers never bother scrolling past the first page of search results.
In fact, as Conversion Guru found, 90% of people don’t go past the first page of results in Google. That means 1% of businesses attract 90% of sales and organic traffic.
What are the stats for eBay, you ask?
When it comes to eBay, shoppers don’t differ much from the vast majority of digital consumer behavior, with the vast majority of the top appearing listings capturing the highest clickthrough rates and conversions.
Logical conclusion: Cassini is paramount to your success as an eCommerce entrepreneur. Spending 2019 optimizing your listings to perform better in search results just jumped to the top of your ‘to-do list’.
What factors influence ranking in Cassini search results?
I’m happy you asked. Cassini’s ultimate goal is to provide the best user experience humanly possible to eBay shoppers, meaning everything you need to know and do to ‘appease’ Cassini is first and foremostly a customer satisfaction and user experience issue. If you want to rank in Cassini, your first question should always be, “Does this improve the customer’s overall retail experience?” If the answer is yes, then go for it. If not, then recalibrate.
The obvious question lingering is, “Why does eBay care so much about a shopper’s retail experience?” The answer is quite intuitive, as eBay makes money off of every sale generated. The more sales, the more money in eBay’s corporate pockets. It is that simple. Cassini was designed around this principle: Keep customers happy, keep them shopping and ensure they return for more.
How to optimize listings to outperform your competition in Cassini search results
Without further ado, here are the top factors that influence Cassini and how you can optimize your listings to get ahead of the competition:
#1: Use Item Specifics
This seems really intuitive, but you would be surprised how many people totally overlook this crucial factor. Many buyers use ‘advanced search’ and filter options to find highly specific results. Attributes people filter may include:
And if you have not taken the time to enter these basic details, you won’t appear low in results — rather, you won’t appear at all when customers filter search results. One small action on your part can have huge implications in terms of exposure to potential customers.
#2: Categorize items correctly
Many sellers want to maximize their exposure, and rightfully so, but in more cases than not, they end up employing practices based on intuition and not knowledge. Item categorization is one of those instances. Many sellers list their items in many categories and/or subcategories. This ‘sounds’ like the right thing to do, but it actually harms Cassini’s ability to precisely match shopper’s search queries with your product.
Seller tip: Choose one highly accurate category and subcategory for your item – end of story.
In this example, we are looking at sellers who are selling MP3 Players. The best practice, in this case, would be to choose ‘Portable Audio & Headphones’ as the category and ‘MP3 Players’ as the subcategory. Keep it simple, and you will ace this one!
#3: Keep your listings active
Search engines, and I mean all of them, whether we are talking Google or Bing, Amazon’s A9 or eBay’s Cassini, absolutely love (and reward) activity. The more active you are, the more you are rewarded this can be anything from editing an existing listing to adding new listings on a regular basis. Why do you think bloggers publish pieces weekly or even daily in certain instances!? Yup, for the most part, it pertains to SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, concerns. The more you post, upload and just engage with a search engine, the higher you will climb in rank.
Seller tip – Don’t post all your listings in one fell swoop, but rather post one listing every day. Then go ahead and tweak something small in an old listing just to show Cassini that you, and by extension your listing, is active.
#4: Drive third-party traffic to your store and listings
Driving third-party traffic to your store and listings is beneficial for eBay SEO as it shows eBay that there is increased interest and activity surrounding your listings from many different sources. This type of traffic indicates to eBay One caveat – you only want to gain traffic from high-interest individuals, otherwise, you may very well have a high bounce rate, which will do you more harm than good.
Here are some ideas on how to accomplish this:
- Create targeted social media ads – both Facebook and Instagram seem to work well.
- Set Google Ad PPC campaigns.
- Drive traffic from your personal retail domain to eBay listings.
- Make use of relevant email lists that you have been compiling and shoot out a quick message about select new listings.
#5: List with GTC or Good Till Cancelled
When an eBay listing ends, you lose all the buyer engagement stats which help you make more sales, including actual sales and ‘listing watchers’. The opposite is true as well, meaning if a listing has negative engagement, i.e. very few sales and little engagement, that will carry over to the next 30-day period with GTC. You are essentially playing Russian roulette. If it lands on green, you can double your money, but if it lands on red, you lose it all.
Seller tip: Use GTC for your eBay listings. Set a 29-day reminder on your phone. If the listing has positive engagement, don’t intervene and let eBay do its thing. If, however, your listings are showing negative engagement, then put the ‘cancel’ in ‘Good Till Canceled’ into motion. Then turn around and list it as an entirely new listing by clicking on ‘Sell Similar’ instead of ‘Relist’.
Additionally, be sure to really try to understand why this listing engaged and converted so badly. Please don’t pin this on luck. Rather, there are always concrete things that contribute to a listing’s success. Compare the unsuccessful listing with a successful one:
- Are the images high enough quality?
- Is the description informative and enticing?
- Are you using proper keywords in the listing title?
One last thought on this one – if you receive any feedback or questions from shoppers, I suggest you mine these for answers to your woes. One example I always love giving is of a seller who was selling a GPS in Australia which did not convert well. He got tons of inquiries asking if the GPS included maps of The Down Under. He had written this in the body of the listing, but it was not clear enough as proven by customer engagement with his listing. He optimized his listing based on this feedback by changing his main image to a map of Australia displayed on a GPS as well as adding ‘includes a map of the Australian continent’ to his listing title. Guess what? Conversions increased by 400%! I will leave you to reach your own conclusions from this little anecdote.
#6: Consider using auctions instead of ‘buy now’
Auctions were originally devised as a way to orchestrate a quick sale. Whenever you start the clock in retail, you are typically able to psychologically pressure interested parties into making a purchase. Since it is time-sensitive, eBay’s Cassini will give your item preference in search results.
Seller tip: Even if auctions are not profitable for you, sacrifice one item every so often (once a week, once a month – whatever your business model will allow). Write it off as a marketing expense, as this will get your other listings and store exposure you would have otherwise only have gotten vis-a-vis paid promotion.
In this example, the individual selling this ‘collectible postcard’ obviously has no bids yet, but his or her benefit, as I mentioned above, is being first in search results. What if a collector clicks on this listing and discovers this seller, eventually becoming a loyal customer? He may not have sold this specific postcard, but his eBay SEO strategy served him well.
#7: Keep your listing live despite being ‘out of stock’
‘Out of Stock Inventory Control’ is a feature eBay offers sellers in eBay account settings under ‘Selling Preferences’. Use it! Why? Simple, if you have a listing which has super positive engagement and has even sold, say, 150 units, and then suddenly you are out of stock,he listing will end and the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater, which is to say all the positive engagement your listing has accumulated will be lost. In the alternate reality where you think and plan ahead, the out of stock listing will not end but rather display ‘out of stock’.
Pro tip: You may not lose your listing when using ‘Out of Stock Inventory Control,’ but your Cassini ranking of you as a seller and your listing will be harmed. If Cassini aims to offer the best customer retail experience humanly possible, and then a customer can’t purchase an item as it is out of stock, said customer will be pretty disappointed and will not be returning to eBay so quickly.
#8: Consider employing a ‘scarcity’ tactic
When resources are scarce, they increase in value. Think about diamonds. I once read that the large international companies with a controlling interest in the industry only release a certain quantity of diamonds per fiscal quarter in order to control and maintain prices. When prices rise or dip in a way that is not to their liking, these corporations use scarcity to increase prices or flood the market to devalue the precious stone. This same tactic can be employed on eBay. Using a third-party app, or integration such as Quantity Manager, one can display an item as being the last one, even if it is not.
#9: Outbid competition on price
First of all, I would recommend that you look at the competition in your given product category and do a comparative market analysis, which should result in you determining the median price for your item on eBay. Once you do that, I would recommend a two-fold strategy:
- Underprice the competition – Let’s assume that the median price for your item is $11.00. I would reduce the price by around 10% to $9.99. Actually, as I am sure you have seen, using 99 cents is a very effective psychological retail tactic which ‘tricks’ people into viewing your item as if it were in a lower price category when in fact it is not. Lowering prices will allow a new listing to attract its first customers.
- Consider overpricing the competition – Once you have created engagement and generated sales (which, as we have seen, Cassini loves), you want to consider raising your prices, but if the price is identical to your competition, then you are not setting yourself apart. You will have lower conversions and end up ranking lower in search results. One tactic you can consider using and is a bit counterintuitive is actually raising prices once you have a cluster of positive reviews and engagement. If the median price is $11, for example, consider making your item $13.00. Many times, when your item is the most expensive in a category and already has tons of positive reviews, consumers assume that it is the most expensive since it is the best and you have the ‘social proof’ to back it up. This does not always work, but I would definitely recommend testing it out.
#10: Offer a competitive shipping policy
Returning to psychology and filtering: both are relevant in terms of shipping. Many consumers filter for ‘free shipping’ or ‘free international shipping’. If they do that, and you don’t offer those, then you will lose out on that business and won’t rank at all in results. In terms of psychology, consumers gravitate more toward listings that offer ‘free’ shipping even if it is not free as a matter of fact.
Seller tip: Include the price of shipping in the item price displayed and then tick the box offering ‘free shopping’. Shoppers will be happier and so will Cassini. Another shipping tip I can offer you is always add 1 day to the estimated carrier shipping times, and when your item arrives ‘early,’ your customer will be super happy and more inclined to leave a positive review. Also, if you have a returning customer, consider upgrading them to overnight shipping for free. Do not tell them that they have been upgraded, and when they wake up the next morning to find the item on their doorstep, you are sure to get rave reviews. Again, you can write this off as a marketing expense, as positive reviews will help you rank higher in Cassini results and make more sales.
#11: Offer extremely competitive return policies
Most people are very worried about return policies, and rightfully so, as there are a lot of swindlers out there. I one had a female friend who would ‘buy’ a dress at Macy’s, wear it with the tags on to an event and return it in the morning for a full cash refund. This sort of thing happens on eBay all the time. Regardless, you need to offer a magnanimous return policy both for customers and Cassini. Here are your two options:
- Offering a 30-day return policy – This will help consumers understand that you believe in the quality of your product and put them at ease. This is also the return policy eBay has put down as a prerequisite to even qualify for Top Rated Plus status.
- Offering an unlimited returns policy – This is another revolutionary retail tactic which is counterintuitive yet has been proven to be effective time and time again by ‘Zappos’. Here is the idea: You encourage shoppers to buy as much as they want and return or exchange what they don’t like. This exudes supreme confidence in your brand on the one hand, and on the other hand, you would be surprised how many don’t bother returning anything. In any case, this policy can really help skyrocket a listing in Cassini results.
#12: Build retail hype with a sale
Shoppers love a good sale, and as you know by now, that means Cassini loves a good sale, too. Consider creating hype around your products and generating traffic by going to eBay’s ‘Promotion Manager’ to set up one of the following 5 types of promotions:
- Order discounts – These are discounts based on the size of a given order. It can also be a buy one, get one free promotion or a percentage discount off of the purchase of an additional item.
- Codeless coupons – These are virtual coupons you can offer to a specific, targeted group – say, the people who follow you on Facebook.
- Promotional shipping – You offer discounted shipping based on a prerequisite that you predetermine.
- Sales events – A targeted discount for specific items or categories.
- Volume price discounts – This when you offer different ‘levels’ of a discount based on the quantity purchased by one buyer of a certain item.
#13: Keep customer ratings and feedback high
Cassini wants to display sellers who generate high customer satisfaction, and yet satisfaction is a hard feeling to quantify, which is why the following factors are used as determining factors to ascertain the level of service any given seller provides:
- Great Detailed Seller Ratings, or DSRs
- Positive feedback
- Attaining ‘Top-rated’ seller status
- Responding to and closing all resolution center cases in a quick and efficient manner
Seller tip: Try to set yourself apart. If you blend in with all the other sellers and are not memorable, you probably won’t get the reviews and ratings you were hoping for. Instead, choose one thing you want to be extraordinary with. For example, include a handwritten thank you note or a free gift with every purchase.
#14: Ensure your item is listed in eBay’s catalogue
eBay’s catalogue is fantastic for Cassini, as it ensures that your item’s listing is properly indexed by Cassini. When you enter the product identifier, such as the EAN or UPC, the catalogue will automatically find similar items and fill in all the product information automatically.
Seller tip: Be sure to tweak the description and images, ensuring they are unique and help your item stand out against the rest.
#15: Provide above average customer service
Customer service is the bread and butter, so to speak, of any business, especially an eCommerce business and especially on eBay. The logic here does not waiver, as excellent customer service translates into happy customers who end up:
- Making more purchases.
- Leaving you positive feedback.
- Recommending you to friends on social media.
And all these actions feed into what Cassini loves:
- Generating returning customers.
- Happy customers who had a positive user experience.
- Third-party traffic being directed their way.
#16:Use listing templates, which are mobile responsive
In this case, you may need to hire a professional who can make sure your listing looks just as good on mobile as it does on desktop. This is super important, as some estimates put eBay mobile purchases as high as 50% of users. That is why Cassini gives preference to listings which are optimized for mobile, as they generate more engagement and the bounce rate is much lower.
Seller tip: Ensure with the web developer that the HTML code he uses is not preventing your listing from being indexed by Cassini so that it can rank in search results.
#17:Make use of listing design and branding tactics
As you can see in the example above of a desktop listing optimized for mobile, the listing itself is also much more visually attractive. You can feel the brand cohesion oozing from the listing. It is not your run-of-the-mill listing – visual communication is at play here. And this is a big part of creating a user experience which is at one with your target audience. This is also a big part of building a brand identity which speaks to that audience. In this case, the target audience consists of people who like outdoor activities, so they have decided to use a bold yellow, reminiscent of the sun, and a soft blue, reminiscent of the sky.
#18:Ensure your copy is top-notch
As you know, brand narrative spills over from visual communication as reflected by your listing copy. Try to answer the following questions:
- Why is this product useful to my target audience?
- What sets my item apart from the rest?
- What story can I tell that will engage my audience?
- What practical information is absolutely necessary to include?
Additionally, you should aim to keep your copy relatively short and to the point, and consider using bullet points, as it makes your listing much more approachable and readable.
Admittedly, this seller’s English isn’t native level, but he or she uses bullets nicely and the little bit of humor here does the trick, in my opinion: “Refused to be mosquito dinner.” I would definitely buy from this seller.
Seller tip: Cassini can detect good copy and will reward you for it. It is especially important to not copy and paste product descriptions, as Cassini, along with any and all search engines like Google, penalize plagiarizers.
#19: Create buyer-friendly policies
Creating policies with the seller in mind is super important. Earlier, I touched on a very unique returns policy. This should be your approach in terms of all your policies. Try to think how you can be radically different from the competition, putting the consumer at the epicenter of your decision-making process and not your fears of losing money. One interesting ‘policy’ you may want to enforce which has overtones of customer support is offering to make yourself available to the customer for as long as it takes them to assemble and fully understand how to use your product. Admittedly, this is not a ‘real’ policy, and yes, it is a huge headache but it will put customers at ease, especially if your product is super complex. Additionally, you can potentially offer longer than average warranty periods, which will show consumers that you believe in the durability of your products. Yes, it is a big liability, but it will help you move product. All these customer-centric policies will not only help you build a loyal consumer following but indicate as much to Cassini and translate into stellar search rankings.
#20: Make use of ‘variations’
Certain categories have something called ‘variations,’ which allow different variations of a product to be purchased from a single listing. This means you can have one listing for multiple products but all the traffic and engagement is concentrated into the one listing, which works in your favour in terms of Cassini rating you for search results.
#21:Use item bundling strategies
Use bundles to increase exposure by having a higher number of listings for the same products. The upside: You won’t be penalized for duplicate content. How so? eBay and Cassini allow you to advertise a phone and phone case in separate listings, for example, and then again as a ‘bundle’ or package deal. Here are the three different types of bundle strategies you can use:
- If you are selling one expensive item like a phone and want to ‘throw in’ the extra necessities, like a case and screen protector, this can set you apart from the rest and attract more business, even if your bundle is more expensive than just a phone. Shoppers love bundles, as it saves them time and effort: They don’t have to make three orders, just the one.
- Create bundles that don’t include ‘free’ extras but rather discounted ones. Be sure to explain the savings to the consumer in the bundles description.
- Use a ‘wholesale lot’ to offload product you no longer want to deal with. These are usually scooped up by retailers who want to deal with selling off these lots piecemeal. You want to make the price of this lot attractive, so it pays for a retailer to deal with the individual sale of each item. If you need to turn product into quick cash, this is your best bet!
These types of combos can be highly effective in both generating sales and boosting your position in results.
Seller tip: Be sure to sell each product individually as well in a bundle. Research shows that when the consumer is not given a choice to buy bundle items individually, then the bundle itself becomes drastically less attractive, and as such, fails to accomplish what it was originally designed to do.
#22: Use high-quality visuals complete with alt-text
Whatever and wherever you are selling, it is important to utilize high-quality images that sell, but beyond the obvious, Cassini ranks listings using the following image characteristics:
- How dense a picture is in terms of pixels.
- The amount of images you include in a listing. The more images you provide, the better ranking you can expect to get.
- What type of alt-text you assign to an image (and if you use alt-text at all) when uploading it to your listing.
Alt-text is essentially the written description of an image which search engines like Cassini use to index listings and results. For sellers who aren’t coders, HTML can be quite daunting, but it is not too complex. Here is an example of what the HTML code for an eBay listing picture looks like:
#23:Ensure your items appear in ‘Google Shopping’
As I mentioned earlier, driving third-party traffic is crucial to your success with Cassini. One great source of third-party traffic is ensuring your item appears in ‘Google Shopping’. This requires you to fill out the following info (though some categories require some extra details, so keep your eyes and ears open):
- A product identifier, such as an EAN/ISBN/UPC
- Manufacturer Part Number or MPN (only for certain categories)
Once you have finished adding your item, make sure it appears in Google Shopping with the correct item description, which is crucial to ranking highly both in Google Shopping as well as in eBay.
For your eBay listings to show up in Google Shopping, your listing needs to meet the minimum requirements, and this varies per category. The bare minimum you need to have is brand, model and a product identifier (e.g. UPC, ISBN or EAN). You’ll also need color, size, gender and Manufacturer Part Number (MPN) if applicable to your category.
Then check that your listings are showing up in Google Shopping, and that your template is coded correctly so the description shows up rather than general text about your store. Below is an example of a listing with a badly coded template.
#24:Optimize listing titles
Creating the perfect eBay title can be challenging, but this is actually one of the most crucial aspects of a listing being properly indexed. So, if you can only focus on one thing from this post or want a good place to start, this is it!
Here is how I suggest you optimize your title for eBay search results:
- Aim to use between 12 and 16 keywords, though 16 is the magic number!
Source: Title Builder
- Use 4-7 item specifics, with 7 being optimal. These may include make, color or dimensions.
- Try using all 80 characters allowed to you by eBay, or at least try to get as close as possible without spamming.
- Get rid of all the acronyms in your title, such as NWT or New With Tags.
- Delete the word ‘new’ from all titles.
- Though they cost extra, subtitles are a great way to have more information indexed by Cassini as well as be displayed higher in results, as eBay always gives preference to sellers who pay for extra services.
- Do not use descriptive adjectives like ‘gorgeous’ sweater – write titles with real people in mind. Think, how would I search for this item? Probably ‘black wool sweater’. You can rank extremely highly just by reverse engineering your archetypal customer’s shopping process.
- This one is simple yet, more often than not, overlooked. Use spell check to ensure everything is spelled correctly! One letter mistakes can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, as your items will not show up in search results.
- Be sure to capitalize the first letter of each word, which is both grammatically correct and makes titles more readable.
#25:Make sure listings are as recent as possible
All search engines prefer ‘newer’ postings or listings, which is one of the reasons I am rewriting this post. I am obviously updating it so it is more accurate for 2019, but the secondary reason is that you are more likely to find it on Google if it is rewritten and republished. The same principle applies for Cassini: Keep your account active and listings updated.
Seller tip – Instead of posting all your new listings at one, post one a day. Once they are all live, or even simultaneously, update and tweak your existing listings. These don’t need to be time-consuming tweaks; changing a word or two in the title or adding a new image will suffice.
Over to you
The key to success with Cassini is extremely simple – aim to make your listings as customer-friendly as possible, and you will be rewarded with high rankings. I recommend trying to implement one of the above optimizations at a time and slowly but surely adding on to those changes. See what works for you and your listings, and don’t be afraid to tweak what I recommended based on concrete insights.
Please let me know in the comments section what works best for you based on personal experience.